Janet Albion - Head of Commercial Governance & Assurance at HS2 Ltd


Janet Albion, Head of Commercial Governance & Assurance at HS2 Ltd, has forged a highly successful career in procurement over 25 years.

Working in both the public and private sectors, she has the breadth and depth of experience that many aspire to.  Janet talks about forging her career, discovering her niche and her role at HS2.

From humble beginnings

Growing up in a large shipbuilding town near Glasgow, Janet Albion was in a minority when it came to furthering her education beyond GCSEs.  With the encouragement of her family, Janet completed A Levels. Although she achieved the grades for University, Janet decided instead to enter the world of work.

Forging a career

Janet found herself in a series of roles, from customer services to kitchen planning.  A move to Cumbria led her to a local job centre where she was persuaded to take a six week position in the buying department at Furness General Hospital.  Janet loved it and stayed for eight years, gaining experience, her MCIPS (Member of the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply) qualification and becoming the department’s Deputy Head.

Balancing a successful career with three children and a husband who worked nearly 100 miles away in Manchester and Liverpool proved an unnecessary strain on work life balance, so in 1999 Janet and her family decided to realign the two by relocating to Waddington.

The move was a success for the family and Janet’s career as she progressed through the ranks,   moving from deputy head of procurement and hotel services for Waddington community to head of procurement at St Helens and Knowsley Hospitals and then head of procurement at Trafford Council.

It was while working at Trafford Council that Janet found her niche, working with new departments, developing the governance and processes around it and streamlining departments that weren’t performing as well as they could.

Exploring new areas – moving from the public to private sector

At this point Janet was head hunted by management consultancy firm PwC LLP (PricewaterhouseCoopers) to work in its public sector procurement consultancy team.  Here her projects involved gathering evidence in order to change operating models and create detailed saving plans to working with the client to implement them when required.

Her role within the private sector offered Janet a degree of variety that she had never experienced before, working with a diverse range of clients and appreciating the many challenges that each faced.

While it was a relatively uncommon move, Janet does not regret crossing over from public to private sector because it delivered invaluable experience.

After seven years at PwC, Janet took a position at The Gap Partnership, a specialist negotiation consultancy firm.  Here she split her time consulting with clients on big negotiations and running a flagship training course called The Complete Skilled Negotiator.  While Janet enjoyed the role immensely, the amount of travel time involved proved too much and after two years she decided to take on a new challenge.

Primed and ready for a new challenge at HS2

The breadth and depth of Janet’s experience made her an ideal candidate for the role of Head of Commercial Governance & Assurance at HS2 Ltd, which she took in December 2015.  This role appealed to Janet like no other because it’s “the biggest infrastructure project that will ever happen in my lifetime.  To be part of it and to be part of the way HS2 is operating is very exciting”, Janet explained.

Janet continues: “As you can imagine, a project of this scale requires some enormous procurements.  We’re not talking millions, we’re talking billions.  At the moment we’re working on a procurement that is estimated to be worth £9 billion and that will not be the biggest one we’ll do.  Being involved in setting up the approvals and the assurance of the processes is really exciting.  HS2 as an organisation is in its infancy so while the corporate structure is forming, we can’t slow down the procurements for phase 1.  The way I see it is that we’re building the bridge as we walk on it.”

One year at HS2

Janet and her ten-strong team are implementing ‘fit for purpose’ legal processes and also investing in innovative new assurance processes, which she believes will be the benchmark for infrastructure projects in the future.

One example is the ‘Three line of defence model’.  While it’s not a new process it has been adapted to assure the procurement process is as robust as possible before an ITT (invitation to tender) is issued.

  1. First line of defence – the procurement director at HS2 will scrutinise the documentation for its legality and authorisation by the relevant teams
  2. Second line of defence – semi-independent experts will then go through the same process
  3. Third line of defence – this is an independent assurance undertaking. At this stage an expert board, which has been formed from the alumni of the chartered institute of engineers, is brought in to give constructive challenge on how the procurement team at HS2 are intending to procure something.

This means that before anything is released to the supply market a robust process has been undertaken to ensure it’s as accurate as possible. This level of assurance gives security that every cost has been considered and is necessary.

Behavioural assessment centres are another way to ensure each tender is awarded to the most suitable contractor.  At this stage, teams from potential contractors and HS2 are asked to problem solve scenarios together.  Workplace psychologists then provide feedback on the dynamics within the group.  Forming true partnerships with contractors is imperative to a project of this scale performing well for both contractor and buyer.

While putting policies and procedures in place is vital, Janet explains that “it’s important that the policies and procedures for the procurement teams to follow are flexible, because later down the line we might be told that it doesn’t work, that it’s stifling innovation or doesn’t take into consideration quality and diversity.”

“At this stage in the project we know the outlines of the processes, what milestones need to be met and the legal tests that have to be passed in terms of OJEU (Official Journal of the European Union) regulations,. We’ll be putting the meat on the bones between now and the end of January and that is a challenge that I’m very enthusiastic about”.

At the end of 2016 the procurement department at HS2 had approximately 70 different procurement contracts in the pipeline.  The Enabling Works contract  was  awarded in November and the main works civils contract, up to a value of £8.6 billion was in evaluation.

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