Press release

Improved accountability and more support for ministers

A review of progress so far against the 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan calls for the pace of reform to step up.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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The next stage of civil service reform will see more effective support for ministers and greater accountability for senior civil servants. This will help government deliver further savings for taxpayers and better public services.

The Cabinet Office today published a review of the first year of the Civil Service Reform Plan, which provides an honest account of progress to date. Success in some areas – such as starting to move more government services online and improving the delivery of major projects – is detailed alongside slower progress in other areas.

In line with the ground-breaking first annual report by the Major Projects Authority, traffic light assessments will be published alongside all actions from last year’s reform plan showing where progress is on track and where more effort is needed.

The report also outlines further steps that will accelerate progress and boost support for ministers, including:

  • giving ministers the power to personally appoint civil servants, special advisers and external policy experts to form Extended Ministerial Offices (EMOs). Last month’s report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) highlighted that ministers in the UK receive less direct personal support compared to similar Westminster-based systems overseas. The new model will build on traditional private office functions to support ministers better and help them drive through the formation, implementation and delivery of their policy objectives.
  • strengthening accountability by introducing fixed tenure appointments for Permanent Secretaries. This was another recommendation from the IPPR. It had also been announced by former Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2004. The 5-year terms are expected to mean that Permanent Secretaries stay in post for longer.
  • senior civil servants to be directly accountable to Parliament for delivering major projects. The Osmotherly rules, which set out how departments interact with select committees, will be reviewed with the aim of producing revised guidance by October 2013
  • functional leadership to make a potential £1 billion of efficiency savings from the cost of Whitehall by 2015 to 2016. More back office functions will be shared and leadership of professional corporate services will be strengthened through cross-Whitehall functional leadership.

The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, said:

At its best the Civil Service is world class, but Britain is in a global race and only an exceptional Civil Service will suffice. The One Year On report shows we have made progress in some areas. We have improved the delivery of major projects and we are starting to put more services online. But in other areas progress has been too slow. There’s a Catch 22 whereby the very things we want to change make change harder to effect.

It would not be honest to pretend all our reforms were on track. That’s why we think it’s right to publish this candid assessment which gives praise where it’s due and calls for more effort where it’s needed.

We always said our Reform Plan was not the last word but our first steps. Hard working families expect us to push for faster, deeper, more ambitious change to provide better public services and better value to taxpayers.

Government is increasing in complexity and speed, and public expectations continue to rise. We will give ministers more support by allowing them to appoint Extended Ministerial Offices, to challenge established thinking and carry priorities from development through to delivery. Fixed-tenure contracts will sharpen the accountability of the most senior civil servants, while introducing functional leadership could save taxpayers a billion pounds.

Head of the Civil Service Sir Bob Kerslake said:

Like any organisation, the Civil Service must constantly evolve and improve. Successful delivery of the Civil Service Reform Plan will allow us to deliver the first class public services that people have come to expect.

In the past year, we’ve introduced a new competency framework for all civil servants, together with rigorous new standards for performance management. Our Capabilities Plan will increase our digital and commercial skills and will help improve project management and leadership of change. Together these actions will help us to become more unified and more skilled – but there is more to do.

In the year ahead we will build on existing actions, with a focus on improving accountability, working more closely together and creating stronger cross-government leadership of our corporate functions. Increasing the pace of reform in this way will allow us to deliver the best for Britain.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood said:

The progress we have made to date is making a difference to civil servants, the taxpayer and the public. The Major Projects Authority working with departments, has made savings of £1.2 billion in 2012/13 and improved the rate of successful project delivery.

We are delivering more digitally, in line with what the public want and expect. The new, award-winning GOV.UK website received 900,000 hits on its first day of operation and over half of government transactional services can now be delivered digitally.

On policy we have made progress in becoming more open, more evidence-based and more focused on “what works” in practice.

The Civil Service will be more open going forward, building a stronger culture of continuous improvement. That is why we are presenting a transparent view of our progress today, which I believe we can build on in the year ahead.

Additional actions include:

  • improving the delivery of major projects by implementing recommendations outlined in Lord Browne’s recent report, including changes to project initiation, assurance, intervention and audit.
  • the Minister for the Cabinet Office will commission advice using the Contestable Policy Fund to review how we support our most talented people succeeding in the civil service. This will feed into the new talent strategy to be introduced by 2014.
Published 10 July 2013