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

I was out and about on visits for a couple of days last week as part of my Communities and Local Government role, so I didn’t get a chance to blog. I want to say ‘thank you’ for all the comments on my last blog about the budget which provided some very helpful feedback.

Meanwhile, I want to briefly touch on the new Classification Policy that we all start using today. As I hope you all know by now, we are dropping the labels UNCLASSIFIED, PROTECT, RESTRICTED and CONFIDENTIAL. You’ve told us that you find this system difficult and bureaucratic and it hinders rather than helps your information sharing – and doesn’t make things any more secure. Instead, in their place, comes the new OFFICIAL classification. This is a much more straightforward approach and it’s encouraging that colleagues who have completed the e-learning package say it is easier to understand. If you have yet to complete this then please do.

A change to this system is long overdue, the first attempt to reform it was in 1947! However, I know some of you are nervous about the change, so I want to emphasise a couple of key points and be very clear about the expectations we should all have for handling information properly.

First and foremost all information has value. Whether it originated outside or within HMG, has been labelled or not. We should all be used to handling information from colleagues, the public, commercial partners, local authorities and elsewhere and treating it sensibly and appropriately for what it is. At the very least everyone should appreciate that information cannot be released outside of HMG without good reason or the appropriate clearance. We should all be able to exercise our judgement about the sensitivity of the information we work with, but if in doubt then please ask.

This change is being delivered throughout departments and I’ll be taking a close interest in the implementation of the new policy. I’d welcome your comments on how this will impact on your work below.

Over Easter I’ll be taking a break from the blog, and I hope some of you will be able to take some time off work. I’ll be back after Easter and look forward to engaging with you further then.

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  1. Comment by H Appleby posted on

    Dear Sir Bob

    I'm glad the feedback was helpful - clearly it wasn't "positive" though, and I note that you still haven't addressed any of our concerns.

    I wish you a happy Easter too, and when you return, I hope that you will START engaging with us.


    • Replies to H Appleby>

      Comment by DAC posted on

      I'd 2nd that. There were very few (if any) posative comments. I am sure you will answer many of the concerns in time but I doubt if anything will change as a result of the feedback you received.

    • Replies to H Appleby>

      Comment by Andrew posted on

      I fully endorse the above comment; if you don't respond and your team don't does this mean you will all be getting a Must Improve or an Exceed?

      • Replies to Andrew>

        Comment by Caroline posted on

        What is the point of any of this if the comments we make are ignored?

        • Replies to Caroline>

          Comment by Mr formal warning guy posted on

          It does not really matter if Bob responds or not almost an irrelevance. As still put views in to the mix, it provides information of different views. Ministers senior people etc can also read this and other people who make the process up etc.

          Who really makes decsions on this PMR bob? did bob make this up doubtful.

      • Replies to Andrew>

        Comment by Sheila posted on

        Or possibly a formal improvement plan?????

  2. Comment by Francessca posted on

    it seems that the people that sit at the 'top of the pyramid' do not want to deal with any of our concerns!

  3. Comment by Gareth posted on

    Sir Bob,

    Where does thsi leave us then? In your last blog on PMR you said you had received "positive feedback", although you don't say from whom. This time, you say our many hundreds of comments have given you "very helpful feedback". However those hundreds of comments were overwhelmingly negative - yet there is no acknowledgement of this. You seem to have got yopurself into a position where you cannot utter the words "negative" in association with PMR at all. I'm sorry to say that I smell the whiff of spin about your blog. So, when you talk to your senior colleagues about PMR, and to Ministers, what is the impression youi are going to given them about PMR and staff reaction to it? That the "feedback has been positive" and staff have given you "very helpful feedback"?

    I'm sorry Sir Bob, but if that is the case then it really won't do at all.

  4. Comment by Mr formal warning guy posted on

    Over Easter I’ll be taking a break from the blog, and I hope some of you will be able to take some time off work. I’ll be back after Easter and look forward to engaging with you further then."

    No we are not allowed any, days of due to gaming by management.

