With eight weeks still to go until Christmas it is perhaps a little bit too early to fully reflect on the ‘year that was’. However I have spent some time this week thinking about both our achievements to date and where I believe we can still do more.
The Civil Service Reform Plan we published last year set out the blueprint for a more open, skilled and unified civil service with the capability to really deliver, and we have made headway on all counts. There is a long way to go and plenty still to do, but we can be proud of what we have achieved – we are more digitally capable, skilled, transparent and joined up than ever before.
However amidst our efforts to re-shape and transform our organisation, there are things that we perhaps haven’t spent enough time thinking about – for me, the principal example is our long-term outlook.
The Reform Plan primarily focuses on actions we need to take forward in the immediate term to improve. What really stands out on my regular visits to departments and organisations across the country is the fact that people are keen to hear more about our future vision – we talk a lot about the Civil Service we are building right now, but what will it actually look like in five, ten or even twenty years?
It is important that we continue to reform and to innovate, constantly challenging ourselves to be better, but it is also important that we have a clear direction of travel; to make sure that, as we alter and improve, our culture and ethos does too.
Last Friday I travelled to the Manchester Civil Justice Centre to talk to staff from a range of departments and organisations about this very subject. These visits are a great opportunity to not only share my thoughts on the future trajectory of the Civil Service and offer my thoughts on what I believe can make us stronger, but to hear yours too.
One point that really resonated with me on Friday in Manchester was the importance that colleagues placed on the need to not only preserve, but continue to nurture, our diversity as an organisation. Amidst widespread change in all corners of the Civil Service, I am determined that this remains an enduring objective and was pleased to hear that colleagues share my passion.
But the discussion ventured beyond this – Manchester colleagues pointed to the need to remove unnecessary processes that are a hindrance to productivity, to build leadership capability, to develop cross-departmental interchange and to develop the Civil Service in a reputational sense so that we continue to attract the best talent. One civil servant I met in Manchester put it well when she said “we…need a positive PR campaign to show the public what we do.”
The environment in which we are all operating makes the need for a clear vision even more essential. Smaller budgets and fewer resources coupled with rising expectations means that we must all deliver more for less. We need to make sure we are focused on outcomes, not output – that individuals are rewarded for what they deliver and that the means exist to deliver outcomes that are cross-departmental in nature.
And we must achieve all this whilst being innovative and high-performing. We must make sure that we retain public confidence in the services we manage and deliver – to make sure that the Civil Service is not only looked upon as an indispensable asset to the government of the day, but also to the public that we serve.
Changing behaviours is a complex challenge. We are at the early stages of developing this vision and I am committed to ensuring that this is an open discussion to which all civil servants feel they can contribute. We will be holding engagement sessions with groups of staff from across the organisation to ensure that we get this right.
Just as importantly, however, I would like to hear from you directly. Is the picture of the Civil Service I have described above one that you recognise? Which values and behaviours either make you proud or frustrate you? What do want to retain or want to change?
As one colleague who attended the discussion in Manchester on Friday put it: "civil servants need to be proud to say 'I work for the Civil Service'…we are working together to make this country a success.” If we are looking for a benchmark for success where defining a future vision is concerned, the fulfilment of this particular ambition isn’t a bad place to start.
Please do use the comments section below to share your thoughts with me.