03 March 2005 | Cara Whitehouse
It will handle a potential annual budget of £600 million and its 13 purchasers will influence everything from infrastructure and IT to uniforms and brochures.
Before the department was created at the end of last year, purchasing was managed by individual departments with their own budgets.
Smethurst, who spent two years as a procurement specialist at car rental firm Avis Europe, told SM: "This is a huge cultural change for the company, but we have a great opportunity to establish procedures and policies that can help us to realise the benefits a procurement department can bring."
A standardised purchase order system, which will enable it to track all departments' spending, starts operating this month. It will be linked to a database to manage all contract data and help buyers with supplier management.
Norman Turner, procurement director since November 2003, said the department was a mix of internal and external recruits.
"We need to overhaul inadequate purchasing systems and establish consistency.
"First Choice evolved quickly through acquisition and there has been little consistency in recruiting and managing suppliers."
The company, which had a £2.4 billion turnover in 2004, will cut the number of suppliers, as it is using "far, far too many".
Turner, who was previously procurement director at MyTravel, said significant savings had already been made in print, telecoms and IT.
Neil Avenell, currently sourcing and contracts manager at airline BMI, is set to join First Choice as a procurement manager dealing with airline spend at the end of March.