    Management decided to make a claim that anyone can have any leave they want. To do this management reduced the application window to one business day with no prior notification so that people would not know the process was open or what days they needed of.

    The result being that rather than being able to get any days of as management claim cant get any day of.

    To take the management principle of reducing the window time then claiming any one can get anytime is slightly dishonest. If you don’t consider the open window time, is a day reasonable, is an hour reasonable 10 minutes reasonable?

    By reducing the clearing window time management can claim, anyone can have anytime while refusing anytime of.

    As people that were not aware of process not in the day, or did not know what days wanted of.

    Its “gaming” the normal lack of integrity we have to come to expect from bobs people.

    It’s the lap top that is never in stock in PC world.

    So bobs people can say they offer any time of when in fact don’t offer any in practice for many.

  5. Comment by Vicki posted on

    Please could you confirm to me, in realtion to all of our payroll concerns, why it is that when our pay freeze was first bought in we were told it would only apply to those earning more than £21k? I have been in the Dept for 7 years now and still earning under £20k, but my pay was frozen to give just a 1% payrise along with my collegues since these reforms came in. Collegues of mine who are a grade below me are actualy earning more than me due to the descrepancies with pay bands. I really would appreciate someone getting back to me to inform me what you are doing to recitfy this.

  6. Comment by Mary posted on

    Sir Bob,

    When are you going to address, properly, and not with some quick brush-off, the 740+ comments on a couple of your previous threads concerning PMR and the pay disparities within the Civil Service? We're all waiting.

  7. Comment by Kenny posted on

    Reminds me of Young Mr've all done very well.

  8. Comment by Becky posted on

    Although I knew the security classifications were changing, I admit I didn't realise it happened this week. Woops.

    That said, anything that reduces process and makes my life a bit easier gets my vote!

  9. Comment by Alex posted on

    I think it's a really good idea to simplify the security classifications. Makes total sense to me, though I think that there is more to be done on the training side so that colleagues really understand some of the definitions, and I am sure that will come. Of course many things need to be protected for personal and security reaons, but surely, the more open we can be with general performance, policy and service information the better?

  10. Comment by Craig posted on

    I endorse the sentiments of the last author- PLEASE will you begin to address the numerous ad totally valid concerns raised in previous blogs?

  11. Comment by Tony Kenny posted on


    I would like to raise a concern with you about the DWP intranet. They have recently removed members of DWP staff's ability to give an article a 'thumbs down'. I emailed a comment about the matter to DWP ‘The Link’ who run that part of the intranet on Monday but I've not heard back yet so I don't think it's a technical problem. This is especially worrying considering the DWP have recently starting marking people down in their end of year / mid year reviews if they display 'negative behaviours' which is unbelievably subjective and offensive towards members of staff.


  12. Comment by Andrew posted on

    Does this mean I can order a "Top Secret" stamp from stationary?

    Though I could see me using it on everything from work stuff to my shopping lists. lol

  13. Comment by Tony posted on

    I'm impressed we managed to take a pragmatic approach to reducing the number of classifications. For too long we've been taking a a far too dogmatic... or even pedantic approach to classifying information which has pleased accreditors, but not any of the Civil Servants having to use them! A surprising step in the right direction, but let's try and keep them that way!

  14. Comment by Downtrodden posted on

    At last something positive...Anything that makes my job simpler is more than welcome.
    However my definition of "engaging with you" is obviously very different to Sir Bob's!
    There are so many questions raised in the last few blogs that no-one has even attempted to address.
    Surely if you are engaging with your staff, you attempt to address their concerns-not just ignore them.

  15. Comment by Cryin Brian posted on

    Sir Bob,

    Why do you even bother with this Blog or is it in your PMR as an expected behaviour?

  16. Comment by Isabelle posted on

    I think the new system is really intuitive and common-sense. It's great to see HMG working hard to simplify the lives of it's civil servants!

