Published date: 17 June 2019

HFMA article: Smith handed keys to NHS Property CFO role

New NHS Property Services chief financial officer Mark Smith is keen to drive the Department of Health and Social Care-owned organisation forward using his commercial experience and public-sector values.

He gives three reasons for wanting to join Property Services, which was set up in 2013 to manage assets formerly owned by primary care trusts and strategic health authorities. ‘I believe in UK plc and, in any job I do, I want to be able to give something back to it, hopefully making people’s lives better.

‘Coming to work for an NHS organisation that is fundamentally about delivering healthcare across England means a lot to me,’ he says. ‘The second thing is the opportunity to sit with just over 200 finance professionals and help them develop and grow – that’s always been important to me. I’ve always looked to focus on people’s development as it’s something that makes the finance function successful.’

The third attraction was the enthusiasm from the organisation’s leadership. ‘The board members I met during the recruitment process showed such passion, hunger and desire to do the right thing for the healthcare environment. It was infectious.’

Mr Smith, who succeeds Julian Pearce, has a background in communication and IT services, having spent 10 years at Fujitsu Services and 14 at BT/Openreach. He held several finance director roles at BT, particularly in IT, networks and infrastructure, and was involved in the integration of the EE mobile service into BT. He also has a background in risk and compliance and has experience in operational management.

‘NHS Property Services is here fundamentally to deliver good services and property to healthcare. My strength is in understanding what good looks like, how to promote good cost control work and good supplier and customer relationships while delivering the best quality services you can.’

His finance team will play an important role in supporting the development of NHS Property Services. Mr Smith says: ‘I have three themes when I go into an organisation – integrity, insight and impact. Every organisation is at a different stage. In the first instance, we are accountants – integrity always needs to be the starting point and we should be proud of that as an organisation, especially in finance.

‘In terms of insight, we must always continue to learn and develop because the more we can learn about the organisation, the better insight we can bring to generate opportunities. From a business point of view, that means saving money to reinvest back into the healthcare estate.

‘The finance function needs to have the capability and skills to lead that. It needs to drive good decision-making and choices on investment in a direction that moves the business forward. As I get to understand where the organisation is, I will focus on these three streams.’

NHS Property Services has a complex and diverse portfolio of 3,500 properties, spanning everything from local GP surgeries to hospitals. ‘That’s a massive challenge for any organisation from a property and services point of view. Finance has a big role to play here.’

For example, finance professionals can help understand the costs of running these buildings and advise on reducing overheads without affecting the quality of services provided within them.

‘The finance function can bring a better understanding of their challenges to present opportunities and changes for the greater good of the NHS.’

Since 2013 NHS Property Services has disposed of surplus assets to the tune of almost £300m and Mr Smith says it will continue to look at sales on a case-by-case basis.

Funds released from the sale of surplus estate are returned to the Department to be reinvested in the NHS.

‘We have our own capital budget to invest in new buildings and to maintain the existing estate. We have to get the balance right between these, but fundamentally it must lead to an uplift in the quality of our property and services,’ Mr Smith adds. ‘Capital has always been a scarce resource and, as a function, we need to make sure we are spending it in the best possible way.’

This article first appeared in the June issue of Healthcare Finance