Private Sector Smugness and an Entitlement Mentality

Think Tank

4 min read

Mark Goyder is a senior advisor to the Board Intelligence Think Tank. He’s the founder of Tomorrow’s Company and co-author with Ong Boon Hwee of Entrusted: Stewardship for Responsible Wealth Creation.


“I get the impression that there is an upper echelon of people who think that the rules that the rest of us have to follow don’t apply to them.”

These are the words of a woman in Cardiff who was stopped in the street by a BBC reporter and asked what she thought about the Cameron/Crothers/Greensill revelations.

Bill Crothers was a senior executive with management consultancy Accenture for 21 years, and a member of its board from 1987 to 2007. Then he joined the Civil Service. In 2010 he became the Government’s Chief Procurement Officer and later, Chief Commercial Officer, both based in the Cabinet Office. He announced his retirement from that post in 2015 but continued to work as a government procurement advisor while simultaneously working as an advisor to Greensill. Crothers did not immediately become a director of Greensill but he confidently admitted that the intention of this first, advisory, appointment was that he would later. This put him, like David Cameron, in line to make millions from a future listing of Greensill.

How could a man whose work for at least the last five years had been focused on effective procurement not recognise that it was just plain wrong to combine these two roles?

How could anyone he consulted possibly agree that this was appropriate? Never mind the government guidelines. What about old-fashioned common sense and the need to preserve the long-cherished integrity of the Civil Service. The importance of a public service ethos was certainly clear to Sir John Manzoni, who was recruited from the private sector to lead the Civil Service and became Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office. In December 2019, shortly before his retirement, Manzoni described the Civil Service as “a very proud institution that’s grounded in values and in public service.”

The explanation lies in PSS — Private Sector Smugness. Bill Crothers came into procurement at the invitation of Francis Maude, a Cabinet Office Minister. Maude wanted to bring in people from the private sector to introduce commercial attitudes and commercial discipline. He may have been right to challenge the Civil Service’s disdain for commerce. But did Maude, or Crothers, sufficiently value what went with that disdain — the long-established Civil Service ethic of objectivity and integrity, free of commercial self-interest? And did they understand that no business endures unless it is founded on integrity and guided in its behaviours by a strong sense of what the company stands for? The evidence is that Maude didn’t. As Sir Bernard Jenkin, senior Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, testifies:

“Tougher rules and stronger regulation may help, but people do not adopt better values if they are just dodging rules. We teach our children values when bringing them up. The best organisations continue to train and teach the best values and attitudes to their people, as part of creating a positive ethos in their work. The armed forces, the security services, most professions such as the law or medicine, do this. A senior civil servant confirmed to me this week that ‘the civil service used to do this’, but it all ended with Francis Maude’s shortsighted decision to abolish the National School of Government.”

~ Sir Bernard Jenkin, senior Conservative MP, Chair of the House of Commons Liaison Committee

And what did Crothers bring from the private sector? Here is the comment of one colleague of Crothers in the new Crown Commercial Service which Maude established and Crothers led:

“CCS were consistently told they needed to be more like the private sector and a huge focus was given on bringing in new ‘big hitters’ from the private sector. No change in outcomes though!”

Another commented:

“The overall concept was fundamentally undermined by the delivery . . . many Crown Reps weren’t very good. Then Bill also introduced the Complex Commercial Transactions team. (. . . He was going to call it the ‘big deal team’ but I imagine someone with a little common sense convinced him otherwise.) This team was/is almost entirely populated with cast-offs from Departments and ex-consultants who didn’t quite make it in industry. As a client/customer of this team, it was/is a shocking experience. Its purpose was simple — get involved in anything that looks complex, turn up to meetings, add no value, claim all of the savings. The previous GPS model never changed and is still a massive framework factory. And the data is still pants.”

This paints a picture. A new minister and his senior official confident in their private sector superiority, united in the belief that the Civil Service was too sleepy and not commercial enough. Perhaps they were a little blind to their own assumptions? Perhaps they did not sufficiently value what the Civil Service stood for?

Bill Crothers was a civil servant. Let's just think about those two words. Civil Service. An organisation whose whole purpose is to serve citizens.

Yet as Chief Commercial Officer serving the taxpayer, he seemed to think it was fine to moonlight for a commercial private-sector company.

His sense of entitlement had blinded him to the meaning of the words “civil” and “service”.

What is the contribution of business to a fairer society? Perhaps, as this story suggests, it starts with due humility and respect for what Sir John Manzoni has described as a proud institution that’s grounded in values and public service.

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