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Civil Service

This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Clarifying our priorities - Single Departmental Plans

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!

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  1. Comment by Gordon Cains posted on

    I think I would disagree that any of this is "punishment for the bankers" - much of the changes are as acknowledged by the original piece necessary but long overdue.

    Where I do agree is that while the SCS live in ivory towers and are escorted round sites to "meet the people" the ones they meet are the sycophants and line toe people who cannot or would not challenge the corporate line.

    Sadly the Civil Service is unable to bring about change because it lacks skill in change management.. it hasnt changed in 20 years so there is no expertise.. As someone who works in DWP I see exactly the same "mistakes" are being made with the roll out of PIP as happened when AA changed to DLA..

    There is a disconnect between the man with the plan the comissioning teams and the service delivery it existed 20 years ago, and despite assertions that "commercial" skills are deployed, the hard fact is that systems are implemented half finished and untested.. and they usually incorporate so many errors that there is insufficient budget for that the financial value for money is blown out the window long before it is up and running..

    The story the Minister never sees is that PIP is "working" because there are now so many corners cut the only thing recognisable from the original is the three letter Acronym. But as always its the political deadline we have to meet, not the budget

  2. Comment by David posted on

    Of course we should look at what we can stop doing to achieve an optimal way of working and SDPs could be a way of getting to that place, but we have a civil service that has grown quite comfortable without, perish the thought, entertaining the idea that their area of work is something that we should stop doing.

    SDPs would be good if we can genuinely change to accomodate this approach and work as single departments - no room for 'them and us' within it though! I do get the feeling however that doing what we have always done will prevail and is still going to result in us having what we've always had and that "it's not my budget that should be cut...what about them over there?"

    I am particularly concerned about the historic inablity of SCS to stretch beyond who and what they know to actually end this merry-go-round of managed moves. Managed moves mean that talent and depth of experience is not tapped into and people miss out, because of our narrow approach to getting a person into a job. Managed moves are in my view, strangling the responsiveness, intuition and flexibility that would be needed within departments to effectively deliver SDPs.

    Another way of putting this is that if we always believe we need the same set of talents and experience we'll only ever seek out, promote or put forward a certain type of person that can feed the process and therefore will always have the same old sausage being churned out the Fast Track Sausage Machine.

    As someone who has the majority of 25 years management experience outside of the Civil Service, who doesn't go "up" to London as it's down south; and who doesn't begin a sentence with "So..." I don't fit in, neither am not in the faces of SCS at the right time when the self-perpetuating cycle of moves kicks in and they are either forced to look (or are subconsciously looking around) for the solutions to their problems in their immediate sphere of staff. You don't need visionaries to achieve SDPs - just people with a decent periforal vision; an appetite to do things differently and leadership who will let that happen.

  3. Comment by Daphne Park posted on

    Are our leaders now admitting that you can't in fact do more with less!!

  4. Comment by Jo posted on

    How very sad that people feel they have to leave 🙁

  5. Comment by Bob posted on

    I just quit. Good luck folks!

  6. Comment by Charlotte posted on

    I handed in my notice after giving 10 years of 'Project Management' skills and 'commitment to delivery' to the Civil Service. I leave at the end of this month (without any payoff, golden handshake, retirement package or redundancy package). Having read Mr Manzoni's blog and the subsequent comments to it, any niggling doubts that I may have harboured about walking away have diminished. The post has reinvigorated my gut instinct that I did the right thing, and reinforced the belief that at least out there I can make a worthwhile difference and hopefully meet fewer 'prima dons'.

    However, I am grateful to the 'old-school from all walks of life' Civil Servants who cheerfully got on with the job, took ownership and did wonders on low pay and bad technology. I learned so much from you lovely, colourful people and had some great fun moments along with way.

    All the best to you, (you know who you are).

  7. Comment by Adrian Davis posted on

    This makes perfect sense to me.I read this blog as 'use your Project Delivery skills to apply 'Portfolio Management' at the Departmental Level'. My hope is that as the Project Delivery Profession continues to grow and collobarate across the Civil Service, management tools such as these Single Departmental Plans will become more robust, more achievable and become really valuable aids for decision making.
    John says "...what drives a successful organisation is when all this comes together into a single, clear roadmap". He's right, but for that roadmap to be useful, it has to be realsitic. . While we are all in the process of drawing up Single Departmental Plan's, it would be well worth reminding ourselves of The National Audit Office's report on the the problems of over optimism in government. If the points in that report are heeded by those writing the SDP's then were are much more likely to see some realistic and achieveable plans come out of all of this.

