Defra seeks COO to 'transform' department post-Brexit

Written by Beckie Smith on 4 January 2019 in News
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The COO must have the "drive and vision to lead transformation across a diverse and dispersed group of organisations", the job ad says

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is seeking a chief operating officer to help transform the department after Brexit.

The role, which comes with a salary of up to £140,000, will open up in March when Betsy Bassis becomes the new chief executive of NHS Blood and Transplant.

It comes with responsibility for “leading fundamental change in the operating model of Defra group”, the department’s permanent secretary, Clare Moriarty, wrote in an introduction to the role attached to the job advert.


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The successful candidate will be responsible for four of Defra’s functions – commercial, property, HR and digital, data and technology services – each of which the job advert notes plays a “critical role” in supporting the 55 projects in the department’s Brexit portfolio.

"This high profile role offers the opportunity to help transform how Defra works in the future post EU exit." the job advert said.

In the application pack, Moriarty, who has previously said 80% of Defra’s work is affected by the EU, noted that Brexit will "fundamentally change the work we do and how we deliver it".

“As we look towards a post-EU future and the ‘Defra group 2.0’ required to support it, you will lead transformation in how we work and deliver fundamental change, creating integrated corporate service functions.”

The COO will also lead Defra’s corporate services transformation programme, which will have an emphasis on supporting flexible working and improving users’ experience of its corporate services.

“To be successful in this role you will need to have a real understanding of, and empathy for, the functions that you’ll be leading; a deep commitment to improving user experience; and the drive and vision to lead transformation across a diverse and dispersed group of organisations.”

They need to have “extensive experience of visible leadership within a complex organisation”, strong financial acumen and “significant experience of developing and delivering corporate strategy, major IT enabled programmes and organisational transformation and culture change programmes within complex organisations”.

Applications for the COO role close on 25 January, with interviews to take place in March.

In November it was announced that Bassis, a former executive at Centrica and British Gas, was planning to step down from the role to lead NHS Blood and Transplant from 4 March.

While at Defra, Bassis worked to implement a “smarter working” initiative that aims to encourage agile working and improve how the department carries out performance management.

Speaking at a CSW roundtable in 2017, Bassis said departments needed to innovate and embrace digital transformation, despite not facing the same commercial pressure to do so as in the private sector: “There is this imperative, when you’re working in a competitive environment, that you must transform, or you could be the next Blockbuster. And, I think that’s something that doesn’t exist in government: you don’t have that [pressure to] transform or die – you’re not going to go extinct.”

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Beckie Smith
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Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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