Civil Service World

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Civil Service World News

Government agrees new Brexit deal with EU ahead of Saturday Commons vote

4 hours 21 minutes ago

Prime minister announces deal reached, but government’s DUP allies indicate they may not back it

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Photo: PA

The government and the European Union’s Brexit negotiating team have announced they have reached a revised agreement for the UK’s exit from the bloc ahead of a European summit today.

The revised agreement removes mention of the backstop arrangement for Northern Ireland, which under the deal agreed by former PM Theresa May could have kept the UK in the EU’s customs territory. The new arrangements mean that Northern Ireland would instead apply EU rules on tariffs and quotas to avoid a hard border with Ireland, but would also remain in the UK's customs territory.

This will mean that businesses moving goods from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will have to claim back tariffs, dependent on whether they are levied in any future trade agreement between the UK and the EU. The revised political declaration on the aims for a future trade deal stated that it should aim to “ensure no tariffs, fees, charges or quantitative restrictions across all sectors  with appropriate and modern accompanying rules of origin, and with ambitious customs arrangements that are in line with the parties' objectives and principles”. However, the free trade agreement pledge is altered from the previous pledge to “a trading relationship on goods that is as close as possible”.


The scheme would also mean that Northern Ireland could benefit from UK trade deals, although businesses may need to claim back tariffs if these differ between the UK and the EU.

The new arrangements would also need to be approved by the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, which has not met since early 2017. Officials have been running the administration in the absence of ministers since power-sharing arrangements between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party collapsed.

For the customs arrangements to remain in place, they will need the support of either a majority of assembly members present and voting from both the unionist and nationalist designations at Stormont; or 60% of those present and voting, including at least 40% of both designations.

Most other elements of the original withdrawal agreement remain unchanged. However, the UK's commitment to maintain a “level playing field” on social and environmental protection and regulations with the EU has been removed from the legally-binding text. It has been added instead to the political declaration, meaning it will be decided in the free-trade negotiations.

Boris Johnson – who is travelling to Brussels for the two-day European Council – announced the breakthrough on Twitter.

"We’ve got a great new deal that takes back control – now parliament should get Brexit done on Saturday so we can move on to other priorities like the cost of living, the NHS, violent crime and our environment," the prime minister said.

This new deal ensures that we #TakeBackControl of our laws, borders, money and trade without disruption & establishes a new relationship with the EU based on free trade and friendly cooperation. #GetBrexitDone #TakeBackControl

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 17, 2019

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted: "Where there is a will, there is a deal – we have one! It’s a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the UK and it is testament to our commitment to find solutions. I recommend that [the EU Council] endorses this deal."

MPs are expected to vote on the deal on Saturday. It is not yet clear if the government has the required votes to pass the deal as the Democratic Unionist Party has said in a statement that “as things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity on VAT”.

"We will continue to work with the government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom."

Tags Brexit Leadership & Management Legal & Constitutional Parliament Categories Government and politics About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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Cabinet Office names head of new military veterans’ unit

4 hours 54 minutes ago

Help for Heroes recovery director Retired Colonel David Richmond will take on cross-government role

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Credit: PA

The government has named Afghanistan and Iraq veteran Retired Colonel David Richmond as the head of its new cross-departmental Office for Veterans Affairs.

Richmond is a former commanding officer of Fifth Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, and has more recently served as recovery director at military charity Help for Heroes, which was among the charities that backed a campaign to set up the unit.

The OVA sits within the Cabinet Office and is designed to “pull together all functions of government” to provide better support and improve the co-ordination of charity sector provision for ex-forces personnel.


Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said the OVA would “make sure that government delivers on its promises to those who have served and make it easier for veterans and their families to get the support they need”. 

He added: “The office will also celebrate the brilliant contribution veterans make in many other walks of life after they leave service.”

The Cabinet Office announced plans to set up the OVA in July, referencing a campaign by The Sun newspaper for a dedicated unit for support former armed forces personnel. Help for Heroes was one of several charities that backed the campaign, which ran during the Conservative leadership campaign and asked candidates to sign a "veterans' pledge" to set up the unit and to end investigations into historial allegations against troops. 

Richmond said he was “honoured” to take on the role and that as a veteran, he understood the struggles that others faced.

“Leading the OVA will provide a unique opportunity to serve our veteran community as they transition to civilian life and to ensure that the experience and the support they receive is world-leading,” he said.

“Our former military personnel are hugely talented, committed and have a range of skills, experiences and qualifications that we must ensure continues to benefit UK society. 

“I want the OVA to champion veterans and ensure that their skills and talents are recognised fully by employers, business and wider society.”

The Cabinet Office said Richmond’s role was a director-level post

Tags Brexit Health HR International Affairs & Security Categories Communities, housing and planning Defence and Security Employment Government and politics Public order, justice and rights Image description PA Twitter Link

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Estates and smart working: rolling out reform in the Welsh Government

5 hours 37 minutes ago

The Welsh Government's award-winning smart working project in its Merthyr Tydfil office has set a template that is being rolled out across the principalities’ civil service buildings. Welsh Government chief digital officer Caren Fullerton explains how it was done

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Smart winners: The Merthyr Tydfil team receiving an award for their work

What does smart working mean for the Welsh Government?

Smart working is a business focused approach that gives everyone an opportunity to choose when, where and how they work. It’s about increasing productivity without increasing time spent in the office. That might mean taking your laptop into a meeting instead of printing out copies of papers, or it could be simply working from a different location. The smart approach is an evolution of a flexible working policy we piloted in our Merthyr Tydfil Office in 2017.

What changes did you make in Merthyr Tydfil?

One key change was that we removed core hours and flexi bandwidths. In order to make sure the changes didn’t have a detrimental impact on delivery, teams were asked to hold discussions about how they would apply flexible working to their own circumstances and create a team charter. This gave all members an opportunity to raise any issues they’d not mentioned before. Some teams developed a rota so the same person wasn’t always stuck covering the phones on Friday afternoons. For teams that don’t need cover in the office, team charter discussions started to chip away at any residual culture of presenteeism. After a while, people see that the work is still getting done even if the person doing it isn’t sat in the office.

Did staff have any input into the changes?

Yes, we weren’t too prescriptive when we rolled out flexible working. We worked very closely with the senior leadership team in Merthyr, and all of the guidance and supporting materials we produced clearly stated the organisation’s expectations, such as giving every individual the opportunity to be flexible in some way, but giving each team the responsibility to determine how it would work for their business delivery. We knew that a “one size fits all” approach wouldn’t work, and by talking to staff about the changes we were able to reflect the diverse needs of different business areas.

How have staff responded to the changes?

The changes have been really well received. Staff told us they felt more trusted and, as a result, more positive towards the organisation. We carried out a baseline survey and ran an extensive evaluation which showed that individuals and line managers all felt that the pilot had a positive effect. We know from anecdotal feedback that some of the managers who were initially wary changed their minds during the pilot and are now some of our greatest advocates.

Even more importantly, the positivity has continued. In the last People Survey, Merthyr was our most engaged office, with scores in some areas 10-11% higher than our average. Staff have said they’re happy to test out other new initiatives too, so it’s great to have a whole office of people who are enthusiastic about trying new things.

What are staff able to do now that they couldn’t do before?

As someone commented in the feedback, there’s now a level playing field and flexible working is seen as the norm. People no longer feel they need to justify why they might be starting later or finishing earlier.

Many people have caring responsibilities and the opportunity to work to a different pattern of hours or from a different location temporarily has meant they’ve been able to carry on working, preventing the organisation losing skills and knowledge. Others said it really helped to be able to attend medical appointments and know they can make up time without worrying about appointments running over.

Have you seen any improvements in productivity?

Yes. One of the most surprising discoveries was that it’s the small things that make a big difference. There were examples of people being able to reduce travel time by working for an hour or so from home before going on a visit to a local external stakeholder.

Many said that they were actually much more focused because they could better balance their work and personal lives – like knowing they could leave before 3pm to do the school run. It sounds almost counterintuitive but by giving people more freedom, they became more focused on their work. Feeling trusted and empowered has a big impact on people’s willingness to “go the extra mile”.

Do you plan to implement smarter working programmes in other offices?

In May we launched smart working across the whole organisation. It’s a step further than the pilot – we’re now looking much more at how working in this way will help us to be more efficient with our time. 

We’re about to finish deploying laptops to everyone, which will increase their ability to work more flexibly. The next stage is to look at how we can develop smart working further by rethinking some of our processes, reducing bureaucracy and making sure we’re an exemplar as an organisation.

What lessons have you learned in running the pilot?

One of the most important lessons from the pilot was in what we didn’t change. We were not ready to implement new ICT kit for the pilot so we only had around 40 additional pooled laptops to share amongst approximately 600 staff. The success of the pilot demonstrated that whilst technology is a great enabler of flexible working, it’s much more important to focus on people.

One of the other key lessons was the importance of communication and consistency. The pilot was a way of formalising the approach and making sure everyone had the same opportunities. We’re all so busy that sometimes we forget to step back and think about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and whether there’s a better way of doing it. The team charter conversations gave everyone a chance to do just that.

In retrospect, would you have done anything differently?

I don’t think we would have. Running a pilot before a wider rollout was definitely a good idea and we got a huge amount of insight, which we used in developing the plans to introduce smart working to the rest of the organisation. The full benefits, like reducing travel and subsistence costs, and more video conferencing, couldn’t be realised without the ICT functionality and with the pilot focused on one office. It was challenging being ahead of the upgrade, but carrying out the changes in this order ensured that the focus was on behavioural change.

“Technology is a great enabler of flexible working, but it’s much more important to focus on people”

What advice would you give public sector organisations and departments seeking to implement similar changes?

It’s definitely worth putting the time into the planning stage. We engaged with staff at all levels so they were well prepared when we finally launched. A pilot is a great way to find out what works and what doesn’t with manageable numbers before involving the whole organisation. So, my advice would be to give it a go!

Author Display Name Caren Fullerton Tags HR Leadership & Management Project & Programme Management Transformation Categories Government and politics About the author

Caren Fullerton is chief digital officer of the Welsh Government

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DHSC has Brexit 'plan for every medicine' as it awards £25m door-to-door urgent delivery contracts

5 hours 46 minutes ago

Freight service will transport medical supplies with short shelf lives like radioisotopes and human organs

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Health secretary Matt Hancock. Photo: Kirsty O'Connor/PA

The Department for Health and Social Care has set up a £25m express delivery service for to transport urgent medical supplies door to door after Brexit.

