We have set ourselves the goal of becoming ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’, the best in the world.
How we measure up against this ambition will have a bearing on how successful we are in creating a fair, efficient and prosperous society, and a Global Britain that people want to visit, study in, invest in and trade with.
The Civil Service has great strengths. It is built on tried and tested principles that are also the basis of its international reputation for reliable and trusted public service.
In the new International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCiSE) Index – which compares performance on core functions such as policy advice, fiscal and financial management, and regulation, and attributes such as openness, integrity and inclusiveness – the UK Civil Service ranked fourth overall.
This is a good result. But – while the fundamental values (integrity, honesty, impartiality and objectivity) that underpin everything we do will stand us in good stead – it is not the whole story. The most effective organisations react positively, flexibly and practically to - and even anticipate – challenges. They change decisively to meet them and are always looking to improve. For the Civil Service, being the best means providing the best results for the people it exists to serve.
A moment for change
Today, we find ourselves in one of those moments that demand change. The pressure for change has been building for some time, since the 2008 financial crash put a huge strain on budgets and a premium on greater efficiency and value for money. Even before that, the world was changing in ways and at a pace we could not afford to ignore. That pace is only increasing. Advances in technology have revolutionised how people buy goods and services and manage other aspects of their lives. They rightly expect to be able to deal with government in the same convenient and accessible way – online, and on demand. At the same time, society itself is changing – it’s more diverse than it’s ever been, and people are living longer, putting greater strain on health and welfare services.
On top of this, we now have Brexit, the nation’s biggest priority. Therefore, our ambition for the Civil Service is fuelled by the realisation that, if we fail to change and improve, we will also fail the test of the times. If we get left behind, we risk forfeiting the trust of the citizens who rely on the services we provide. We must now seize the moment, spurred on by Brexit and the changes in society – to accelerate our transformation.
I say accelerate, because civil servants are already doing brilliant things that show what a transformed Civil Service, fit for the 21st century, can achieve. I see this at first hand when I visit teams across the country. They are collaborating more, delivering more for less, and building high-quality – increasingly digital – public services focused on what’s best for the people who use them, not what’s best for government.
Now, we have to go further to create government that works in smarter ways and is capable of keeping up with the rate of change in the world around us. This means not just quicker change, but transformation at a fundamental level in how and where we work and in the tools we use (both the hardware of technology and the software of data from which we draw evidence) to fashion services that improve lives. It also means changing our culture, the ‘shape’ of Civil Service careers and the look of the workforce, because a brilliant Civil Service is ultimately about people.
Diversity and inclusion
Our Civil Service should reflect the society it serves, in all its diversity. It must also be inclusive. An inclusive culture will allow us to tap into the talent, experiences and insights of civil servants from varied backgrounds that will provide better outcomes for citizens; while giving all our people the freedom to to be themselves and the opportunity to reach their full potential.
We are committed to becoming the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020. The proportions of ethnic minority (11.6%) and disabled civil servants (9.9%) are already the highest ever, with increased representation on Civil Service talent programmes. The graduate Fast Stream has recruited graduates from more diverse backgrounds than ever before, with 14.6% from an ethnic minority and 9.6% declaring a disability. Over 40% of senior civil servants are women – up 10% over the last 10 years.
We have also pledged to create 30,000 apprenticeships by 2020, opening the Civil Service up to talented people from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds and helping us to building capability in key areas.
This is good progress, but the job is far from over.
Our new Diversity and Inclusion Strategy focuses very deliberately on representation and inclusion. It establishes measures based on the actual experiences of people from underrepresented groups that will help us to remove barriers to progress and create truly representative diversity.
As important as greater diversity and inclusion are, the change I want to see in the Civil Service is about something more. It’s about engineering a fundamental shift in the balance of experience and skills of all civil servants. We are traditionally brilliant at policy, and there is a very good reason for this - we are geared to producing policy specialists. We need to reshape the next generations of civil servants around new career pathways that build professional expertise in key disciplines, the core government functions, while giving them the chance to broaden their practical experience. The goal is to make us as effective in delivery - of projects, services, procurements - as we are in policy-making. This broader, delivery-based experience will encourage different approaches to the complex issues we face and the insight and judgement to produce and deliver different, workable solutions.
