People Development: Opportunities within Public Sector
An Interview with Julie Welsh
Company: Scotland Excel
People have a perception that public sector is all about compliance, however that is a tiny part of what we do. You still need commercial acumen and to know your market well, so you can deliver excellent contracts and give back to the community.
How long have you been in the Public Sector?
I have been in the Public sector for almost 7 years now; prior to this I spent a large portion of my career at Scottish Power. My first public sector role was Head of Procurement at GHA, followed by five years at Renfrewshire Council as Head of Strategic Procurement, then Head of Procurement and Business Support.
What would you class as your Career Achievements so far?
During my time at Scottish Power, I was tasked with setting up a Corporate Procurement Team to deal with corporate contracts across the whole of the organisation. I developed a small team to work with customers to achieve buy-in for a new corporate approach. While this came with its challenges, I had an ambitious and committed team to support the delivery of the project.
Following a restructure I became the Head of Corporate Procurement, where I took on a team of 30 people. We looked after all bulk and corporate contracts. I loved this role as I had the opportunity to design a new team structure and implement it.
Whilst working as Head of Procurement at GHA I attended a conference where I heard David Martin speaking about Procurement. It was clear that he was very knowledgeable and passionate about procurement, so when the Head of Strategic Procurement role came up at Renfrewshire, I jumped at the opportunity.
What is the biggest culture change from Private into Public Sector?
I would say the main difference is that the private sector is more focused on profits, whereas the public sector is more focused on people. Whether it is the citizens receiving services such as social care, or the staff who deliver public services, people are always our bottom line. Also, the terms and conditions in the public sector are much more focussed on achieving balance for the individual, and this helps to motivate and engage them with the service they deliver.
The complex procedures and levels of governance can seem onerous at times but it is there for a reason. We may report to Directors and Chief Executives, but ultimately we are here to deliver policies set by councillors who have been elected to represent their constituents.
Councillors are always interested in cost savings, as this frees up budgets to spend elsewhere, but they are equally as interested in achieving other benefits for their communities, and ensuring that the supplier workforce is treated fairly. It is really important to understand the policy drivers of your council’s elected embers if you work in procurement in a council.
Do you think you made the right career decision to move into Public Sector?
Yes I do. Moving into the council gave me an opportunity to expand my procurement experience hugely. From a care contract one day, to construction or IT the next, public sector buyers must be good all rounders able to quickly to pick up on lots of different types of procurement. This variation is why I am such an advocate for the public sector. The career opportunities to learn and develop yourself and your team are endless.
What are the perceptions of Public Sector?
People have a perception that public sector is all about compliance, however that is a tiny part of what we do. You still need commercial acumen and to know your market well, so you can deliver excellent contracts and give back to the community. Your savings from contracts can ensure that someone’s Granny receives the right care, that your kids have school books!
Do you have any advice on gaining buy in for Procurement from the Leadership Team is difficult. What have you done throughout your career to make this a success?
At Renfrewshire Council, having both David Martin and Sandra Black – then Director of Finance – supporting my work made it infinitely easier. I had to work very closely with colleagues from construction and social work services as these were areas which traditionally did their own procurement, and I had to persuade them that we understood their needs.
Our PCA score was under 25% at the time. David and Sandra wanted the Council to be at ‘Superior’ (at least 75%), so I explained the time and structure I would need to make this happen if I had control of procurement across the council.
Over three years, we delivered £21 million in savings, which was only possible with the buy in of the senior team, as well as the skill and dedication of the rapidly expanding procurement team. Renfrewshire Council was the first to reach Superior performance, and are still the highest performing out of the Scottish councils.
What are your key learnings?
I have taken on roles that were outside my comfort zone to help me develop. Often my team knew more about category areas than I did, which is fine. My promotions throughout my career were to do with my leadership skills, although I understood the procurement roles and had worked at most levels myself. It always helps if you can say ‘yes, I’ve done that job’ or ‘I’ve dealt with this before, lets discuss it’ I think the team are more likely to respect and listen to you if you fully appreciate the job they do.
The public sector allows you to look at different procurement requirements, deal with a variety of stakeholders and really stretch yourself personally. It offers a solid base to develop into a strong leader in your future career. Continuous development and change are part of procurement. The change journey is easier if you have the key stakeholders on board. Procurement Managers need to stand up and say, ‘I can deliver this but here is what I need!’ We need to lift ourselve above the operational arena and show that we can be strategic.
What advice would you give to candidates considering the Public Sector?
For entry level candidates, the public sector is an excellent foundation to start your career. It gives you the building blocks you need for success, including the chance to purchase lots of different commodities, understand compliance, and engage with multiple stakeholders including councillors.
You get to commission contracts which impact people’s daily lives, and deliver savings which will ensure councils have more money to spend on care and education. There is a real sense of working together for the greater good. And it gives something back too. There is usually a clear development and training plan for each employee, as well as intern programmes, graduate schemes and apprenticeships
For more senior procurement professionals, there are opportunities to work across public service areas that really matter – care, construction, IT or corporate, to name but a few. There is huge scope for the right people to progress; the public sector is crying out for commercial specialists with a social conscience. You will generally receive training and development to enhance your opportunities, and the work life balance in the public sector is much better than in the private sector.
Please feel free to comment below on any key points of the interview or any questions you many have. Make sure to check back next month where we will be interviewing another procurement and supply chain thought leader.
Considering a career change? Browse our latest procurement and supply chain jobs.
Read the other interviews in our "Interview With" series:
- Steve Valenti: Lack of Today and Opportunity for Tomorrow
- James Withers: Scotland's Food and Drink Supply Chain
- Steve Johnson: Training & Development in Procurement & Supply Chain