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Civil Service

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

Civil Service Reform – Progress Report

Today we have published Civil Service Reform Plan: Progress Report which outlines the great progress the Civil Service has made over the last few years in becoming a smaller, more efficient, more skilled, more open and less bureaucratic organisation. The report has a number of excellent case studies that show very clearly how individual civil servants are successfully taking forward key elements of the programme. This work has been jointly led by the Minister for Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, and my predecessor, Sir Bob Kerslake, with the full support of myself and Permanent Secretary colleagues.

Today we have also announced that John Manzoni, currently the Head of the Major Projects Authority, but previously Chief Executive of the major Canadian oil company Talisman Energy Inc. will become the Civil Service’s first Chief Executive. This is a new full-time role that will be responsible day to day for driving forward the Civil Service reform programme and the Government’s Efficiency and Reform agenda. I look forward very much to working with John in this new role and I am sure you will all join me in wishing him every success.

We have achieved real progress


John starts in this new role at a key moment for all of us. Since publishing the Civil Service Reform Plan in 2012 and the One-Year On Report last year, reform has gone from being a plan on paper to a reality that has reached every part of our organisation. And I am very proud of how far the Civil Service has come in this time: 22 of the 25 digital exemplars are now live or in beta providing a better service at lower cost to the public; Civil Service Quarterly has been launched to showcase our work and expertise and open us up to challenge; the Functional Leadership programme is helping us to address long-standing capability gaps in the key commercial, contract management, project management and digital areas. And on top of this, we have delivered £14.3 billion of efficiency savings in 2013/14 alone, while implementing 389 commitments from the Coalition Agreement.

But we know our reforms will only stick if they are fully embedded within departments and become part of the mainstream daily work that we do. Civil servants want change, not for its own sake, but so that they can deliver better services for the public, their fellow citizens. This year’s Civil Service Live events have shown how far we have come: civil servants were sharing what they were doing in their own teams to create a modern Civil Service and asking ‘what next’. We now need to ensure that the vast majority of civil servants are able to work in a modern Civil Service.

Sir Jeremy talking on stage

We need to define our ‘Leadership ‘

Any transformation programme must start with leadership. All of us must take personal responsibility for living the Civil Service’s values, for creating a culture that supports innovation, challenges the bias to inertia, works seamlessly across departmental boundaries, makes us more receptive to outside experiences, makes the most of our people and cherishes our diversity.

But leadership from the top will be key. That is why the Civil Service Board has committed to publishing for the first time a single leadership statement that makes clear the expectations of all Civil Service leaders, and can be used to hold leaders to account against these expectations. We now need to put time and effort into defining and promoting good leadership, not just as an abstract concept but specifically in today’s Civil Service – so all input welcome please on what good and bad leadership looks like.

I know what I personally would expect to see in a statement of good leadership in the Civil Service:

  • having the courage to challenge others, speaking ‘truth to power’–and welcoming challenge oneself;
  • encouraging innovation and fresh thinking rather than minimising risk and maintaining the status quo;
  • empowering people to deliver outcomes within a clearly defined ‘space to operate’;
  • showing rather than hiding a real passion for public service and the values of the Civil Service;
  • collaborating with colleagues across departmental boundaries, rather than competing or protecting silos;
  • being more open, including to ideas from outside;
  • valuing differences and avoiding “group think” or unconscious bias;
  • caring more about nurturing and developing talent and potential; and caring less about grade.

I started this conversation on my blog on Monday and would invite everyone to use the comment section to share your views on what we should expect from our leaders or to comment on some of my suggestions. You can also e-mail your comments to

Continuing to modernise

There are three other areas where I and the Civil Service Board would like to see a real focus over the coming year:

  • First, we must deliver the digital exemplar projects as promised, for many members of the public this will be the most visible sign of a reforming, modernising civil service.
  • Second, we must drive forward the renewed focus on talent management and diversity; and
  • Third, we must build on the excellent foundations laid over the last two years in improving the capability of the Civil Service in the key areas – above all commercial, contract management, digital and project management skills. If you haven’t already done so I recommend completing the Self-Assessment Tool which will provide you will a tailored development plan allowing you to focus in these areas.

Of course, our core responsibility each and every day is to support Ministers and deliver services to the public with integrity and professionalism. Despite the tough and challenging times ahead, I know you will all continue to do this with your customary passion and commitment. So let me end by thanking everyone for the tremendous work you do every day and for your continuing commitment to making this the finest Civil Service in the world.

