Skip to main content

Hearing your concerns

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Civil Service Reform

My last blog post has attracted more views and comments than ever before – thank you to you all for engaging. The challenges of technology have, in particular, provoked a lot of feedback.  I want to acknowledge here that things are not perfect - there are examples of very good and very bad IT in the civil service - and it will take time to change, but I have heard the ask, and the comments you’ve made were discussed this week at a meeting with all Permanent Secretaries.  Your comments have also echoed the views I have heard from staff on my visits up and down the country, I know this is a source of frustration and I am determined to improve the situation.

Sir Bob at the weekly Permanent Secretaries' meeting.
Sir Bob at the weekly Permanent Secretaries' meeting.

I would like to take your feedback here as a demonstration of your commitment to help. The Government Digital Service has offered to host a workshop at which Departmental Technology Leaders will be present to better understand your concerns. If  you're a civil servant and this is something you’d be interested in attending, do let them know via

Commitment to change

The Government Digital Service is developing a common, cross government approach to the things that everyone uses like desktops, hosting etc (we’re calling this Common Technology Services, or CTS).  The team has started by looking at how we can get modern, flexible IT which is at least as good as what you’re using at home into the Cabinet Office. You can read about their progress on the Cabinet Office technology blog. This is just the start.

Progress will only be made by having people with a firm commitment to change in place, which I believe each Department now has in the shape of their Technology Leader. The Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) is working closely with Technology Leaders to support them to deliver what you need. The coming year will be all about Technology Leaders working together and increasing the pace of implementation.

Liam Maxwell, HMG Chief Technology Officer, and the Rt Hon Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office
Liam Maxwell, HMG Chief Technology Officer, and the Rt Hon Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office

I have also heard your concerns around access to social media and other tools which would make your life easier at work.  I know that many of the barriers aren’t just technical, they are cultural too. I am working with Departments to address and unblock this – as I said previously, when you need access to web based tools (including social media sites) to improve the way you work, you should have it.

The technology that some departments use is undoubtedly challenging when it should be making your jobs easier. I really appreciate and value your continuing commitment to building a strong and modern Civil Service, and your patience while we work to make government technology better.

Stay in touch. Sign up now for email updates from this blog.

Related content:

"Technology at least as good as people have at home"

Office of the Chief Technology Officer

Departmental Digital Strategies

Guidance for Chief Technology Officers

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Ayath Ullah posted on

    Sir Bob,

    Thank you very much for taking the feedback on board and bringing it up at the weekly PS meeting.

    This week I had my first ever visit to GDS- and I can honestly say it does not feel like the traditional Civil Service that we're all used to. I hope in the near future every departments IT is as good as theirs; and innovation isn't stifled because of the lack of open, flexible IT solutions.

    I'm glad the GDS have offered to host the workshop and I very much look forward to attending.
    I consider myself to be a child of the "hashtag" generation so it's been a uphill struggle over the last few months in the Civil Service to get used to old fashioned ways of working; however I'm glad progress is being made & very much welcome the forthcoming changes.

    Many thanks,
    Ayath (HMRC)

    • Replies to Ayath Ullah>

      Comment by Alan Robinson posted on

      There are 2 main issues I feel that staff want sorted. Firstly the IT we use is often so far out of date it's hard to see how we can ever be the best or world leaders. Secondly, the introduction of guided distribution marking in performance management has been totally destructive towards staff engagement & perceptions formed. The basis of performance management is to help people succeed but 'imposing' a 'quota' of must improve marking hasn't been received well & we need to evaluate what it is we want to achieve. People simply need to be guaged on their own personal contibution to business objectives & no more than that. Involving staff in developing performance management systems would be a good step to rebuilding confidence & doing away with guided distribution markings would go a long way in showing staff you listen.

  2. Comment by Antoni Chmielowski posted on

    I would be interested in attending such a workshop.

    Will they be held in the regions (such as Manchester or Liverpool) or be restricted to just London and the Home Counties ?.

