Civil Service World

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Civil Service World News

Sedwill and May lead tributes after national security chief Charles Farr dies

7 hours 1 minute ago
News

Cabinet sec says Farr “dedicated his entire career to keeping our citizens safe and the country secure”

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Charles Farr in 2013. Photo: PA

Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has led tributes to Joint Intelligence Committee chair and former Home Office director general Charles Farr, who died on Friday afternoon after a period of illness.

A Cabinet Office announcement today described Farr as one of Whitehall’s "best and brightest".

Sedwill said he and Farr had worked together over many years both at the Home Office and at the centre of government. “His rigorous judgement, penetrating analysis and natural authority will truly be missed,” Sedwill said. “He dedicated his entire career to keeping our citizens safe and the country secure, and the nation owes him a huge debt. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this sad time.”

Farr’s civil service roles included working at director general of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism at the Home Office from 2007-2015, where he delivered cross-government strategies and institutional reforms to combat terrorism and organised crime. 

He was then appointed to head up the Joint Intelligence Committee, the cross-government body based in the Cabinet Office that coordinates intelligence assessments from across government and oversees the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6; the Security Service, MI5; the Government Communication Headquarters, GCHQ; and defence intelligence.

Prime minister Theresa May, who also worked with Farr at the Home Office, said he was “an outstanding public servant who dedicated his life to national security”.

“As home secretary and prime minister, I valued his commitment, expertise and advice enormously. He will be greatly missed by his family, friends and all of those who worked with him.”

Cabinet Office minister David Lidington said Farr “was committed to making this country a better and safer place, and I feel a great sense of gratitude for the tireless efforts he made throughout his career”.

“Government has lost a true asset and those who worked with him have lost a mentor and a friend,” he said.

Farr was awarded an OBE in the 2003 New Year Honours, and appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 2010. The Cabinet Office said the Queen also approved a knighthood for him before he died.

A new chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee will be announced in due course, the Cabinet Office. The position will be filled on an interim basis by Sir Simon Gass, a former director general political at the Foreign Office and UK ambassador to Iran and Greece. Gass is currently a commandant of the Royal College of Defence Studies, which instructs senior officers of the armed forces and civil service in defence and international security matters at the highest level.

Tags International Affairs & Security Justice and Public Safety Leadership & Management Categories Government and politics International Relations About the author

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

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CMA gets £17m advance to keep Canary Wharf office move on track

9 hours 32 minutes ago
News

Watchdog is set to become latest government body to make east London move after funding advance

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The Competition and Markets Authority has sought a advance of more than £17m from the government’s contingency fund to provide upfront cash to keep its move to a new Canary Wharf office on schedule.

The watchdog non-ministerial department revealed plans to relocate its headquarters from Holborn in central London last August, in a move that further confirms the east London financial district as a growing home for civil servants.

The CMA will lease space in the refurbished Cabot building from September in a new 15-year lease that will also provide the watchdog with space to expand following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

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In a written ministerial statement, Kelly Tolhurst, the minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy responsible for corporate responsibility, said the upfront funding request for the CMA would meet the cashflow requirements of the office move. This is because construction costs for the refurbished building, which were to be met after the Supply and Appropriation Act for 2019-20 has received Royal Assent in March 2019, needed to be paid in the last quarter of the current financial year.

“The cash advance will ensure the project stays on track and on budget and ensure that the CMA also meets its operational needs,” she said.

The announcement of the funding drawdown came as the CMA published its annual plan for 2019-20, which stated that it had “secured additional funding for 2018-19 and 2019-20 for the CMA’s office move to Canary Wharf in 2019 to ensure that it does not impact the day-to-day operational requirements of the organisation”.

Tolhurst’s statement said that parliamentary approval for additional resources of £2,793,000 and capital of £14,256,000 will be sought in a supplementary estimate for the CMA, and pending that approval, urgent expenditure estimated at £17,049,000 will be met by repayable cash advances from the contingencies fund.

Civil Service World asked the CMA for more details on what the funds will be used for and what the refurbishment plans will entail.

The CMA's move to Canary Wharf will follow in the footsteps of HM Revenue and Customs, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and the Pensions Ombudsman – all of which are tenants at the new government hub in the financial district.

The Cabinet Office has said that around 6,000 full-time civil and public servants from offices in Whitehall have or will move to the hub, which forms part of the revised Government Estates Strategy’s drive to relocate civil service posts around the country to boost local growth.

Tags Finance HR Operational Delivery Procurement & Commercial Categories Economics and finance Government and politics About the author

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

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Latest civil service & public affairs moves — February 18

11 hours 31 minutes ago
News

New appointments in the civil service, UK politics, and public affairs, via our colleagues at Dods People

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Government departments

  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Kara Owen appointed British High Commissioner to the Republic of Singapore in succession to Scott Wightman in July 2019;Simon Boyden appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania; Vicki Treadell CMG MVO has been appointed British High Commissioner to Australia.
  • Ministry of Justice: Justin Russell announced as the candidate for chief inspector of probation, and would replace Glenys Stacey on 31 May.
  • Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government: Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission – Gail Mayhew, Mary Parsons, Nicholas Boys Smith and Kim Wilkie named as Commissioners
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: National Heritage Memorial Fund/The National Lottery Heritage Fund – Ray Macfarlane to become the Scottish Trustee to the board from 1 April; Imperial War Museum – Margaret Macmillan appointed as academic trustee.

Devolved Authorities

  • National Assembly for Wales: Delyth Jewell sworn in as the Plaid Cymru replacement AM for South Wales East; Delyth Jewell appointed as shadow minister for international affairs and culture; External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee – Delyth Jewell appointed as a member.
  • Scottish Government: Infrastructure Commission - Iain Docherty, Ken Gillespie, Benny Higgins, Mary Pitcaithly, Rachel Skinner, Grahame Smith, Sara Thiam, John Trower and Janette Webb appointed as commissioners.

Local Authorities

  • By-election Results 14 February: Vale of Glamorgan Council - Andrew R T Davies elected for Rhoose – Conservative hold. (Matthew Lloyd resigned)..

Interest Groups

If you and your organisation would like to be included in this section, then email us at editor@dodsgroup.com

  • Women’s Aid: Katie Ghose stood down as chief executive.
  • Shaw Trust: Chris Luck appointed as chief executive from May.
  • Sentebale: Graham Leigh appointed as chief operating officer and director of fundraising.

Trade Associations

  • National Sheep Association Scotland: Jen Craig elected as the chair.

Corporates

  • TheCityUK: Mark Tucker appointed as dhair.

Consultancies

  • iNHouse: Chris Wilkins appointed as chief strategic adviser.
  • Brunswick Group: John Davies joined as senior adviser.
Author Display Name Dods People Tags HR Leadership & Management Parliament Categories Government and politics About the author

Want to know more? Click here for information on our Dods People UK service

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DWP civil servant jailed over £41k fraud

13 hours 47 minutes ago
News

Judge nods to departmental budget pressures as he hands down 12-month sentence

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A Department for Work and Pensions caseworker has been jailed for defrauding the public purse to the tune of £41,446.50 by diverting cash into accounts set up using other people’s National Insurance numbers.

Lauren Wainwright admitted the frauds – which took place via more than 50 transfers over a period of several months in 2017 and 2018 – at Blackpool Magistrates Court last month.

Wainwright, of Thornton in Lancashire, was handed a 12-month custodial sentence at Preston Crown Court last week.

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The hearing was told that Wainwright had begun directing funds into her account four months after starting work in her administrative-officer grade role, and that the misappropriated cash had been used to pay off family debts.

In sentencing, Judge Graham Knowles said Wainwright had committed a crime that amounted to a “serious and persistent abuse” of her position. 

