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Civil Service Reform – a progress update

Source: Public Sector Executive Oct/Nov 2014

PSE’s Sam McCaffrey was in Whitehall for the launch of the latest update on Civil Service reform, with Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude MP.

In June 2012 David Cameron wrote in the foreword to the government’s Civil Service Reform Plan that it was about “harnessing the world-beating talents of those who work in our Civil Service and making sure they aren’t held back by a system that can be sclerotic and slow”.

A year after that, the “sclerotic” system proved just how difficult it would be to change. In a 2013 report looking at how the past year had gone, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and the then head of the Civil Service, Sir Bob Kerslake, found that reform was being held up by some of the very things that they were trying to change: weakness in capability and lack of clear accountability and delivery discipline.

After that frank self-appraisal of how they had failed to deliver change, the Whitehall leaders set out with a renewed purpose to push the reforms over the last year. This month they released their second year report card: so how have they done?

In the 2013 report, of the 18 areas identified for reform, only six were found to be on track. Four areas, such as creating a modern workplace and increasing private sector secondments, were found to be significantly off-track or delayed.

Happily, the latest update flags only two areas as seriously delayed (evidence-based policy-making and upgrading government IT equipment), and many of the priorities outlined in the ‘One Year On’ 2013 report have been implemented.

Real progress

PSE attended the Whitehall briefing with Maude and Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to get the latest update. Maude said the pace of reform has quickened and that real progress has been made.

“We saved over £14bn in efficiencies in the previous year. Our digital exemplars are now live and there are many other [area] where we have made real progress,” he said. 

The 2013 commitment to develop a model for conducting policy audits has not yet been done. However in the new report they ‘recommit’ to this goal, saying that a “rigorous policy audit framework” will be agreed and a number of actual policy audits will be completed by Christmas.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, co-author of the new report, also suggested that the approach being taken on digital development could be applied to policy making.

“The iterative, agile methodology of testing things out and getting feedback applies as much to policy development as it does to delivering services,” he said.

He went on to suggest that this could be one of the most important ways to cut costs over the next five years. Earlier this year 45% of civil servants identified “better computer equipment” as the single thing that would most improve the way they work, but progress has been slow.

Maude and Heywood say in this new report: “Progress on replacing IT equipment is at a slower pace than we would like; the cost of exiting legacy contracts however means we have had to take hard decisions about how quickly we can deliver change.”

‘I’m a big fan of outsourcing’

Maude expanded on this at the briefing.

“I’m a big fan of outsourcing in general,” he said. “But actually we outsource too much IT in too big and impenetrable blocks and one of the things we’re doing is insourcing and bringing back some IT and digital.”

The ultimate aim of upgrading IT is to provide civil servants with flexible, modern equipment that would work both remotely and in the office.

In addition to looking at the previous targets that had been set out, the report also looked over the Civil Service as a whole and identified what reform still needs to be addressed.

Heywood said: “Like any organisation of great longevity, we need to continue to refresh, modernise, improve. We need a culture of continuous improvement to become embedded.”

A key target for further reform is digital. The report said that government needs to greatly expand its digital capabilities during the next Parliament.

“The shift to digital will not stop with the 25 exemplar services. If we are really to change how people use government services, all government transactional services – where possible – should be available online and easy to use. More government transactional services will follow this route,” said the report.

The other key areas targeted in the report were the culture of the Civil Service and its workforce. In the foreword to the report, Maude and Heywood say civil servants must deal “competently and straightforwardly” with ministers, providing open debate and candid advice. “But once a ministerial decision has been taken, civil servants have a professional duty to make a reality of that decision,” they write.

Culture of the future

They have a clear vision for the culture of the future: “We need culture change that supports innovation, challenges the bias to inertia, makes us more receptive to relevant experience from other organisations so that all parts of the Civil Service are as good as the best, and makes the most of the formidable talents at our disposal, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or disability.”

Maude and Heywood identify leadership as the key to changing culture in Whitehall and plan to develop a new leadership statement to make clear the expectations on all leaders in the Civil Service.

The report also says that more people from outside the civil service will be brought in to address skills gaps, with more training and support for existing civil servants. As part of this there will be a new presumption that senior civil service appointments below permanent secretary level should be open to external candidates. Civil servants applying for permanent secretary posts will be expected – and after summer 2016 required – to have completed an appropriate business school leadership course before taking up an appointment, ensuring that leadership skills are prioritised for the top management posts in the Civil Service. Maude did say, however, that there was a mixed record of success with people coming straight from the private sector, with plenty of examples of “tissue rejection”.

He will hope that this will not apply to the appointment of John Manzoni as the first chief executive of the Civil Service (see below). Announced alongside the release of the report, the hiring of Manzoni is the first key move in achieving these new targets.

First chief executive for the Civil Service

The prime minister has appointed the first-ever chief executive of the Civil Service: John Manzoni, the previous head of the Major Projects Authority.

Manzoni, whose 30 years of experience in the private sector includes time as CEO of BP Downstream and of Talisman Energy, steps into a role that was created in the wake of Sir Bob Kerslake stepping down last month.

He became a controversial figure at BP when he was criticised for his role in the Texas oil refinery explosion that killed 15 people in 2005. An internal report said he failed to heed “serious warning signals” prior to the Texas explosion, and Manzoni stepped down a month later. The report cleared him of serious neglect or intentional misconduct.

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has reclaimed the full title ‘Head of the Civil Service’, while Manzoni will have control over the key functions that make government as a whole work more efficiently. This includes being in charge of the Efficiency and Reform Group and the Civil Service Reform programme.

David Cameron said: “As part of our long-term economic plan, we have cut the costs of Whitehall and improved the way government is run. But the job of changing our country is far from done.

“This is why I am delighted to appoint John Manzoni as the first chief executive of the Civil Service. John’s experience of business and the private sector puts him in the perfect position to accelerate the pace of these reforms in the years ahead.”

At a briefing in Whitehall attended by PSE, the minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude MP, said: “One of the many advantages that John has is that he has already spent six months in the Civil Service and has emphatically passed the ‘tissue rejection test’.”

He also stressed that Manzoni’s time in the private sector had given him high-level experience in both line management and functional management, which are both key skillsets needed for the role.

He said: “John is an excellent choice as the first chief executive of the Civil Service. Last year alone our Whitehall reforms helped save taxpayers £14.3bn compared to a 2009-10 baseline. But there’s much more to do to accelerate the pace of reform and embed a new, more efficient approach to government. Hard-working people expect us to spend their money carefully and this appointment will help us do just that.”

Commenting on his new role, Manzoni said: “I am excited to take up this post at the heart of government at this crucial time. My priority is building on the existing momentum to strengthen the execution muscle of Whitehall and embed a sustainable productivity agenda across government. I look forward to playing my part in leading the Civil Service along with Francis Maude and Jeremy Heywood.”

(Image: mrgarethm)

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