    I ask because I am aware of the restrictions that apply on T&S, and would not like to apply only to be told no because the events are restricted to the South.

  3. Comment by Martin posted on

    Sir Bob, one frustration not addressed from your last blog - but one repeated several times - is that despite the positive spin put on the results of the People Survey (nearly 90% of you are interested in your work, our record on learning and development is at its strongest since 2009 and more of you are being recognised for what you deliver, not how you deliver), there is an assumption that Civil Servants are immune to falling living standards and increased costs.

    How many staff actually received a pay increase last year?

    I got a very strong feeling from many staff across many Departments, of them being unhappy in their job due to poor remuneration. There is no doubt that this makes staff feel undervalued. When will this fact be addressed in your blog?

    Alongside the gradual erosion of our pension schemes, the increased contributions we now have to make to those pensions schemes, proposed modernising employment contracts including an increase in hours worked each week and a reduction in annual leave, the much maligned Performance Management system (where many Departments clearly don't adhere to the principles of guided distribution, preferring forced distribution instead), a pay freeze is the final insult to those who work hard for you, when the cost of living has risen so sharply.

    I keep reading that all of this is to make the Civil Service more comparable with the Private Sector. But in my experience and the experience of those I work with, this is simply not the case.

    Even if it was the case, since when should terms of employment become a race to the bottom? Are we competing here to see which employer can present employees with the worst terms and conditions?

    I know of no other employer who can treat staff with such disdain whereby they can be maligned so publicly - in the press - but with no right of reply.

    By all means continue to put as positive a spin on People Survey results as you like but it would be encouraging to see a response to the issues that strike at the heart of your staff and their livelihoods.

  4. Comment by John posted on

    Sir Bob

    It’s good to know that you’re aware that the state of IT is a frustration.

    In some cases, do you think it would be useful for the Cabinet Office/Government Digital Service to start mandating certain things?

    For example, where I work, I’m using Internet Explorer 8 on Windows XP (a 5-year old browser on an operating system that will shortly be out of support).

    What would really help us is if you were to start to mandate departments and agencies to make at least 2 browsers available to staff, eg IE8 for legacy systems, and something more modern like Google Chrome for using the rest of the internet.

    I know that this is a solution available to departments in the social media guidance published by Cabinet Office. The problem is that departments/agencies don’t do anything with this sort of advice and guidance – it gets ignored, or excuses are devised to not implement it.

    The time has come to mandate them to do it.

    Something as simple as that would make me more satisfied with the IT I’m using, and would probably make me about 20% more efficient than I am.


    • Replies to John>

      Comment by ed posted on

      This web site will not display properly in this obsolerte non suported browser we use. Even a home user would be more "digital by default" as would click the option to be upgrade.

      Cant even read bbc news.

  5. Comment by Marian posted on

    Not being able to access Social Media and otehr sites is not good. In our department we cannot even use the "short" links to Civl Service Learning!
    Bluecoat says "NO".

  6. Comment by Stuart posted on

    There's still a long way to go before I'll be remotely convinced that anyone within my department (or any other) is even vaguely serious about improving IT here. I'm currently a Civil Servant undertaking a degree in computing; part time, at my own expense (as it was not deemed as "job related"). And this is the point.....the policy since the mid 90's is to outsource anything IT, so that now departments do not have any expertise at all; and we all sit around scratching our heads as yet another "botched IT system" surfaces in the media....Army Recruitment anyone??

    Because there is no IT (or Project Management) expertise here, then we are at the mercy of the contractor who will simply do what is beneficial for them, take the money and then recite the "that was the requirement mate!" line.

    Social media ????? Do not make me laugh, even using Microsoft Communictor (a standard Microsoft Office tool and part of our "toolset") is frowned upon as anything related to social media/instant messaging are seen here as children's play things as opposed to very useful means of informal communication between colleages (wider audiences) to discuss meaningful work related subjects that could avoid a telephone call, round robin emails or noisy conversations!