“This is an offence that dealt with public spending. No civil servant, even one with only months of service, could be unaware of the pressures on departmental budgets,” he said.

“No reasonably intelligent person living in this country could be unaware of that. That money you took was funded by taxation of people being paid for the honest work they had done.”

A DWP spokesperson said the department, which administers benefits and other payments to around 20 million people, had “zero-tolerance towards fraud”.

“Any suspected cases are investigated by specialist staff who will refer all evidence immediately to the police, and we fully support any criminal investigations,” they said.

“Employees are subject to disciplinary action and dismissed where wrongdoing is proven.”

Wainwright will face a proceeds of crime hearing later in the year. It will examine whether any of the funds defrauded from DWP can be recovered.

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Jin Sahota interview: How government procurement reforms are unlocking millions for the NHS

3 days 1 hour ago
Interview

Jin Sahota is the government procurement expert in charge of unlocking billions for the NHS frontline at a time of record demand. He reflects on three years of trying to get hospitals to work together – and the challenge of maintaining supplies amid Brexit uncertainty.

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Photography by Louise Haywood Schiefer

At first glance, most of government would be jealous of the funding deal for the NHS. Agreed before departments had even begun to speak to the Treasury for the upcoming Spending Round, the health service will get an average annual increase of 3.4% over the next five years, meaning it will have an extra £20.5bn to spend by 2023-24. But it still faces difficult decisions. The pace of demand for healthcare has outstripped funding since 2010 and demographic changes mean the health service faces even higher demand in the future. To tackle this, the NHS Long Term Plan, published in January, set out plans to use the extra cash to unlock efficiencies worth 1.1% every year. Savings from the nearly £6bn spent on hospital consumables and common goods like syringes and gloves are high on the list, and the health service had already set a target to save a cumulative £2.4bn over five years by making the most of the buying power of the country’s most cherished institution.

The NHS – and government – has invested in commercial skills to help drive this programme and walking proof of what can be done when you invest to unlock savings is the man who is leading the initiative, Jin Sahota.

Sahota is head of the government-owned NHS Supply Chain Co-ordination Ltd (SCCL) procurement body and he has freed up millions for the NHS frontline since joining government in March 2016. But when he meets CSW he is candid about the fact that he wouldn’t be in the post were it not for reforms allowing for higher salaries for government commercial staff.

“I’ll be absolutely blunt: if the salary levels were somewhat different, maybe it wouldn’t have attracted me,” he says of his move from the private sector, where he was latterly senior vice president of worldwide operations with French multinational corporation Technicolor.

“One bit of advice I give anybody who comes in from the private sector is: understand why things happen in a certain way”

The ability to offer higher pay to recruit top talent was given to the Government Commercial Organisation when it was created in 2016. And Sahota, one of its first big recruits, says he wouldn’t be in place without it.

“That’s me being very honest and I think that’s probably true for lots of people that came in at a certain time with the government commercial function. It does attract people with the capability and backgrounds that we need in government.”

Sahota had shown interest in government before – “about 15 years before I had actually spoken to somebody in the Department of Health about getting some more private sector experience into the NHS, at which point I was told ‘we’re not quite ready’” – but when he was returned from a stint in Paris with Technicolor, he looked for a next challenge.

“Whenever you repatriate you think about doing something different, and along came this opportunity to work in the civil service,” he says. “I’d heard a lot about [civil service chief executive] John Manzoni, and I was very much interested by the government commercial funcion set up and getting private sector expertise back into the public sector.”

After an interview with Manzoni, Sahota was brought into government as a commercial director in the Department of Health and Social Care, with a mandate to transform the NHS supply chain.

He joined at an auspicious time – not only was the government commercial function up and running, but just the previous month, Lord Carter had published his report for the Department of Health examining the cost of variation in procurement and practices across the health service. The review concluded that as much as £5bn a year could be saved by 2020-21 through following a “model hospital” plan. [see box, right]

After this report, DH’s procurement transformation programme – led by Sahota – was set the £2.4bn savings goal by 2020-21 as it developed the new model for buying across the NHS.

The Carter review

The Carter review was commissioned by then secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt in 2014 to review the extent of what was called “unwarranted variations” in performance across hospitals in England.

Labour peer Lord Carter of Coles concluded that the NHS could save as much as £5bn a year by 2020-21 by putting in place the best practice of what he called a model hospital and cutting the different range of costs paid across the health service.

Carter highlighted that average running costs for hospitals ranged from £105 per square metre at one trust to £970, while prices paid by different hospitals for hip replacements ranged from £788 to £1,590.

It estimated that it £700m could be saved through improved procurement practices, which led to the development of the cumulative £2.4bn target. Other recommendations included a People Strategy for the NHS and a target for trusts to ensure their administration costs to not exceed 6% of their income.

Medical supplies and equipment are bought across the health service in three ways. Hospitals can buy their own products, they can group together to buy collectively, or make use of the NHS’s own central buying agency.

At the time Sahota joined, around 40% of the purchases in the NHS trusts were going through the then-outsourced buying agency, NHS Supply Chain. He identified increasing this share as an immediate priority.

The private sector would call the three-way buying split “warring tribes”, Sahota says, “because we’re all competing against each other”.

This benefits suppliers, rather than the health service, because the collective buying power of the NHS is not being used, he says.

“It’s like every single different branch of Sainsbury’s buying things how they want, when they want. You wouldn’t allow that in Sainsbury’s, so why are we doing it in the trusts?”

Sahota and his team in the health department worked to change this through what they called the future operating model for buying. NHS Supply Chain was brought back in house, to be led by Sahota, while the views of 80 trusts were canvassed to find out what would encourage hospitals to use the organisation.

One key request was for transparent pricing. Previously anything sold through NHS Supply Chain had a margin added to it, to meet the organisation’s costs. But “what the trust really wanted was price transparency”, he says. “They wanted to know that if we bought it for £1, we were selling it at £1, as opposed to buying it for £1 and selling it for £1.10. They wanted to go away from a margin model towards a centrally-funded model, which is what we’ve been able to put in place.”

The group also worked to reduce the number of different products being purchased across the NHS in England, after a sample of 22 trusts revealed that in one year they used 30,000 suppliers, 20,000 different product brands and more than 7,000 people were able to place orders. “There was confusion as to what is the right product.”

However, just like procurement reforms in government, Sahota could only persuade, not compel, buying teams to change, and he realised the way to get hospitals on board was through clinical reviews. A clinical evaluation team of NHS lead nurses was established to do this  and – crucially – was not told the prices of products. This meant the team could convince hospitals to streamline their inventory with arguments on quality not price, says Sahota. They produced 32 clinical reviews covering 69 product types.

All this work has led to early progress. SCCL has only been back in the Department of Health and Social Care for 10 months, but Sahota has already overseen an increase in the amount spent through it from 40% to 51% of all NHS purchases. Overall, the programme has saved a cumulative  £344m so far, and “we are on the trajectory to deliver the £2.4bn”, he says.

Such a shift is “not because we waved a magic wand it’s because of the focus that we put on engaging with trusts”, Sahota says. “Instead of saying, ‘we’re here and if you want to buy something, come and buy something’, we’ve got bespoke account plans for each of the trusts, we’re building up pictures of what can be done, and we’re helping them switch products – which we know is not easily done.”

The NHS Long Term Plan set a target for greater use of SCCL, seeking to get its share of NHS purchases up to 80% by 2022.

Sahota tells CSW that “what I hear more often [from trusts] is: can you stop giving us a choice and just dictate the bloody thing, because then we wouldn’t have this other 50% still being done in a different way”. Although that day might come – “when you get about 80% of the market share, what’s the point of doing something different?” – unlocking those cash savings remains his immediate priority.