The department has awarded contracts to the logistics companies UPS and Biocair and ferry operator DFDS to run the freight service, which will deliver medicines and medical products within 24 or 48 hours as needed.

The contracts, announced in June, are to transport small consignments of medicines with a short shelf life and those that could run out because of Brexit-related delays to imports or transport routes.


They include the supply of temperature-controlled goods, controlled drugs and substances of human origin including blood, tissue and organs.

They are to be used “where there is an urgent need or where a suppliers' own logistics arrangements are disrupted”, the department has said.

The services are part of a government strategy to remove potential obstacles to access to medicines after Brexit, particularly in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal. The department has also procured extra warehouse space and asked pharmaceutical companies to stockpile supplies to mitigate the risk of supplies being delayed.

The announcement came just days after the Department for Transport announced it had awarded contracts worth £86.6m to three ferry companies to transport critical supplies including medicine into the UK after Brexit.

The ferries contracted through the DfT framework will run in any Brexit scenario – whether or not a withdrawal agreement is struck with the EU.

In contrast, DHSC’s freight contracts will be used on an as-needed basis. Companies and care providers will use them to order supplies at short notice, and will be able to choose how they are transported – for example, by air or sea.

And unlike the DfT contracts, the health department’s freight service will deliver supplies door to door.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said the contracts meant his department now had “detailed plans in place for every medicine – including those with short shelf-lives – to help ensure that the supply of medicines and medical products are uninterrupted through Brexit”.

“This dedicated delivery service will get urgent supplies and short shelf-life medicines, like radioisotopes for cancer treatments, rapidly into the country, including by plane where necessary,” he said.

The contracts will be overseen by a National Supply Disruption Response, which DHSC has set up as part of its Brexit contingency planning. Social care and health providers have been told to report problems to the unit, which will help deal with “disruption to the supply of medicines and vaccines, medical devices and clinical consumables that normal procedures can’t resolve”, according to departmental guidance.

The contracts run for 12 months, with the option to renew for a second year.

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, said: “Whilst there are many things beyond their control, this is an important contingency plan that will help our members continue their preparations – alongside the stockpiles they have already built and alternative freight routes they have secured.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Brexit Health Procurement & Commercial Categories Government and politics Health and social care Transport About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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DfT agencies need more ministerial leadership, Shapps says

7 hours 26 minutes ago

Transport secretary also reveals Northern franchise could be nationalised over contractor's poor performance

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Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has said he wants to implement greater ministerial oversight of his department’s agencies in a bid to improve their accountability.

In his first appearance before the Transport Select Committee in the role, Shapps said he had argued for more money and an extra minister to ensure all DfT’s policy priorities are managed effectively.

Shapps told the committee that decarbonisation and making trains run on time “to the minute” were among his priorities in his new post,


He said he was considering taking Northern, the largest commuter franchise in the North of England, into public ownership over its late-running trains and failure to retire high-polluting Pacer trains despite promising to do so.

He said he had asked both Arriva, which operates Northern, and the department's own operator of last resort for proposals, which DfT later confirmed could lead to the franchise being replaced with a short-term management contract with either of the two.

There are now five ministers working under Shapps in the department. He told the committee that he was particularly concerned about having strong leadership on capital projects in what he referred to as “a transport department but also an infrastructure department”.

DfT is responsible for several major infrastructure schemes, including the HS2 and Crossrail 2 rail projects and the development of a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

“While we’re trying to go through the infrastructure revolution, having insufficient leadership through ministers in place would be a mistake,” he said.

He later added: “I don’t think we can under-manage these projects with so much capital involved and then expect to deliver well-run projects on a shoestring. You’ve got to do it properly and that means people and money.”.

Shapps said he had also successfully argued for more money from the Treasury for DfT for the coming year. The Spending Round this month gave the department’s resource budget an 11.4% real-terms increase for 2020-21 compared to this year.

Shapps, who sat on the Public Administration Committee from 2005 to 2007, said his position was informed by his experience scrutinising other public bodies.

“I remember seeing a number of government departments and agencies which had never really had that leadership. And then we’d sit here as members of parliament and criticise the agencies for failing to deliver, when actually I kind of thought that sometimes they hadn’t been given the strategic steers or attention from ministers to know what they’re doing,” he said.

The Civil Aviation Authority, which last month helped repatriate around 150,000 people left stranded abroad when Thomas Cook collapsed, is among the agencies in need of greater ministerial intervention, Shapps said.

“They are in one way excellent: they guard against planes falling out of the sky and they managed to do a fantastic job of repatriation. However, they’ve not really had much ministerial interest over the years and as a result have developed their own policies and cultures,” he said, noting that the CAA puts out statutory guidance that does not need to be signed off by a minister.

“In the end, I think everything should be democratically accountable through a minister and through parliament, select committees and the rest of it… it’s an attempt in a way, I suppose, to address the accountability of the rail network and the roads network and the maritime and air – all the transport areas.”

Shapps said he was keen to avoid a repeat of the botched May 2018 rail timetabling shakeup that led to thousands of journeys being disrupted last summer. Multiple reviews into the chaos that ensued found there had been no clear accountability for delivering the timetable change and the Office of Rail and Road said DfT was partly to blame for failing to take charge of the situation.

He said summer 2018 was a “mess” and was partly down to a massively fragmented rail system. “My view is anything but hands off,” he said, and added that the Williams Rail Review of the rail network. The “root and branch” review of the rail network was announced in September 2019 and is expected to make significant recommendations on regulation, franchising models and ticketing among other things.

Shapps confirmed that the government planned to implement all the recommendations of the review, and that former British Airways chief Keith Williams had effectively been asked to produce a white paper on DfT’s behalf through the exercise.

The review was likely to lead to an overarching body that he informally called “Rail for Britain” that manage major train contracts and be accountable for the rail network. Such a role was previously preformed by the Strategic Rail Authority from 2001 to 2006 before being returned to the DfT.

A shadow body could be set up before the government brings forward to enact the Williams review, Shapps said. He suggested the lines of responsibility may mirror the way Transport for London is held accountable for concession London Overground services, even though they are contracted to a private company.

DfT is ‘ready for no-deal Brexit’

Later in the committee meeting, Shapps attempted to reassure the panel that his department was prepared to mitigate any disruption that could arise if the UK leaves the EU on 31 October without a deal.

He said he believed that contingency measures put in place by DfT would ensure there were no fuel shortages or delays to the delivery of medicines – two risks outlined in the government’s Operation Yellowhammer planning document.

He said contracts awarded to three ferry companies via a four-year “express freight” procurement framework put in place by DfT would deliver “124% of the required medicine”, as well as providing some freight capacity for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the devolved administration.

He also said he was confident in his department’s plan, dubbed Operation Brock, to manage traffic queues that are likely to build up as a result of disruption at ports in Kent. However, he conceded that is “impossible to know for certain” what will happen at the border because is it not yet known whether the French government plans to enforce strict customs controls on UK exports immediately after a no-deal Brexit.

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Roundtable: Rules of engagement

8 hours 49 minutes ago

Jonathan Owen reports on a round table discussion exploring how government can adopt and exploit the potential of automation and artificial intelligence

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Depending on your point of view, the very mention of the words ‘automation’ and ‘artificial intelligence’ may generate excitement for the future, or the fear that you will be replaced by a machine.

At a recent round table sponsored by technology consultancy ThoughtWorks and held at Civil Service Live in London, senior civil servants gathered to discuss how to approach and these technologies. The session was chaired  by Peter Schofield, permanent secretary for the Department for Work and Pensions.

“There’s a huge opportunity for us to automate in all sorts of different ways to take costs out of the system, to reduce the inaccuracy that comes from some manual processes, but the big challenge for us is knowing where to focus our efforts,” Schofield said. 

Some departments have embraced automation, with the likes of the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, Department for Work and Pensions, HM Prison and Probation Service among those using aspects of the technology. The Ministry of Defence and the NHS are also considering setting up centres of excellence in a bid to exploit the technologies.

“Some of us are interested in AI and automation because it’s an opportunity to reform the way we serve the public, maybe to improve the quality of what we do, some of us are looking at it because it’s an opportunity to deliver savings in the context of a spending review, in some cases it’s around a policy goal we are trying to achieve,” Schofield remarked.

The benefits can be dramatic.  In the case of the UK Hydrographic Office, a trading fund of the MoD, using automation in how it calculates tides has resulted in a process that used to take around six hours now taking just a few minutes.

'The benefits can be dramatic' 

Change is taking place across DWP, according to Kenny Roberts, the department’s director of digital platforms and capabilities. He described how an “industrial capacity” had been developed to deliver “robotic solutions” being rolled out across the department.

Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, described how the technologies can have a wide application of uses, ranging from “predictive analytics looking at case outcomes, to the listing of cases.”

In terms of tackling the transition from old to new IT systems, HMCTS is using “robotic process automation as a bridge between now and the future,” she said. 

Major government projects could benefit from the application of new technologies, according to Philip Graham, chief executive of the National Infrastructure Commission. “We are very interested in AI in terms of improving the efficiency of our infrastructure networks,” he said.

Efficiencies through automation are also being considered at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  “We are interested in how far we can automate our straightforward consular services overseas, primarily so that our staff can focus on those who are vulnerable,” Paul Bute, the department’s head of consular strategy and network, said. 

“Machine augmented decision support capability” has been used by HMPPS over a number of years, according to Ian Porée, the agency’s executive director of community interventions. “Some of the biggest and most important decisions we make about public protection are made with the help of a set of algorithms to help us predict the likelihood of bad things happening,” he said. The approach is one of using technology to support people and allow them to focus on the human part of their jobs, Porée added.

One concern raised was the sheer pace of change and the pressure this places on government. The challenge of regulating in a fast moving environment was raised by Jonathan Brearley, executive director at Ofgem, who said: “We need to be faster and more responsive as an organisation.”  

Jim Gumbley, technology principal at ThoughtWorks, told delegates to remember that AI and automation are just two more technologies. “They do bring particular benefits but they’ve got disadvantages too. They’ll work in some circumstances, they will be ineffective in other circumstances. The main thing is not to be scared of them and not to be confused by some of the marketing that is out there,” he said. 

Ian Ackerley, chief executive of National Savings and Investment, called for greater sharing of technology expertise across government, something which others around the table agreed was needed. “At the moment we are a bunch of ships setting sail on our own,” he remarked. 

Professor Tom Rodden, chief scientific adviser for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, pointed out that DCMS already has office of AI, with 16 staff, and a remit to increase the use of AI across government.