    When I get Windows 7, a decent Internet browser, a version of Office that isn't over a decade old and a network that doesn't make me wait over 5 minutes before I can start to check my emails in the morning, then I might get into the IT "mood". Until then, I'll still treat blogs like this as pointless "showboating" and will also be looking to leave the Civil Service once I've finshed my Computing BSc.

    • Replies to Stuart>

      Comment by Chris posted on

      Much as I am cynical of much of the agenda of CSR (degrading pay and conditions etc. that was mentioned in the comments to the previous blog), CTS should actually solve some of the problems you're talking about. I moved from a department that was running XP with all the associated outdated problems to a department where I've got Windows 7, IE9 and access to social media. The problem here is that different departments are on very different contracts, so many of us face the "that's what you paid for" response to IT that's 10 years out of date, because our department wasn't shrewd and didn't have the right knowledge to pick the right contract.
      You're right, outsourcing hasn't helped us, but it's the political direction we're travelling in. By at least centralising the contracts for IT and having a team like GDS who know what they're doing means that everyone should be on up-to-date systems, and have the same access to things that were once thought to damage productivity/pose a security risk/whatever other excuse is produced about Social Media.
      TLDR: There's hope - things are improving, but in a patchwork fashion. As long as the bar goes up everywhere, not down in the good places, we should end up with a reasonable system!

  7. Comment by yasmin, Birmingham, UK posted on

    Why am I not allowed to access Twitter, Facebook & other social media networks in my lunchbreak ( let alone for work such as for tracing ) even though you yourself have accounts?

  8. Comment by Mike H posted on

    As someone in an agency that is still using Windows 2003 this can't happen soon enough for me. There is a planned upgrade but by the time it is introduced it will already be years out of date.
    This mustn't be seen as a one-off fix, there needs to be a vision for the future so that the Civil Service isn't left behind (again) in the fast moving IT world.

  9. Comment by A hill posted on

    I can understand why access to the very insecure and gaff prone 'Social Media' isn't common in many Goverment departments. Do that on your own time using Smartphones if you must, there is little real need to use Gov assets for that. However, I can fully agree that the slowness of upgrading the OS and standard software packages is a problem, and becoming more so when you cant convert the latest file formats into what we use; asking contractors to supply old formats for files can be awkward and a mite embarrasing sometimes.
    One idea that would help is the supply of a Gov website for file conversion such as .doc or .docx to PDF and vice versa - there are Internet sites that do this but use is problematical.

    • Replies to A hill>

      Comment by another_chris posted on

      "One idea that would help is the supply of a Gov website for file conversion such as .doc or .docx to PDF and vice versa"

      You should be able to save/export a DOC/DOCX file directly from Office as a PDF file, so you don't need a website or other tools for that.

      There are various PDF conversion programs around to convert PDFs into other formats, including Office, adn these are pretty cheap, although they are not brilliant as they have trouble with fancy formatting, tables etc.

  10. Comment by Web Design posted on

    Great article, enjoyed reading it

  11. Comment by Alison posted on

    I am not very happy with all the current changes that are in plan to happen over the next couple of years. I think that losing our enquiry centres and any other jobs in offices will be for the worse, and not for the better. Some people are already feeling stressed and stretched, and that they are covering for everybody else's job. There are not enough people to do the current amount of jobs now, and even more people lose their jobs, the situation will get even worse, and people's morale will suffer as a result.

  12. Comment by Pippa Langford posted on

    I've just completed the "2 minute survey" which is at the bottom of the latest Civil Service News - my organisation wasn't listed, so I completed the "other box" with my organisation's name. But the survey was set up so that it required me to select one of the organisations from the drop down list, completing the "Other" box wasn't sufficient and the survey wouldn't move to the next page until I'd selected something (a department or organisation I don;t work for)from the drop down list!
    And in the drop down list the Forestry Commission was listed 3 times, why?
    Such a poor quality survey nicely makes the point that the IT service we sometimes recieve is not good enough.
    Reading other people's blogs though I realise that within Natural England we have a pretty good IT team. We have Windows 7, most of us use communicator and find it really useful, working from different locations, including home, is easy and we are trialling new ways of using Sharepoint for team work spaces. So there is a lot of good stuff going on too,

  13. Comment by Stephen Eggleton posted on

    I work at the NSO (Network Support Office) which is part of the VOA (Valuation Office Agency). The CDB (Central Database) is at the heart of what we do, and most people here use it every day.

