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Civil Service

Civil Service priorities for 2015

It is now 4 months since I became Head of the Civil Service and 3 months since John Manzoni was appointed as our first Chief Executive. With the General Election less than 4 months away, now is an opportune moment to set out what I see as the immediate priorities for the Civil Service.

First, though, it is worth reminding ourselves of how much civil servants have already achieved in this Parliament. Since 2010, of the Coalition’s 610 commitments (399 in the Programme for Government and 211 in the Mid-Term Review), we have implemented 479,  while making efficiencies and enacting reforms that have already helped to save £14.3 billion against a 2009 to 2010 baseline. We have also contributed to the UK Government being among the most open, transparent and, increasingly, most digital in the world.

The Progress Report on Civil Service reform contains a number of excellent case studies that show how individual civil servants are successfully taking forward key elements of the reform 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. I want to thank you all for the exceptional efforts you have put in over the last 4 and a half years.

A new survey by Ipsos MORI shows public trust in civil servants at its highest level (55%) since the organisation began polling on trust in key professions in 1983, and more than double what it was then. This is encouraging - particularly when trust in other institutions has been declining - but further increases in public trust and confidence depend on our delivering on our reform priorities, which will help to deliver consistently excellent public services and a modern, efficient, inclusive and highly skilled Civil Service.

Accelerating transformation

Looking ahead, John Manzoni and I want to build on these achievements by looking beyond individual departments to the core functions that support delivery across the service, such as digital, commercial, project management and property.

We will use these functions to support cross-departmental reforms, from the joining-up of digital services, to reshaping our arms length bodies, and maximising the Government’s commercial buying power. This will enable us to deliver better outcomes and an improved service for our customers and stakeholders.

We continue to face challenging efficiency targets, which can’t be met without taking a more holistic approach. The joint Cabinet Office and Treasury paper Efficiency and Reform in the Next Parliament, published as part of the Autumn Statement, sets out how this can be achieved, and why these cross-cutting functions are the key to enabling transformation. As the paper makes clear, there are so many efficiencies that can be achieved only by working together, whether that is through multiple departments sharing more modern, flexible buildings, or by creating digital solutions that work for all departments, such as the planned common appointments platform for booking face-to-face services.

Improving leadership

The Civil Service Board want to create a culture in the Civil Service that is more open to challenge and better at fostering an inclusive and empowering environment. The culture of any organisation is set from the top, which is why I am committed to improving our leadership.

We will shortly publish a Leadership Statement and Strategy, which will make clear the expectations of all Civil Service leaders and can be used to hold leaders to account against these expectations. We have done a lot of work about what leaders need to do, but for the first time we will define the ‘how’, the behaviours we expect of all the leaders in the Civil Service.  Only leaders who motivate and empower their staff can make us a truly modern, world-class organisation. I expect all our leaders in the Civil Service to take the Leadership Statement to heart – it won’t work unless we all sign up to it.

I will also be looking to all civil servants to accelerate progress in other priority areas this year - improving talent management and diversity; and building our capabilities.  We especially need to improve our performance in digital and commercial, because we have a challenging transformation programme that depends on these skills; and we need to get better at talent management and diversity because we can’t succeed unless we harness everyone’s talents.

Building capabilities

It has never been more important to create clear, defined and exciting career paths for every level and every function across the service. The only way we can continue to reform at the pace is by ensuring that everyone has the skills and capability they need to excel at their job. That means developing the professions, setting out clearer opportunities for progression, and putting a structure in place that supports development and builds capability, particularly in those areas where we know we could be stronger.

Through the Capabilities Plan, we are already developing the skills of existing staff, and with the opportunity for all civil servants to undertake 5 days of learning per year as a minimum, we are creating a positive learning culture. In the last year alone, over 16,500 face-to-face courses were attended and over 58,000 e-learning courses completed, focused on the priority capabilities: leading and managing change, commercial, project management and digital.

Improving commercial capability is a top priority, including contract negotiation and management. If we are to do more for less it is imperative that we make every penny of public money count. We know from civil servants themselves that they rate their commercial capability as the weakest of their skills. We have made good progress to change this, including creating the Crown Commercial Service; but most of us can start small with the excellent commercial learning programmes available to us on Civil Service Learning (CSL). You can get a flavour of what it means to be ‘commercial’ in blogs from a range of civil servants.