Oli Blackaby, crown commercial lead, Cabinet Office, paid tribute to the “incredible amount of learning” at some NHS trusts. He cited the research partnership between Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and AI firm DeepMind Health. The sharing of existing knowledge across the wider NHS could have a transformative effect, he said.

The importance of the quality and availability of data in realising the potential of AI and automation was a theme that emerged during the session.

Another issue raised was the need for a change in mindset. “We don’t know anywhere near enough, we need to recognise that we need to learn, it’s probably not about learning about the technology, it’s about thinking in a different way,” Stephen Braviner Roman, director general at the Government Legal Department, said. He cited a story of Black & Decker telling sales people it sells holes, with the drills that people purchase merely the means to this end.

Senior leaders need to remind organisations of their raison d'être, according to Schofield. “We all get wrapped up in what we are doing but not necessarily the purpose,” he said. 

He concluded the discussion on a philosophical note. “AI sometimes draws us to question our own value as people, as leaders, as professionals, and being able to rise above that which is something we ask of our people,” he said, “and sometimes we don’t ever ask of ourselves.”

Author Display Name Jonathan Owen Tags Cross-Government Efficiency Digital, Data & AI Science & Technology Image description PA Twitter Link

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Clare Moriarty: can music be the food of policy?

1 day 1 hour ago

The DExEU permanent secretary considers the similarities between making music and making government work

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Photo: Paul Heartfield

When I was first invited to be part of a dialogue linking the civil service and music, I confess I was a little nonplussed. I’ve spent pretty much all my working life in the civil service, and way longer than that involved in music, mostly as a singer in choirs of every shape and size. I’d never thought of the two as having much connection between them.

But as I allowed my imagination to wander, points of connection started to come to the surface. The idea that the melody which carries a piece of music might have some analogy with the strategic intent of a policy document. That the coordination involved in preparing for a major announcement might equate to the conductor’s baton, bringing disparate elements into a performance.

I spend a lot of time thinking about leadership, and specifically leadership in the civil service. The roles I’ve had over the years have three elements in common: getting stuff done, building and nurturing the team, and engaging with the outside world. They turn up, and intersect, in slightly different configurations depending on the department and the wider context, but that triangle is rarely absent.

I began to wonder whether there is an equivalent ‘musician’s triangle’. Getting stuff done has a parallel in composing or interpreting music; building and nurturing the team in turning notes on the page into performance; and engaging with the external world in the effect that the performance has on the listener.

That’s what I’m hoping to explore with James O’Donnell, organist and master of the choristers at Westminster Abbey, in our dialogue on 12 November.

I’m interested in how James approaches his interpretation of music, whether he starts with the big picture and moves to the specifics, as we would in developing policy, or builds from detail to the overall impact. Does it matter whether the music has a logic flow?

I’m interested in James’s perspective on the team building element of musical performance, as someone who’s been part of a ‘musical team’ (aka a choir) but never led one. What are the conditions for a choir or orchestra to perform at its best? How do you balance the role of conductor of a single performance with longer term development of an ensemble?

And I’m interested in the relationship between making music and the impact that it has on those who hear and feel it. Is the experience of the audience all-important, or is it one aspect among many? Would a performance in a sterile room still be a performance?

Finally, as a practitioner first and foremost, it would feel very odd to talk about music without experiencing it. And I’m delighted that the wonderful Elysian Singers, who I have the privilege of being part of, are going to provide choral moments during the course of the dialogue. So if you are intrigued by the connection between the worlds of civil servants and musicians, do come and join us in the wonderful surroundings of Westminster Abbey for dialogue and music.


Bureaucracy should be Beautiful: the Musician and the Permanent Secretary is part of the Westminster Abbey Institute's 2019 Autumn Programme 

Date: 12 November

Speaker: James O’Donnell

Chair and interlocutor: Clare Moriarty 


Author Display Name Clare Moriarty Tags Leadership & Management Categories Culture, media and sport Government and politics About the author

Clare Moriarty is the permanent secretary for the Department for Exiting the European Union

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Council chief named new Government Property Agency chair

1 day 5 hours ago

Newcastle City Council chief to help manage cross-government property efficiency drive

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An artist's impression of one of the government's hubs, in Glasgow. Photo: HMRC

The Cabinet Office has announced that Pat Ritchie, the chief executive of Newcastle City Council, will be the new chair of the Government Property Agency as it ramps up its £1.4bn savings drive.

Ritchie will replace the agency’s first chair, Liz Peace, from January as the agency expands its management of departmental estates. It now manages around £195m worth of property, having taken over responsibility for buildings previously owned by the Cabinet Office, Crown Commercial Service and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

The GPA is also working with the Ministry of Justice and Department for International Development to take their properties on board. Eventually, it is expected to expand the number of properties it manages from 80 to more than 1,000, and Ritchie will help the agency implement its plan to realise £1.4bn worth of savings over 10 years through more efficient use of the buildings.


Ritchie, who will take up the position alongside her Newcastle City Council role, said the GPA is “having a real impact already by implementing greater commercial thinking to government property” since its launch in March 2018.

“Through revitalising and modernising the public estate we can help drive regeneration and economic growth,” Ritchie said. “I am looking forward to joining the GPA as chair in the new year and would like to thank Liz Peace for her work in establishing the agency. Building on Liz’s legacy, I will bring my own background, experience and knowledge to help continue the GPA’s mission and create a brilliant civil service.”

Mike Parsons, the director general of the Office of Government Property, said he was delighted to welcome Ritchie to the agency. “I am confident that her knowledge and experience will greatly benefit GPA in its important work in managing the property portfolio and ensure civil servants have fit for purpose accommodation that supports smarter working and promotes productivity.”

A key pillar of Ritchie’s job will be overseeing the government hubs programme: the drive to move multiple departments into shared office buildings across the UK both to reduce costs and improve collaboration. The first round focused on HMRC moving staff from 170 current offices into 13 hubs, while the first two locations for the second round – in Peterborough and Birmingham – were announced last week.

The Government Estates Strategy, published last year, set out plans for "around 20” to be hubs, supporting a drive to reduce the office buildings in which central government operates from 800 to around 200. The hubs programme is expected to save an estimated £2.5bn in running costs over 20 years.

GPA chief executive Steven Boyd said of Ritchie’s appointment: “This is an exciting time for the GPA and a great moment for Pat to join us as we move into the second phase of our hubs programme and continue to grow our portfolio of government assets. Pat brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, and I am looking forward to working with her."

Boyd also extended his thanks to Peace, who will step down in December at the end of her fixed-term appointment as chair.

“Under Liz’s leadership and guidance, GPA has set a clear strategy and direction of travel, and we look forward to seeing the momentum that we are beginning to build continue when Pat joins us in January,” he said.

Tags Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Procurement & Commercial Transformation Categories Government and politics About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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The Old War Office and Peace: Government Property Agency chair on offices past, present and future

1 day 5 hours ago

In CSW’s estates and smart working special report, GPA chair Liz Peace recalled how offices across government have changed, and the need to keep improving

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Liz Peace remembers the first office that she occupied as a rookie civil servant at the Ministry of Defence in the mid-seventies.

The Old War Office, which is located on the corner of Whitehall and Horse Guards Parade, is now being lined up for redevelopment as a luxury hotel. In those days, though, the building was still in a poor condition having been patched up following bomb damage in the Second World War. “It was like working in a garret. The roof leaked and water poured down the windows every time it rained,” Peace says.

“You were only entitled to carpet if you were a certain grade so if they changed the grade of who occupied the office, the carpet would be ripped up, which left a mess.”


Then she moved to the seventh floor of the main MoD building. While this provided a great viewpoint to watch state occasions like Field Marshall Montgomery’s funeral, it was still in a sorry state.

“We didn’t moan but people are not going to put up with that now.”

Helping to make sure that today’s civil servants don’t have to endure such Dickensian working conditions is part of the mission of the Government Property Agency, which the ex-MoD insider has chaired since its establishment in April last year.

Peace herself joined the civil service as an MoD administrative trainee in 1974, after completing a history degree at Royal Holloway College, University of London. 

She secured a place on the Fast Stream, which had recently been widened out to non-Oxbridge graduates. By 1979, the Birmingham grammar school girl had made grade seven, or at least she would have done had Margaret Thatcher’s election not intervened.

“I was jolly cheesed off. She put an immediate block on promotions,” she says. “I had just got a ticket to move to grade seven and couldn’t move because she said nobody was going to be promoted.”

Nevertheless, Peace flourished during the eighties at the MoD, a time which included her first exposure to the property world during a spell at Defence Estates. 

Her jobs there included buying land to build a new airport at Port Stanley, which was required because the existing runway was too small to cope with the island’s enhanced defence needs in the wake of the Falklands invasion.

The military history enthusiast ended up spending 27 years in the MoD, the last 11 of which were spent at the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.

Rising to company secretary and director of corporate affairs, she helped prepare the agency for privatisation as QinetiQ.

When that had gone through, Peace left the civil service at the end of 2001 to take up a new role as chief executive of the British Property Federation, the mouthpiece for the UK’s real estate industry.

The arm’s-length relationship between the DERA and its sponsoring department had already given her a taste of what life would be like outside government. A big part of the role at agency was to sooth often fraught relationships with the MoD, she says: “WhenI moved to the property industry, I was doing exactly the same things but just smoothing relations with a different department.”

After a dozen years leading the BPF, during which she was made a CBE in the 2008 New Year Honours, Peace retired five years ago, and since then she has become one of Whitehall’s key trouble-shooters for dealing with property-related issues.

Peace’s portfolio of non-executive roles currently includes chairing the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation, which is spearheading the regeneration of a vast area of underused railway land that will accommodate the last-but-one stop on the HS2 line heading into London.

One of the many phone calls she had after leaving the BPF concerned the future of the Government Property Unit.

At the time the GPU was responsible for a mix of setting policy and some day-to-day management responsibilities. Individual departments generally handled the bulk of their own day-to-day estates management. But plans were being hatched to streamline the way the government manages its property portfolio by creating a single agency.

The three key figures driving this initiative were the Treasury’s John Kingman, civil service chief executive John Manzoni and Conservative politician Matt Hancock.

Peace recalls her first encounter with the latter, then a youthful looking Cabinet Office minister, whose portfolio covered property.

“As he opened the door, I thought he was a private secretary. It turned out that he was the minister.”

The idea was to bring the government’s property assets into one agency, enabling them to be run as a single portfolio. This included splitting out execution and strategy into separate bodies – the Office of Government Property focused on policy and on-the-ground management would lie with the Government Property Agency.

