Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Commercial leadership

I am struck that in several, perhaps many, parts of the UK public services there has been a shortage of commercial leadership. This is no surprise of course - government is not about commerce - despite some people's efforts to make it so. Government cannot pick and choose who it serves, it must be transparent, open and accountable, and it is about producing social outcomes not just financial ones. So for all these reasons, in my view, public services are not the same as commercial ones.

That said, the public services do enter into commercial arrangements where they have  to negotiate value for money contracts with suppliers. I do worry that sometimes this has not been done as well as it might. In short, I fear that our local and national government have been stuffed by some rather canny operators in the commercial world.

It seems to me that some public service leaders have treated transparent procurement as a proxy to commercial negotiations. But they are not the same. Negotiating a contract with a supplier after they have won the procurement competition is not the same as negotiating with them before...

I know - I am painting things in black and white here - and being deliberately provocative. But I came across a story this morning which left me sad and fed up. I attended a seminar hosted by Civil Service World and sponsored by Hewlett Packard on the 'Digital Dividend'. (It was a very good event - so thanks to the organisers.) In the networking time I spoke to a young chap from a large government department who explained to me he had recently developed a macro for a commonly used spreadsheet in his organisation that would save a lot of people a lot of time. But then he found out that if his department were to use this - they would have to pay the outsourced IT contractor about £15k every time they used it. You see - there was a clause in the contract... So this small innovation (and you know how much I like small creative ideas) was squashed from the outset.

So this got me thinking - how much commercial leadership is there in the public services. Given the current austerity measures - I would propose that we need a lot more of this kind of leadership.

What do you think?


What does commercial leadership mean for you - what skills (apart from negotiating skills of course) need to be well honed?

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