  8. Comment by AR posted on

    I thought you might also like to see the following comment from the PM which was quoted by SIR Jeremy Heywood in the behavioural insights blog written on 23rd July. The section reads:

    'The Prime Minister recently wrote about the need for humanity in public service – “a sympathetic understanding of the problems confronting the people we’re all here to serve. That understanding helps us to provide humane, professional services and to answer the public’s questions properly."

    I almost fell off my seat.

  9. Comment by AR posted on

    Bill, John, Paul and Chris all make very strong and pertinent points. I am afraid what Mr Manzoni is saying is just more of the same nonesense that we have heard from those comfortably off at the top of our society - the elite - who have no interest in the lives of real, normal people. More management speak, more protestations about why ordinary people have to pull up their socks, work harder for no reward, and belt tighten. And all the time keeping their eyes firmly fixed on the inevitable knighthood a little way down the track. Makes one feel sick quite frankly.

    • Replies to AR>

      Comment by Andy posted on

      How much more of this stuff are we going to have to put up with? The haves spend all day telling us to put up with it & be happy. Something will need to change soon, perhaps a certain man running for the leadership of his party will bring hope. We certainly need a new direction & soon.

  10. Comment by Mike posted on

    Not just about prioritising what we do, but also thinking about the effort we put in to doing it. Perfectionism may be right in some cases but fit-for-purpose will often be quite sufficent.

  11. Comment by Howard Johnson posted on

    Dear John,
    Good motivational, light at the end of the tunnel words. What guidance is in place to make sure we the workforce and senior management get it right first time to improve our efficiency, productivity with available resources? (Please bear in mind our workforce is a USVF base scheduled for closure.)

    Having said that there will be no room for “nice to haves,” these are still expected in our work environment, and sometimes take priority over other prioritized work. It would be gratefully appreciated if you could influence change to establish a no “nice to have” policy.

    A Single Department Plan would benefit my departments’ functionality, however, would be detrimental to the operational functionality (mission) of our base, something I’m pretty sure our Wing Commander would need to review prior to any implementation. Further guidance would be appreciated, as identification of cross-departmental needs, may come to light from an SDP, however, and by its nature, an SDP is focused on a single department and not the whole picture.

    Lastly, to quote you “Real tensions exist, which are likely to grow as we do more with less,” – As you already know, we are a USVF base scheduled for closure; tensions are getting greater every day, as staff are having to find other employment or retire, exponentially increasing the need to do more with less, and hence why having to address you as “Dear John.”

  12. Comment by Michael posted on

    I have read the guidance on SDPs and am concerned about the level of detail being requested and implied will be reported on. E.g. month by month milestones for programmes. On the one hand I am concerned about the additional burden this will place on departments while on the other concerned that recipients will simply not have enough time to absorb that quantity and detail of information every month. Is there an opportunity to challenge and review the level of detail being sought and the associated value? - particularly in the light that many of the relevant programmes report quarterly under the GMPP.

  13. Comment by Ian posted on

    Whilst I can understand that there can be a need to review what is done and whether we can get more from less the difficulty I find is that it is expected that the less will be able to give the same level of service and deal with increasing workloads, while those we provide the service for get frustrated by not getting the level of service they come to expect and create more work through progress enquiries.
    Of course technology can deliver savings but my experience, admittedly limited about the detail of the technology, is that it does not deliver all that it has been sold to do with the resulting savings being less than predicted. I do not think I am alone whether dealing with the private or public sector when trying to get what appears to be a simple question answered being frustrated but the online "answer your own question" options or endless telephone menu options which do not cover the question, in the end a long wait listening to a variety of music (and adverts) follows.
    My hope would be that those who give the manifesto commitments would also manage the expectation of the customers who use the services ie that a lot less staff even aided by improved technology are not going to have the same amount of time available to devote as to individual enquiries or deliver all of the services as quickly.
    It would also be of interst to hear examples of what those who have given manifesto commitments have been able to do as individuals towards the overall aim to reduce public sector spending and aline themselves to the changes required.

  14. Comment by JP posted on

    "There will be no room for ‘nice to haves’"

    I'm curious who will decide what is a "must have" and what is a "nice to have". I expect there will be things that we do which are considered a "nice to have" by the Government but a "must have" by the public. How is that tension going to be resolved? Since the Government decide the budget will they get the final say? Or will external representative bodies be allowed to put forward their views so we can make decisions that put the public at the heart of the public sector?