“The focus is very much on setting policy and strategy,” in the OGP, she says, “not dabbling with delivery, which is firmly in the hands of the GPA.”

And property expertise, like assigning leases, could be concentrated within the GPA, enabling departmental bosses to get rid of a “millstone” and concentrate on their core business, she says: “They are not there to run property, they are there to deliver government policy.”

And individual departments need not be tied down to leasing what may turn out to be excess space when their needs change, Peace says: “The machinery of government changes constantly which is another good reason to have a flexible, centralised asset management body that can respond and move people around.”

“The roof leaked and water poured down the windows every time it rained. We didn’t moan but people are not going to put up with that now“

Bruce Mann, the then executive director of the GPU, was already developing the idea of rationalising the government estate by creating government hubs, housing a number of departments under one roof rather than scattered across several buildings as happens in many cities. “In one centre you can get a degree of cohesion with a common IT system and save a huge amount of money on leases,” she says.

The agency has been set a target of saving the taxpayer £6.3bn worth of efficiency savings over 20 years.

Not all government property can be transferred into the new agency, notably operational land, like military firing ranges and prisons, Peace says: “It’s no good having an operational prison and leasing out a spare wing.”

But this leaves the government’s “sprawling” office estate, much of which remains in a “variable” condition.

When budgets are tight, delaying refurbishment is often the “easy” option, she says: “A lot of the government estate is in a pretty poor condition because capital spending has been absolutely minimal.”

The GPA’s establishment hit a hitch when David Cameron was replaced as PM by Theresa May.

The aspiration for the GPA was to set it up as a government company, but this would have required legislation, which could have been achieved by inserting a line into a MHCLG bill.

But this gambit fell victim to the new PM’s desire to strip out anything that looked like spare fat from government legislation, says Peace.

Instead, it became an executive agency, the establishment of which involved what Peace describes as “endless discussions” with the Treasury about financial freedoms and flexibilities. After around two years of discussion, the GPA was set up on a shadow basis in 2017 before fully going live. 

“Personally, on day one, I felt we didn’t have enough [powers] but I believe in taking what’s on offer and living to fight another day rather than getting on your high horse.”

Even when the new agency was up and running, Peace recognised that getting departments to play ball would be tough.

“I understood what we were going to be up against,” she says, having been involved in an attempt to undertake a similar initiative at the MoD during the 1990s, which had “never quite worked”.

“The heads of service had direct access to the PM and they saw holding land as a power. They saw themselves as guardians of the estate in the future,” Peace says, recalling a “heated discussion” with the Flag Officer at Gibraltar about disposing of the navy’s private residence in the territory.

“He didn’t want to go down as the admiral who had let the beautiful residence on the side of the hill go.”

The GPA has to persuade individual departments to hand over their property, she says: “The civil service tends not to work by mandate but by consensus and coming together. Nobody is mandating property assets to be put into the GPA so we have to win them over.

“If they have a lease coming up for renewal it may be better to move into a hub but we have to prove it to them.”

Wining over the departmental finance directors general is key, given how much sway they tend to have over estate issues. 

“The civil service tends not to work by mandate but by consensus and coming together. Nobody is mandating property assets to be put into the GPA so we have to win them over”

What hasn’t been a problem so far is persuading civil servants to embrace more flexible working patterns, Peace says: “They are surprisingly flexible, partly because civil servants move around so much that it’s not worth getting attached to one room.”

So far the properties of DfID, MHCLG, the Cabinet Office and BEIS have all transferred to the GPA’s balance sheet, she says, while negotiations are ongoing with the Home Office.

The agency is also preparing to “on-board” the cluster of departmental properties currently run by the MoJ.

The really big remaining prize in Peace’s eyes is Defra, which has hit a hitch after originally being due to on board in March this year.

She understands why, given the situation it now finds itself in, the department has not engaged more with her agency.

“They’re very preoccupied with Brexit so it’s been difficult to get their attention focused on it. The pitch is that we can take away property problems so they can focus on Brexit.”

However, the hope is that progress will be swifter now that the GPA has its own dedicated chief executive, Steven Boyd, who took over last month.

Finding a new chief executive took longer than anticipated. Mike Parsons, who is also director general of government property at the Cabinet Office, had been doubling up in the role on an interim basis for more than a year.

But, as ex-estates director at HMRC, which has spearheaded the hubs programme, Boyd’s appointment was a “natural fit”, says Peace: “The fact that we’ve hired the guy whose been running it should be helpful.”

Another factor behind the property shake-up was Manzoni’s push to improve the quality of the civil service professions, she says: “The new property model wasn’t just about the efficiency of the portfolio but how to support the concept of the smart civil service and smarter working, taking old office portfolios and making a better offering.”

With a clear nod to that first office all those years ago, she says: “You can’t have brilliant civil servants working in terrible old buildings where the roof leaks.”

Author Display Name David Blackman Tags Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Categories Government and politics About the author

David Blackman is a freelance journalist

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Roundtable: Stimulating digital innovation

1 day 6 hours ago

Technological change presents an opportunity for things to be done in a different way. Jonathan Owen reports on a round table where leading civil servants came together to work out how to go about stimulating digital innovation

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Jonathan Slater, permanent secretary for the Department for Education, chaired the discussion, which was sponsored by IT and business consultancy BJSS and took place at Civil Service Live in London. After admitting his relative lack of expertise in the area being discussed, he told a story about his own recent experience of what technology can offer.

“My daughter had her SATs results, she’s 11, earlier this week...she was best at maths, why? Because a couple of years ago she was introduced to a rather interesting digital product which enabled her to learn maths without any human intervention...her homework being set by computer to her exact standard,” he said. Turning to the business of government tech, Slater said that there have been “some success stories” and remarked that it is a question of “how we make sure we do this right.”

It is not only a question for government internally, but for other parts of society. Charities are one example. Maria Nyberg, deputy director, sector support team, Office for Civil Society, said: “We run a number of programmes in my team where we get behind the charity sector, increase confidence and capability and help them innovate using digital platforms.”

Rupert McNeil, government chief people officer, suggested that Brexit would help “create lots of opportunities for innovation” and added: “necessity is the mother of invention.” In his view, a number of things are converging that will help stimulate innovation. “We’ve got the ability to give people the skills to exploit this, thanks to the digital academy, we’ve also got lower barriers to entry for innovation, in terms of platforms we are working with and the ways in which you can do that.” 

He added: “The third thing that I’m really interested in from a shared services perspective is this distinction between innovating through customising and making things and innovation through configuring systems in different ways.” McNeil explained: “So the customisation is one thing but how do we actually show people the functionality they can get and innovate with within existing systems?” 

A key issue is how innovation in the private sector can be harnessed and brought “inside government in an effective way,” according to David Taylor, chief commercial officer at the Home Office. He commented: “The provision of digital services will be at the heart of our new immigration and borders position in a post-EU exit world.”

'Several challenges need to be overcome if the potential of digital innovation is to be realised'

The process of automation could help stimulate innovation by freeing up staff, Taylor argued. “In my profession, in commercial procurement, probably 60 to 70 per cent of what we do could be automated…it’s another opportunity for the civil service to look at how we digitise many of our functions and then focus the people on some of the more challenging strategic challenges.”

Collaboration was raised as a vital element in enabling innovation, as was an approach of fully utilising existing digital resources and not being afraid to fail when trying new things. 

At the Ministry of Defence, the department had recognised “the culture we had would not fit experimentation, of trying to do things differently, so the Defence and Security Accelerator was created as a body which sat outside the usual business,” Dr Tony Collins, international innovation partner, DASA, said.

There was general support for a more user-centred and networked approach rather than a traditional departmental one. Another theme that emerged was how working within some common standards would help people to work together.

However, several challenges need to be overcome if the potential of digital innovation is to be realised. These include making sure that people have the data and analytical skills to get the most out of digital technology, according to Susan Acland-Hood, chief executive, HM Courts and Tribunals Service. “The question is what do you ask of your big data?” she said.

Chris Ferguson, director, Government Digital Service, called for a fundamental change in approach. “What we need to grapple with is culture change, how we buy things, how we see risk in the civil service in terms of delivery, procurement and contracting, how we hire, how we train people,” he said. “We need to think about how we move culturally from team-oriented goals into network-oriented goals, where we recognise that your data model has to work with my data model.” 

Having better and more consistent data standards across government, led by GDS, would help to address the problem of departments having different ways of working which can complicate the sharing of data, according to Acland-Hood. Such standards “should be permissive rather than prescriptive,” she added.

Having a service design perspective, focused on what the user needs are, can help in developing “platforms that you can deliver that can help to scale those services that are required,” Susheel Dodeja, head of government and healthcare practice, BJSS, suggested. 

There needs to be a different approach to thinking about uncertainty, with a greater focus on tackling problems and achieving outcomes rather than the traditional programme orientated approach, according to Carla Groom, head of behavioural science at the Department for Work and Pensions. 

There was agreement around the table that a culture of experimentation, accepting the risks of failure that come with trying out new things, would help foster innovation. 

Bringing the discussion to a close, Slater commented: “We’re working for a cabinet secretary for who it’s all about how we can join up around the needs of the citizen.” He reiterated the opportunities that digital technology presents and encouraged his colleagues “to be demanding” in what they seek and set out the changes they think are needed to realise the potential gains offered by innovation.

BJSS Ltd is the UK's leading privately-owned IT and Business consultancy. As one of the largest technology providers to the UK Central Government, BJSS works extensively with public sector organisations. We have deployed our Queen's Award-winning delivery approach - Enterprise Agile, to help organisations including the Home Office, FC, DVSA and Disclosure Scotland to transform the way they provide their services.

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Departments now testing no-deal Brexit systems but out of time to fix problems, reveals NAO

1 day 8 hours ago

Spending watchdog warns there are significant Brexit risks 'beyond government's control'

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Despite years of preparation, there are remaining risks to the smooth running of the border in a no-deal Brexit little that the government can do little to mitigate, the National Audit Office has said.

Government departments have made significant progress on minimising the security risks and likelihood of disruption in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the watchdog has concluded in the latest of its series of reports on border preparedness.

However, it also warned that while systems to mitigate disruption were now in place and departments had progressed to the point of testing them, they would not have time to resolve problems uncovered in the testing.


The report, published today, said departments had “strengthened their preparations to be ready for a potential no‑deal exit” since 12 April, the previous deadline for leaving the EU. “But there is still work to do and little time to resolve any issues which may emerge,” it said.