  17. Comment by Ian Roche posted on

    Hello Sir Bob,
    The new security classifications make perfect sense to me.
    What might also make sense would be if - before posting a blog on a new subject - you responded to the hundreds of posts regarding your blog on the PMR system.
    I mean,. you wouldn't want people to think that you don't bother to look at responses and take them on board. That would make us think that it is only the Moderators who bother to look at posts.
    That would not give people a good impression - it might make people imagine that our managers actually could not care less about what we think; and just do blogs as an "engagement" box-ticking exercise.
    I feel certain that you would not wish us to draw that kind of conclusion.

  18. Comment by Richard Pearson posted on

    I agree with other posters on here that this is a very clear system and a great improvement on what has gone before.
    Slightly off the point, I think that one of the other improvements that the CS has made is the introduction of the jobs website which makes it easier to find jobs. The alert functionality is also very useful. One bit of feedback, though, is that I would like to see a filter for jobs which are open to part-time staff or job sharers. As a part-timer it is extraordinarily frustrating to see a job which may be of interest, only to go into the details to establish that it is only suitable for full-time staff only (and on most occasions it is unclear why).

  19. Comment by Gareth posted on

    I've asked several times, but not been given a clear answer: what happens with US classified material that we receive? As I understand it, we have a long-standing General Security Agreement (with Treaty status) with the US that says how we will handle each others' classified material. The US is still using the CONFIDENTIAL marking - so what happens when we receive US information marked as such?

    I'm sure similar issues arise with other nations' information too.

  20. Comment by Mrs Appleby posted on

    Just happened to turn on BBC Parliament yesterday as they were discussing a proposed Commission of Enquiry into the Civil Service. Had the distinct impression that most MPs regard the words 'civil servants' as applying to the Humphrey Applebys of this world. Isn't it time that we put the record straight? Most civil servants are probably female, probably underpaid and most probably in the older age bracket.

    • Replies to Mrs Appleby>

      Comment by Ian H posted on

      Mrs Appleby, I assure you there are a great deal of male Civil Servants too, particularly in the MOD where I work. There is life outside London you know.

      • Replies to Ian H>

        Comment by Mrs Appleby posted on

        I suppose we can only speak from our own office (mine is about 70% female of which a good number are part-time). This is hardly the typical image of 'Sir Humphrey' who is inevitably mentioned in any parliamentary debate on the CS, usually said with a slight sneer. Sir Bob, do you feel you fit the typical image of a Sir Humphrey?

  21. Comment by Caz posted on

    Vicki. I'm in the same situation. Over 8 yrs service & still on bottom of the pay scale. Fortunately I have worked for decent employers in the past so I am in receipt of a pension & have two others which I will recieve at 60. It's still a struggle to get my child through Uni.The only upside to this job is that my pay is so pathetic that she qualifies for some funding!

  22. Comment by Peter B posted on

    There has to be a conversation and that conversation should allow people to feedback and know that their feedback will be acted on. This generates goodwill because colleagues know they’re listened to.
    Executive Director of Government Communications, Alex Aiken.

    Not generating much goodwill through your blog regarding PMR are you Bob?

  23. Comment by Michael Shryane posted on

    Its really encouraging to see more positive feedback about the new Classification Policy. The development of the policy and supporting material has been a truly pan-government effort, with lots of really helpful input from user groups from all around the Civil Service.

    Gareth, on international exchanges we've engaged all of the UK's key allies and information sharing partners very actively too. We have explained our new scheme to ensure they continue to protect UK information appropriately and are assured we will continue to the same. Any international partners' CONFIDENTIAL information will be treated as UK SECRET under the new policy. In practical terms (i.e. the controls we've applied) this is how we have handled that information in the past anyway.

    Michael Shryane, Head of Policy, Government Security Secretariat

  24. Comment by Emma posted on

    Good to see common sense applied to security classification. For too long we've defaulted to using a restricted classification for information that is really more about being awkward to share than actually restricted. Security classifications should not be used to prevent transparency. The new classification catagories will make us think whether we really need to keep information confidential after all. Good work!