    When I first started at the VOA in 2009 the CDB was running on Windows 2000. As I write this the current version of the CDB is running on Windows XP. As it is so outdated, as you can imagine, the CDB is rather slow, unreliable and extremely inflexible. It also crashes from time to time.

    If something isn’t done the situation will become worse, not better. In order for the CDB to work on the Windows 8 etc. what is needed is for the data on the CDB to be hoiked out of it and installed in a new framework which can be updated more easily.

    What we would have then is a CDB with the speed, reliability and flexibility which we need.

    However, I won’t hold my breath.

  14. Comment by Tim posted on

    Interesting that the posts seem to be about socila media and the web. I would like an IT system that can calculate an excel spreadsheet, albeit quite complex, in less than 90 seconds. What business benefit does blogging, facebook and the other social media actually bring to the organisation. Its about time that the organisation focused on providing some basic IT that works. We have got rid of the games etc on the system and I would dsiable access to the internet because I see so many people using the web for obviously non work use,

    • Replies to Tim>

      Comment by Francis Evans posted on

      @Tim - <<What business benefit does blogging, facebook and the other social media actually bring to the organisation>> it depends entirely on the context, the Civil Service is a varied beast. For colleagues seeking to trace individuals who may have defaulted on a fine, Facebook will be an invaluable tool because people are often foolishly indiscreet and reveal information about themselves on social media. For the press office, or anyone involved in a public campaign, Twitter is a tool of the job, in daily use.

      "Basic IT that works" means having access to all the tools we need for this and also the power to calculate your complex spreadsheets. It's a disgrace that it has taken so long and good news, in my view, that our senior managers are willing to be held to account in such a public way. Now let's see some action!

  15. Comment by another_chris posted on

    I am a software developer who recently joined the Civil Service from the private sector. A few months ago we received an email from the GDS with various recommendations for the development environments we should be aiming for:

    Unfortunately, we are unable to apply any of these recommendations, because IT developers are subject to the same draconian restrictions on access to the internet and to their own PCs as everybody else: I am no more able to download and install suitable software on my PC than the receptionist who sits at the front desk.

    And that's before considering the antiquated software (Windows XP, Lotus Notes, IE8) and pathetically inadequate hardware we are expected to use, or the sclerotic processes governing any attempts to request more modern tools. I cannot even access online documentation for the software we already use, because many suppliers make this documentation available via Github or Sourceforge, and these sites are blocked by Bluecoat. As government networks shift from GSI to the PSN, we can only expect this situation to get worse.

    Much of the technology I use here today was already obsolete 10 years ago in the "free world", and the tragedy is that many of our current standard tools are not even cheap: governments still seem happy to pay through the nose for inadequate solutions recommended by expensive consultancies or proprietary suppliers, when equivalent open source packages are often available for free.

    Contrary to popular myth, I am well ware that there are plenty of intelligent, hard-working professionals in government IT, but we are often crippled in our efforts by arbitrary restrictions, rampant bureaucracy and false economies by managers who would rather pay for new carpet than put enough RAM into their software developers' PCs.

    Outsourcing infrastructure management to external companies has made this situation worse - it costs a fortune just to move a PC from one desk to another, let alone request some new software or RAM to be installed. We waste money left right and centre, then claim there is no cash left for decent salaries or equipment.

    There is a lot of good advice coming from the GDS (although it often seems to focus on lightweight IT like trivial WordPress websites rather than enterprise-class data-processing systems), but until somebody is prepared to bridge the gulf between those recommendations and the dismal reality of our working environments, I can see little prospect of progress.