For example, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which by 12 April had been unable to user-test its IT system to monitor and control animal imports, IPAFFS, was “now confident that it will operate and provide a reliable day‑one solution”, the NAO found.

Meanwhile, the Border Delivery Group – the committee in charge of overseeing work to ensure the border is ready for Brexit – has been working on operational testing of its systems since August, having not had time to do this in the period leading up to 12 April.

However, the NAO warned that there will be “limited time to resolve issues which have arisen” in testing.

“There is still some work to do to finalise arrangements in the short time that remains and bringing all these elements together for the first time in a live environment carries inherent risk,” it added.

Meanwhile, the most significant risks to the operation of the border are those that the government cannot control: business readiness, EU member states imposing study border and custpms controls, and arrangements for border on the island of Ireland.

“Although the government has actions under way to influence these, mitigating these risks is now, to some extent, out of its control,” the report said.

The government has estimated that between 30% and 60% of hauliers exporting goods to the EU will have the right documents to do so. Based on this estimate, in a reasonable worst-case scenario, the flow of goods across the short Channel crossings could fall to 45-65% immediately after Brexit and take 12 months to recover to normal levels.

The report also confirmed that a “large proportion” of businesses will not be ready for new customs and regulatory controls if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

The government has made repeated efforts to convince businesses to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal outcome, but has had mixed success as some traders have been reluctant to invest in preparing for a scenario that may not happen.

The auditor said that the businesses, hauliers and port representatives it spoke to for its review “highlighted the significant costs to businesses of preparing for a no-deal scenario and the difficulties faced (particularly by small to medium-sized enterprises) of meeting those costs”.

HMRC has written to businesses setting out the steps they must take and registered thousands of companies that trade with the EU for new customs procedures.

However, the NAO noted that HMRC has no way of registering or contacting many smaller companies that trade with the EU, because they are not registered for VAT.

The watchdog also warned that the Get Ready for Brexit communications drive launched last month may have limited impact “at this late stage and with ongoing uncertainty about the prospect of no deal on 31 October”.

 Ultimately, the report said, it is impossible to know exactly what would happen at the border if the UK leaves the EU without a deal on 31 October.

“Departments face new challenges in monitoring and responding to any disruption that may ensue. This includes supporting businesses and individuals in meeting their new obligations, mitigating risks of the border becoming vulnerable to fraud, smuggling or other criminal activity, and activating civil contingency plans if necessary,” it said.

Commenting on the report, Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier said it "sheds a light on the lack of preparedness for a no deal Brexit".

“It confirms that many traders and businesses will not be ready for new customs and regulatory controls and that organised criminals and others could exploit gaps. Issues around the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland remain unresolved.

“Mitigating the risks could be outside of government’s control; I hope all my fellow parliamentarians read this report carefully.”

A government spokesperson said: “We are doing all that is necessary to ensure that, if we do leave without a deal, the transition will be as smooth as possible for people and businesses – which the NAO recognises. This includes simplifying import processes, upgrading IT systems, securing additional freight capacity and putting traffic management plans in place around our busiest ports.

“As the NAO says, many of the challenges that we may face if the UK leaves the EU without a deal require businesses and citizens to take action. That’s why we are running the largest communications campaign in recent UK history and providing targeted advice to help them get ready for Brexit on 31 October.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Brexit International Affairs & Security Project & Programme Management Categories Government and politics About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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DfE looks to improve use of social media

1 day 12 hours ago

Department seeks to reduce calls and emails from the public via more effective use of digital channels

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The Department for Education is to review and revamp its use of social media in a bid to reduce the number of phone calls and emails it fields from the public.

The DfE has published a contract notice on the Digital Marketplace seeking a supplier that can undertake an “in-depth analytical review” of the department’s use of Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram.

Having completed this assessment, the chosen firm will then be tasked with making recommendations – for each of the four channels – for how the DfE can “can engage directly and regularly in a strategic and targeted way with specific audiences like parents, teachers, businesses, young people and other key groups”.


The department is also seeking recommendations for how to use social channels to better promote its public campaigns, and reduce the number of calls and emails fielded by its staff.

It may also require the winning bidder to provide “bespoke training to support comms directorate development”.

Bids for the project – which has no specified value – are open until 25 October, although the contract notice also states that the DfE wishes to stage a kick-off meeting during the week that commences on 21 October.

The review and subsequent recommendations must be made by the end of November.

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology, where a verion of this story was first published.

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Seen, but not heard: should ex-civil servants keep schtum on current affairs?

1 day 22 hours ago

Former officials have an increasingly public role in national debate – is that always a good thing? Suzannah Brecknell explores how retired mandarins balance their duty to contribute to the public discourse with the self-enforced code of caution

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In September 1965, a group of civil servants filed into a room at the BBC’s Wood Lane site in West London, for a private screening of a film depicting the aftermath of a nuclear attack on Britain.

The War Game included scenes showing the army burning bodies and police shooting looters during a food riot. The officials were there to give a government view on whether the BBC should televise such a shocking programme.  

Why were they being involved in a decision which was in the gift of the politically independent BBC? They had been tipped off about the risks of broadcasting the film by the chairman of the BBC himself – the former cabinet secretary, Lord Normanbrook.

Normanbrook – formerly simply Norman Brook, before he was given his peerage – had written to his successor as cabinet secretary flagging concerns that the film might not only damage national morale but also bring about an undue rise in civil defence spending. The government agreed with his concerns and passed back a private message to that effect. After further consultations internally, the BBC chose not to televise the film until 1985. Brook’s quiet intervention to solicit official advice on this sensitive subject had saved the potential for a public row between government and his new employer.

Brook was not the only former top official who continued playing a role in policy discussions after retiring from government. Yet, while he was operating behind closed doors, his successors today have much more of a public profile. There is no record in Hansard of Brook ever speaking or voting in the Lords – nor of his two immediate successors doing so after they joined the upper chamber. But the five cabinet secretaries who now sit on the crossbenches certainly do speak and vote – Lord Armstrong, cabinet secretary from 1979-1987, attends the House almost every day.

The interventions of this select group in the Lords do not go unnoticed. Last year, for example, Lord Butler – cabinet secretary from 1988-1998 – opened his remarks during a debate about the EU Withdrawal Act by saying that the first clause repealing the 1972 EU Communities Act “strikes a dagger to my soul”. His phrase was repeated in various publications, and stuck in the mind of the pro-Brexit chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, Bernard Jenkin. 

"My pitch is simply for a serious debate about post-Brexit options, based on legal and economic realities, not on endless fantasies peddled in our political debate – primarily by people who privately acknowledge that the points made in my lectures are completely accurate."
Sir Ivan Rogers

Speaking at an FDA event on civil service impartiality over the summer, Jenkin repeated Butler’s phrase as evidence that there is a pro-EU bias in Whitehall. The Tory MP argued that when former officials speak critically about Brexit, it does nothing to quash the fear among Brexiteers that there is “a deep state that has beguiled the politicians about the relationship with the European Union and is now preventing us from getting out". 

While he acknowledged that the idea of a deep state is a “false narrative”, Jenkin said his colleagues' concern was "buttressed by something which is perfectly true: most civil servants subscribe to what was, until fairly recently, a perfectly orthodox consensus…that we were in the EU for good”. 

“We know this [is true],” he continued “because when senior civil servants leave the civil service, there are very few that espouse Brexit. The five living cabinet secretaries all voted against the EU Withdrawal Act in the House of Lords.” This, alongside “vociferous” criticisms from former permanent secretaries, “has advertised that there is a kind of house view in much of Whitehall, reflected in the government departments,” he concluded.

While Jenkin’s assertion that there is an anti-Brexit “house view” in the civil service is questionable – in fact, no one CSW has spoken to agrees with this – his underlying point was supported at the event by Jill Rutter, senior fellow at the UK in a Changing Europe think tank. “Former civil servants haven't helped their successors with a lot of sounding off,” she said, before urging them to be “more reflective for the sake of people left in government”.

Do the interventions of former civil servants really cast aspersions on the officials they have left behind? Serving officials we spoke to about this did voice frustration over their predecessors’ commentary. But while some agreed that open criticism of Brexit may place pressure on relationships with some ministers, others reflected that these criticisms are neither the first nor the only factor which can complicate the official/political partnership. One told us that politicians losing trust in official advice has been a growing challenge across their career, not just since 2016.

Nevertheless, when some parts of the political class are keen to undermine “the establishment” in any way they can, it’s clear that the remarks of ex-civil servants could merely add fuel to the fire.

In May, former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell was criticised by Tory MPs and some commentators – including Rutter – when he published an article in the Times setting out the reasons why he would be voting for the Lib Dems in the European Elections. At that time, O’Donnell told CSW that, “As a member of the House of Lords it is important to take a view on crucial issues and be prepared to stand up for your views.”

He added: “I cannot see how this damages current civil servants: I have repeatedly and publicly voiced my support for remain and for a confirmatory referendum. On an issue of this magnitude about which I have a very strong view, it would be a dereliction of duty not to do anything.”

Speaking to CSW in response to Jenkin’s latest remarks about former officials, O’Donnell remains clear that he has a duty to speak out thanks to the position he has been given in the Lords. “The whole point of putting [former officials] there is to use their expertise,” he says. “The Lords has a role that involves scrutinising legislation, so it’s our duty as members of the Lords to get involved, to vote and make speeches.”

He acknowledges that former cabinet secretaries have a “self-enforced code” to exercise self-restraint about what they say – “you will not find us doing kiss and tell stories, and that sort of thing” – but this doesn’t mean they should be asked to abstain from giving any opinion.

“With very big issues like Brexit, to stand back and say ‘you can’t have a view on that because it might be interpreted as the view of the civil service’ is ridiculous, you shouldn’t have any truck with that,” he says.

Another former civil servant who has not been shy about speaking his mind on Brexit is Sir Simon Fraser, former permanent secretary at the Foreign Office. Like O’Donnell, he argues that the enormity of the change set in train by Brexit places a duty on those with relevant experience to contribute to the national debate. “I’ve been invited several times to express views in public at [committees in] the Commons and House of Lords so clearly there’s a sense that [former officials] have a valuable contribution to make,” he tells CSW, adding:  “I did think very carefully about this. My views are not politically motivated, they are a reflection of what I consider to be my long experience of working on EU matters, business matters and on foreign policy.

“I just think the issue is so hugely important and the debate, frankly on both sides, has been quite shallow at times and sometimes misleading. I think it’s important for people like me to share our thinking and experience.” 