Increasing opportunities for our workforce

Although the Civil Service compares favourably with many public and private sector organisations in terms of its diversity, we are still falling short of where we want to be. As well as the undeniable moral arguments for diversity, there is compelling evidence to show that a more diverse workforce performs at a higher level and produces better business results and greater job satisfaction. It also means you are drawing from the widest possible pool of talent.

Our Talent Action Plan (TAP) set out actions to help underrepresented groups progress, including mandatory unconscious bias e-learning for all managers. Senior Civil Service leaders and Ministers are committed to ensuring that we recruit and retain the best irrespective of background, which is why we commissioned independent research to understand better the barriers faced by underrepresented groups. The Hay Group report on the experiences of women was factored into actions in the TAP, and we are now analysing the findings of the reports on the other groups. These will inform an updated plan and solutions that can make a difference. Simon Fraser will update you on progress in his Civil Service Leaders blog.


On digital, we are now broadly regarded as one of the most digitally capable governments in the world, with our digital services increasingly matching the public’s needs. As civil servants we must keep pace by developing our own skills. In addition to programmes to develop specialist digital and technology capability such as the Technology in Business Fast Stream and Service Manager Induction managed by GDS, Civil Service Learning (CSL) provides opportunities to improve generic digital skills.

The journey towards digital government started with the Digital by Default agenda, which delivered GOV.UK and the ongoing digital transformation of 25 of the most significant government services. As a result, citizens are finding it simpler, clearer and faster to interact with us. The next stage of digital transformation relies on coordinating efforts across government and reducing duplication.

Government as a Platform is a new way of thinking about how government builds and provides services. It means having a common core infrastructure of digital services, technology and business processes that departments and agencies (using common standards) can build on. For example, instead of every department or agency developing its own solution to process payments or book appointments, we could build, manage and operate a cross-government solution - a platform - to meet these common needs. Nascent platforms such as GOV.UK, the Performance Platform and GOV.UK Verify demonstrate the potential of this approach.

Successful delivery of Government as a Platform will require the same sort of cross-departmental cooperation that we demonstrated with the digital transformation programme and in the creation and continuous improvement of GOV.UK. Over the coming months, GDS, in collaboration with departments, will be investigating, designing and prototyping common platforms that will establish the foundation of Government as a Platform.

General Election

Finally, with a General Election in May, as civil servants we are, as ever, dedicated to implementing the programme of the Government of the day, providing first class services to the public while preparing for the new Parliament so that the next Administration hits the ground running. We will hold to our core values of integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity, and continue to build on our strengths and address our weaknesses so that we can provide the best possible support to the incoming government.

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  1. Comment by Bob Inston posted on

    Once more we are looking at pay cuts, (no pay rise) however we are giving up extra, in my case £70/month, and the last pay rise was not consolidated, and so effectively my pension is reducing on a final salary scheme. Even if you are on one of the newer schemes yous pension is taking a downward spiral.

  2. Comment by Syl posted on

    Probably if and when they can spin the stats to show what they want it to show.

  3. Comment by Keith posted on

    Heartening to hear that Cabinet Office/Government is taking notice of a recent Hays Group Report on women's perception of working in the service, and building its findings into policy.

    May we be told when the Hays Group Report on our salaries will be similarly implemented?

  4. Comment by Helen Hardy posted on

    Very interested in 'government as a platform' - which I think goes alongside 'government as a service' - in other words customers more and more will not have to think about which bit of govt they are dealing with or supply their data multiple times. For that to work to the fullest extent though, aside from morale which others have already commented on, we need to resolve government sharing and use of data so that we can really operate as a secure, responsible but also open data business - so far though Bills in this space have tended to fall apart before they start so it will be interesting to see if a new administration can bite the bullet.
    Also, to bang my regular drum, we are going to need more 'generalists' - or, if you prefer a less tarnished expression, 'systems thinkers' to be able to take a cross-govt approach - I note with interest DSTL's work to train more and wait with baited breath for our overall approach to professions to catch up...

  5. Comment by Nicky posted on

    It would be really good to see some responses to all of these points and questions.

  6. Comment by Chris Stone posted on

    All good stuff, but a bit distant to the reality of the toilers in the Civil Service.
    In the last staff survey only 20% of HMRC staff had a positive engagement score around pay and benefits (and I think most of those must have ticked the wrong box); 46% of HMRC staff indicated positivity towards learning and development (presumably they were involved in something other than the wretched onlie offerings) and 28% of HMRC staff consider we were we were good at leadership and managing change - at least Sir J has recognised room for improvement there!
    We have a performance management system that demoralises (and that's on a good day!) and
    now our trade unions are coming under increased attack.

