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.
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.
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.
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.
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.