On being a non-executive Director – Remploy and the Legal Services Commission

I have a general principle that I don't blog about things I am working on as a consultant / adviser; there are obvious questions of confidentiality and conflict of interest. But just to break the rule slightly....

I had until recently two non-executive roles with public sector organisations who recruited me because they wanted some procurement expertise on the Board.  Remploy is one of the UK's leading providers of employment services and employment to people with disabilities and complex barriers to work. That is done through a network of around 40 Remploy owned factories, making furniture, packaging, car accessories; or doing IT recycling (amongst other things). Some factories go back to the 1940s when Remploy was founded to help wounded and disabled ex servicemen get back into work. But the more recently developed side of the business is an excellent 'employment services' business that has to work increasingly in the market and win contracts with DWP and others to help disabled / disadvantaged people find work in all sorts of companies.

I visited a Remploy factory and a couple of employment services offices in Yorkshire at the end of last week.  It was motivating and encouraging (Remploy really does have some excellent people) but also thought provoking. Is it good for disabled folk to be in a factory full of other disabled people, even if it is a very well run and motivated environment; or is it better for them to be working in Asda, the Royal Mail or McDonalds alongside a whole mix of people? Are the factories better as a national network, or are they better positioned as local enterprises? And should procurement people be prepared to pay a bit more for products knowing they were made by a 'supported business' like Remploy?

On the last note, and without making this too much of a sales pitch, EU regulations do allow public contracting authorities to buy from 'supported businesses' without running full EU competitions.  But Remploy has many private sector customers too acrioss many of the bsuiensses.  Have a look here and here and if you're in a position to do so, and please do think about whether you could help – in a way that will help your organisation too. (We do realise that Remploy should win business on its merits, not out of sympathy!)

My second non-exec position was as a 'Commissioner' (which is largely a non-exec role) for the Legal Services Commission. I resigned in April after 2 years for a range of reasons which we definitely won't go into now, but I'm mentioning this to congratulate Hugh Barrett, ex Chief Exec of OGC Buying Solutions and now Executive Director of Commissioning for the LSC. We might come back to the specific issues at some stage, but just to say Hugh appeared on breakfast television the other day to defend the latest Family Law contracts the LSC is letting, and I thought he did a very good job given a fairly hostile stance from (surprise surprise) the Law Society. I thought he came over as very calm, knowledgeable and caring – a tricky balance to pull off in that situation.

Without going into too much detail, let's just say I found the procurement issues inherent in buying Legal Aid services the most difficult, complex, political and all round pretty much impossible of anything I've ever bought in 25 years in procurement across pretty much every sector. Just imagine being a category manager where your supply market consists of thousands of law firms and lawyers...all prepared to kick up a fuss and challenge you  whenever you try and change anything. So good luck Hugh and well done!

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