    Good luck with this programme, but I would suggest that the first priority would be to restore staff morale (although low morale could lead to resignations and fewer staff which is one of the requirement of do more for less)

  7. Comment by Hugh Smallman posted on

    Hi Jeremy
    1. When it comes to cuts, hopefully the Civil Service will not revert to the typical public service response of cutting front line services first.
    2. Cuts are inevitable due to public services still too big (hence UK borrowing ~£100billion extra every year), but cuts are not so bad if done slowly using natural wastage where possible, and retraining staff instead of sacking them.
    3. Beware of too much harmonisation - if you treat a very large complex organisation as a single unit, the number of intercommunications becomes unmanageable as such communications increase exponentially with the number of persons involved.
    Apologies if all the above is a bit obvious. regards Hugh Smallman HSE

  8. Comment by Dee posted on

    This is great Roger - if only the depatment's idea of motivating staff was something tangible or motivational rather than forcing people to do more with less via the threat of being marked as 'Must Improve' by the loathed and demotivational PMR process!!

  9. Comment by Roger Kirkpatrick posted on

    Our DG, Ruth Owen, is championing a piece of work in Personal Tax (HMRC) under the 'Once&Done' banner which seeks to provide a significantly better customer experience by resolving their call/correspondence at the first point of contact. Fundamental to the success of this work is the ability of senior leaders to motivate our people to share new ideas to improve our operational processes and to facilitate a process that drives a 'can do' culture to effects real change which genuinely empowers them to deliver a better service. This inspires them to keep raising the bar and provides them with a greater job satisfaction and a more rewarding role with HMRC. Its a great initiative and I personally am passionate that this is a key component of the future service we will offer customers in the Civil Service

    • Replies to Roger Kirkpatrick>

      Comment by Mike Booth posted on

      I think its called reinventing the wheel as this is what used to happen before the geniuses who make the decisions decided it tool too much time .

  10. Comment by woman posted on

    I'm glad you have decided to set out your priorities, which is more than we have had from John Mazoni. Alot of people have been asking why he has not made any statement to civil servants despite being in post for 3 months, it is difficult to understand him as a leader or his contribution if he doesn't communicate with the troops. Not impressed.

  11. Comment by Greg Morgan posted on

    It's interesting to compare the priorities you set out here with what is happening in the department I work in (Education). The need to make 'efficiencies' within DfE is inevitably interpreted as having to make further headcount reductions, including in my area (Digital). This seems completely counter-productive on two fronts:
    1. Digital is an area where increased investment and skills should lead to increased efficiency, as if more services and information become digital by default, less money needs to be spent maintaining expensive offline channels (this is at the heart of the government's digital strategy).
    2. Getting rid of the civil servants with the experience and skills in digital doesn't mean the work suddenly becomes unnecessary. Inevitably more contractors are brought in to cover the shortfall, and this ends up increasing the cost to the taxpayer. It's another example of government pulling the wool over the eyes of the public by demonstrating 'savings' in admin budgets, while the actual costs have stayed the same or even increased, because programme budget is being used (but not reported on) instead.

  12. Comment by colleen posted on

    A party political speech; I thought the civil service was supposed to be impartial.

  13. Comment by David F posted on

    Dear Sir Jeremy

    I must admit I stopped reading this part way through as more and more it became a clear political statement with no meaning. You stated:

    "The Civil Service Board want to create a culture in the Civil Service that is more open to challenge and better at fostering an inclusive and empowering environment."

    Yet not so long ago you posted a public condemnation of those Civil Servants challenging the board and striking, vilifying, segregating and ostracising them due to their willingness to stand against the board in direct challenge to try to bring about positive changes to the whole Civil Service without cutting services and staff.

    How can you possibly justify such a statement when undertaking such previous action, surely you should withdraw one?

  14. Comment by Barry Owen posted on

    Given that the PM and the Cabinet have, in recent days, discovered their collective desire to protect free speech I expect that one of Sir Jeremy's priorities this year will be to end Management's veiled threats with landing someone who expresses an opinion with a "Must Improve" box marking; afterall we live in a democracy apparently!!

