The small island with big ambitions

To mark International Women’s Day, Proxima asked Maria Benbow, Group Director Commercial Services at the Government of Jersey to reflect on 2020 and what lies ahead this year.
Henry Barnes at Unsplash

The Bailiwick of Jersey is the largest and most southerly of the Channel Islands, with a surface area of 45 square miles that is home to c105,000 people. It is a self-governing dependency of the Crown located 85 miles off the south coast of mainland Britain and just 14 miles from the north west coast of France.  We have our own parliament (the States Assembly), laws, courts, currency, and tax system.

I have been privileged to form and lead Commercial Services since October 2018, building the case for change and the development of our functional vision and strategy, with a focus on collaborative design and ensuring we have the right fit for Jersey.  Yes, this approach has taken longer, but it has been absolutely worth it. Every step has been inclusive, we have not side-stepped the difficult conversations, we have built trust and created a solution with a depth and richness fit for our island.

So, what have I learnt and what does the next phase look like for us?

Firstly, Jersey is a fantastic place to live and work, with an incredible community enveloped in a culture that could be argued is eroding elsewhere.  Everyone matters, every penny of public money spent counts, and every single person will feel the impact of a well thought-out and empathetic commercial strategy. By taking the time to create a solution designed for this community, you truly can make an impact on the life of the island and drive positive inclusive change.

On an island of 45 square miles, our eco-system is more connected than you may think. A change in a service solution developed with the support of Commercial and Procurement professionals at the onset can positively impact the supply chain and mitigate significant risks right later on. This is not news, but I have already seen the art of the possible and the feeling of immense professional and personal satisfaction when you get it right - our performance over the last 12 months has been testimony to this.

We need to ensure we are striving to support the bigger picture and creating something that will benefit society and leave a positive legacy for future generations

This insight is connected to our Island’s vision for better social cohesion. Value for money is of course is a core tenet of our being, but we also need to ensure we are striving to support the bigger picture and creating something that will benefit society and leave a positive legacy for future generations - something we can be proud of. But to do this, we have to ensure that our commercial and procurement team are agile, proactive, trusted and above all are true to ourselves.

The last 12 months have not been easy, but the testimonials we have received as a team have been overwhelming - from everyone from our Chief Minister (the leader of the State’s Assembly) and his Council of Ministers, to Children’s and Adults care providers and the voluntary sector. My team and I are proud to say that we have definitely delivered this last year.

2020 was a year of challenges, beginning with the uncertainty of the Brexit deal-or-no-deal scenario in the run up to the beginning of the transition in January, followed by the sweeping impact of a global pandemic, notwithstanding some sizeable projects including a New General Hospital solution. 

Clearly these aren’t unique to us, but what is unique is the talent and drive of my small team who have succeeded through prioritisation, commitment and collaboration. We have been instrumental in setting up diverse supply chain solutions, reimagining commercial solutions building on our unique geographical position, securing a critical air-bridge ensuring a lifeline for supplies and islanders requiring specialist health requirements, all whilst supporting all of our Health requirements (PPE, Vaccines, testing, Nightingale Hospital, Ventilators and the list goes on). To say that I am proud of where we have come from and what we have achieved doesn’t touch the sides.

So where next? The future is exciting for Commercial Services and Jersey. Our philosophy has gone from strength to strength, our recruitment adventure is about to start and we are about to launch our new strategy with a strong communication approach to trial and implement transformative approaches to Commercial and Procurement. That coupled with our new ‘Commercial Genius’ offering is a fresh, inclusive strategy to develop professional skills both within and outside of Government.

The challenges that public sector leaders face in delivering change in the face of adversity is different in every organisation. But we must all treat the “new normal” with relish. The opportunities across our profession are unlimited, the call for action is all around us, we are the pioneers, embracing diversity, sustainability and designing solutions to those issues previously resigned to the “too difficult bucket”. Now is our time to enable and shine.

Maria Benbow is Group Director Commercial Services at the Government of Jersey

Read more from Proxima in their report - Social Value: Public and Private Sectors. 

Read the most recent articles written by Proxima - Preparing for Procurement Reform: Three proactive steps


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