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Civil Service

This blog post was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Introducing the Civil Service Group

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The Civil Service Group is a new team in the Cabinet Office formed to support the official and Ministerial leadership of the Civil Service. Led by Director General Olly Robbins it will work with experts across the Cabinet Office, government departments and external organisations to deliver today’s reforms of the Service, and propose tomorrow’s changes.

The strengths of the Civil Service – its impartiality, incorruptibility and its dedication to public service – are a source of envy abroad and pride at home, but this position of strength was not earned by our predecessors for standing still while the world around them was changed by social, technological and economic factors. If we are to build on this position of strength and hand on to our successors a service that is more skilled, less bureaucratic and more unified then we must maintain our ability to evolve as a core value, and a key strength.

I think that means taking an open-minded and evidence-based view about what functions civil servants should carry out, the structure of the Government we support and where policy advice is sought as well as the political choices about how services are delivered to the public. Only through rigorous application of these standards will Ministers and the public have confidence that our services will be of a quality and a cost that rivals anything comparable in the rest of the economy, or the world.

In support of that aim I have four priorities:

  1. convincing Ministers, and the public, that the Civil Service can reform itself with commitment and energy. By encouraging and monitoring the delivery of the Government’s Civil Service Reform Plan, including the streamlining of professional functions across government Departments, such as HR.
  2. taking a once-in-a-generation opportunity to win the credibility to shape our own future as a service. By leading the thinking about the next chapter of reform including what the Civil Service needs to do, how should we do it and what size and shape we need to be to deliver over the next Parliament as well as this one.
  3. developing clear, collective leadership of the Civil Service, focusing on how we create a sense of common purpose, institutional values, a shared change agenda, and a bold, positive story about the Civil Service we are proud to lead now and want to lead in the future.
  4. working with departments on their own improvement plans. By working with functional leaders to foster stronger capability, professionalisation and efficiency in the Civil Service, with the Government’s non-executive directors to challenge and support Departmental change, and with the Civil Service’s collective leadership to understand the needs for the future and plan for their delivery.

We will balance carefully the need to support and assist Departments with our responsibility to lead and challenge them. Specifically I will make sure we are:

  • transparent and honest – our default setting will be to be open about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, inviting comment, feedback and challenge from our Cabinet Office and Departmental colleagues.
  • good partners – we can change nothing in the real world from a desk in Whitehall. We will acknowledge our dependency on the Departments and agencies and work with them to find the best combination of support, advice and challenge.
  • a force for clarity, coherence and ruthless prioritisation. We will work with the centre and the rest of the Civil Service to ensure there are fewer, clearer priorities and requirements of Civil Servants.

I believe it is only through working together to develop this shared vision for the future that we will be able to effectively deliver on it, and maintain the rightful place of the Civil Service as one of the most dedicated and professional of its kind.

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  1. Comment by Des McConaghy posted on

    Yes Mike - the missing link is what we old men used to call the "constituency dimension". I last discussed this with Oliver Robbins at a meeting in the Treasury when the then government was launching "Public Service Agreements" (OPAs etc) and I had shown how we could incorporate this explicit interdepartmental "constituency dimension" of priority spending and moreover one that was also then routinely "validated" by Parliament. But Oliver explained that the then PM (Mr Brown) was not very interested in parliamentary innovations - though he agreed that the then Public Accounts Committee could be asked to consider the statistical relevance of PSAs and OPAs. But some such general validation of an explicit constituency dimension to our annual expenditure plans is still required. I can still suggest how this explicit constituency dimenion be managed and controlled.

  2. Comment by Mike Mapstone posted on

    Whilst one can applaud the priorities and the commitment stated, one notes that there is no commitment to customer service, the commitment to understand the needs of the department being supported and the needs and expectations of the population serviced by the department. Often we in the Civil Service are too focused on ourselves and we forget the original principles of serving the electorate through good service at the customer interface. If they do not have a good experience it will not matter how good our internal systems and praise is as we will have failed.