    • Replies to Barry Owen>

      Comment by colleen posted on

      What is free speech in the civil service. I have a colleague who has been given a Final Written Warning for stating on her Facebook page that she had had a chappy day at work - in over 20 years of working for the civil service she has never had any kind of disciplinary. Where's the free speech in that?

  15. Comment by Alun Probert. GovCom (Australia) posted on

    The proposed strategy has a significant number of challenges. While impressed with the confident and wide ranging scope of the ambition, I wonder whether there needs to be a much more clear view of specifically what success looks like?

    The strategy needs clear performance targets that measure whether it is achieving its primary goal, which must be about improved service delivery.

    Decisions about priorities need to be founded on customer needs. It's then the organisations job to deliver those priorities and create a better future. This document really doesn't make it clear how that will happen.

  16. Comment by Steve Reece posted on

    Increasing opportunities for our workforce
    Although the Civil Service compares favourably with many public and private sector organisations in terms of its diversity, we are still falling short of where we want to be.
    To the above statement
    Is this really true?

    As with all we do in the Civil service, we are expected to do more, gather more skills, to cover the loss of numbers.
    In the Private sector you are rewarded for this, you are rewarded a going rate for the job.
    This does not seem to happen in the lower grades of the Civil Service (Below B grade).
    An example of this, is Instructional Officers, they have to Manage Students, ensure all relevant paper work is correctly filled and filed on each student, carrying out reviews of training, Plus as an extra, before even starting the Instructors role, they MUST have a minimum of 5 years in the relivant trade, then, within 3 months of being in post, have a level 4 (Minimum) TEACHING qualification, all on a D grade salary. The skills needed, are ignored, hence why many instructors are now leaving the MOD (Not taking redundancy)
    The reason, the salary, which is usually less than a shop floor worker receives, in the same trade, in the private sector, the Instructor would be paid a higher salary. (E.G. Bae pay £32,800, for instructors)
    The tax payer is reaping dividends, but to what cost to the Trainees and the MOD?
    Over 15 years I have seen training being 'Dumbed down' to save time and money, I have heard from colleagues in the private sector, say, that thier companies will not take on MOD trained engineers, as eagerly, as they had in the past, due to a lack of skills.
    I hope this changes, as the first paragraph, suggests??

  17. Comment by Adam posted on

    I appreciate the necessity to save money but in my view money saved should not be the only measure of success. There are departments where an investment of X would return 5X more revenue in a fair way. In such circumstances, by the present measure of success, you may cut £1m of this departments budget and herald it as a success. However this is a misnoma, really if not 'money saved' but the overall ballance sheet was the measure of success, then an investment in of 1m would have been a smarter course of action, as this would have instead raised more revenue. The priority of 'making efficiencies' does not automatically translate to cutting budgets, to my ears this means being smart with money. therefore I feel there is room to improve on this front.

    • Replies to Adam>

      Comment by George posted on

      Leadership includes looking after those you lead.
      Those you lead DO NOT LIKE the PMR & Divisive bonus scheme. Where I work bonuses are paid for by a cut from our wagebill, it is therefore not a 'bonus'.
      Five years of pay cuts with the promise of at least two more. 1% is not a real pay rise.
      The fact that we do have a joined up Civil Service after all these years is simply a failure of management.
      Saving money in the Public Sector? Privatising the Public Sector and making hasty cuts does not save the majority (taxpayers) money. It does help the bank balances of a minority who often avoid paying tax.
      Isn't the Civil Service for the people, the majority and the long term?

  18. Comment by Dee posted on

    The figures and achievements outlined are impressive and clearly show the dedication of civil servants and their ability to perform consistently the roles and tasks they are responsible for.
    With this in mind, coupled with the inevitable round of further ‘savings’ post the forthcoming election I am struggling to understand why all civil servants are still being forced to endure such a divisive and universally hated performance management system?
    It has been outlined in previous blogs that all staff should undergo at least quarterly 1-2-1 reviews, with an expected duration of 1 hour. Now, after undertaking some simple maths I have to ask the question just think what the civil service could do with the extra 1001 working years it would have available if the PMS was to be abandoned!
    Assuming approximately 500,000 civil servants and each one has only four 1-2-1 meeting with their line manager during a reporting year;

    500,000 x 4 = 2,000,000 (working hours)

    2,000,000 ÷ 7.4 = 270,270 (working days)

    270,270 ÷ 5 = 54,054 (working weeks)

    54,054 ÷ 4.5 = 12,012 (working months)

    12,012 ÷ 12 = 1001 (working years)

    P.S. From the perspective of improving morale and engagement, alongside abandoning the pay freeze, removal of the PMS would be a close second.