Fraser also speaks of exercising caution and self-restraint as he intervenes in the public debate, and is clear that, far from reflecting an FCO “house view”, he speaks for no-one other than himself, choosing not even to sign collective letters because he prefers to express his own views and analysis.

“I certainly don’t want to make life difficult for former colleagues,” he says, “because goodness knows life’s complicated enough for them. But I just concluded that participating in this debate was important and I’ve tried to do it in a responsible and clear way.  

Up for debate
Sir Ivan Rogers – former head of UKREP – has studiously not criticised Brexit itself in the various lectures and articles he has given since leaving government, instead choosing to critique the approach and discussion which has surrounded EU Exit. When speaking to CSW about Jenkin’s comments he, like Fraser, pointed to the paucity of public debate as his reason for speaking out.

“My pitch is simply for a serious debate about post-Brexit options, based on legal and economic realities, not on endless fantasies peddled in our political debate – primarily by people who privately acknowledge that the points made in my lectures are completely accurate,” he says.

That former officials still have private discussions with serving politicians and that those discussions are often constructive is echoed by Sir Philip Rycroft – until earlier this year the permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union. Rycroft was one of the most “exposed” officials, as he puts it, when it came to the challenge of building relationships with Brexiteer ministers. Yet he doesn’t agree with the suggestion that interventions from former officials can undermine those relationships. Most politicians, he tells CSW, are “big enough” to recognise that these are not the views of serving officials, and indeed ministers he worked with sometimes sought out former mandarins in order to discuss their analysis in person.

Rycroft did, however, express frustration with the often anonymous sniping from former officials about how DExEU was operating. “If you are going to offer criticism of how things are being done, that should be attributable, not anonymous,” he suggests. And Rycroft – himself now among those offering public contributions to the debate around Brexit – believes that “ex-civil servants should be cautious about becoming partisan in those debates”, or their expertise and analysis may be more easily ignored.
His caution is echoed Rutter who tells CSW that the reason she urges caution on former officials is that they have an important part to play in public debate. “I think it’s beneficial when ex-civil servants use their experience to highlight technical and procedural process,” she says. In addition, they can play their part in defending the civil service, and individual civil servants, against attacks from politicians. But, she says, when former officials give a clear opinion on Brexit or other partisan matters this undermines their ability to perform these roles.

“Sir Mark Sedwill is going to be under inordinate pressure as cabinet secretary in making sure that government conforms to the norms set out in the Cabinet Manual,” Rutter says. Former officials can help Sedwill, she continues, by being a public voice to explain what those norms are and why they matter, but they cannot do this once they become a partisan player.

“We don’t need more partisan voices, frankly, in this debate,” she says. “Former officials need to recognise that value add is to bring expertise rather than become a significant player in what is already a very polarised debate.”

Ian Beesley, who wrote the official history of cabinet secretaries, describes an arc towards ever-more public roles in the post-retirement careers of these most senior of government officials. For Beesley, the polarised nature of our current public debate is why the interventions of former mandarins are more controversial, but also more necessary. He suggests that even if Lord Normanbrook and his successors had contributed in the Lords, it is unlikely they would have garnered political attention.   

“The Lords was less important then,” he says, “the review process [it performs] has become a lot more important, and the country has become more fragmented, so we find that more fundamental debates take place in the Lords.”

“Brexit and our relationship with Europe is one of the two or three fundamental issues about the future of Britain,” he adds. Giving a view on this is “different from going public on a political policy matter like the abolition of private schools or a tax reform. When we are undergoing a shift like this, do we want everybody with knowledge and expertise to be known and to have declared their view? Yes, I believe we do.”


Author Display Name Suzannah Brecknell Tags Brexit Leadership & Management Legal & Constitutional Parliament Policymaking Categories Government and politics International Relations Society and welfare About the author

Suzannah Brecknell is the editor of Civil Service World. She tweets as @SuzannahCSW.

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DfT to trigger Operation Brock on 28 October to prepare for Brexit disruption

2 days 5 hours ago

Announcement comes as HMRC confirms it has registered 95,000 businesses for simplified import procedures

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M20 Operation Brock. Photo: PA

The Department for Transport has announced that it will trigger Operation Brock, its traffic management system designed to deal with travel disruption caused by a no-deal Brexit in Kent, three days before the UK is set to leave the EU.

The department said yesterday that Operation Brock, which will allow lorries to be held on the M20 in the event of tailbacks at ports, would be put in place on 28 October to ensure the roads around the Channel ports are ready for Brexit on 31 October.

Under the scheme, holding areas are set up for HGV traffic bound for the EU. Keeping lorries in these four areas – the A20 Dover TAP, Brock contraflow between M20 junctions 8 and 9, Manston Airfield, and M26 – is intended to keep the M20 open in both directions in the event of disruption.


Operation Brock will require hauliers heading to Europe via the Port of Dover or Eurotunnel to follow designated routes and follow specified diversions, instructions and speed restrictions. Traffic officers in Kent will also have new and enhanced powers to ensure hauliers comply with the rules.

The plan will be triggered this month despite the government being legally required to request a Brexit extension if parliament has not voted either for an EU withdrawal deal, or to leave without an agreement, by 19 October. The government has said it will comply with the law but has also said it still plans to leave the EU at the end of October.

Transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris said he wanted residents in Kent and hauliers travelling from the EU “to be reassured that there are robust plans in place to deal with any disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit”.

He added: “We now need everyone to do their bit – whether you are travelling to see family, heading to work or transporting vital goods around the country, please check before you travel to ensure you know what to expect and have the right documents when heading to the border.”

Final works in the coming weeks will ensure that the holding areas are ready when Operation Brock goes live.

The announcement came as HM Revenue and Customs said it had registered 95,000 businesses for its simplified import procedures, which give most traders up to six months to pay import duties and submit customs declarations, as part of its no-deal planning.

The scheme, known as transitional simplified procedures, will make importing goods after Brexit on 31 October simpler for businesses completing customs processes for the first time. Up to now, businesses have had to apply to access the provisions.

The businesses registered are UK-based traders that HMRC has a record of having imported goods from the EU in 2018. HMRC has sent letters to these traders with further details of their TSP registration, and setting out the additional steps they need to take to be ready for 31 October.

Importers do not have to use simplified procedures: they can choose to use the full import processes instead. However, HMRC has advised traders dealing with customs for the first time to follow the simpler route, which would allow them to delay making customs declarations until 6 May 2020.

HMRC’s interim chief executive Jim Harra said the enrolling drive showed that “we are doing everything we can to help businesses get ready for Brexit on 31 October”.

He said: “This move will support the trade of thousands of businesses and is part of our longstanding policy of making sure we continue to keep trade flowing.”

Tags Brexit Economy, Business & Infrastructure Operational Delivery Categories Business and industry Government and politics Transport About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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EXPLAINED: Every bill in the Queen’s Speech

2 days 6 hours ago

Legislation to deliver Brexit dominated Boris Johnson’s first Queen’s Speech, which also had a strong law and order theme

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Legislation to bring freedom of movement to an end after Brexit is among the measures in a 28-bill Queen’s Speech set out by government yesterday.

Ministers vowed to axe the key EU principle in favour of a “fair, modern and global immigration system” as the Queen unveiled a new immigration and social security coordination (EU withdrawal) bill.

The pledge came as part of the State Opening of parliament, which saw the government spell out plans for 28 bills, including a heavy focus on law and order.


The new immigration bill will make EU citizens who arrive in the UK after January 2021 subject to the same controls as those from the rest of the world, with ministers saying it would allow for a “single global immigration system based on people’s skills” to come into force.

The bill will also confirm that Irish citizens “will generally not require leave to enter or remain in the UK” once freedom of movement comes to an end.

And it will hand the UK government powers to set post-Brexit rules on migrants’ access to benefits and public services “in the national interest”.

Crime clampdown

The Queen’s Speech – which came ahead of a widely-expected general election later this year – also featured a raft of justice policies, with a major sentencing shake-up and plans to boost protections for police officers featuring prominently.

A new sentencing bill will, government said, ensure “serious violent and sexual offenders who receive custodial sentences will spend more of their sentence in prison and are properly rehabilitated”.

Under the plans, those serving sentences of four years or more for serious violent or sexual offences will not be eligible for release until they have served at least two-thirds of their sentence – a sharp increase on the current rules which mean such offenders can be released after half a sentence has been served.

A separate sentencing bill will bring in a new device called a “clean sweep”, which will let judges apply the new code to all sentencing decisions – even where an offence took place in the past.

The Queen’s Speech meanwhile saw a fresh pledge to ensure the legal system “recognises the pain to victims and their families” caused by offenders who fail to provide information about their crimes. A new prisoners (disclosure of information about victims) bill will force the Parole Board to take into account whether offenders convicted of murder, manslaughter or taking indecent photos of children have caused “additional distress” to victims by withholding key information.

A new police protections bill promises to acknowledge the “bravery, commitment and sacrifices of police officers” by bringing in a new “police covenant”, mirroring a series of protections afforded to members of the armed forces.

Under the bill, the Home Office would be expected to set out a report every year detailing what it is doing to enforce the new covenant, which comes in the wake of the high profile killing of on-duty officer Andrew Harper earlier this year.

Special constables – who are generally unpaid – will also be allowed to join the Police Federation, effectively the officers’ union, for the first time, in a move ministers said would bolster the legal help available to them in disciplinary cases.

Legislation plan in full

There are 22 bills listed in the Queen’s Speech itself, with several more in the accompanying documents, divided into seven categories:

  • Delivering Brexit
  • Supporting the NHS
  • Tackling violent crime and strengthening the justice system
  • Ensuring fairness and protection for individuals and families
  • Levelling up opportunity through better infrastructure, education and science
  • Protecting the environment and improving animal welfare
  • Other legislative and non-legislative measures

In his introduction, Boris Johnson said the legislative programme "delivers on my promise as prime minister to get this amazing country of ours moving again".

He claimed people are “tired of the statis, gridlock and waiting for change”, and that he is “going to get the gears on our national gearbox working again”.

Repeating his themes of delivering Brexit, investing in schools, improving hospital and recruiting more police officers, he added: “This is a programme that will set out our country on a new, upwards trajectory.

“At its heart is a new vision for Britain. A vision of a country happy and confident about its future. A vision of the country that we love.”

Here are the key elements of the Queen’s Speech:


The main focus is the European Union (withdrawal agreement) bill, the vehicle by which a Brexit deal with Brussels is turned into law, including arrangements for EU citizens’ rights, a protocol for Northern Ireland and a transition period.

