Breaking News: All Change at the Top of UK Government Procurement by Colin Cram

Posted on May 22, 2013


The announcement of David Shield’s departure from his position as Managing Director of the UK’s Government Procurement Service will be a shock for many people. Boosting its turnover from about £4bn a year to £11bn a year in 3 years was no mean feat. Even the normally critical National Audit Office wrote what was, on the whole, a very positive report some 9 months ago – and validated the savings that were claimed – almost unheard of. So, what may have precipitated his departure?

David Shields leaving . . .

David Shields leaving . . .

Much of the business growth was in the wider public sector – not central government. Shields built strong relationships with key players and business has been growing rapidly. It was generally accepted that the procurement agreements provided good value for money – some of them exceptionally good. He was driving through ‘lean’ procurement – reducing procurement timescales and the number of small to medium sized enterprises on its agreements grew rapidly. At the same time he reduced staffing by about 25%. Also, the GPS has started to take on more general procurement activity from some central government organisations. A link with the Research Councils Shared Service Centre to provide a major contracts service looked promising for both parties.

The growth of business in the wider public sector was not matched by that in central government. The NAO report said that there had been complaints from heads of procurement about too little consultation – the agreements were not quite suitable. To me, that sounded like the usual complaints from those who were reluctant to collaborate. Getting agreements that suit takes both parties to collaborate.

Judging from evidence given to Parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee by Bill Crothers, Government Chief Procurement Officer, and Francis Maude, the government minister responsible for the civil service efficiency drive, the expectation is that all common procurement categories will be procurement jointly – through the ‘Crown Procurement Service’ that I proposed to the PASC in January this year and which seems to have generated much interest. The definition of ‘common’ could be very wide. There has been strong opposition to this concept from certain ‘senior mandarins’ and this has even been expressed publicly through ‘unattributable’, anonymous briefings to a journalist for a national newspaper. It may be that Shields was the ritual sacrifice that formed part of the deal to get this accepted.

So, what happens next? Sally Collier will be taking over in the meantime. She is Bill Crothers’ deputy and has an excellent reputation for management. Just as well, as she will be very stretched keeping the show on the road and making sure that the GPS is focused on delivering for central government. She can also be relied on to mend any fences. What about the longer term?  It is not clear if she will be a ‘permanent’ replacement for Shields but, if not, my bet is on Nicola Dunne, head of the joint procurement group (that I founded in 2001) at RCSSC. She has developed a very good reputation and, given the link between her organisation and the GPS, she would seem an obvious choice.

Sally Collier steps in . . .

Sally Collier steps in . . .

What about Shield’s future? I have known him for 8 years. He is results driven and I have a high regard for him. His services will be hugely in demand by private sector organisations. He has demonstrated his capability in the private sector, as well as the public sector. He can look forward to more than tripling his civil service salary within a short time.


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