“In 2021, we will be delivering £600m cash-releasing savings per year. That’s £50m in cash-releasing savings per month that go to frontline services. It doesn’t come back to me, it doesn’t go back to the department, or even government. It goes back to the NHS, to frontline services where it belongs. That’s phenomenal. We are on that trajectory, and it’s great to be part of it.”

“The savings don’t go back to the department, or even government. They go back to the NHS, to frontline services. That’s phenomenal”

This is not to say it has all been plain sailing. Sahota has had five different ministers overseeing the plan since he joined government, and the programme has also been buffeted by a snap election and Brexit planning.

Although he calls government “the best place I’ve worked for a very long time”, Sahota has also had to adjust to life in the civil service.

“When I joined from the private sector, somebody said it will take six months for an approval,” he says, smiling. “I giggled, thinking that would never be the case. But I’ve learned to really understand why things happen in a certain way and never to think it is for no reason.”

He jokes that he hasn’t yet quite got to the bottom of why some sign offs do take so long – “I think I understand about three months of it” – but he is serious about wanting to understand the reasons for government processes, rather than rail against them.

“It is a big government, there’s a lot of people and a lot of departments and there is a lot to be understood and to make sure that things follow a process,” he says. “There is a need to tick off all the different areas where, if something goes wrong, it might be an issue.

“The one bit of advice I give to anybody who comes in from the private sector is: understand the rationale behind why things happen in a certain way. Because once you get that, you stand a chance of working with it, and that’s what I did.”

And as well having helped get him hired in the first place, the government commercial function has been key to helping him adapt.

“I was actually coached very well,” he says. “On our board to start with, we had people from the Cabinet Office who were part of the GCF and that allowed us to navigate the system.

“The advice I got was: get to know some people, build some trust and they’ll always help you. And that is true. I have never not been able to pick up the phone to someone and say, ‘what do I do with this thing’?

“I wouldn’t have got that if it wasn’t for the GCF. Without it, we are back to the fragmented landscape I see in the NHS, but on a government scale.”

And this is not the only government organisation that has helped. Sahota adds the Infrastructure and Projects Authority has also been vital.

“Anybody doing a transformation [programme] must get the IPA on board and engaged if you can, because they help. I was slightly sceptical when I first did the IPA review, but if you do them properly, they really are useful.

“I’m doing that now as I’m a SRO for Brexit at the moment and the IPA is welcome.”

Ah yes, Brexit. Of all the unexpected events that have hit Sahota’s carefully-laid plans, this must rank near the top.

Indeed, Sahota says SCCL has “deferred some parts of our development that were non-critical, the nice-to-haves” to free up time to focus on ensuring supply of medical devices and clinical consumables after EU exit.

As he meets CSW in early January, he insists the organisation is well prepared “with the known variables that we have in front of us”

Having developed contingency plans, Sahota is now working to ensure they can be activated as needed. “We’re working with all our suppliers and ensuring that there are levels of preparedness on their side,” he says, adding that: “We’re in a better position than we could be if we hadn’t started on those plans some time ago,” he says.

Leaving the EU only adds complexity to already tangled web of different players across both government and NHS that Sahota has to work with.

“It is a challenge and it’s one of the reasons why I came in, but it’s not insurmountable,” he says. “It’s not difficult in terms of complexity, it’s just complex. You need to respect it as a complex thing but then deal with it in your own way – and make sure that you don’t allow the complexity to win.”

Working with suppliers

Sahota says there was some nervousness from suppliers to the procurement reforms as they “saw the landscape that they’ve enjoyed was going to change” through increased clinical evaluation of products.

However, he said that “slowly but surely, we had advocates in the system” as suppliers realised that the changes could make their job easier.

“They said, ‘this is actually going to help us, because instead of going to sell to different trusts, we could actually channel our products into a [procurement] category management that speaks the same language as us.”

SCCL worked to “make sure the suppliers understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it” – ranging from large suppliers like Becton Dickinson, Baxter’s and Johnson and Johnson’s, to SMEs.

“We’ve met 243 suppliers just in the last seven months face to face. That’s a lot of suppliers, and when we get SMEs in, we do them in batches of 20. That’s the level of engagement it takes to get them to understand that this is actually an advantageous system.”

 

Correction: The version of this interview in February’s Civil Service World stated that NHS Supply Chain was rebranded as SCCL. This is incorrect. NHS Supply Chain is the name of the organisation that supports the NHS, while Supply Chain Coordination Ltd is the management function for NHS Supply Chain, which manages the contracts and performance of its providers that operates under the name of NHS Supply Chain.

About the author

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

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Sedwill retaining national security adviser role as cab sec 'to help make success of Brexit'

3 days 2 hours ago
News

Civil service chief says combining the jobs is part of fusion agenda to boost teamwork across government

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Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Sir Mark Sedwill has said his retention of the role of national security advisor since becoming cabinet secretary is part of moves to make a success of Brexit.

In an interview with Civil Service Quarterly, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service also said retaining the post would also ensure “a genuine sense of teamwork across and beyond government”.

Sedwill was named national security adviser in February 2017. He remainged in post on his appointment as cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, initially on an acting basis, from the late Sir Jeremy Heywood in June last year.

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The role of national security advisor was only separated from that of cabinet secretary in 2010, and Sedwill told Civil Service Quarterly that many of his predecessors had held the role as well as being cab sec and head of the civil service.

“I describe myself as the cabinet secretary, and then set out the shape of the job as I’m doing it. That shape has varied over time. Some of my predecessors, like Gus O’Donnell, for example, were Cabinet Office permanent secretary as well as cabinet secretary and head of the [civil] service.

“Most were responsible for national security. The formal role of national security adviser is a relatively recent innovation. The job developed during my time in it, balancing the traditional foreign policy and international affairs concerns with the defence and homeland security issues, operating alongside the cabinet secretary.”

Retaining the national security role was key to what Sedwill has called the Fusion Doctrine in government – the means of “deploying the full set of our national security, economic and influence capabilities... against the full set of our national security, economic and influence goals”.

He told CSQ: “The reason I’m doing it this way is to make a success of Brexit. It’s critically important that we bring together – fusion, as we call it in the national security community – all our national capabilities, including economic, security, social and the rest, with a genuine sense of teamwork across and beyond government.

“While leadership is about identifying the big ideas, it’s also about building a great team. I am strengthening the team around me in the cabinet secretariats, ensuring that they operate as a real team, rather than in specialist silos.”

The Fusion Doctrine

Speaking to the Defence Select Committee in May last year, Sedwill described the Fusion Doctrine as a means of ensuring the UK is “deploying the full set of our national security, economic and influence capabilities... against the full set of our national security, economic and influence goals”.

For government, this means the creation of some new structures and roles to support the National Security Council with both strategy and delivery. For example, there are now implementation groups headed by senior responsible owners for each of the NSC’s priorities.

The doctrine also sets out government’s plans to link economic and national security goals, as well as ensuring that all of the nation’s capabilities (not just those controlled by government) are being coordinated to protect national security.

Speaking to CSW, Sedwill reflected that the doctrine has grown from government’s response to the Chilcot report, and is designed to ensure there is not only proper rigour and process when strategy is set and decisions are made, but that there are effective mechanisms to deliver those decisions using all of government’s capabilities as well as its “catalytic” ability to get other partners involved in reaching strategic aims.

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Also in the interview, Sedwill said that he wanted to continue his predecessor Heywood’s focus on building ‘A Brilliant Civil Service’, both as a programme and a brand.

“It gives us an important sense of direction,” he said. “We need brilliant people, brilliant technology, brilliant systems. It’s a constant effort to upgrade those, and ensure people can fulfil their potential and have the tools they need.

