New government chief commercial officer: Cabinet Office appoints former PHS Group boss Gareth Rhys Williams

Former chief executive of hygiene services firm PHS Group brought in to lead civil service commercial profession

By Civil Service World

14 Mar 2016

The Cabinet Office has drafted in a civil service outsider to head up the government’s 4,000-strong commercial profession.

Gareth Rhys Williams begins work on Monday in the post of government chief commercial officer. He has previously served as the chief executive of hygiene services firm PHS Group and before that, as CEO of engineering business Charter International.

He succeeds Bill Crothers, who was the first government CCO and oversaw the 2014 launch of the Crown Commercial Service, the executive agency set up to try and sharpen Whitehall’s commercial skills and get better deals from suppliers through the central purchasing of common goods. Crothers left Whitehall at the end of last year, with Chris Hall serving as CCO in the interim period.

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Announcing the appointment, civil service CEO John Manzoni — who himself was brought into Whitehall from the private sector —  said Rhys Williams would bring ”an extraordinary amount of experience in the commercial sector, with a consistent and impressive record of delivery”.

Manzoni added: “He will play a pivotal role in making sure every deal provides value for the taxpayer. I would also like to thank Chris Hall for all of his hard work as the interim GCCO over the past few months.”

Rhys Williams said he was looking forward “to doing what I can to maximise the value derived from our commercial relationships” and said he would focus on “helping individual departments meet their goals in as efficient a way as possible”.

The appointment of the former PHS chief comes as Sally Collier, who leads the Crown Commercial Service and acts as its accounting officer, prepares to depart to head up exams regulator Ofqual.

Malcolm Harrison, the former Nestle chief procurement officer who was brought into government on a six-month contract last year to advise on commercial strategy, will act as interim chief of the Crown Commercial Service while a hunt for Collier’s successor gets underway. Collier’s planned Ofqual appointment is subject to approval by MPs on the education select committee, who will question her on her new role later this week.


The scale of the challenge still facing the civil service as it seeks to improve its commercial capability was highlighted by Manzoni in a recent CSW interview.

The civil service chief said government had “essentially allowed our own capability inside the civil service to atrophy” in recent years, with departments often tending towards an attitude that believed “lowest cost is best”, in spite of quality.

“[But] you can’t just do things on cost, because some of the things we’re doing are genuinely really complicated, and really novel,” he added. 

“And neither the private sector, nor us, necessarily knows what the price of that is. We don’t know how to price the risk involved, and, actually,we don’t always get it right first time. So we need not just a price relationship, we need a partnership relationship.” 

Earlier this year, the Cabinet Office launched a commercial plan setting out the 14 standards which government buyers will now be expected to adhere to, with departments set to publish their own commercial plans — dubbed “blueprints” — this month. 

The plans are the culmination of more than a years’ work, triggered by a public accounts committee report which called for a focus on strengthening commercial capability after revelations that suppliers G4S and Serco had overcharged the Ministry of Justice for the electronic tagging of offenders.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office has also embarked on a significant recruitment drive for commercial experts, to address what Manzoni has described as a "critical" skills shortage in the area.

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