  15. Comment by Alan Colquhoun posted on

    It's reassuring to know that ALL the problems within the Civil Sevice can be resolved with ONE SINGLE PLAN. Well done you guys - can't wait!

  16. Comment by Jill posted on

    Not only are we having to do more for less, we sit in an uncomfortable office with no air conditioning and now we can only have tap water to drink. So along with the 1% pay rise I now have to pay £5 aweek to drink water because the tap water tastes awful. Is your office like this? I doubt it!

  17. Comment by Dave Mason posted on

    Have read this and it is clear as mud. It will be another project to keep the higher grades in a job to the detriment of the lower grades. Watch for the appointments of director of SDP, deputy director of SDP etc etc. Here is an idea, just for 12 months let's scrap Pacesetter, ODP, 5 days learning and re-employ the countless staff that this will free up and just get on with the day job. The results I am sure would be amazing. The last thing we want now is something else to make us more efficient which actually takes us away from the job we are employed to do.

  18. Comment by Miles posted on

    Will this include only asking staff to work the hours they are contracted - and therefore paid - to work? The SCS may be rewarded for longer hours, but when junior staff, many paid a pittance and reliant on benefits, are routinely expected to forego lunch breaks and to work long hours, this looks like exploitation.

  19. Comment by Bill posted on

    Do the Government and Civil Service talk to each other?

    The whole civil service has just received an email from the Chancellor and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, asking how we can do more with less.

    I am sure just up above you are saying we are doing too much with too little.

    • Replies to Bill>

      Comment by Graham posted on

      I agree. The problem not grasped is that some things actually have to be done by people. eg Certain visits. All the digitilisation in the world wont stop that.

      There is a worrying feeling that those managing are simply getting more and more out of touch with what is happening on the ground. If serious notice isnt taken of what is happening ,the Department (or "Business" if you prefer) will be finally barely able to function at all.
      "Another world" seems an understatement.

      Still I do have a job and somewhere to work....for now. Of course if we had better computer equipment we might do even more.More still without the current PMR.

      I think it would be useful to know more about exactly what we re doing too much of. It gives a clearer idea to those of us still working with "customers", and if the ideas are well meant but based on sand, there is at least a chance to modify them.

  20. Comment by ChrisB posted on

    "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"

    Interesting that 'workforce' comes third in this list. The public sector is nothing without its' workforce, and as responses to these blogs show time and time again, the Workforce has had enough of being punished for the misdemeanors of the bankers. How ironic that the people who produce the statistics which the Chancellor uses to show how wages are growing and how well this country is doing economically, have seen their living standards deteriorate year on year for the past five years, with more of the same to come for the next five years.

    The workforce is abandoning the public sector in droves and will continue to do so while wages are pegged way below other sectors. New employees are staying no more than a few years, why would they when prospects are so much better elsewhere. Existing highly experienced, older employees are retiring as soon as they can afford to. No matter what the quality of the technology and commercial 'enablers', if you don't take care of the workforce, you will soon have no public sector to carry out any of the essential work that is expected of us.

  21. Comment by Paul Harcombe posted on

    it's like a whole other world isn't it

  22. Comment by Bill posted on

    There will be no room for ‘nice to haves’.

    Is that the polite way of saying, be glad you have a job, and just get on with whatever the latest idea is to do even more, with even less?

    I am sorry, but there are offices starting to close on lunchtimes as there are not enough staff anymore to deliver 'business as usual', new systems are coming in which seem to rely on even more double handling, and that is just what we know of, let alone what else the powers that be have up their sleeves.

    All the while, the ministers and senior civil servants hear all is well, and the troops are happy, as the latest engagement scores are up. (I'll give you a clue, line managers are told to get the right answers from their staff, because if they don't it will cause even more work for them, with a thinly disguised threat of informal disicplinary action.)

    Anyway, I have a job, so can't complain, can I?

    • Replies to Bill>

      Comment by John posted on

      Totally agree....the pressure on staff is becoming unbearable.
      It is nice,however, to finally hear a senior civil servant actually acknowledge that we are doing too much with the resources we have.
      Now stand up and fight to increase those resources....!
      It's certainly not the civil service I joined 28 years ago and would actively discourage my children from taking up a civil service career nowadays.....