Ministers and civil servants have this week launched a new programme for government reform, which they say will help the UK ‘build back better’ in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The programme involves moving parts of government out of Whitehall and opening up the Civil Service to skills, talent and ideas from other parts of the UK, embracing digital technology and decision-making based on data.
The new Declaration on Government Reform was agreed on Tuesday, following a first ever joint meeting of the Cabinet and Permanent Secretaries.
Speaking about the declaration, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, commented: “It has been a consistent feature of our history that the national weaknesses, fissures or fractures that have been laid bare or exacerbated by crises should be addressed with the same energy and single-mindedness required for a successful response to the crisis itself.
“It is precisely because the Covid crisis revealed weaknesses in our government and society, because it also showcased strengths, because it forced government to adapt and improve delivery, because the public demand we build back better and because we have knowledge now that we did not possess before that this government is determined to deepen and accelerate our programme of reform.”
Proceeding to talk about the reform plans, Gove added: “On some past occasions, it has been regrettable that reform overall was seen as something driven by politicians, against the mulish opposition of bureaucrats. It is a missed opportunity when reform is felt as something done by ministers to civil servants, rather than with them. And greater open-ness in the deployment of outside talent to drive progress should never be understood as somehow a replacement for or usurpation of the vital role civil servants play.
“The declaration published today is the fruit of discussion between ministers and officials. That is why when this morning Cabinet Ministers and Permanent Secretaries met together – for the first time – to approve the declaration, there was a unity of resolve that we need to see these changes through.”
The declaration pledges make the Civil Service accessible to a greater pool of external talent, with roles within it advertised externally and new flexible entry routes into the body opened up.
Further to this, 22,000 Civil Service jobs will be moved away from London by 2030, including 50 per cent of all senior roles to help redistribute its workforce across the UK. Greater levels of investment are to go into training for civil servants and ministers to help enhance expertise in digital, data, science, and project and commercial delivery.
The declaration also outlines that a new training campus will be launched, the Fast Stream graduate scheme will be updated, and new apprenticeship opportunities will be opened. There is also set to be greater opportunities for interchange and secondments for civil servants between the UK, Scottish and Welsh governments and the Civil Service based in Northern Ireland.
Digital technology and data are to be used to create better public services and improve data sharing across the whole of government, and a new Evaluation Task Force is set to be established within the Cabinet Office to guarantee property scrutiny of government projects and programmes and their efficacy.
Within the Civil Service, a new pay, reward and performance management structure will be introduced, and the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary are to oversee the performance of the Permanent Secretaries to ensure they deliver on their obligations.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said: “Our brilliant Civil Service is always seeking to improve, and it is that dynamism that has helped us to accomplish extraordinary things during the pandemic to keep our communities safe and economy moving.
“As we look ahead to the opportunities ahead of us to build back a better and fairer Britain, we owe it to the people of this country to make sure their government is best equipped to deliver on their priorities. That is why we are launching our blueprint for reform - to keep building on our expertise, modernise how government is run and transform this country for the better.”
The government’s reform strategy has promised changes in three main areas, including ensuring that the government and Civil Service has the right people working in the right places to deliver maximum results; better measuring performance by placing digital at the heart of government activity; and strengthening the links between ministers and officials to ensure that central government and its exterior institutions operate as one unit.
Cabinet Secretary and Civil Service chief, Simon Case, commented: “Over the past 15 months, the pandemic response has proved what is possible when public servants go above and beyond to deliver for people all across the country.
“As we look forward now to renewal and recovery, this reform programme created by ministers and officials ensures that we will grip the challenges and opportunities together, as one government team.”
The reform declaration can be seen here.