“Second, in my first message to civil servants I spoke about impact and teamwork. We must stay focused on our impact on the lives of individual citizens and the prosperity and security of the country. And by teamwork I don’t just mean people working in teams within the civil service, but across the whole public service and beyond, building effective partnerships with the private and third sectors – and, of course, with the citizen.

“It’s this systems modernisation that I want to bring to this role, building on the effective modernisation and capability upgrading we saw under my predecessors, from commercial, digital and data capability, to the diversity and inclusion agenda, which we absolutely must see through. My task is to add that systems capability, that teamwork, across the whole public service and beyond. And that’s to help the government navigate the country through Brexit and, more importantly, in a way, to make a success of it.”

In the 2017 Civil Service Peoples Survey, less than half of those polled (43%) were aware of the flagship Whitehall vision to create a Brilliant Civil Service, although this increased to just over half (51%) in 2018.

Read the CSQ interview in full here

Tags International Affairs & Security Leadership & Management Legal & Constitutional Categories Government and politics International Relations About the author

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

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More than 70 civil servants signed NDA over pay dispute, reveals chief people officer

3 days 6 hours ago
News

The revelation comes as a CSW investigation shows the Department for Transport paid out £8,000 in payments connected to NDAs last year

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More than 70 staff at a government arm’s-length body were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement over a pay dispute within the last four years, it has been revealed.

The unnamed ALB is one of two government bodies – the other being a central department – that have signed non-disclosure agreements with civil servants in cases linked to allegations of discrimination in the last four years, the government’s chief people officer has said.

Rupert McNeil told the Women and Equalities Select Committee that government departments had reported six instances where NDAs – described in the civil service as “confidentiality clauses” – had been signed with employees since 2015.

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These included the two instances where NDAs were used following allegations of discrimination. In the case of the ALB, McNeil said around 76 individuals agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement after they were awarded a settlement resulting from a pay dispute.

The agreement prevented them from disclosing the size of the settlement but not from saying there had been either a dispute or a settlement, McNeil told the MPs.

McNeil was presenting evidence to the committee as part of its inquiry into the use of NDAs by employers, which was launched in November following a number of high-profile cases reported in the media of NDAs being used to silence victims of harassment.

McNeil did not identify the bodies that had used confidentiality clauses, nor the specifics around the cases. He said those linked to discrimination had been signed shortly after the Cabinet Office published strict guidance on the use of NDAs in the civil service in January 2015.

“That wouldn’t happen now,” he added.

The 2015 guidance meant the standard for using NDAs was “very high” and specified a number of instances where they should not be used, he said, including to cover up an organisational failure or to prevent employees from speaking out about malpractice.

Asked whether the civil service would ask someone who had made allegations of sexual harassment to sign a gagging clause, he said: “That’s not something that we would expect.” He later added that doing so would be “completely unacceptable”.

McNeil said the figures demonstrated NDAs were “not a particularly useful tool” for employers, although there were “some circumstances where it might be appropriate to have [an NDA] to protect both sides and as part of getting closure”.

“Speaking for the civil service as a large employer… if you want to create an inclusive culture and you want to create a safe workplace for people, I don’t think they’re a particularly helpful tool,” he said.

CSW investigates

Responding to Freedom of Information requests submitted by CSW to 23 ministerial departments on the use of NDAs since 2016, only one department replied confirming it had signed non-disclosure agreements with one or more employee in that time.

The Department for Transport said confidentiality clauses had been signed by “less than five” departing members of staff at the central department or its four executive agencies – the Driver Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Driver Vehicle Standards Agency, the Maritime Coastguard Agency and the Vehicle Certification Agency – since 2016.

It also revealed it had paid out £8,000 linked to those NDAs.

The department declined to comment on the agreements or explain why they had been used. A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office referred CSW to McNeil's comments to the women and equalities committee about how government departments had used NDAs.

Of the 23 departments CSW sent FOI requests to, 16 confirmed they had not signed any NDAs with their employees since 2016. The Ministry of Justice and UK Export Finance said they did not hold the requested information and the Cabinet Office did not respond to the request.

Three departments – the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Home Office and the Ministry of Defence – said they were unable to answer the questions put to them because it would cost too much to obtain the information.

"Transparency is a good thing"

During his select committee appearance, McNeil said the civil service was looking at ways to publish data on the number of NDAs used by departments annually.

“We’re committed to publishing [the figures],” he told the MPs.

“We’re gathering the data, we’re looking at some issues around GDPR and making sure that we find the best way to do that and tracking it in in our systems, but from our perspective, transparency is a good thing.”

McNeil also said the civil service was working to improve its understanding of why former employees had left. He said it regularly gathered gathers data on why senior civil servants leave, but was still in the process of working out how to roll this out to those lower down the civil service.

He said individual departments had some understanding of why employees were leaving based on exit interviews, but that this data was not held centrally due to a lack of “common data templates” that would enable the Cabinet Office to collate and compare all of the figures.

“I would like us to be able to have exit interview data across the whole system,” he said. “It’s a plumbing question as much as anything as to how we would track it.”

The civil service does not track how many employees leave due to alleged discrimination, McNeil said.

He added that the civil service was committed to being one of the UK's most inclusive employers and said it had seen a great deal of success in using mediation as a way of "dealing with issues early on".

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags HR Parliament Transparency & Open Data Categories Employment Government and politics About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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‘Buddy’ departments sharing staff and a clearing hub for secondments – perm secs reveal Brexit no-deal plans

3 days 7 hours ago
News

Defra’s Clare Moriarty and DfT’s Bernadette Kelly update MPs on Brexit staffing plans for frontline departments

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Clare Moriarty, Bernadette Kelly and DfT director general Lucy Chadwick appear before the Public Accounts Committee Credit:CSW/Parliament TV

The top civil servants at two of the departments most inundated by the demands of Brexit have told MPs of their staffing plans for a no-deal exit from the European Union – and their “buddy” arrangements with other ministries.

Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs permanent secretary Clare Moriarty and Department for Transport perm sec Bernadette Kelly told members of the Public Accounts Committee that their departments had been matched with buddy departments as part of arrangements to streamline the sharing of staff. Plans have also seen the creation of a government "clearing hub" for secondments across Whitehall.

Moriarty said her department had so far recruited about 2,500 people to deal with Brexit, as well as seconding in others from its own agencies and lining up “about 100” loan staff from the Department for Education, which is Defra's buddy department.

Moriarty’s update substantiates reports that Michael Gove had “raided” Defra agencies for staff to work on Brexit at the central department, and DfE perm sec Jonathan Slater’s reported call last month for staff to volunteer for Brexit-related secondments.

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The perm sec did not detail the number of secondments from agencies – a report from last year suggested that more than 400 staff had been redeployed, the bulk of them from the Environment Agency and environmental protection adviser Natural England.

However she did reveal some details of Defra’s planning for a no-deal Brexit, which is the current default position for the UK’s departure from the European Union on 29 March if prime minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement fails to secure the backing of MPs, or Article 50 is not withdrawn or extended.

“We’ve been through successive internal reprioritisations since September last year,” she said. “We’ve reprioritised something like 250 people onto no-deal work, to quite a significant extent, to ensure greater resilience and make sure we’re not overloading people. We’ve got some roles where we’ve got two people doing the same job in order to provide that resilience.”

Moriarty added: “We’ve looked at what we would need in the event of a full no-deal and we’re currently standing up our emergency centre. You need a lot of people per post in order to ensure that we can run 24-hour cover.”

Morarty said that in such an eventuality it was likely that the department would receive "further tranches of people coming on loan from the Department for Education”.

Department for Transport perm sec Bernadette Kelly told MPs that her department’s Brexit staffing requirements were “less significant in scale relative to the department’s size” than they were for Defra.

“At the moment we’ve got about 260 people – full-time equivalents – working on Brexit-related business,” she said.