    • Replies to Dee>

      Comment by David F posted on

      There is an error in your maths, you seem to have missed the interviews require the manager and the member of staff...

      So double that to over 2000 working years wasted on an annual basis.

      • Replies to David F>

        Comment by Dee posted on

        David - you are absolutely right of course. I took the bare minimum as a starting point, but if you factor in potentially 12 monthly interviews and the completion of documentation and attendance at validation events etc the total could climb to over 15000 wasted working years.

        The trouble is no one is listening, at least no one who could actually make a decision to stop this ridiculousness!! If the public were made aware of the cost of all this malarky I'm sure there would be a severe backlash!

  19. Comment by Anthony Blacker posted on

    One of your priorities for 2015 should be to end the pay freezes, as they are demotivating and affect staff morale and health. Why should I be expected to take on more work if there is no reward for doing so.

  20. Comment by Waiting for that final straw posted on

    This all sounds positive and motivating. But for once it would be nice if the priority within the Civil Service was for the Civil Servants themselves. No mention here about an end to pay freezes. This can not go on indefinately.

    I implore you, please start to deal with the problem of morale and mental health. If you really want your staff to buy in to all these committments, you have to focus on the low pay of front line staff. This is effecting how we work, and how committed we are to embracing change.

    We are increasingly expected take on more tasks with each year that passes as staff dwindles and we are expected to work 'smarter'. It's time to see the damage being caused by these pay freezes, or in effect pay cuts. Do you even realise how little money front line staff receive? Some of us don't even receive £1000 a month, that soon goes on bare essentials. It is a pittance!

    Once they decide finally to put up the minimum wage, thousands of Civil Servants will suddenly find that their exisiting wage equates to the new minimum wage. What effect do you think THAT will have on morale? Still want to harness untapped talents from them then?

  21. Comment by Rossana Roby posted on

    Hi Jeremy
    I always try and keep myself up to date on the thoughts of senior civil servants and am particularly interested in the intergration of services across departments. As there is already a sharing of buildings this should surely make it easier to share services too. It would improve the customer's experience if we had one point of contact for a number of interlinked services such as NI, tax and benefit queries, while at the same time decreasing error and fraud through digital linking.
    Some staff will welcome these changes, others may be fearful, and there will be those (hopefully not many) that will resent being dragged out of their comfort zone. They need to be introduced in a way that explains the reasons why there is no choice but to change, and that this is a great opportunity for all of us to become involved in the shaping of something that we can all be proud of.
    I know it is a not realistic to expect everyone to be on board with this, but I sincerely hope that the investment is put into proper staff training to ensure this works, and the more knowledge staff have the more they will become involved, and this can only be good for the customer, departments, and lead to a confident successful civil service.

    • Replies to Rossana Roby>

      Comment by Barry Stone posted on

      Rosanna Roby: Be extremely careful Jusat what you wish for! If Governments thoguht that they could get away with a Generic "one Service fits all" then you would guraentee that they would certainly (at least try to) implement it, nice though the ide asounds - in theory - could you actually imagine it working in practice? also how would you prioritse who did what? Most offices can barely manage with the workload they have now, without merging any further branches, surely it would be much better for all concerned to actually think about recruiting, especially where it's needed urgently, we're already expected to do "more for less" as it is without having to take on any other agencies' tasks

  22. Comment by Alexandra Penfold posted on

    Do you think that the emphasis on eliminating the AA grade means that AOs are doing the same work but for more pay? I can think of several examples in HMRC where this happens, but I do not know about other departments. Isn't this just delivering a service at a greater cost?
    Although I fully support, endorse and am personally enthusiastic about going digital, I am concerned about two things:
    One, that those who do not have access or the skills to the digital age will not be able to do anything and there will be an underclass of non digital people, possibly to the detriment of those most vulnerable in society. Two, that like RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland) we are reliant on an old computer language or languages that not many people know, so in the future the civil service could be having major problems like RBS as it is reliant on eighty five year olds who do not want to get out of bed in the morning, or maybe the people who knew have died.

    • Replies to Alexandra Penfold>

      Comment by Rob posted on

      Here in DWP we use 18-24 year olds on 'workfare' placements, therefore carrying out the work of those AA's made redundant for free...