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Brexit - The UK’s greatest transformation project

By Ross Dawson. Published on 4 October 2016

Since the referendum in June, there have been extensive discussions about how to proceed, and what will happen under the leadership of Teresa May. Dominic Cook of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, said Brexit is “the biggest transformational project a UK government has ever undertaken” not only because of foreign negotiations but “the inward-facing part: implementing and educating in the UK”.

I’ve read many articles discussing the need to treat Brexit as a change programme. This approach and positioning is reassuring, but do the right people genuinely appreciate this? And do they know what good looks like?

Since becoming Prime Minister, Mrs May has repeatedly said “Brexit means Brexit”, and so we, the public, are to take it that this will happen, and apart from the likelihood of a “bespoke” trade agreement, any other details are yet to be revealed. Meanwhile, Sir Amyas Morse, Head of the National Audit Office, has publicly argued that in the face of increasingly complex projects and Brexit, government ministers need to recognise the depth of the challenge they are facing to control and manage their project commitments.

With so many big programmes in the public sector, HS2 and Trident to name only two, and budgets being cut everywhere, will the UK Government be able to assign appropriate investment in to getting it right? Or, will the consequent deployments mean it is likely that they will use more civil servants to deliver Brexit and these projects rather than bringing in experienced heavy hitting transformation specialists?

I’ve worked across a broad spectrum of functions within public sector organisations for years, and have always tried to ensure that the best person for the job gets the work rather than the most familiar face or safest profile.

David Davis, the Cabinet Minister in charge of the department told members of the House of Lords EU Select Committee last week that his ministry was “actually quite tiny” at present, but had “quadrupled” in size over the past eight weeks.

“It’ll probably double again in size, but it’ll still be very small by the standards of Whitehall,” he said. “Once we get to that sort of size we’re going to be looking to outsiders. I’ve got a lot of very bright young civil servants – I haven’t got that much grey hair yet, which I may have to find outside.”

It’s well known that they are bringing in support from the private sector, such as lawyers negotiators, economists, regulatory experts and management consultants. Consultancies are an obvious choice for support and are, of course, brilliant in many ways, but in my opinion, not best placed to deliver this change due to cost, ownership of agenda, and sustainability purposes post Brexit. On the other hand, using civil servants is essential but many are not accustomed to genuine transformation and certainly not experienced in this extent of change, especially related to international trade.

Anyone interested in ‘making a difference’ wants to be involved in the change and as a result, Davis has been inundated with people offering their services, so I’m sure he has a superb team who will drive things forward well. However, I know some excellent independent change specialists who are an obvious fit for these government changes, and despite being introduced to the appropriate contacts, haven’t even been considered due to their day rates (which incidentally are at least half that of a big four consultant, often with more relevant work experience), due to lack of political contacts, or because of their preference to protect themselves by using a big branded consultancy banner – we all know the phrase “you don’t get fired for hiring (insert consultancy name here)…”.

Interim management offers an adaptable, cost effective alternative to consulting and enables an organisation to maintain their ownership of change whilst being guided, coached, empowered and upskilled on their journey.

Eton Bridge Partners’ Business Transformation & Technology practice has a fantastic network of associates whose model is to work with the business to deliver, transfer knowledge and ownership and then move on. They are often from a consultancy background, so are accustomed to creating a deliverable plan from concept stage, and have had specific responsibility for then implementing the strategy with the business sponsors. They leave a lasting legacy, understood and accepted by the business and they have no incentive to ‘land and expand’; in fact the IR35 tax legislation actively deters them from doing so.

So, if you fancy putting the world to rights, or if you could do with a genuine transformational interim manager, do call me to discuss.

Ross Dawson 1

Ross Dawson
Interim Management – Business Transformation
M: 07710 884 004
T: 01753 303 600
E: Ross.Dawson@etonbridgepartners.com

Ross Dawson


Ross has over 10 years interim recruitment experience and specialises in executive level interim appointments within business transformation. Ross is accustomed to working with a diverse client base from global businesses to SMEs across private and public sectors, as well as not-for-profit.