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My visit to Hull: a showcase of Civil Service innovation

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

Meeting colleagues across the country is one of the highlights of my role – hearing about your experiences through my blog is one thing, but nothing beats meeting colleagues outside of Whitehall and actually seeing this work for myself.

My time in Hull two weeks ago – visiting the prison before moving across to the Land Registry for a multi-departmental event – is a great example of this. I left the city not only feeling motivated by the innovative work that is taking place, but also having learnt a lot about how we can make sure that we reproduce this standard right across the organisation.

I wanted to reflect on a few things in particular that I took away from the visit.


At a time of real financial constraint we are all feeling the effects of needing to do more with less. My time in Hull demonstrated clearly just how much can be achieved through strong and visionary leadership.

Upon arriving in Hull I was taken on a tour of the city’s prison by its Governor, Norman Griffin. I was able to see first-hand everything that he has achieved since taking over, as well as hearing from the staff whose hard work underpins the prison’s well-deserved reputation for excellence.

Norman was instrumental in setting up the prison’s Psychologically Informed and Planned Environment, and seeing it in action was a real highlight. The programme takes prisoners from high security estates and personality disorder units and seeks to address their issues through a community-focused regime and structured group sessions.

It is a scheme that has seen the prison come in for praise from outside the Civil Service as well as within, receiving the coveted Chartered Institute of Psychology ‘Enabling Environment’ Award last year.

While at HMP Hull I also had the opportunity to sit down with Paul Foweather, the Governor of HMP Full Sutton in York and the recipient of a Civil Service Award for his work in transforming one of the country’s most demanding high-security prisons. Amongst many other successes, Paul has reduced costs by 10% at the same time as developing a nationally-recognised drug treatment programme for offenders.

Paul Foweather, the Governor of HMP Full Sutton in York, winning a Civil Service Award in November 2013 c. Paul Heartfield
Paul Foweather, the Governor of HMP Full Sutton in York, winning a Civil Service Award in November 2013 c. Paul Heartfield/ Dods

For both governors, encouragement, motivation and helping staff to develop their skills are key to creating the environment for productivity and success.

It’s why learning and development is such a key pillar of the Civil Service Reform Plan – I want each any every civil servant to be able to get their five days’ learning and development each year, and good leadership is about enabling those who report into you to do this.

Civil Service Reform in action

I then headed to the Land Registry for a ‘market stall’ session with colleagues from BIS, the Home Office, DWP, HMRC and the Land Registry. It was great to hear from so many of you and to hear about how all the teams that I met are taking forward the reform agenda.

There were two real highlights, though: the use of digital resources to enhance the way civil servants work, and the extent of collaboration between departments and with the Local Enterprise Partnership.

I was really impressed to hear the extent to which BIS Local have embraced social media to help it to make the connections that create the right conditions for growth in the Humber region. I also really enjoyed hearing from Jobcentre Plus colleagues about the way in which they have embraced Internet Access Devices to help customers create ‘Universal Jobmatch’ accounts and build up their CVs.

In the year ahead, I am keen for us to make big progress where digital is concerned and for all civil servants to be able to utilise the kinds of IT services that feature in their personal lives . It was brilliant to see that this is well on its way to becoming a reality in Hull.

Another positive was hearing about the extensive collaboration that exists in Hull both between departments themselves and the relationships that those departments have built with the Local Enterprise Partnership. A great example is the BIS Local team, who have driven the Humber LEP to produce a credible and ambitious Enterprise Zone proposal (the largest in the country).

What I took away

I left Hull feeling inspired by the brilliant work that I saw, but also with feedback on where extensive changes can still be made. I held two Q&A sessions in Hull and it is clear to me that we still have plenty to do, particularly around modernising our IT systems in departments, creating truly modern workplaces and strengthening our commercial skills – this last point was demonstrated particularly clearly by the great work being taken forward by the Home Office Removals Casework team.