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  1. Comment by Winston Smith posted on

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Comedy Gold!
    You want to know what bad leadership looks like? Got a mirror...

  2. Comment by Miles posted on

    I will tell you what happens when you try to "speak truth to power". Nothing. Either no response at all or a bland email saying "your feedback will be taken into account in our evaluation". HR advises us to take problems with PMR to line managers who are, in the cases I am aware of, the source of the difficulties. Is anyone interested in the damage last year's ramshackle PMR process caused, creating uncertainty bordering on anxiety, and widespread demoralisation. Has anyone noticed staff in tears over this year's mid-year review, even before it has been completed? Driving up performance? Driving out staff, and not the poor performers. HMRC is lucky that we take pride in our work, because we sure aren't doing it because PMR encourages us to be better. The culture is to keep your head down and your trap shut, and those that don't have in some cases been warned that a critical approach is an example of bad behaviour.

    I heard a very succinct description of a common perception of Building Our Future: "get with the programme or get out". We are being told, not consulted. A conversation is supposed to be a two-way affair, but there is no indication that staff will have any influence at all over the important decisions. These have already been made. As a PR exercise BoF has already failed.

    Can we learn from the private sector? Yes. We can learn from GE or Microsoft, who abandoned the quota system because it demoralised staff. A little honesty over the quota would be refreshing. We know it is a hard target at senior levels, not something which might or might not emerge from proper consideration of each individual's performance. In my own work area we are expected to get closer to the quota (though we weren't far off in 2013-2014), because insufficient staff were marked down last year. The Directorate requires more people to fail this year. Then it will have succeeded.

  3. Comment by William Hague (HMRC CPO) posted on

    Having read the post and comments with interest, I wanted to add my own thoughts to the debate. I believe the emphasis placed on leadership by the Civil Service Reform plan is especially important and agree with Sir Jeremy that this needs to start at the top. It is right that the statement of leadership will set out expectations for what good leadership looks like and we must use it to improve leadership across our organisations. In particular I personally think the point around being prepared to challenge and be challenged at all levels is integral to successfully reforming the Civil Service.

    For me, great leadership begins with an honest and open conversation with everyone to ensure they are fully involved as the Civil Service continues its transformation. In HMRC we have rolled out a national conversation called ‘Building our Future’ which engages everyone in the early thinking around the strategic direction of the Department up to 2020 and beyond. The challenge for us is to ensure we keep our people involved throughout the whole transformation and take on board the feedback and challenge we are receiving at each stage.

    I am also a great believer in nurturing our future leaders from the very beginning of their careers and am delighted by the success of the Civil Service’s many various talent / development programmes (including but not exclusive to our Apprenticeship and Fast Stream schemes) in creating a talent pipeline to senior roles in the Department.

    As leaders I am sure I / we can do more to identify the talent we have throughout the Civil Service and spend more time supporting these individuals, be it through coaching, mentoring, or investing the time to take an active role in talent programme events.

  4. Comment by Jeremy Heywood posted on

    Martin, those are great points and thanks for speaking up! Speaking ‘truth to power’ is about feeling confident to challenge and speak-up - this will be an important element of the culture we’re trying to build in the Civil Service and is something that we’re looking at through our CS21 programme – A Civil Service for the 21st Century (chapter two in the progress report). We’re also consulting on a new leadership statement at the minute – as I mentioned in a previous reply and there will be more to come on exactly what that looks like once we’ve had everyone’s comments. We’re certainly taking this very seriously and I’ll make sure my team feeds all comments on this blog into the consultation.

  5. Comment by Harriet posted on

    Like Tom I appreciate the fact that Sir Jeremy has taken the time to respond to our comments. For those wanting to see replies on PMR and pay he has already responded on his first blog on those issues. I'm sure others will agree that these blogs are a useful forum for us to voice our opinions to the Head of the Civil Service. Thank you!

    • Replies to Harriet>

      Comment by John posted on

      Regarding PMR Harriett, this is an issue that deserves much more than the 2 paragraphs provided.
      Perhaps Sir Jeremy could clear a week to blog about PMR in much more detail.
      However I totally agree it's nice to actually have a response......!

