Many of you have heard me say that I believe we’re doing too much for the resources we have.
To some extent, this may be inevitable - as a Civil Service, we have to deliver manifesto commitments, service the new Taskforces, deal with unexpected domestic and international events, and of course – the bulk of our work - carry out ‘business as usual’. And we have to do all this while transforming how we do things, to improve our efficiency and productivity, and to meet an increasing demand from the public. And that tension is set to increase in the next few years.
This makes it more vital than ever that we are clear in our priorities. Constrained times mean trade-offs – we will have to make choices. Real tensions exist, which are likely to grow as we do more with less. In planning for the upcoming Spending Review, we have to make sure we are being as efficient as we possibly can, and then prioritise effectively based on a clear understanding of how our resources can best be deployed. There will be no room for ‘nice to haves’.
We will do this through the Single Departmental Plan (SDP). Over my last year in the Civil Service, I’ve seen plans for almost everything – plans for talent, plans for IT, plans for programmes, plans for spending, plans for planning! But in my experience, what drives a successful organisation is when all this comes together into a single, clear roadmap.
This is why we are bringing together efficiency, spending round and activity plans into the SDP. Crucially, since SDPs are completely aligned with the Spending Review, they will enable us to bring together inputs (especially funding) with outputs – thus making clear the trade-offs and choices. If we do them well, they will show the choices we must make to ensure we can deliver what we promise over the next period.
They will also identify where departments and the cross-departmental functions need to work together to deliver the required outcomes. This means that the technology, commercial, workforce, and similar enablers aren’t an after-thought but instead are helping to deliver the outcomes the Departments need, and sharing ideas across government. We need to make sure we set ourselves up to operate over the medium term as efficiently as possible, and hence avoid short term cost cutting actions which may make it even harder in the future.
The SDPs are important. I would like to see them become a central part of how we plan and force ourselves to make the choices which are inevitable as we do more with less. They will also help us clarify accountabilities where they aren’t clear, and in time, ensure we put our limited resources where they are most needed.
We will be using the period from now until November to lock down the Spending Review and SDPs. So for those of you taking a break, have a good one. It will be a busy period on your return!