Procuring services and equipment for the period of mourning and turning heads with a net-zero initiative: Gareth Rhys Williams’ 2022 highlights

The government chief commercial officer also looks back on earring dilemmas and water-pistol duels
Mourners queue to pay their last respects to Queen Elizabeth II in September. Photo: Alamy

By CSW staff

29 Dec 2022


What has been your highlight of the last 12 months? 

Although an event filled with nationwide grief, the way the commercial teams in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Crown Commercial Service and many other departments acquired the services and equipment needed following the death of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was outstanding, allowing the period of mourning to flow so smoothly.  

If I could have two... A year ago we introduced a requirement for bidders on our largest contracts to have a published net-zero policy and plan. By last month we had awarded £160bn of contracts signed with suppliers who do indeed have net-zero plans. Other countries are looking at what we have done with interest; it may well be that some of them follow us in this approach. 

What was your most difficult decision in 2022? 

How many earrings is appropriate for a 15-year-old daughter? It turns out that no decision I made was correct let alone acceptable! 

What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation in 2023, and how are you preparing to meet it as an organisation? 

We hope that the Procurement Reform Bill will soon pass through parliament. It will free up buyers across the public sector to set up tenders and contracts in a much more fluid way, much more in line with what is normal in the private sector, while absolutely retaining the “open, fair, transparent” principles that are our key defence against any taint of corruption or favouritism. A huge training programme and upgrades to UK-wide databases are needed to implement it, but work on those is well advanced. The trickiest aspect to land is going to be moving mindsets from the relatively “prescriptive” processes we have to use now, to this freer environment – a change in culture that will bring big benefits, but as with any change, will be unsettling to start with.  

“We all need to think much more creatively how to generate productivity increases” 


And personally, as a leader? 

All of our colleagues are facing huge cost-of-living increases. In addition, many of our colleagues have caring responsibilities. How do we help them through this period? How do we enable our careers to work flexibly when there is increasing pressure on delivery at the same time? We all need to think much more creatively how to generate productivity increases to have a chance of squaring these difficult circles. 

It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season? 

I used to work in a safety-products company based in rural Minnesota. It's crazily cold there at Christmas – kids’ (and some adults!) water pistol duels would take on a new dimension. Even when filled with hot water, by the time the water hit its target it had frozen into glittering ice needles. Fantastic from all but a health-and-safety perspective. Goggles from Santa a must! 

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