“In the event of a no-deal exit and us having to exercise all of our contingency plans we’d see a very significant increase in those numbers for a period of time. We could see that going up to between 600 and 700 at peak activity, dealing with disruption. That is what we are planning for because we’re planning for reasonable worst-case scenarios [with] round-the-clock working.”

Kelly said most of DfT’s Brexit-focused staff were being redeployed within the department.

“We are [doing some] external recruitment, but we are receiving some staff in particular from the Ministry of Justice – about 40 is the current plan,” she said.

“We are principally relying on people being redeployed within the department, though with some additional people being brought in from other departments or externally to help us through a period of contingency planning if needed.”

While Moriarty described DfE as her ministry’s “buddy” department, Kelly said the MoJ and the Ministry of Defence were hers – however she did not detail the extent of support the MoD was currently offering.

Asked about the cross-Whitehall efforts to ensure Brexit staffing resilience, Kelly said the Department for Exiting the European Union had created “more [of] a clearing hub than a centre of excellence” to aid secondments.

“What’s happening is that in order for these loans to happen rapidly and with minimum bureaucracy DExEU/the government has set up a kind of hub to match up people from departments who are putting resources into the pot to departments who need additional resources as rapidly and effectively as possible,” she said.

Ferries deal

Elsewhere in the PAC hearing Kelly defended her department’s handling of the now-cancelled award of a ferry services contract to Seaborne Freight to restart roll-on, roll-off ferry services between Ostend and Ramsgate to give the government additional capacity to counter cross-Channel disruption in the “short straits”.

She insisted the contract, only awarded in December, had not resulted in any payments to Seaborne – which notoriously lacks any ferries. However, she conceded that there would have been expenses related to the procurement process that resulted in the award.

Moriarty also told MPs that while she did not believe there would be shortages of food in the UK as a result of a no-deal exit from the European Union, there may be a different perception among the public.

“Our best understanding is that in the event that there was significant disruption on the short straits that there would be a reduction in availability and a reduction in choice, particularly with those perishable just-in-time goods,” she said.

“But there would not be an absence of food. We would not face a food shortage as a country.

“When you look at all the other places food comes from, we have very, very diverse chains for food.”

Moriarty admitted that there were “potentially issues” for what she described as “geographically vulnerable” communities and other vulnerable groups, particularly in relation to increased food prices.

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Capita reveals improvement plan for troubled Army recruitment contract with MoD

3 days 8 hours ago
News

Outsourcing firm’s chief executive writes to Public Accounts Committee to outline measures taken to improve performance

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The head of Capita has set out plans for a number of changes to the firm’s Army recruitment contract with the Ministry of Defence following an audit report that found the scheme had faced considerable delays.

In a letter to committee chair Meg Hillier, Capita chief executive Jon Lewis said the company is introducing new technologies and practices “that will help us recruit more quickly and effectively” under the programme, which is intended to improve recruitment of soldiers and reservists.

In December, a report from the National Audit Office found the project had been beset by major problems, including a website that launched four years late at a cost of £113m – triple the original budget.

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Since the 10-year engagement between the Army and Capita began in 2012, recruitment targets have been missed every single year – with annual shortfalls ranging from 21% to 45%, auditors found.

Following the publication of the NAO report, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee launched its own inquiry into the project.

At a hearing as part of its inquiry, Lewis told MPs that the company should have pushed back against some of the contract’s requirements but admitted that it didn’t because “we were chasing revenue” when it signed on. As a result it was unable to meet its obligations and has had £26m deducted from its remuneration for the programme.

The session also heard from Lt Gen Tyrone Urch, commander of the Army home command group, said the Army and MoD had handled “not too cleverly” the contract, as the Army had insisted that the outsourcer use an “antiquated IT system”.

But Lt Gen Urch contended that the contract had not been a failure, because it was still on track to save around £200m and had allowed the Army to return around 900 soldiers who had previously worked in recruitment to the front line.

In a follow up letter to committee chair Meg Hillier, Lewis he said the company was making improvements, including to an app that assesses how close candidates are to being fit or strong enough to qualify for certain roles in the Army. “This can, for example, monitor cardiovascular and muscular tests, such as running or sit-ups, and help the candidate see in which discipline and by how much they need to improve to qualify for the role they seek,” he said.

Lewis also flagged up research conducted by Capita in late 2017 that found that, of those who withdrew during the recruitment process, only 6% did so because they felt it was taking too long. Far more common reasons for dropping out were a change of personal circumstances (31%), various other personal reasons (27%), or a perceived lack of fitness (23%).

This research is currently being repeated, Lewis said, “which should also inform us of the impact the new IT system is having”.

Author Display Name Sam Trendall Tags Commercial Digital, Data & AI Procurement & Commercial Categories Defence and Security Government and politics About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology, where a version of this story first appeared

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Introducing the civil service’s Generation Brex

4 days 1 hour ago
Opinion

As Brexit swells the senior civil service ranks, the government will struggle to meet its goal of moving more officials out of London, says the Institute for Government’s Aron Cheung

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One of Brexit’s unintended consequences has been to turn Whitehall into a recruitment hotspot. Since the 2016 referendum, the government has hired an additional 20,000 civil servants – reversing more than a fifth of the job cuts that happened between 2010 and 2016.

Unsurprisingly, departments on the front line of delivering Brexit are among those that have expanded the most. The Department for International Trade has grown by almost 70% since late 2016, while the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Cabinet Office have grown by roughly 40%, and almost 700 people now work at the Department for Exiting the European Union. The expansion of the civil service is also unlikely to end soon. John Manzoni, its chief executive, recently said that there are 5,000 additional Brexit-facing civil servants “in the pipeline” (adding to the 10,000 already working on EU Exit).

But Brexit isn’t the only reason the civil service has grown – the Ministry for Justice’s headcount, for example, has risen by 6,000 (or 9%) since June 2016. Most of the new staff are at HM Prisons and Probation Service, which has recently been combating rising prison violence.

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The civil service is becoming more top-heavy

The expansion of the civil service has taken place mostly at senior grades. While the overall workforce grew by 2.5% between 2016 and 2018, the Senior Civil Service grew more than four times as quickly. Just below them, at Grades 6 and 7 (which include experienced officials with significant policy responsibilities), numbers are up by an even higher 15%.

Again, the starkest increases have been at Brexit facing departments. For example, at Defra the number of civil servants at Grades 6 and 7 has more than doubled, from 900 just before the referendum to 2,100 two years later.

Meanwhile, the number of civil servants employed at the most junior grades has continued to fall.

There are more civil servants based in London

Governments often promise to rebalance the distribution of the civil service across the country. In 2017, for example, the Conservative Party manifesto promised to move “significant numbers” of officials out of London and the South East, and the Government Estate Strategy published a year later included plans to establish up to 20 government office hubs across the UK.

But the growing number of relatively senior Brexit-facing officials is undermining this aim. The percentage based in the capital has increased slightly from 19% before the referendum to 20% in 2018, and the Brexit department is one of two based entirely in London (the other being the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport).

The top of the civil service is even more London centric, with more than two-thirds of the Senior Civil Service based in the capital.

The civil service is becoming younger

As staff numbers fell between 2010 and 2016, the civil service became older. The percentage of civil servants aged under 30 fell from 14% to 10% (partly due to recruitment freezes), and the median age of civil servants rose from 44 to 47.

But the post-Brexit intake of civil servants, while being concentrated at more senior grades, is also younger. The median age has fallen back to 46, and 13% of civil servants are now under 30. The youngest department in Whitehall is DExEU, where about half of the workforce is under 30.

The civil service is becoming more diverse

The civil service’s diversity and inclusion strategy states that to serve the public “effectively and fairly, the civil service must represent modern Britain in all its diversity”.