  25. Comment by Fed Bare posted on

    Sir Bob and staff

    What is the point of having this blog if nobody ever responds to the comments made. There are enough tick box exercises that add toward various acreditations across the busuness, can we have some meaningful engagement to the valid points raised across the past few blogs?

  26. Comment by John Dawson posted on

    People, please calm down. The 'point' of Bob's Blog is to tick a box for People Engagement. Nothing more and nothing less. It is the Civil Service Way.

  27. Comment by Paul posted on

    It seems a bit pointless having a classification scheme if Government publicity posters have the same classification as staff medical records. Surely there should be some distinction between documents which are freely available to the public and those which are not?

    Also, although there are said to be three classifications, there are actually four if you include "Official - sensitive". This makes it look as if the system has been amended before it has even come into use!

  28. Comment by Miles Nelson posted on

    I have left a number of comments on Sir Bob's blogs, which seem to have become a forum for sharing experience and opinion, perhaps in the infinitely faint hope that "someone" might take notice, but mainly so that powerless people can commiserate with each other. Indeed I have received heart-breaking emails from several strangers who have read my comments, and have similar stories to tell. These, and the people I talk to, do not seem to me to be slackers who are making noise to cover up for having been found out, but genuinely hard-working employees of HMRC, who have been subject to arbitrary and inadequately supported decision making. I understand that there is to be an HR review of PMR once the dust has settled, but that will be too late. Rebuilding morale so casually destroyed will take years and attempts to do so may be futile and will appear false. In any case, even if PMR is abandoned, there will be some other second-hand, second-rate, mediocre system in its place, probably one which has been adopted and then abandoned as a failure elsewhere.

    I have recently been invited on some sort of workshop on building leadership and driving up performance. Attending this would be enabling hypocrisy. I feel demolished and driven down, and HMRC can look for cheerleaders amongst those whom it takes care of.

    • Replies to Miles Nelson>

      Comment by Matt posted on

      Not only will it take years but it will cost a fortune, you're talking tens of thousands per head just to replace what will have been stolen from hard working civil servant's pockets by the end of the current period of pay "restraint".

      That's not even considering the damage done to falling nominal salaries (due to pension increases) by double digit inflation over the same period or the ongoing thousands that will be lost each year that the current pay policy and the inequalities it enforces continues.

      Nor does it consider the cost of training replacements for those same hard working civil servants that decide they've had enough of this treatment and leave for a better life in the private sector before those at the top finally get it into their skulls what is going on down here on the front line. The lost skills, qualifications, training and experience will not be replaced quickly or cheaply.

  29. Comment by BlairBliar posted on

    I think Mr Kerslake is helping to get the Civil Service ready for privatisation and is obviously using the hated PMR as a blunt tool to help with this goal. The major accountancy practises must be licking their lips

  30. Comment by Chris posted on

    Today my manager spent six, yes SIX hours in a pmr validation meeting with all the other managers on my span. That meant a total of a total of over SIXTY man hours were spent on pmr validation across just one span today. How many hours across the country this adds up to I dread to think, but at a time of ever increasing workload and decreasing investment this surely represents a ridiculous amount of time deliberating over who should be in the bottom 10 or top 20 per cent. A hideous waste of time and resources which no business in the real world would ever contemplate or afford. Ridiculous.

  31. Comment by paul posted on

    Sir Bob,

    I was all for the new security classifications, but it's not quite as been presented i.e. that six classification have been reduced to three.

    We will always have "unrestricted" documents. Some departments are now telling staff to use "official" and also "official - sensitive" - So the simplification, in reality, is the loss of only one classification. Is that what was intended?

    What is the difference, say, between "Official" and "Official-sensitive" - are the sensitive ones "Restricted" or "Confidential" in some way?!?!
    It is being presented as

    UNCLASSIFIED, PROTECT, RESTRICTED and CONFIDENTIAL. You’ve told us that you find this system difficult and bureaucratic and it hinders rather than helps your information sharing – and doesn’t make things any more secure. Instead, in their place, comes the new OFFICIAL classification