As an organisation we are faced with the dual challenge of getting stronger and more efficient at the same time as reducing in size and operating with fewer resources: both of the sites that I visited whilst in Hull demonstrated what this looks like in practice, and showcased the talent that exists at all levels of the Civil Service.

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Related content:

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Blog post Technology at least as good as people have at home

Blog post Civil Service Reform- the year ahead

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  1. Comment by Paul Harcombe posted on

    Nice namecheck for the Land Registry there, no mention of the imminent privatisation in the offing or topics related to it, which is a shame.

  2. Comment by Andrew posted on

    Am I right in thinking Land Registry is being privatised?

    • Replies to Andrew>

      Comment by Tom posted on

      If they are privatised, then maybe they will have the luxury of being able to ditch PMR!

  3. Comment by Maria posted on

    What does BIS stand for?

    • Replies to Maria>

      Comment by Andrew Tolfree posted on


      Business, Innovation & Skills

  4. Comment by John posted on

    Modernising our I.T. systems....

    End of month stats time, and yet again our printers are out of action with the message coming back that "nothing can be done until tomorrow".

    Yes Sir Bob.....we clearly do have "plenty to do"

    Yours frustratedly....

  5. Comment by Mike O posted on

    Dear Sir Bob

    I’m hoping you will have watched ‘Mind the Gap’: Evan Davis most interesting two part report on the problems presented, and the opportunities that could be missed, by the economy of London being allowed to move increasingly away from the rest of the UK economy.

    Two key economic ideas the programme introduced viewers to were agglomeration and the importance of hubs. The former is where you enable likeminded people to cluster together to maximise the opportunity for the sparking off of new ideas. The latter is where you consider that communication and transport systems work best where there are strong hub locations that allow efficient connection to a number of spokes.

    The programme explained how £5000 per head was being invested in transport improvement in London, and I heard it mentioned on the radio this morning that the equivalent in the North West was £250 per head (though of course you probably get more bangs per buck away from London, a point that should be born in mind). A similar disparity was given for commercial property rent values (I think figures quoted were £2000 per sq.m. in London and £300 per sq.m. in Manchester).

    With this in mind, I’d like to ask if we might be at risk from London-centric drives on cost reduction across the UK overlooking opportunities for economic regeneration in the regions and thus for economic regeneration, longer term, in the UK economy. Whilst I understand that in consolidation and cost reduction exercises, everyone must contribute their share in cost reduction, I think that there are two other considerations to keep in mind:

    Firstly, just as you would expect to see low wage earners paying the same rate of tax as higher wage earners, some adjustment could be made for civil service activities in regions away from London, because of their special importance in stabilising regional economies.

    Secondly, and completely consistent with obtaining best value for money, there should be room for discretion in pursuing a strategy of what might be called ‘judicious investment’. This discretion could most readily be exercised in locations where the cost of investment is likely to be much lower than in London.

    I am aware of an office consolidation exercise within a single government department in a major regional city, where an office location might be vacated despite offering strong ‘hub location’ potential. Instead of abandoning this location, why not place a value on retaining and using it for the potential it holds. This potential could be fully realised by considering use by any civil service (or public services) business function that would be able to ‘work smarter’ from the quick connections available at a good hub location. In turn, this business presence would encourage the agglomeration of related service providers around this hub location. In all of this, UK plc and those who pay the wages of public servants, should ultimately be well served. You would also send a morale boosting message to employees in the region. And the benefits of improved morale to workforce effectiveness should not be underestimated.

  6. Comment by Mike O posted on

    Apologies. In my post above, I left out a key word in one paragraph. the word 'not' is missing. the paragraph should have read:

    "Firstly, just as you would NOT expect to see low wage earners paying the same rate of tax as higher wage earners, some adjustment could be made for civil service activities in regions away from London, because of their special importance in stabilising regional economies.


  7. Comment by Keith Spamer posted on

    The Insolvency Service, an Agency within BIS with a high performing local office in Hull was not even told of this event, let alone invited to attend, but then as we are under threat of closure to save money to help pay for more expensive but under performing sites such as London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester then I suppose our lack of an invite makes sense.