As it grows, the civil service has continued to (slowly) become more diverse. Women now make up 43% of the Senior Civil Service, up from 40% in 2016, while the percentage of civil servants from ethnic minorities and of those with disabilities is also inching up.

But while things are moving in the right direction, the civil service – particularly at the top – still does not reflect the population it serves. Only 8% of senior civil servants are from ethnic minorities and only 5% have a disability, compared with a working-age population where 14% are from an ethnic minority and 19% have a disability.

Author Display Name Aron Cheung Tags Brexit HR Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Policymaking Transformation Categories Government and politics About the author

Aron Cheung is a researcher at the Institute for Government who works on Whitehall Monitor, the IfG’s data-driven analysis of the size, shape and performance of government. He tweets @Aron_Cheung

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From Clinton to Whitehouse: ten highlights from the latest National Archives release

4 days 6 hours ago
Feature

Recently released files from the prime minister’s office of the early 1990s – many of them marked secret or confidential – shine a light on the inner workings of Number 10 and the roles of civil servants at the heart of policymaking and delivery. Jonathan Owen takes a look at 10 of the things we were not meant to know, until now...

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Bill Clinton and Rupert Murdoch's Spitting Image puppet. All photos: PA

The documents from the National Archives, most of which are from 1994, have been released now as part of the transition from the 30-year rule to the 20-year rule by 2023.

They reveal how officials dealt with dilemmas ranging from allegations of corruption against Margaret Thatcher’s son Mark to warning John Major about the negative impact of identity cards amid concerns about racist police.

Our diplomats had doubts about Bill Clinton’s moral compass...

It’s fair to say that John Major’s Conservative government was not exactly filled with joy at the prospect of presidential candidate Bill Clinton becoming leader of the free world. In a private briefing, which proved to be remarkably prescient in light of Clinton’s impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky scandal years later, the Democratic candidate’s morality was flagged up as cause for concern.

On 2 November 1992, the day before the US presidential election, Foreign Office private secretary Christopher Prentice wrote, in a private letter to Downing Street official Sir Stephen Wall: “Clinton himself is an unknown quantity so far as the UK is concerned. Despite his time at Oxford, his attitude towards us is likely to be unsentimental.” He included a briefing on what a Clinton administration could look like, based on dispatches from Sir Robin Renwick, Britain’s ambassador to Washington. It stated: “The public has still to be convinced of his adherence to the highest standards of public and private life. His evasive style keeps alive misgivings about his reliability and integrity.”

...and the new president’s competence

After Clinton was inaugurated as president in January 1993, the make-up of his administration was also a cause of concern among officials reporting back to London.

Renwick, in a confidential memo to the Foreign Office in May 1993, commented: “Clinton badly needs to move back towards those who elected him and to demonstrate greater competence throughout his administration, starting with the White House.”

Referring to the president’s teenage daughter Chelsea, he added: “The other problem has been the incompetence and arrogance of some of the young and inexperienced White House staff… Senior senators are not taking kindly to being pushed around by a team they refer to as Chelsea’s playmates.”

Unbeknownst to him, Renwick’s memo would preempt the assessment of fictional spin doctor Malcolm Tucker – whose reaction to the extreme youth of White House staff was similar, albeit less restrained. In a scene from 2009’s In The Loop, when he visits the White House, Tucker rants about having been briefed by a “nine-year-old child” whose notes were “written in alphabetti spaghetti.” He adds: “When I left, I nearly tripped up over his fucking umbilical cord.”

‘Grubby teenagers’ played a part in stopping ID cards in the 90s

Downing Street official Lucy (now Baroness) Neville-Rolfe, in a note to prime minister John Major in July 1994, warned of the dangers of compulsory identity cards, proposals for which were under discussion.

Summarising the case both for and against the scheme, she cautioned: “You should be aware that the arguments for a national ID card are not clear cut.”

Advantages would include the prevention of crime, particularly fraud, and “strengthening” immigration controls, the aide said.  But she warned: “ID cards could be seen as over-regulatory, especially if we moved straight to a compulsory card to maximise the law and order gains. There would also be concern about the police enforcing any controls in a racist way.”

She commented: “Public enthusiasm might fade once the public find themselves – and their grubby teenagers – forced to produce cards as though they were criminals.”

Not all former USSR countries were worth John Major’s time

Officials didn’t mince their words when counselling the PM about meeting his foreign counterparts. In a memo to Major in November 1993, his private secretary for foreign affairs, Sir Roderic Lyne, said of the president of Uzbekistan: “You are giving Karimov lunch for one reason only: he is sitting on large deposits of oil, gas, gold and copper (and Uzbekistan is the world’s fourth largest cotton producer).”

A request from the prime minister of Tajikistan for a photocall prompted very different advice, however: Lyne dismissed the country as “very poor” and advised against it.

Developing trade with former Soviet Union countries was a divisive issue. The following month, in a “personal and restricted” letter to Sir David Gillmore, Foreign Office permanent secretary, Lyne described a “marked contrast in the attitudes of the FCO and the DTI to commercial opportunities in the ex-Soviet Central Asian States”.

He praised the Foreign Office for recognising “the trade potential of the three resource-rich Central Asian States (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) plus Azerbaijan as the principal British interest in the sub-region.” But he accused the Department of Trade and Industry of putting “the first three of these countries, though not Azerbaijan, into the ‘too difficult’ category”.

A few weeks later, in January 1994, Gillmore wrote back and complained: “There has been a good deal of frustration here at DTI ministers’ reluctance to devote much time or attention to the commercial opportunities offered by the FSU [former Soviet Union].”

Gus O’Donnell told Major to confront Rupert Murdoch over bad press…

The prime minister was told to complain to media owner Rupert Murdoch about the personal attacks being made on him by the tycoon’s British newspapers.

In a briefing for John Major ahead of a meeting with Murdoch in August 1993, Gus – now Lord – O’Donnell, then the prime minister’s press secretary, advised him to go on the offensive.

He suggested that the PM tell Murdoch that his papers “have ceased to make rational criticisms of policy. They are now simply anti everything and anti [the prime minster] in particular.”

O’Donnell said: “This is bad for economic confidence and hence, bad for business.”

He also attacked The Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie, suggesting that he was the source of the problem.

“I was surprised to learn, given the worldwide scale of his business, that he ’phones Kelvin MacKenzie most days to keep up to date on the British scene. God alone knows what Kelvin tells him, as he is often very poorly informed. This explains why Murdoch frequently obtains very biased views of what is happening here.”

The press secretary also advised Major to tell Murdoch that “Conservative MPs now see no reason to be helpful to media,” and to refer to “pressure growing over privacy rules, VAT on newspapers [and] cross-ownership”.

...but gay rights reform should take The Sun – and Mary Whitehouse – into consideration

Although it might not be setting the bar very high, John Major was seen as more progressive than his predecessor Margaret Thatcher on gay rights. His openness had extended to inviting actor Sir Ian McKellen to give him a private briefing in September 1991, a few months after the two had discussed the issue during a lunch at Chequers.

In a memo to the prime minister in March 1993, regarding discussions about reducing the homosexual age of consent, William Chapman, Major’s private secretary for home affairs, said: “The first months of your premiership raised expectations among the homosexual community who saw that they no longer faced someone with Mrs Thatcher’s prejudices.”

He added: “If you do wish to continue your process of reform, the trick will be to do so in a way likely to aggravate least the community represented by The Sun and Mrs Whitehouse.”

The aide advised: “It would obviously be unwise to press in the present climate for a reduction in the age of consent.” But by the following year it had been lowered from 21 to 18, before finally being brought down to 16 in 2000.