  16. Comment by Robin Coles posted on

    • Replies to Robin Coles>

      Comment by Stephen Eggleton posted on

      Robin Coles,

      I would love to see what's on your link, but out Internet is playing up - again.

  17. Comment by Sarah Dyson posted on

    On learning and development, how do you expect operational staff, for example where I work in Border Force, to be granted time away from operations to undertake the 5 days of L & D which Home Office staff are entitled to per year?
    Not a chance of structuring your own L & D at Heathrow. You attend what is already scheduled for you, irrelevant as it often is and that is only if you can be spared, and that is not often. How will this be delivered in an operational environment?

  18. Comment by Kate Colquhoun posted on

    Dear Sir,

    As a long standing civil servant of 30 years service, I wish to draw your attention to a persistent issue which continues to go unresolved since the introduction of performance related pay circa 1990.

    In sacrificing a small percentage of our pay towards a non-consolidated merit based bonus system, I had my concerns at that time, that it would be employed as a measure to exploit staff and effect back door pay cuts. More than 20 years on, I and others have experienced the realisation of my concerns first hand, with accountability ring fenced away from higher management via tactics of short cutted appeal and grievance processes which are not fit for purpose and which outside the realms of the Official Secrets Act, not only contravene the Equality Act but would also breach articles 10 and 14 of the Human Rights Act.

    As a consequence of now 30 years of exposure to poor and biased management, direct and indirect discrimination and bullying, excessive stress and overwork with little but more no recognition for my hard, efficient and effective high standard of working, several months ago I suffered a serious anxiety attack / mini stroke, which has affected my speech, my short term memory and my capability to do my existing job.

    Currently propped up on anti-anxiety medication, along with (I am reliably informed) several other colleagues, I have now been cast upon the valueless resource scrap heap, despite building on my remaining analytical strengths, to not only provide ongoing critical value to the business and my colleagues, but to build up vital confidence to fight the permanent and consequential medical conditions and diabilities that the Civil Service has provably forced upon me.

    Caught between the priority of my personal health and welfare and the certain devasting poverty that my family would face if I resigned today, I am financially leashed to a job which hangs around my neck like an albatross, a potent of certain ill fate.

    In the absence of any rights to fair justice in this matter, and the legal constraints that deny my public expression of my concerns, distress and ill treatment from this Un-Civil Service, I respectfully appeal to your moral sensibilities, to provide committed reforms to the Civil Service, which will enable all staff to transcend the biased and unjust environment we currently find our selves working in and grant us grievance, appeal and Official Secrets Act based processes that are not only fit for purpose but in which WE can find long term hope, faith, fairness and justice for all.

  19. Comment by Paul Richardson posted on

    I am an Executive Officer working for DWP. I attended the Civil Service Live event in London last year. As someone who is keen to progress in my career I like others have been frustrated by the lack of development and promotion opportunities.

    I was enthused hearing that cross Department transfers were to be made easier and would become common place in your presentation at CSL. I wonder what progress has been made on making this a reality - making opportunities visible, but in particular for staff to be encouraged by managers at ground level,something often lacking. There are a lot of enthusiastic and capable people, myself included that would welcome the chance of a move.