All the Government Functions are now mapping out their own career paths. Meanwhile, the graduate Fast Stream offers opportunities in 15 different schemes for new and existing civil servants, from Digital, and Data & Technology, to Project Delivery and Commercial.
Another essential component of continuous, deep improvement in the Civil Service - and the services we provide - is making sure we have modern workplaces, up-to-date equipment and the skills to make the most of them.
In major cities across the UK, we are creating around 20 strategic hubs. This programme will reduce the number of government buildings from around 800 to 200 by 2023. Hubs will allow us to locate teams from different departments in the same offices, enabling greater collaboration and a smarter, one-Civil-Service approach, using mobile technology and focusing operations at a local and regional level.
The Department for Work & Pensions is already delivering more efficient services by concentrating its resources in co-locations with other departments and local government. And, by 2021, HMRC will set up 13 regional centres as part of transforming itself into a smaller, more collaborative, better equipped and more highly skilled operation for the digital age. These modern centres will replace the department’s ageing network of 140 offices, which are expensive to run and create isolated pockets, doing a narrow range of work.
The One Public Estate programme is promoting joint working across central and local government and is on track to create at least 44,000 jobs and release land for 25,000 homes by 2020.
These changes are generating opportunities for civil servants at all grades: opportunities to learn the expert skills in digital, data, project management and commercial needed to deliver government priorities, and to take new professional career paths. For the time being, we will bring in external expertise where necessary, but our aim is to outgrow this need by developing our own people. In commercial, for example, we have brought in external specialists while also ensuring that existing staff have opportunities to develop through the commercial curriculum.
The Major Projects Leadership Academy has trained more than 300 senior project leaders; while the Digital Academy is training up to 3,000 people a year across government in the skills they need in data and technology as well as digital.
We are deploying technology to modernise public services, saving time and money for users. Her Majesty’s Passport Office is sending millions of messages to users, updating them on passport renewals, with the aim of making 90% of renewals fully digital by 2020; and the Environment Agency is issuing up to 40,000 rod fishing licences a day, using the GOV.UK Notify platform for sending emails and texts.
We expect to deliver nearly 100 public services digitally by 2020. To exploit the efficiencies and convenience of technology to the full, these services will increasingly be provided by a government that is digital - and digitally skilled - from its back-office operations to what citizens see and use on their computers and mobile devices every day.
By 2020, HMRC will have moved to a fully digital tax system, allowing businesses and individual taxpayers to update their information and pay their taxes when and where they want to, and at any point in the year. And we’ve begun the biggest courts reform programme in the world, digitising processes and introducing virtual hearings.
Through Government as a Platform, digital services are underpinned by common technology components, service designs and platforms such as GOV.UK Notify (for sending emails and texts), and Pay (a secure payment service). Departments can use these as a base on which to build their own digital services, making it easier and cheaper to deliver customer-facing systems that meet the unique user requirements of each service.
As I write, we are delivering 40 major government transformation programmes, including:
- the new Childcare Choices website: this brings all childcare options together for the first time, so busy families can clearly see which offer works best for them; more than 260,000 parents have already opened a childcare account and are benefiting from new forms of childcare support; and
- Universal Credit (UC) full service, which will enable claimants to make a claim, check details of payments, notify changes of circumstance and search for a job through a single digital account – 99.6% of applications for UC are now made online.
Change of this scale and depth requires a new approach to leadership. We need leaders who can explain the goal of transformation and take their people through it. Leaders who are confident beyond their own professional area, by virtue of their broad experience of government, and whose first instinct is to collaborate, defying the silo mentality.
The new Civil Service Leadership Academy will strengthen these abilities, initially in leaders at senior level, but in due course through programmes open to all grades. Integral elements will be learning from leaders sharing their experiences – both good and bad - with immersive case studies of managing projects; and encouraging inclusive leadership that connects with people.
These are exciting times for everyone in government. The excitement is wrapped up in the challenges and opportunities of transformation. What we are saying to all civil servants is: embrace the changes and grasp the opportunities they are creating. There’s a role for everyone in getting better at what we do, but everyone must take responsibility for their own development, doing things differently and inspiring colleagues.
For all civil servants, the prize at the heart of the change that’s underway is to be ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’; to be proud of what we do as civil servants every day, wherever we work; and for everyone in the country to take pride in us.