Crown Commercial chief Sally Collier on her move to Ofqual: I don't always say 'Yes, minister'
CCS chief Collier says independence of exams watchdog Ofqual "one of the attractions" of taking on chief regulator role – and says procurement background no barrier to doing the job
Crown Commercial Service chief executive Sally Collier has set out her reasons for wanting to head up exams watchdog Ofqual – and stressed her ability to push back against ministers' demands if necessary.
It was revealed last week that Collier, who has served since 2014 in the top job at the CCS – the Cabinet Office agency in charge of government procurement – is education secretary Nicky Morgan's preferred candidate to become chief regulator at the non-ministerial department overseeing qualifications and exams in England.
Her appointment is subject to approval by MPs on the Education Select Committee, who questioned Collier on the planned move on Wednesday.
She told the committee that the Ofqual job was a "fantastic, challenging role", saying she had reached the stage in her career "where I was beginning to look at what else I might do".
"I've been a CEO for two years in the current role and a managing director before that," she said. "I was looking for another CEO role. I was looking for a public sector or related public sector organisation. And I was looking for something challenging and extremely interesting.
"I think this job met all of these criteria. A number of things pass your desk every day and when this one passed I said 'stop, that's hugely interesting'."
Collier acknowledged that her background in public procurement – which includes senior roles at CCS's predecessors the Government Procurement Service and the Office of Government Commerce – "at first glance may not seem as if it's got many similarities" to heading up the exams regulator.
But she said she would bring experience of managing organisations "through periods of significant reform", pointing out that procurement was "hugely complex", highly regulated and involved "an enormous number of stakeholders often that don't agree with each other".
She added: "The commercial world is not an easy one. It requires me to make constant judgements, based on facts and evidence, often in a place where not all stakeholders will agree with you. I'm absolutely certain that's the case in the job of a regulator."
Collier was also pressed on how she would defend the independence of Ofqual, with Conservative MP William Wragg saying Collier's "extensive" civil service experience meant she would be moving from a "'yes minister' to 'no minister'" role.
The ability to exercise independence at Ofqual was, said Collier, "one of the attractions of taking the job".
"There is a whole system around the organisation, its statutory objectives, its duty to consult," she added. "All of the system around it is to make it independent [...] And I'm relishing the chance to make that move into independence. By the way, I do have a track record of not always saying 'yes, minister'. I'm sure you will find that out."
The committee will present its verdict on Collier's planned appointment in the coming weeks. Ofqual is currently being led by its chair, Amanda Spielman, on an interim basis, and Collier said Spielman would help her "get up to speed very quickly" during an "intense induction" into the regulatory environment.
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