  6. Comment by Mark Bingham posted on

    I think basic fairness in how staff are treated is lacking in many parts of the CS and that is undermining confidence in our most senior leaders. To give an example, within HMRC the absence of pay progession during pay freeze/cap has meant that the good news story of getting more women into senior grades has been undermined by the opening of a significant gender pay gap as women are disproprtionally stranded in the lower part of the pay scale. This is evident from the 2010 equal pay audit. The situation won't have altered given the 1% limit on pay imposed, but it's worth mentioning that the 2013 audit (based on August 2013 pay) has yet to see the light of day. You would expect a government department to address it's equality obligations, to set an example the private sector would aspire to. Outside of the equality remit the pay system is an outrage in that staff are being paid thousands of pounds apart because they are stranded at different points on the pay scale - I'm only 65% up the pay scale despite approaching my tenth year in the grade; there are those worse off on the minimum as they approach their fifth year. So the most senior leaders need to address such fundamental issues; fairness is not a weakness.

  7. Comment by Andy S. posted on

    Re the statement of good leadership in the Civil Service....

    Honestly, the list is excellent and very creative. BUT ask leadership to recall any of it in 6 months time and better still to show examples!

  8. Comment by Martin Allman posted on

    "I know what I personally would expect to see in a statement of good leadership in the Civil Service:
    having the courage to challenge others, speaking ‘truth to power’–and welcoming challenge oneself"

    I wonder if this is a test? I have no idea what "speaking 'truth to power' means and am being brave enough to say so!

  9. Comment by Gordon Cains posted on

    As a new (less than 5 years) to Civil Service employee, I find it depressing that people still compare the Civil Service and Private Sector - good business sense is good buisness sense whatever return on investment you seek. Good business practice is woefully lacking in the agency where I work as can be witnessed by the numerous "not fit for designated purpose" systems the staff are expected to rely upon for day to day operation. Consultation with the people holding the expertise is routinely only sought once the primary decisions are made when it becomes a choice between two evils..

    The elephant in the room is that all decisions are made and rushed through with the intent of putting enough change in place to make it unfeasible to replace or withdraw before an upcoming election. This is not good practice, best value for tax payers or a recipe for success with your workforce who ultimately bear the brunt of poor decision choices when saddled with the outcome for 20 years as a day to day working practice.

  10. Comment by Jonathan posted on

    All very worrying, yet more of the private sector is better mentality and 'corporatising' the Civil Service. Surely Civil Service reform is best led by someone with significant knowledge and experience of the Civil Service. 8 months in the Major Projects Authority is hardly a rounded view of the whole organisation.

    Also concerning that the Civil Service Values seem to be mentioned as an afterthought to the 'clearly' higher priorities of downsizing and reforming us all. very much a sense of smoke and mirrors to all this

  11. Comment by Dee posted on

    An interesting view of Civil Service reform to date, however I do feel that the statements made within the expections to be seen in 'a statement of good leadership in the Civil Service' need to be explored a little, to provide some much needed perspective;

    • having the courage to challenge others, speaking ‘truth to power’–and welcoming challenge oneself;
    The problem here is that no one in senior positions wants to be ‘challenged’, they merely want agreement, otherwise individuals are considered as being negative or for the benefit of the PMR, displaying negative behaviours.

    • encouraging innovation and fresh thinking rather than minimising risk and maintaining the status quo;
    I have spent more than 30 years trying to offer innovation/fresh thinking and encouraging the same in others. Sadly after all these years I’ve realised I’ve been wasting my time; no one is listening, nor have they been for years. Lip service is I think the phrase!

    • empowering people to deliver outcomes within a clearly defined ‘space to operate’;
    Individuals should be empowered; empowerment helps to provide satisfaction, an increased feeling that individuals can and are contributing positively, whilst also feeling they are developing themselves. The only problem is that senior managers etc. generally fear empowerment as they see it as undermining their own status/position.

    • showing rather than hiding a real passion for public service and the values of the Civil Service;
    In my experience individuals do have genuine passion for the (public) work they do, for the services they provide etc., but this is undermined by the decisions and direction most departments seen intent on pursuing, which directly contradicts the quality of service the staff would like to deliver.

    • collaborating with colleagues across departmental boundaries, rather than competing or protecting silos;
    Collaboration with colleagues in other government departments is absolutely the way forward; however firstly all the years of silo working, both within individual departments and between departments as a whole needs to be understood and overcome!

    • being more open, including to ideas from outside;
    Being more open and being prepared to listen favourably to ideas from any source will always be a positive, although as with empowerment staff need to feel they will not be penalised for being more open (we’re back to the PMR system here), and senior management etc. must be taught to be more open to ‘ideas’ other than their own!