  20. Comment by Patricia McErlain posted on

    Kate Colquhoun I empathise with you. As a long serving (33+ years) I have recently returned from longterm sick due to finally succumbing to work related stress and anxiety leading to depression and an errosion of both self esteem and self confidence.
    Motivation is hard to retain due to feeling I am not valued, no pay increases and the rare non consolidated pay increases not only mean my disposable income (after ever increasing bills) is lessening but also a real reduction to what I will finally receive as a pension.
    If I had known 30 years ago what I know now would I have left and pursued a career outside the CS you bet I would but now I feel institutionalised with nothing to offer, our IT is so outdated we don't have the necessary skills employers now demand.
    Yet demotivated as I am what do I do..I turn up for work every day still try to do the best I can as that is what we do and that is the crux of the matter the Politicians and decision makers know that whatever they do as regards our T&C's the majority of Civil Servants will still turn up and give of their best.
    My biggest worry is not my pay (as I will manage by cutting back where I need to) but my pension. The lack of pay increases year on year (I have been on my maximum for 20 years) and non consolidated increases mean my future pension is not only reducing but moving further and further away. Call me cynical but is the plan for a larger percentage to die before or soon after being entitled to a pension?
    I have tried both with my HR and the Civil service Pensions to try to get information of my pension and if I'd benefit by closing my existing one to preserve my final salary now and move to this new average salary but nobody has replied? Why can't we get individual advice on our pensions?

  21. Comment by Kate FIddes posted on

    I spend hours of wasted time on IT not working, unnecessary form filling and research on how to completed the Performance Management appraisal system.
    Not knowing how to match my activities to KWO, Competencies, Core Skills, ABCDE (we'll soon be at Z!). This has become so over complicated and takes up hours to compile. Therefore taking you away from your day job and causing stress over finding out how to put together, leaving your normal work unattended and then having to justify yourself to a manager who should be aware of the work you do and how you do it.
    We need to go back to basics of Managers managing people not paper with words on it and addressing staff inefficiencies as they arrive and reporting to MoS how they think they have been working and if Staff feel they have done better than the Managers says then they have time to produce evidence to support their work.
    This way the staff who are happy in their work carry on at a good productive level stress free and the those who have fallen behind are given help and support they need and those who wish to be developed and moved up the career level show the evidence to support the notion they are good enough to go further and be push.
    Relaxed and Happy work force!!! Easy!

    • Replies to Kate FIddes>

      Comment by Darknorth posted on

      When I first started in the Civil Service my manager knew what I was doing and could do my job better than I could.

      How things have changed!

  22. Comment by Dave Roberts posted on

    What is the point in encouraging people to strive for promotion if, when they get there, they stay on the minimum of the payband, get no part of the miniscule cost of living rise (2013) as being regarded as temporary promotees they were excluded from. In addition they do not get any incremental rises to move them forward on the scale. The longer term effect also reduces their pension pot. How can you expect staff to believe they are fairly treated when practices such as that prevail and will it be addressed when reviewing the 2014 pay settlement?

  23. Comment by Julia posted on

    I agree with Patricia and Martin. I am not interested in IT, perhaps I am lucky, in my Department its quite good on the whole. I am interested, and grieved by what is happening to my pay and pension. Beside that everything else is unimportant. I am one of the people, being at the max of my payscale, who aren't even getting 1% pay rises, and probably won't for the forseeable future. I am now taking home less than I was 5 years ago. But the impact on my pension I fear will be quite devasting and it is not just the pension changes but the lack of consolidated pay rises that are eroding my last opportunities to build a decent pension for the last few yearsof classic. I am not immune to falling living standards and increased costs. How can the current job package be a "modern employment offer" when it is a backward step. It is all part of the decline towards the lowest common denominator - and the people who say "well we're better off than - x random person" are speaking the language of the race to the bottom. We are worse off than we were and that must remain the standard by which we judge these things. I also agree with comments on the previous blog about the pension being a trade off for - we were officially told - lower salaries and lower pay rises than the private sector. Our reward was deferred to our our second to none pension provision - we were told. Looking back now we were sold a pup, and should demanded the gratification then not waited for the promise of it to come, which has been well and truly broken. I would go so far as to say I have been lied to for most of my career and betrayed by this current administration, and I feel quite literally robbed of what I was promised for years (value - about £100k over my remaining lifetime I think). If I had known then what I know now, I too would have left many years ago.

    • Replies to Julia>

      Comment by Paul posted on

      Unfortunately I can only agree. "More for Less" can be achieved in many different ways!

  24. Comment by Dave Roberts posted on

    Sir Bob,

    Are you going to reply to my post dated 29 January 2014?