The summer 2014 edition of Civil Service Quarterly leads with a tremendously important issue: what the Civil Service is doing to reduce some of the dangers that girls and young women around the world face. The number of girls subjected to forced marriages and female genital mutilation in some areas of the world, highlighted in Liz Ditchburn and John O'Brien's article, is shocking. The 2014 Girls Summit, co-hosted by the UK Government and UNICEF, is due to take place next week, and I would encourage people inside and outside the Civil Service to think how they can support this cause.
The theme of protecting and nurturing children runs through other articles in this edition. Tim Leunig’s article looks at changes to the way the quality of teaching in secondary schools is measured; and Ian Wright’s article discusses improvements made to child maintenance arrangements where parents have separated.
The other salient theme to this edition of Civil Service Quarterly is the value of evidence and testing. Duncan Selbie’s forthright interview on his role in Public Health England has evidence at its heart; Matthew Quinn’s article on the introduction of a charge for carrier bags in Wales is informed by evaluation of the policy’s impact; Ian Mitchell and Serina Ng present thoughtful analysis on the possibility of uncompetitive practices in the use of natural resources; and Pete Thompson’s reflections on his career show him tracing a route through roles where testing and evidence sometimes inform life-and-death decisions on questions of defence and national security.
The effective dissemination and use of the best available evidence to underpin decision making, in all branches of the Civil Service, is of paramount importance; and there are evident dangers if we do not make use of it. Sir David Normington’s review of The Blunders of Our Governments – a challenging book by the academics Anthony King and Ivor Crewe – is a salutary read for all public sector workers. If we are to aspire to be among the very best, as I believe we should, we in the Civil Service need to be open about and learn from previous mistakes.
Recently I visited Ark Conway Primary in Acton where I saw an education trial which forms part of the What Works Initiative. What Works, and other new structures such as the Major Projects Authority, are intended to ensure that Government decisions are made on the best evidence, and are subject to thorough and incisive re-examination.
With the help of such initiatives, we will significantly reduce the risks of committing costly and embarrassing blunders. But I believe the message is applicable much more broadly across the Civil Service: we must avoid complacency. It is never enough just to assume we have the right answers to the tough questions we face: we must be able to prove it.
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