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David Smith

Commercial Director - Department for Work and Pensions (as of June 2010)

There is a popular misconception that senior procurement posts in Government are ring-fenced for high flying graduates and for those who come from the private sector.

David says that is nonsense.

"The key to establishing highly competent procurement teams is diversity.  Of course, there will always be a need to attract talent from elsewhere and to recruit well qualified graduate trainees, but those with extensive experience within the Civil Service have a detailed knowledge of how Government works and have also acquired a broad range of skills that are directly relevant.  They have an equal opportunity to make it to the top." ...And he knows.

David started work after leaving school with A levels - "I didn’t realise it at the time, but A levels in economics and British constitution and politics provided an excellent foundation to my career" - and, after several temporary jobs, joined the public sector in 1973 as an Administrative Assistant.

"It was just one of those decisions.  At that stage of my life I had no particular plans for a long-term career.  It looked like a decent enough job, so I applied for it." 


His first appointment was as a filing clerk in the medical records office at Saint Andrews Hospital, Bow, East London.  Shortly afterwards he gained promotion to Executive Officer and a posting to the Home Office in the Directorate of Telecommunications, dealing with the Fire, Police and Emergency Services. 

"I was effectively in a procurement team but, in those days, we didn’t describe it as such." 

He then held a number of different posts in the Home Office - in HR, security, welfare and policy and even a secondment to the Cabinet Office in 1982 for six months, as a member of the Falklands Islands Review Committee.

His promotion to Higher Executive Officer in 1987, and then a move to the Finance, Accounting and Procurement Unit in the Home Office, formally launched his career in procurement.  This was a new and pioneering unit that recognised procurement as a distinct function within the Civil Service and his primary role was to develop procurement policy and to devise new processes. 

"I realised that working in procurement meant that you made things happen and that what you delivered helped drive the business forward."

A year later, as a Senior Executive Officer, he moved into the Central Unit for Procurement (now the Office of Government Commerce).  Procurement was by then becoming recognised as a key skill within Government and he was tasked with developing procurement policy and processes for use across Government. He was also responsible for delivering procurement training to a number of Departments.

In 1991, he was promoted again (to Grade 7) and moved to a senior procurement manager position in the Inland Revenue.   Five years later he became Deputy Head of the Procurement Profession for the Inland Revenue and shortly thereafter Head of the Procurement.

Fourteen years after launching his procurement career, following an open competition, he was appointed to the post of Commercial Director for the Department of Work and Pensions (at SCS Payband 2). 

"The combination of many years’ experience of working in various roles in Government, a professional qualification (MCIPS) and practical procurement skills has been invaluable." 

He now leads a procurement team of 640 and is responsible for an annual spend of £4.27 billion. He is also a member of a number of senior management boards in the Department.


"Procurement is demanding but it is very enjoyable. It has enabled me work in the heart of the business activity of the Department.  It’s not for anyone who wants to just tread water.  If you are going to succeed, you have to deliver.  In Government procurement, you can deliver on a scale that you could never hope for elsewhere.  If you like to achieve real results, this is the place to do it."

David believes that the technical, general management and commercial skills gained in procurement would be an asset to anyone, whether they follow a career in procurement or move outside the profession. 

He is pleased to have established the procurement function in a number of Government organisations and to have encouraged hundreds to join the profession. He has also taking a personal interest (through the Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS)) for developing procurement expertise in Africa and has lectured extensively there. He was also responsible for devising and introducing the Certificate Of Competence for Purchasing and Supply, which caters specifically for the needs of those working in procurement in the Public Sector and he works closely with CIPS to promote the profession worldwide.

As for the future?

"I’ve had a fascinating career so far and thoroughly enjoy my current role. I will continue to encourage people to join the profession and to pioneer innovative commercial activity that improves our business."