Kim Jong-il was seen as a womanising petrol-head

A Downing Street file marked “Top Secret” contains an undiplomatic assessment of the late North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il, whom it portrays as a homicidal playboy with a penchant for fast cars. It is a picture at odds with the unsmiling persona presented by the totalitarian ruler, who was in his 50s when the comments were made.

In a July 1994 briefing sent to Downing Street private secretary Philippa Leslie-Jones after the death of North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il-sung, FCO private secretary J S Smith warned of Kim Il-sung’s son and heir: “What little we know of Kim Jong-il is not reassuring,” and remarked: “He has a reputation for wild personal behaviour.”

The official added: “He is widely believed to have been responsible for the attack on the South Korean cabinet in Rangoon in 1983, in which several Korean ministers died, and for the bombing of a KAL [Korean Air Lines] airliner in 1987, in which 115 people died.”

Smith wasn’t the only one concerned. In a cable to Downing Street and the FCO the same month, an FCO official named Harris described Kim Jong-il as having “a reputation for womanising, fast cars and wild behaviour”.

Americans were alarmist about British Muslims decades before Fox News dubbed Birmingham a ‘no-go zone’

It appears that the very presence of a large Muslim population in Leeds was enough to trigger alarm among US officials concerned over the security of the American military base at Menwith Hill, Yorkshire.

Sir Percy Cradock, chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, wrote to Charles Powell, the prime minister’s private secretary for foreign affairs, in February 1988, regarding “possible US anxieties over the state of security at Menwith Hill Station”.

He explained how, in the aftermath of US airstrikes against Libya in 1986, the “chief of station at Menwith Hill asked for increased security measures. He was particularly concerned about large Muslim communities in the area, not least in Leeds.”

Cradock added: “In June 1986 a car containing three men ‘of Middle East appearance’ particularly worried him. They turned out to be anti-Qadhafi Libyans, who were doing nothing particularly sinister. As a result, however, various improvements to security were made at the station. The then chief of station tended to be alarmist and it is possible that highly coloured accounts of the situation filtered back to Washington. But all is in order now.”

‘Back to Basics’ Major was told to back away from committee hearings

Major was advised against appearing before the Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life during its inquiry into the conduct of ministers and other holders of public office.

He had established the committee earlier that year, in response to a series of scandals such as the cash for questions affair, which exposed how a number of MPs took bribes to ask parliamentary questions.

But a confidential Downing Street file highlights how officials were keen to avoid the prime minister becoming the centre of attention.

In a letter to Major in December 1994, his principal private secretary Sir Alex Allan advised him against appearing before the committee: “This would be a bad idea. Lord Nolan is right to think it would be a media circus, and might stimulate some members of the committee to adopt an adversarial approach.”

Thatcher’s son was the target of a dirty tricks campaign, according to the cabinet secretary

Margaret Thatcher’s son Mark was accused of personally profiting from an arms deal between British Aerospace and Saudi Arabia, which his mother had signed in 1985.

In May 1989 Labour MP Jeff Rooker was sent a document from an anonymous source, outlining the allegations, which he had passed to the prime minister.

Officials dismissed the claims. And Sir Robin Butler, cabinet secretary, suggested they could have been the work of a smear campaign by Tiny Rowland, chief executive of London-based conglomerate Lonrho.

Lonrho had been engaged in a bitter takeover battle for control of House of Fraser, something which the government had prevented from happening.

In a May 1989 letter to Charles Powell, private secretary for foreign affairs to the prime minister, Butler explained that he had “had a personal word” with Sir Roland Smith, the former chairman of House of Fraser, who “was in no doubt that this material was part of the campaign organised by Tiny Rowland”.

He added: “Sir Roland Smith believes that, incredible as it may seem, the motive for all this has been to put pressure on the government with the aim of securing an outcome satisfactory to Lonrho of the Lords’ Hearing on the MMC [Monopolies and Mergers Commission] Report into the House of Fraser. If so, it all seems to have been incredibly clumsy and to have rebounded badly on Mr Rowland and Lonrho.”

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DfT perm sec: ministerial direction ‘unnecessary’ for collapsed ferry contract

4 days 6 hours ago
News

Bernadette Kelly defends department’s due diligence over Seaborne Freight debacle

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Bernadette Kelly Credit: CSW

Department for Transport permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly has insisted her department conduced all necessary due diligence on the startup company Seaborne Freight before it was controversially awarded a Brexit contingency ferry contract that was axed at the weekend.

Kelly told members of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee that the decision to award the £13.8m contract to the firm to provide roll-on, roll-off services between Ostend and Ramsgate had not needed a ministerial direction from transport secretary Chris Grayling.

Kelly asked last May for a ministerial direction to approve around £25m of spending on Brexit-related projects before they received royal assent, and politicians including former cabinet minister Lord Adonis and Baroness Randerson, the Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson in the House of Lords, have questioned whether one should have been sought in the Seaborne case.

Asked by MPs if she sought one in this case, Kelly said she did not.

“My assessment as an accounting officer was that it met the requirements of Managing Public Money,” Kelly said of the deal and its acceptability in terms of public-spending guidance. “And that a direction was not required.”

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Kelly declined to speculate on whether she would have reached the same conclusion if the contract had been unrelated to Brexit contingency planning.

However she accepted that the demise of the deal, axed at the weekend after shipping operator Arklow – one of Seaborne’s major backers – pulled out, would mean that the additional cross-Channel freight capacity the contract sought to deliver had been lost.

“I do not think at this time that it is likely we will be able to secure a large amount of further government capacity,” she told MPs.

“Precisely the reason that we used an emergency accelerated procurement before Christmas is because of the lead times that you need to do this.

“I wouldn't want to mislead anyone into the impression that there is a plan now that will lead to the government securing very, very large amounts of additional capacity.”

Seaborne Freight’s contract – terminated on Feburary 9, was one of three government contracts awarded to ferry companies in December. The others were to experienced operators DFDS and Brittany Ferries and had higher values.

PAC members quizzed Kelly on the level of due diligence DfT conducted into Seaborne, which notoriously does not own or currently operate any ferries. Arklow was due to provide two ferries for the Ramsgate-Ostend service, MPs were told.

“We did due diligence and that did not uncover any reason for us to think this was not a fit and proper entity for us to contract with,” she said.

Kelly said the department’s due diligence had consisted of looking at whether Seaborne and its directors had any winding up orders or disqualification orders.

“We knew they had some credible backers, specifically we new Arklow was a prospective backer with serious intent,” she said.

However Kelly conceded that DfT had only received a letter formally confirming Arklow as a project backer in January, the month after the contract had been awarded. Prior to that, she said,  the department had relied on assurances from Seaborne.

MPs asked Kelly whether she had any paperwork to show that Arklow was going to be the backers of Seaborne.

“We certainly did have evidence during the course of December,” she said, “evidence that confirmed they were a backer.

“They had presented evidence to Seaborne. Words to the effect that ‘[we] look forward to working with this company as a trading partner’.”

Kelly said a letter from Arklow to Grayling had only been received on January 15.

PAC member Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said it was “incredible” that government could consider letting a contract for ferry services without receiving solid confirmation that the vessels to provide the services were going to be available.

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Northern Ireland Civil Service chief says no ministers could become 'new normal'

4 days 7 hours ago
News

Sterling says social housing is particularly affected by power vacuum, with some homes at risk of being mothballed

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David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, has revealed he is concerned that a lack of ministers in the devolved administration could become "the new normal".

Speaking in a BBC documentary examining how civil servants have been running the Stormont executive since the collapse of power-sharing arrangements between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party in early 2017, Sterling said there had been a "slow decay and stagnation" in public services due to the lack of elected representatives.

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The powers of civil servants in Northern Ireland to make decisions without ministers have been subject to legal challenge. A court ruling last May overturned a decision by officials to approve a waste incinerator in the absence of ministers, while a further challenge examining the legality of plans for an electricity interconnector with the Republic of Ireland is under way.