    • valuing differences and avoiding “group think” or unconscious bias;
    Valuing people’s differences is vital for forward movement in any organisation, but again it is generally senior leaders who are the most closed in this area as they fear for their ‘position’ or ‘status’. Individuals at the work-face are much more prepared to embrace everyone’s ideas and input.

    • caring more about nurturing and developing talent and potential; and caring less about grade.
    Nurturing and developing talent is again a tremendously positive and important motivator for anyone. Although the phrase ‘caring less about grade’ rather suggests that despite being nurtured and developed there is little likelihood of promotion and career enhancement!

  12. Comment by Kim posted on

    Oh Dear. All this makes very depressing reading. Maybe I've just been here too long, seen & heard it all before. New broom syndrome once again & staff cynicism at an all time high. Well said Julie Routledge I couldn't agree more.

  13. Comment by John posted on

    The head of HR spent 12 years with M & S - Perhaps she was bought in to get a discount on the wine....

  14. Comment by Ricardo posted on

    1% pay award how's that for value

  15. Comment by Chris posted on

    Can I just ask, why do people who have actually worked for the civil service for the majority of their careers never seem to achieve these senior civil service positions? Are our new apprentices aware of the fact that they will never achieve the top CS jobs, without having worked at the top in the private sector first (or having friends in high places)? Can I also ask, is it just me or is there an obvious agenda here, with fracking being very high profile with the current Government ? Heywood is wined and dined by Centrica and Manzoni is ex oil and fracking man.

  16. Comment by Steph B posted on

    The 'good leadership' point about "caring more about nurturing and developing talent and potential; and caring less about grade" suggests that staff will be expected to stretch themselves, but this won't be recognised through promotion. Promotion exercises themselves must surely be a candidate for getting rid of unnecessary bureaucracy. I worked in the private sector for many years before joining DWP (then DSS); out in the real world, promotion is seen as a way for management to reward good work. In the civil service, it seems more like a stamp of approval for those who know how to sell themselves against competencies. It's also an agonisingly-long process - we heard about forthcoming SEO opportunities a month ago, but the latest is that by time the process has run its course, the posts won't be filled until January.

  17. Comment by Tony Austin posted on

    This is, sadly, the usual PR fluff that each new Chief Exec/ Departmental Secretary/ etc etc trots out with their introduction to the Service. None of them have been courageous enough to speak up for a demoralised and badly rewarded but incredibly loyal and hard working workforce. It really depresses me to have to read this stuff. How many versions of the above have we read in the past 10 years...and how many in the next 10? God please send us someone who actually cares about their staff and the public rather than some random oil exec.
    While at BP, Manzoni was second-in-command to Lord Browne at the time of the Texas City refinery accident – one of the worst industrial accidents in US history. After the disaster, in which 15 people were killed and 170 injured, a confidential BP report found Manzoni had paid insufficient attention to safety and failed to spot clear warning signs. It accused him of failing to perform his duties in the runup to the explosion and of engaging in a “simply not acceptable” standoff with a colleague. Regulators levied a then-record fine of $21m (£13m) on the company for breaching safety rules.

  18. Comment by Lola posted on

    May I firstly state that I am totally in support of change that will make our services, and our delivery of those services, exemplar. Reading the phrase: "encouraging innovation and fresh thinking rather than minimising risk and maintaining the status quo" does, however, make me somewhat concerned; I would like assurances that risk will be kept to a manageable minimum, because the people of whom we would be seeking forgiveness for failings are the general public.Furthermore, I would not like to see the tabloids leap at any new opportunity to criticise us and undermine our achievments.

    • Replies to Lola>

      Comment by Jeremy Heywood posted on

      Hi Lola. I do understand your concern here and this is certainly something we need to think about carefully. Managing risk will never be something that we eradicate from the day job but I know from my own experience of talking to civil servants in many different departments that there is real energy and enthusiasm – at all levels – to try things differently and improve the service we can deliver to the public. I think the trick will be to trial new ideas – expanding those that work but being honest enough to stop when something isn’t going quite right. Hopefully approaching risk in a sensible way we can continue to innovate while ensuring that we are not taking unnecessary risks with tax payers money.

