Ian Watmore – what pushed him over the edge?

So Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office and the top man in terms of UK government efficiency (including procurement) is off.  Back to Cheshire to spend more time with his family, including his soon-to-be-a-vicar wife. He going to be doing more “non-exec, charity, sports and educational” work – I guess that doesn’t preclude him from taking up another major full time role – running the Football Association perhaps? Oh no, he tried that...!  Actually, I’ve always seen that as a positive on his cv, that he realised very quickly what an appalling organisation that was and got out.

The irony is that we’ve been hearing rumours for the last couple of weeks about another senior procurement person in Cabinet Office leaving – perhaps it was the Watmore move that was in the wind  and our sources got confused?

Do we believe the reasons given? He was doing the weekly commute thing, with a flat in London, which isn’t much fun, and by all accounts his family is important to him. But this is a pretty hasty departure; if this really was all merely a planned change of lifestyle, it would have been planned and announced months in advance. Might he feel now is a good time to go for more political reasons?  Reading in the press how the Prime Minster thinks civil servants are “the real opposition” and blocking progress can’t exactly be inspiring if you run the Cabinet Office.

There are stories that his relationship with Francis Maude was on the slide, and there is talk of some undermining of his position from elsewhere in the civil service world. There has certainly been some resentment building around Cabinet Office’s ability to interfere in other Department’s business, so maybe that was part of this decision. And someone is obviously spreading some negative propaganda – the Times says, “A separate source said Mr Watmore, who has who has worked in the private sector, was thoughtful but socially difficult”.

Does anyone really think that a guy who got to the very top of Accenture – one of the world’s greatest sales organisations – could be “socially difficult”? Maybe that’s civil service speak for “has an opinion and isn’t afraid to express it”!

As in the case of his FA role, Watmore has shown he won’t stick around when he believes that isn’t the right thing to do. He made serious money from the Accenture float, he’s a very clever man, and he obviously has a life outside the 9 to 5. I genuinely believe he was doing this job out of a sense of public service, but this looks very much like someone or something pushed him to the point of saying “f***  it”!

And he’s finished the interesting aspects of the role arguably – all the exciting stuff, setting up the “new” Cabinet Office and ERG structures. Now all he has to look forward to is three years of hard slog up to a difficult election. So it probably feels like a good time to go – and that’s why I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more senior government people going shortly, particularly the ones who have a strong market value externally.

Has Watmore left a substantial legacy? In some areas there has been real progress over the last two years. We’d count procurement as one, despite some fairly significant caveats, and other successes would include transparency, IT (open standards and digital), and progress on better property management.  But he’s had an impossible task with the “Big Society”, mutuals and social enterprises aren’t springing up on every street corner, and the shared services initiative still has “abandon hope all ye who enter here” pinned to its metaphorical door.

However, his scope of responsibility was always ridiculously wide, as we said way back in 2010 when he only had the Efficiency and Reform group to worry about  – both that, and the current job, were always going to be roles where it’s  impossible to succeed wholly.

Will it make any difference to the procurement programme, led by John Collington? Not a huge amount, we would guess. Watmore was supportive, and I believe he and Collington have a very good relationship, but Francis Maude as the Minister has been the real driving force and muscle behind the programme when some authority has been needed to get or keep the departments in line. As long as Collington and Maude are in place, we don’t see the likelihood of any big change of direction. A Cabinet reshuffle could change all that of course.

Melanie Dawes, interim Perm Sec for Cabinet Ofice

The new interim Permanent Secretary is Melanie Dawes. She’s ex Treasury and HMRC, she’s an economist, and looks far too young to be a Perm Sec - but I don’t know her or much else about her. She has left an amazingly light Google trail over the last years, but she doesn’t appear to have any background in procurement issues. So one suspects there’s unlikely  to be any great change of direction coming from her in the period while they recruit a new permanent leader.

Anyway, we wish Ian Watmore well in whatever he does in the future, and I’m sure we will hear his name again in some significant role!


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Voices (5)

  1. Smasher:

    Yes Peter Smith – I was replying to the comment on 5th July, which was just grubby cynicism about one of the few genuine role models there are in leadership. I thought your article was interesting and engaging, and the tone reflected the situation well. No criticism from me on the research or content.

  2. Cabo:

    You clearly have no idea of the truth. Watmore has a terrible reputation for employing and promting old accenture workers; ignoring ministers; allowing bullying. He has never been successful is distrusted and disliked by the masses.

    Speak to anyone who has actually worked with him and you will hear tales of manipulation, personal attacks, public ridicule, lack of thought, vision and a complete apathy for actually doing any work.

    He spends all his time tracking arsenal which says everything.

    He was fired, hence as you right;y say “more time with the family”

    1. Smasher:

      Coincidence that you wrote this ill-founded comment on his birthday. Watmore has a reputation for discovering talent in junior people and plucking them out of obscurity and putting them into roles and projects where they shine – I’ve seen it done many times. He spent 23 years at Accenture so of course his network will include many Accenture colleagues, it would be slack if he didn’t capitalise on his contacts – Accenture staff are of high calibre. He’s consistently supported women in business – and other walks of life if you note his support of women’s football while he was at the FA. He has never been UNsuccessful if you care to look at his CV and he was a notably popular leader at Accenture, the PMDU and the Cabinet. He wasn’t so popular at the FA with the old boys’ club because he tried to clean it up. He’s known to have vision and lateral thinking which is why he’s occupied a number of top posts in the private and public sector. He has an outstanding record of results – it’s all in the public domain for anyone to see. Although we haven’t had contact for many years, I’ve worked with him and I know firsthand that he’s a good man and I’ve never heard anyone talk even remotely of manipulation, personal attacks or apathy on his part. You must have the wrong person.

      1. Peter Smith:

        I’m assuming you are replying to he previous comment, not my original blog, which all in all was pretty positive about him! I don’t really know him, only met him properly once, but I didn’t hear much negative about him from those he worked with in Government. And the reason for his going – from what I’ve heard, and only rumour – reflects better on him than on his boss…

  3. Navy Cut:

    She’s the wife of Ben Brogan, the Telegraph columnist who was expected to replace Andy Coulson at one point (but thought better of it).

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