The government will also table legislation to deal with farming, fishing, trade, immigration and financial services once we leave the EU.

The agriculture bill will put in place a seven-year transition period to “gradually reduce direct payments” to farmers, but also create new payment schemes for "public goods including environmental protection, access to the countryside, and work to reduce flooding”.

The fisheries bill will replace the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, the immigration bill will “bring an end to free movement in UK law” and allow for a new points-based system from January 2021, and the financial services bill will “simplify the process which allows overseas investment to be sold in the UK”.


The government will build on September’s Health Infrastructure Plan to build 40 new hospitals, with a £33.9bn a year increase in NHS spending by 2023-24.

They will also set up the “world’s first independent body to investigate patient safety concerns” and put forward a medicines and medical devices bill to “make it simpler for NHS hospitals to manufacture and trial the most innovative medicines and diagnostic devices”.

There is also a commitment to do more for adult social care and mental health reform, but no concrete legislation on the issue.

Law and order

With seven bills relating to criminal justice, this is the biggest focus of the speech apart from Brexit, with the main legislation on sentencing to change the “automatic release point from halfway to the two-thirds point” for the most serious offences.

There is also a bill to impose tougher sentences on foreign offenders who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order, a bill to help tackle serious violence, and better protection for victims.

There are also changes to the parole system and new legislation to “recognise the bravery, commitment and sacrifices of police officers” and establish a police covenant.

Finally, the extradition (provisional arrest) bill will allow officers to arrest the subject of an Interpol Red notice, wanted for a serious crime in another country, without having to apply to a court for a warrant first.

The police say this could be used to plug the gap if the UK is unable to use the European Arrest Warrant once it leaves the EU.

Ensuring fairness

Boris Johnson has committed to carrying over the work done by his predecessor Theresa May in establishing a domestic abuse bill, which creates statutory definitions of not just physical abuse, but emotional, coercive, controlling and economic abuse.

A separate bill will allow for “no-fault” divorces, while legislation about the allocation of tips aims to stop employers from making deductions to gratuities and passing on service charges to staff.

There is a commitment to tackling online harms and introducing measures to reform employment law, as well as a pension schemes bill to simplify the operation ad oversight of savings schemes.

Not included in the speech but announced alongside it is the Windrush compensation scheme (expenditure) bill, which sets out a baseline cost of “approximately £200m” with around 15,000 eligible claimants.

Levelling up opportunity

A new telecommunications infrastructure (leasehold property) bill will lay the groundwork to “roll out gigabit capable broadband across the UK”, as well as funding to connect the hardest to reach 20% of the country.

Despite reports that the government would scrap the rail franchise system, there is no legislation in the speech on the issue, but a commitment to publish a White Paper on the Williams Rail Review later this autumn.

There are also two pieces of legislation on aviation reacting to recent issues: one to deal with unmanned aircraft in airport airspace after drones shut down Gatwick in December; and another to help get passengers home more quickly if an airline goes bust, after the collapse of Thomas Cook forced the government to help bring 150,000 holidaymakers home last month.

There will also be a white paper on English devolution, and new plans on supporting science and space technology, including a revised funding framework for research and development and the creation of a new cabinet-level National Space Council

Protecting the environment

A new environment bill will set targets for emissions and help tackle air pollution and secure water resources, as well as  “implementing mandatory biodiversity protections into the planning system”. It will set out the creation of a new Office for Environmental Protection and introduce charges for some single-use plastic items, building on the plastic bag fee, and the creation of .

Elsewhere there are a raft of animal welfare measures, increasing the maximum sentences for animal cruelty, legally defining animals as sentient, introducing welfare improvements for transporting livestock, and a consultation on banning the import and export of trophies from hunting endangered species.

Other legislative measures

Voters will have to show ID to cast their ballots under new legislation, which will also aim to tackle postal and proxy ballot fraud, as well as helping improve access to disabled voters.

There is a also a Birmingham Commonwealth Games bill to assist the city in its bid for the 2022 event, and a historical institutional abuse (Northern Ireland) bill to provide victims a form of redress and access to compensation.

Other non-legislative measures

There is a pledge to review the fiscal framework ahead of next months’ budget, and a commitment to the“upholding the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom”.

The government is pledging to restore the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland, as well as the 2% of GDP spending commitment to NATO. It is also committing to the establishment of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs.. 

The speech also sets out the UK will “continue to play a leading role globally”, on security, international development and climate change.


The full list of bills read out by Her Majesty was as follows:

1. European Union (withdrawal agreement) bill

2. Agriculture bill

3. Fisheries bill

4. Trade bill

5. Immigration and social security co-ordination (EU wWithdrawal) bill

6. Financial services bill

7. Private international law (implementation of agreements) bill

8. Health service safety investigations bill

9. Sentencing bill

10. Foreign national offenders bill

11. Prisoners (disclosure of information about victims) bill

12. Serious violence bill

13. Police protections bill

14. Extradition (provisional arrest) bill

15. Domestic abuse bill

16. Divorce, dissolution and separation bill

17. Employment (allocation of tips) bill

18. Pension schemes bill

19. Telecommunications infrastructure (leasehold property) bill

20. Air traffic management and unmanned aircraft bill

21. Environment bill

22. Animal welfare (sentencing) bill

Here are those not in the speech but in the supporting documents:

Medicines and medical devices bill

Sentencing (pre-consolidation amendments) bill

Windrush compensation scheme (expenditure) bill

High Speed Rail 2 (West Midlands – Crewe) bill

Birmingham Commonwealth Games bill

Historical institutional abuse (Northern Ireland) bill

Author Display Name Matt Honeycombe-Foster and Alain Tolhurst Tags Brexit Legal & Constitutional Parliament Policymaking Categories Government and politics About the author

Matt Honeycombe-Foster is the news editor and Alain Tolhurst the chief reporter at PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared

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Estates and smart working: government property chief Mike Parsons sets out his priorities

2 days 8 hours ago

Whitehall property chief Mike Parsons tells Civil Service World about the challenges and opportunities of managing the government’s property portfolio 

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New Edinburgh Waverley hub Photo: HMRC

When you think of the government estate, it is all too easy to only think of offices. However, scratch the surface and you find an incredibly diverse landscape, encompassing schools, laboratories, defence, hospitals – and so much more.

The publication of the Government Estate Strategy in 2018 heralded a new era in the way we manage and steward the estate. Realising savings for the taxpayer is still a priority, but the new strategy focuses on the use of property as a key platform and enabler for the delivery of public services.

Such an estate presents both challenges and opportunities. The resources necessary for its effective day-to-day stewardship should not be underestimated – but that is only one part of it. A more strategic approach to our property can drive transformation in the delivery of public services and support a more diverse and representative civil service.


Property reform has accelerated dramatically across government in recent years. In HM Courts & Tribunals Service, property has been a major component of the reform programme. This £1bn investment in transforming the justice system is introducing modern technology including the use of video and the introduction of online services to reduce the reliance on physical hearings. These reforms have allowed HMCTS to improve efficiency. The service has closed and disposed of underused and poor conditioned court buildings, raising more than £120m to invest in improving the justice system.

The Government Property Agency is delivering a series of programmes that together will revolutionise not just where government works but the way it works too. This includes the consolidation, rationalisation and reconfiguration of the office estate through multi-departmental government hubs across the country and the consolidation of expensive London offices through the Whitehall campus programme.

However, the property function is responsible for more than just bricks and mortar and the Office of Government Property in the Cabinet Office provides leadership from the centre of government on cross-cutting transformation programmes and professional capability and capacity building, setting standards and providing expert advice.

The Places for Growth programme is a strategic relocation programme – moving government roles and activities from London and the south east to the regions and nations of the UK – driving regional growth, tapping into skilled labour markets and creating a civil service that better reflects the communities it serves.

Through the One Public Estate programme, we are supporting public sector partners to drive innovation through collaboration, release land for housing and create savings for the taxpayer. For example, the scheme is supporting voluntary and public sector service providers in Stevenage to transform health and wellbeing provision for the community. The regeneration of Stevenage town centre will bring together a range of currently isolated sites, allowing service providers to address these challenges more effectively. Over the next 10 years, this project is expected to deliver £8m in capital receipts and £400,000 running cost savings, to release land for 800 homes, and create 250 jobs. This is just one example of how One Public Estate is supporting partners to deliver more together. 

As a function, we have set out the common activities that should be undertaken to strive for better outcomes across government. Building on this, we will soon be publishing the draft government property standard for public consultation, ensuring a consistent approach to property across departments. We are also developing the wider government property profession, with a focus on capability to ensure our staff have the skills that we need to look after our estate effectively – and an offer that attracts and retains the right people.

Working with departments to get a true cross-departmental perspective, we have produced a Functional Plan for the year, outlining the activities that the function will be undertaking to promote and implement the Government Estate Strategy.

The property function now has a solid foundation on which to deliver the government’s commitments in relation to property. That work is ongoing and we are working hard to ensure we have the skills and tools to deliver it.

Mike Parsons is the Cabinet Office’s director general for government property and chief operating officer

Estate of the nation

The Government Estate Strategy sets out several reforms to drive efficiency across the buildings owned and used by government.

The improvement drive is grouped across three areas – growth and opportunity, supporting “a brilliant civil service”, and delivering value.

Under the growth and opportunity heading, three different actions are proposed: changing government buildings to offer more joined up services that make use of new technologies; unlocking land for housing through streamlining the number of government buildings and releasing the surplus land for housebuilding and development; and rebalancing the economy to ensure that government offices help support regional growth, including the creation of subject clusters across the UK.

To support the government’s aims to create “a brilliant civil service”, the plan has three strands – creating great places to work that allow officials to work smarter and more flexibly, aided by new technology. This also includes enhancing government’s presence in Whitehall in the heart of London through making government’s campus in the capital more welcoming, more secure and more accessible for the benefit of all civil servants.

The final aim of the plan is delivering value through a more commercial approach to the management of government property, exploiting financial and strategic tools to deliver property projects that can drive efficiencies, and using improved data on the entire property portfolio of the public sector to drive increased sustainability across both land and buildings

Author Display Name Mike Parsons Tags HR Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Procurement & Commercial Categories Government and politics About the author

Mike Parsons is the Cabinet Office’s director general for government property and chief operating officer

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Brexit ferries reboot: government signs £87m contracts to transport medicines

3 days 5 hours ago

Government won't fly in medicines in first batch of contracts awarded through £300m post-Brexit framework

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DFDS was one of four companies to win contracts. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA 

The government has awarded contracts worth £86.6m to four ferry companies to bring medicines into the UK after Brexit, the Department for Transport has announced.

