By Proxima

20 May 2019

As we enter Commercial Awareness Week, Proxima speaks with the Government Commercial Function's director of commercial and contract management capability

Proxima were fortunate enough to get some thoughts from Marco Salzedo, the Government Commercial Function's director of commercial & contract management capability ahead of Commercial Awareness Week.

Marco has over 30 years of commercial experience across the private sector, with 20 years experience in senior procurement roles successfully delivering complex and transformational change programmes.


What is Commercial Awareness Week?

I am really excited about the fact that the service-wide Commercial Awareness Week (CAW) 2019 will soon be upon us. Running from 20 to 24 May, it will give our commercial community the opportunity to hear more about the Government Commercial Function (GCF) and how greater commercial and contract management awareness can support commercial specialists and other civil servants. 

For commercial staff there will be a targeted face-to-face sessions, webinars and events from the centre. For commercial and non-commercial staff there will be a range of events delivered by departmental commercial teams. I would encourage all civil servants to find out a bit more about the commercial team within your department, how it can support your work, and how you can contribute to making the Civil Service more effective in its commercial activities.

What observations do you have about Government’s commercial challenges?

Central government spends £49 billion each year on external contracts. Not only is this a huge sum of money, it also represents a vast array of important (and often life-enhancing or life-saving) goods and services. When we spend this money well, we are capable of achieving excellent value for money and shaping world-class services, and there are many examples of us doing this.

The provision of public services grows more complex and demanding year by year. New service models emerge driven by changes in technology, lessons from what works, and rising public expectations. These may require collaboration between multiple public organisations and will often require commercial input. When commercial staff with the right skills are involved at the right time and in the right way, they make a massive difference to the quality of the services and projects delivered by government. There are many great examples of this.

At the same time, the way the government contracts with the commercial sector is under constant scrutiny from Parliament and the media. At a time like this, there has never been a greater need for highly skilled and effective commercial staff who are able to develop contracting arrangements in a complex and changing environment, under the weight of constant scrutiny.

That is why we have developed a multifaceted learning and development programme for senior government commercial staff. The offer includes identifying learning and development needs, and a programme that can be tailored to meet the needs of each participant, delivered through a mixture of intensive training days, coaching support, on the-job development, senior speaker events, and involvement in online communities.

During CAW 2019 webinars, seminars and leader blogs will explore these challenges in a lot more detail. Departmental commercial specialists will have an opportunity to illustrate their experiences and help shape the policy response. 


What are the key skills that Government Commercial is developing through the programme?

Using the intelligence gleaned from the Assessment and Development Centre (ADC) on the key development needs of senior commercial staff, we have designed a programme to specifically meet those needs. Data from the ADC showed high levels of commercial technical skills with a need for more development in areas of ‘leadership skills & capability’ and ‘business acumen & commercial judgement’. The bespoke development programme focuses on these two areas. This programme supports senior commercial professionals to:

  • - Lead and influence to get the right commercial outcomes
  • - Install a culture of excellent commercial leadership and behaviours in teams and working environment
  • - Hone commercial acumen
  • - Communicate with impact and confidence
  • - Manage complexity while making the right decisions
  • - Build resilience and understand how to maintain it under pressure
  • - Enhance and maintain networks and professional development


It’s an ambitious change programme – what impacts are you already beginning to see?

We’re already seeing the benefits of investment in commercial talent across government.  Increased commercial expertise together with a functional approach is leading to real impacts across government.  

For example, many of the new health and social care projects require multiple new contracts and procurements - we are already using commercial teams to help structure those for maximum effectiveness in the market. 

We have had external validation of improvements in government commercial activity: positive reports from NAO, IFG and many vendors.  RAG ratings on contracts is improving rapidly

Most importantly, the change programme is delivering savings: c.£2bn “ Commercial Benefits” across central government last year


What are the top 3 priorities for the commercial capability programme in 2019?

Services/Products – Focus on the service(s)/product(s) Commercial Capability Programme team delivers ensuring that we reach as many Civil Servants as possible to help upskill both their commercial and contract management capability  

Customers –Becoming more customer focused to ensure a delivery orientated approach

People – Getting the right people into the right roles, with the right skills 


How is the programme being received in Departments?

There is a real desire across government to increase commercial capability and invest in commercial talent. There is recognition that the Commercial Capability Programme is key to delivering this and Departments across government  have embraced the Programme with enthusiasm. 

The Commercial Capability Programme is delivered in partnership with Departments across Government. Departmental colleagues are engaged on activities governance, delivery and networks  to support the Programme. 

Activities around 2019 Commercial Awareness Week highlights the level of interest and enthusiasm for the programme. Departmental commercial specialists are engaged on centrally driven activities such as webinars and seminars and video blogs. 


How are you measuring the success of the programme over time?

In simple terms as we upskill our people , departments receive better commercial advise and we make better commercial decisions and outcomes both at the early stages of decision making/policy setting and in life 


Given the scale of the government's capability program, what have you learnt about the overall talent pool in the UK?

Competition for the best commercial talent is strong but we are competing to attract and retain the best people.  We have learnt that to attract the best talent we need a  commitment to developing people and providing opportunities for them to progress in their career. With that in mind we have built a holistic approach to talent, which considers performance, capability and potential; talent and performance is  integrated and considered collectively.

Individuals have on-going access to Career Coaches who provide support to create development plans designed to enhance capability and provide opportunity to build on strengths. These development plans are  refreshed on a regular basis to ensure individuals are undertaking the appropriate learning interventions and have access to development opportunities, which will support their development.


 What advice would you give to someone starting out on a career in civil service procurement?

Firstly, there has never been a more exciting time to join. With our competitive salaries and some of the best training, development and career prospects in the UK, you will have the chance to learn and grow whilst working across different departments as your career progresses - experiencing unrivalled scale, complexity and challenge.

Secondly, you’re not alone. Our Commercial Profession is a network of 4,000 commercial professionals across the Civil Service. Together they deliver and support procurement and contract management, analyse markets and develop commercial strategy. They also support colleagues across the Civil Service to get the best from our purchasing and contracting. Reach out to those colleagues - build the networks that will be with you throughout your career. 

Download Proxima's white paper 'Is workforce transformation the key to improving commercial capability?' here. 

Read the most recent articles written by Proxima - Why COVID-19 doesn’t mean that developing at pace needs to grind to a halt…


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