Last month, I wrote here about the exceptional achievements of the Civil Service in 2017.
Looking forward, many of the challenges I mentioned then require an ongoing response from us in 2018. Not the least of these is supporting the Government in the next stage of planning for and negotiating our withdrawal from the EU. This challenge demanded – and got – a huge collaborative effort from all parts of the Civil Service in 2017. The Prime Minister has particularly highlighted the contribution of civil servants to furthering the process.
A similar concerted effort is necessary as we continue to make the changes in who we are, how we work, and the tools we use, that will help to make us a truly brilliant Civil Service – one that constantly innovates, anticipating and adapting to advances in technology and new trends in society.
The 'new normal'
Towards the end of December, I tweeted the top four points arising from a recent OECD conference on making innovation in government the ‘new normal’:
- explore experimentation
- support change champions
- inform decisions with data
- put the citizen at the centre
The transformation under way in the Civil Service is informed by all of these and we must take it further in 2018. I expect to be blogging about different aspects of this continuing modernisation as the year goes on.
Discussion at the conference focused on unlocking innovation by identifying and equipping ourselves with the right skills, systems, tools and technology to transform government. These are obviously vital modernising elements, but also mentioned was the importance of rebuilding organisational cultures to tackle the challenges of the modern world. The best systems and technology are only as good as the working culture and behaviours that support them. And citizens will have more faith in modern, digital public services if they are clearly responsive to the needs of all parts of society, and provided by a Civil Service that reflects society in all its diversity.
In turn, a more representative and empowering culture is essential for an organisation that wants to unleash the creative and innovating talents of its workforce.
My own commitment to a more diverse and inclusive Civil Service is, I hope, well known and underlined by the publication last autumn of our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. This supports the aim of making the Civil Service the UK’s most inclusive employer by 2020. We have made progress in many areas, including the representation of women in the Senior Civil Service, but are still short of where we should be, particularly in the number of women who hold positions at the higher levels.
2018 marks the centenary of women’s suffrage. The anniversary is a salutary reminder of what’s been achieved over the last hundred years in women’s equality, and of how far we still have to go.
Before 1918, women were absent from our polling stations and could not stand as candidates for Parliament. This year we remember and celebrate the individuals who played a decisive role in securing a woman’s right to vote. The Government Equalities Office is leading the arrangement of national activities, but we want to ensure the Civil Service plays its own role in the celebrations.
Our plans start with an event on 7 February, focusing on 100 years of women in the Civil Service and looking forward. The suffragette flag relay will be launched at this event, and will visit departmental offices throughout the UK. You will be able to track the flag’s progress on Twitter @SuffrageFlag. Before that, FCO Permanent Under-Secretary Sir Simon McDonald yesterday launched a global flag relay on Twitter. This will see the flag on a tour of different UK diplomatic posts, starting in South Africa.
Events will culminate on 14 December with as many government buildings as possible lit in the green, white and purple of the suffrage movement. When the flag comes to your building, please do get involved in the range of activities on offer so that we can all pay tribute to this powerful – and empowering – moment in our history.
In welcoming you back from what I hope was a relaxing holiday period, I want to wish everyone a successful and productive 2018.
I’m well aware that the New Year has already been a busy time for many of you as you prepare to work with new Ministers following the Government reshuffle - a signal of a general gearing up for the challenges ahead. There is much to do. But you can be rightly proud of what you achieved over the last 12 months, and take confidence from it – as I do – in tackling what’s to come.
Follow Sir Jeremy on Twitter: @HeadUKCivServ.