The deals are the first to be signed through DfT's framework put in place this summer for government departments and other public bodies to procure extra freight capacity after Brexit.

The first batch of contracts will not see the government flying in urgent medical supplies after Brexit, despite the framework making this a possibility for the first time. The shortlist of companies that can bid for tenders via the framework, announced last month, includes six ferry operators, one rail company and one airline.


Two of the four companies that were successful in this round – Brittany Ferries and DFDS – were awarded freight contracts at the end of last year ahead of the UK’s planned exit from the EU on 29 March. DfT was forced to pay the two firms a total of £51.4m when the deals were scrapped after the extension of the Article 50 deadline to 31 October.

The remaining two contracts have gone to P&O Ferries and Stena Line.

The contracts will run for six months, whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal.

If the UK and EU agree an extension to the Brexit process beyond 31 October, the government could pay termination fees of £11.5m to cut the contracts short.

DfT has said the routes will avoid the busiest ports, which it expects to be most at risk if disruption. The ferries will therefore run between Teesport, Hull, Killingholme, Felixstowe, Harwich, Tilbury, Portsmouth and Poole in the UK and Cherbourg, Caen, Le Havre, Zeebrugge, Hook of Holland, Rotterdam, Europort and Vlaardingen in the EU.

The shortlisted companies will continue to bid for contracts in mini-competitions run through the framework by departments, NHS trusts and other bodies seeking emergency freight services over the next four years. DfT has said up to £300m of deals could be signed over that period. The vast majority – 91% – of the extra freight capacity has been earmarked for health and social-care supplies.

The announcement came after England’s outgoing chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies warned that delays to medical supplies may be unavoidable in a no-deal Brexit scenario and could lead to patient deaths.

"We cannot guarantee that there will not be shortages, not only in medicines, but technology and gadgets. There may be deaths, we can't guarantee there won't,” Davies told BBC Radio 4's Today programme last week.

Her comments echoed a warning by the National Audit Office that the government could not guarantee that a no-deal Brexit would not disrupt medical supplies.

Announcing the deals, transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “Our decisive action means freight operators will be ready and waiting to transport vital medicines into the country from the moment we leave.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Brexit Health Procurement & Commercial Categories Government and politics Health and social care Transport About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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Roundtable: Digging into the data

3 days 8 hours ago

Having high quality data is a prerequisite if policy and decisions are to be truly evidence-based, Jonathan Owen reports on a CS Live round table where leading civil servants came together to share ideas on how government can improve the way data is used in helping design and deliver services

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Cabinet Office permanent secretary John Manzoni chaired the discussion, sponsored by global digital transformation specialists Cognizant, which was held at Civil Service Live in London.

Britain is “one of the most digital governments in the world” and data has “enormous potential for us” Manzoni said.

“The question is making better decisions, how can government use data more effectively to improve how we design and deliver services?”

Tom Smith, managing director of the data science campus at the Office for National Statistics, paid tribute to some “really excellent work going on” in government. The campus has 70 people recruited from industry, academia and across government, and its role is “across the government’s statistical service as an analysis function.”

Smith commented that the “government and the civil service has a huge skill set.” The question is how those are shared and “how do we build up cross-government capability for data sharing and also for sharing the tools and techniques that we are developing?”

However, the government is not necessarily the best placed to exploit its own data, according to Cathrine Armour, director of the customer division at the UK Hydrographic Office.

“How can government use its own data more effectively? Perhaps we shouldn’t be using it, perhaps, particularly where it’s not GDPR collected, we need to provide it to others who have better domain expertise and understand our customers and their journeys more than we do,” she said.

“Not all data is created equal, we need to be really conscious of the fact that we want integrity of the decisions that we are making, we need integrity of the data we are proving to make those decisions,” Armour added.

On the issue of building up skills within government, Steven Steer, head of data, Ofgem commented: “We need to have expertise ourselves to be able to have good approaches to policies on the market. He cited the rise of online consultations in recent years as an example of how digital technology can increase participation in government. In Ofgem’s case, the organisation is moving towards “self service of regulation” and “crowd sourcing of regulatory rules,” he said.

“We need data and digital capabilities to enable the right decision to be made, not necessarily to be the ones directly doing it,” Steer commented. 

The issue of greater standardisation over the collection, sharing and usage of data dominated the discussion. Marcus Bell, director at the Cabinet Office’s race disparity unit, expressed concern over a lack of standardisation in data.

He outlined how different departments use different words and terms to define ethnicity, something which is part of a wider issue. “Big tech is based on linking together different data sets. If the currency is all different it’s almost impossible to do that, so I’m wondering if there’s a case for a bit more top down prescription about data standards,” he said.

'We now have a whole wealth of data, all collected in lots of different ways, the question then is can we share it?'

The case for common standards was reiterated by Erika Lewis, deputy director, national data strategy at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.  “We are pulling together, with ONS and GDS, some work for a spending review package but the focus will be on some cross governmental work but also a big push on standards because that’s exactly what I’ve been hearing since I arrived in DCMS, that’s the big thing, we’ve got to grab it by the horns,” she said.

Using master data management, where there is a central source of data that everything else spins off from, “is a very standard way of doing things in the private sector” and could be useful for government too, according to Matthew O’Kane, VP EMEA head of AI and analytics, Cognizant.

In terms of the wealth of data available, not just within government, Julie Pierce, director of openness, data and digital, Food Standards Agency, commented: “There’s a huge amount of global data out there that’s open and published and that’s a huge asset to us all.”

Potential legal issues around the use of data were raised by Wendy Hardaker, commercial law director at the Government Legal Department. She warned: “It’s about the way in which you’ve collected the data, often, as to what you can then do with it, and you can fall into all sorts of elephant traps if you’ve not thought about that at the start of the process. We now have a whole wealth of data, all collected in lots of different ways, the question then is can we share it?”

Some of the difficulties around the use of data revolve around trust, according to Yatin Mahandru, head of public sector, Cognizant. “The citizen’s trust in the data and what government are going to do with it and the service the government is going to provide, and then also the trust between departments when you are exchanging that data as to what it’s going to be used for, whether it’s enforcement or something else.”

Manzoni brought the discussion to a close by outlining what he called “three big dilemmas as we nudge forward.” The first is the “top down bottom up one, do we let a thousand flowers bloom, do we put in the standards, at what point do we do this?”

The second surrounds open data. “Is it a total muddle or does it have value for somebody else and if it has value for somebody else why would I give my data away when I could sell it?” he asked.

Third is the skills issue. “How do we actually teach people to frame the question right, so have we got that right or are we focussing on the high-end data scientists or actually, should we do something completely different?”

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Sedwill says 'lessons will be learned' after PM's police speech row

3 days 17 hours ago

Shadow minister says Boris Johnson’s behaviour is a source of “unease” in civil service

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Boris Johnson speaks in Wakefield Credit: PA

Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has said lessons need to be learned at the Prime Minister’s Office following a controversial political speech made by Boris Johnson last month in front of 35 police officers.

The speech in Wakefield had been expected to relate solely to police recruitment but it also covered Brexit and the Labour Party’s unwillingness to support a general election, prompting an angry response from West Yorkshire Police. The region’s elected police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said Johnson had “hijacked” the announcement.

Shadow policing minister Louise Haigh wrote to Sedwill demanding answers about the way the event was handled and fears it represented a politicisation of the police, and she has now revealed the cabinet secretary's response.


Details released to the BBC, The Mirror and the Yorkshire Post indicate an acceptance that the announcement – marking the launch of a recruitment drive for 20,000 officers – was poorly handled.

In the letter, Sedwill conceded that an "unintentional" perception had been created that the police were being involved for political purposes. He said the problem had arisen because planned appearances later the same day, in which the prime minister had intended to discuss the political topics, had been cancelled.

“There should have been a clearer delineation between the government policy aspects (concerning police recruitment) and political content,” Sedwill said.

“In addition, the media questions went beyond police recruitment to cover other topical issues of the day. Due to the last minute changes these aspects were not considered properly.

“The Prime Minister’s Office are reviewing their visit planning process to learn any lessons and to improve planning and communications.”

Haigh, who is a former Metropolitan Police special constable, said on Twitter that Johnson’s Wakefield speech had been a “desperate attempt” to use the police for party political gain, but that the stunt had backfired.

“The civil service's unease at his behaviour is obvious,” she said.

“This is a prime minister that cannot be trusted to behave properly, tell the truth or run the country.”

Home Affairs Select Committee chair Yvette Cooper also questioned Sedwill over the September 9 speech and received a letter in response.

She told The Mirror that there was a need for greater clarity on the reasons that lay behind Johnson’s last-minute changes of plan, and urged the prime minister to apologise to West Yorkshire Police for putting the force in “such an invidious position”.

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Union ‘forces hiring drive’ at Department for Work and Pensions

3 days 17 hours ago

PCS says strike threat prompted creation of dozens of new Universal Credit-related jobs

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The civil service’s biggest union has claimed responsibility for a hiring drive that is expected to create 56 new Department for Work and Pensions roles in Derby related to Universal Credit.

PCS said members at the city’s Universal Credit service centre were angry about high workloads that made it impossible for them to provide a high quality service for customers, and that a meeting in August had underscored the willingness of staff to strike over the issue.

Staff at Universal Credit centres in Walsall and Wolverhampton staged strike action earlier this year in a bid to end what they described as “intolerable” workloads related to the administration of the long-running six-into-one benefit reform.


PCS said that a meeting with management in Derby last month had resulted in proposals to recruit 40 additional Universal Credit staff on one-year contracts, but that the number had been negotiated up to 56. 

PCS said that the jobs had now been advertised and appointments were due to be made towards the end of this month. It added that it was hoped the roles could become permanent after the initial fixed terms expired.

Last month, the Labour party floated proposals to scrap Universal Credit and introduce machinery of government changes that would reconfigure the DWP, if it won power at the next general election.

In a speech made in former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s Chingford and Woodford Green constituency,  Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Universal Credit had been an “unmitigated disaster”. 

Originally expected to be fully implemented by 2017, the Universal Credit programme has been subject to multiple resets since first being taken forward by Duncan Smith in the 2012 Welfare Reform Act. It is currently expected to be fully implemented by 2023.

Current work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey is the sixth holder of the role since Duncan Smith resigned in March 2016, saying cuts to personal independence payments for disabled people were “a compromise too far”.

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