The government’s procurement function is too London focused, making it difficult to rise to the top of the profession while living in the North, according to commercial bosses.
“A lot of government is in London, too much,” said Gareth Rhys Williams, chief commercial officer for the UK government.
“We’re constantly getting colleagues to come to London for meetings, it doesn’t feel right,” he told SM.
Melinda Johnson, commercial director at the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), said: “To really reach the top of the profession you need to be based in London more often than not.”
The government’s response has been to launch a scheme, led by Johnson, promoting the commercial function in the North by running meetings and events to share best practice.
The project, the Government Commercial Northern Hub (GCNH), has been tasked with nurturing and attracting talent across commercial departments operating in Northern cities such as Leeds and Sheffield.
A council has been formed made up of departmental heads, or “city leads”, stationed in cities such as Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle and Manchester, to run events for procurement professionals to network and share best practice, Johnson said.
A launch event took place last Wednesday at the Queen's Hotel in Leeds, which drew more than 300 people from across government procurement, to "explain, raise awareness and get people involved" in the scheme, she said. Among the speakers was Rhys Williams.
The council will also engage in university outreach as part of its efforts to “pull talent up through the ranks,” she said.
The efforts will play a part in the scheme’s broader aim to “attract, recruit, develop and retain the best commercial people in the north into the govt commercial function”.
Johnson told SM she hoped to “drive commercial capability in the North, and make it a place where people want to live and work and have careers in commercial”.
She said: “But this can't be a flash in the pan – this has got to be something that sustains us for years and gets the function on the map.”
The initiative includes “arms length” organisations such as NHS Digital, Highways England and the NHS Care Quality Commission, which all run parts of their operations from Northern cities.
Wider government bodies, according to Rhys Williams, do “fantastic work, and linking them all up makes perfect sense”.
“Everybody can learn from everyone else. It’s a win-win,” he added.