  19. Comment by David Hague posted on

    ..however in the lower grades, at the coalface, where the real work gets done PMR continues to create a climate of fear and absorbs excessive amounts of time re its operation. As a Tax Professional in HMRC this means less time spent on tackling evasion and 'protecting the revenue'.

    Transform the leadership but leave the rest of us out of it, it's not desired nor necessary.

  20. Comment by Paul Fry posted on

    I agree that we have come an awful long way in the past two years and there has been a big cultural shift (still a long way to go) in peoples thinking. However, (you probably knew there would be one) our record on delivering IT projects is not great and in my own department - releasing well trained and experienced staff before things are up and running is a big mistake. There also needs to be significant changes to the PMS (it maybe just an HMRC thing?) to enable that to be successful in driving staff forward and most of all - stop allowing local and regional managers to do their "own" thing just for their own career development without looking at the bigger picture (e.g. why havent we all got the same PMR stencils to complete even within the same department?)

  21. Comment by Julie Routledge posted on

    Having been a Civil Servant, mainly in frontline services, for 34 years, my experience is that the frontline knowledge is vastly underused. There is a consistent hierarchial split between those at the top, and those on the (pardon my Northernism) 'coal-face'. My main suggestion for radicalising the CS is to take the Senior Managers out of head-offices, and put them close to the 'action' - let them hear and see the realisites of managing caseloads, calls, face-to-face interviews, and targets on a daily basis. Cultures and unchallenged systems remain in place because frontline Civil Servants don't always have time to consider the strategies required; and the strategy decision makers don't have a clue to the realities of implementing the policies and procedures. A bit of levelling out wouldn't harm the service.

    • Replies to Julie Routledge>

      Comment by Jeremy Heywood posted on

      Thank you for all your comments. My team and I will try to answer as many of them as we can.

      Julie, I think you’ve really hit on a key point here. Hopefully you will have seen in the report the great work that the Department of Health have done in their Connecting to the Frontline programme – they have had great success in getting senior managers out to the ‘coal-face’ resulting in a greater understanding of how policy affects the frontline. As a result, 80% of the Department’s connecting partners say they have a better understanding of DH. This is certainly something I’d like to see more of and I’m pleased that other departments are looking at running similar programmes. Understanding the impact of policy on the frontline is crucial to designing the best services for the public and I hope that initiatives such as these can continue to have such a positive impact.

      • Replies to Jeremy Heywood>

        Comment by Tom posted on

        First of all I would like to thank Sir Jeremy for taking the time to respond to the posts put on this forum, I think I have seen more from him in the last few weeks than we ever saw from Sir Bob.

        I also think Julie Routledge has a very valid point, we have senior managers coming up with changes to systems and processes, who don't seem to have any idea as to what effect this wil have on front line staff. The senior managers not only need to come out to see staff, but I think they need to work on the front line doing the job for a week or so, in that way they will get a proper understanding of what their staff are facing.

        I have found that as more senior staff are added, then they appear to want different data from front line staff, which isn't helping us do our jobs, it is just adding more bureaucracy rather than reducing it.

  22. Comment by David posted on

    If you think the Civil Service has become more efficient and less bureaucratic, then you have clearly not spent any time at Her Majesty's Passport Office. Our customers need a PhD just be be able to complete their application forms correctly. We need to make a concerted effort to simplify and streamline our procedures, if we are to avoid a repetition of this year's disaster.

  23. Comment by John Steele posted on

    Where does "beta" and "silo" come from?

    There appears to be a mistake in each of the last two paragraphs.

  24. Comment by Bertie O'Connor posted on

    "Currently the Head of the Major Projects Authority, but previously Chief Executive of the major Canadian oil company Talisman Energy Inc" - why "but"? It implies that his experience as a senior civil servant at the MPA is a negative that, thankfully, is overridden by his time at an oil company.

    • Replies to Bertie O'Connor>

      Comment by Orangescubabunny posted on

      I love the structure of this Civil Service Newsletter. Article 1 - the civil service has been reformed, it is now smaller and rising to the challenge of being more efficient. Article 2- we have created a new senior role of Chief Executive. So we need yet more senior, well remunerated staff to oversee this smaller more efficient civil service. This doesn't tie in too well with Article 3 - being more commercial savvy. I'm drowning in irony.

    • Replies to Bertie O'Connor>

      Comment by Stillhere posted on

      This is excellent textual analysis. That "but" tells you more about the real, underlying attitudes of senior people than any number of carefully crafted blogs or speeches.