Sterling has previously said that the power vacuum is putting his 23,000 staff in an “unacceptable” position and, speaking to the BBC, said: “My concern would be that, in the ongoing absence of ministers, people will get used to this and think it is OK when it isn’t. There’s a risk that this could become the new normal, and that would not be good.”

Sterling said there had not yet been a "cliff edge moment", where the workings of government departments had collapsed.

However, he said there had been a deterioration in areas including health, education and criminal justice.

“Our health service is facing many of the challenges that health services across the western world are facing, we have an ageing population, we have an increasing demand for service that has seen an increase in waiting lists here. Ministers wouldn’t necessarily have made an immediate impact on that, but nonetheless, major transformation of our health service is needed and transformation is needed in many of our services.”

In particular he warned that some of Northern Ireland’s social housing stock may have to be left vacant if ministers do not return, a situation that is due to a maintenance backlog.

“In housing we have had a backlog of maintenance and this is not just about finding new money, this is about reconfiguring the way we deliver social housing. There are big issues which need to be addressed by ministers, and in the absence of that there is a real risk that we might actually have to mothball some of our social housing,” he said.

Sterling highlighted that even after the Westminster parliament passed legislation late last year – the Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions Act – to clarify the powers of devolved departments without ministers, civil servants remained in a difficult position.

“Essentially what that does is remove the requirement that civil servants receive direction from ministers, in the absence of the executive,” he said.

“But is quite clear there are still many areas where the civil service should not be taking decisions – for example we should not be setting new policy or strategy. However there is a need from time to time for civil servants to confront new issues, and what we are required to do is to consider if it is in the public interest that we respond or intervene – for example if there is a risk to public health or public safety, or if there’s going to be some financial loss.

“These are the type of factors that we would need to take into account, but obviously these are judgements, and this can be quite difficult for us to have to deal with.”

You can listen to the documentary in full here.

Tags Leadership & Management Legal & Constitutional Parliament Policymaking 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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Campaigners hit out at delays to government transparency plan

4 days 7 hours ago
News

Shadow Cabinet Office minister joins transparency call, saying openness must be at heart of government in times of great upheaval

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David Cameron speaks at the Open Government Partnership conference in 2013 Credit: PA

The government has been criticised for delays in publishing a flagship transparency document and warned that the hold up could hinder the UK’s progress on open government.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport was due to publish the latest Open Government Action Plan, which details key objectives to boost transparency, last December following a consultation, but is now almost six weeks behind schedule.

The document needs to be produced every two years as part of the UK’s commitments in the global Open Government Partnership, where countries commit to improving government transparency and accountability.

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The UK was a founder member of partnership, which now includes 79 countries, when then prime minster David Cameron helped launch the scheme as part of a global transparency drive in 2011.

Previous editions led to a groundbreaking register of company ownership being set up, as well as strides forward in open-access government data such as the publication of aid funding.

However, transparency groups that make up the Open Government Network – which includes the Electoral Reform Society, the Institute for Government and Transparency International – fear work on fourth edition document may have been held up by the Brexit process.

The group has written to digital minister Margot James urging her to not to use the UK’s impending departure from the EU as an “excuse for inaction”.

They said the delay “risks undermining the UK’s position as an international leader on open government, our role in setting the agenda on a global stage and implementing domestic reform”.

Jess Blair of the Electoral Reform Society and member of the Open Government Network steering group accused ministers of “stalling”.

“The government must not hide behind Brexit as an excuse for inaction on this front,” she told Civil Service World’s sister publication PoliticsHome.

“The government must not hide behind Brexit as an excuse for inaction on this front,” she added.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett also called for the government to publish the plan as soon as possible. He told PoliticsHome: “As we have seen time and time again, when secrecy dominates, bad decisions follow.

“It is vital that transparency is at the heart of government, especially in times of great upheaval, and I fully support calls from citizens groups and campaign organisations for the government to dramatically up its game.”

Author Display Name Emilio Casalicchio Tags Digital, Data & AI Policymaking Transparency & Open Data Categories Government and politics About the author

Emilio Casalicchio is chief reporter for PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared

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Host of government departments and agencies nominated for smart working awards

5 days 5 hours ago
News

Awards will recognise best practice in corporate leadership, workspaces, technology, culture and people, and smarter working together

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The nominees have been revealed for the 2019 Smarter Working Awards, with 12 government organisations recognised for their achievements in driving smart working transformation across the civil service and wider public sector.

The awards, which are organised by the Government Property Agency, will recognise best practice in the civil service as part of its aim to create working environments that empower staff and make best use of workplaces and technology, while also realising savings for the taxpayer.

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Nominees have been named across five categories and come after the Government Estate Strategy published last July included a commitment for all departments to implement smarter working by the end of 2022. In response, the Smarter Working Programme was established to support departments in meeting the government’s Smart Working Code of Practice, known as PAS 3000.

Taking the lead

In the corporate leadership category, nominees include the project and programme delivery team at Transport for London, which volunteered to pilot a challenging Smarter Working target of a 7:10 desk ratio in July 2018, and proving that this could be achieved at pace and with no loss of productivity.

Also named in this category is North Lincolnshire Council’s WorkWell initiative, which has instigated reforms to make more collaborative use of workspace, as is the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, which is part of the Ministry of Defence, for its move to reduce the size of the estate. The DIO’s senior leaders have actively adopted smarter working behaviours, while individual offices have been removed and turned into meeting rooms.

Workplace leaders

Nominees for the workplace award include the Department of Health and Social Care’s programme to refresh its office estates, including moving to a new London headquarters and fully refurbishing Quarry House Leeds. A key part of the strategy was to achieve space efficiency of 8sqm per full time equivalent employee while providing transformational workplace changes.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is recognised for its Our Future Workplace programme, which has developed a workspace policy to adapt its office space to meet the department’s growth from around 380 staff in 2013 to now nearly 1,300. It was not possible to expand the floorspace in the department, which is based at 100 Parliament Street, so the programme used smart working design and staff engagement to find solutions.

Also nominated in the category is energy regulator Ofgem for its office relocation programme, during which the watchdog has embarked on an ambitious programme to embed smarter ways of working.

Tech titans

Nomined in the technology category is the Department for Education’s smarter working programme, which it has implemented to deal with an increase in departmental staff from around 3,000 to more than 6,000. The programme included new mobile technology rolled out to all staff, and training for collaborative software.

Also nominated is the Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ, for its Project Common IT Programme, which implemented smart working in a unique environment in terms of legal and policy compliance, and security. The Department of Health and Social Care’s open services programme is also nominated for its work to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of smart working while it has faced an urgent need to reduce costs and headcount and rationalise its estate.

Culture winners

Nominees for the culture and people award include North Yorkshire County Council for its modern council programme. The council asked staff to consider ‘What does it mean for me?’ to drive transformation, giving individuals ownership of cultural transformation.

The Welsh Government’s Merthyr Tydfil pilot of smart working approaches is also up for the award, with government and trade union officials working together to create new, shorter and simplified HR policies.

The Food Standards Agency’s Our Ways of Working programme is also recognised, for modernising ways of working and increasing digital capability to enable staff to grow and develop.

Working together

North Yorkshire County Council’s modern council programme picked up its second nomination in this category. It was joined by the MoJ smarter working programme, which has seen the MoJ expand on its status as an early adopter of smarter working. Implementation has stepped up in 2017 and 2018 through the department’s smart working delivery board, programme board and practitioner group. Stepping up the implementation has seen the department make a significant contribution to smarter working principles, policy and practice across government and further afield.

GCHQ also receives its second nomination in this category for its involvement in smarter working across the civil service during 2017 and 2018.

See the full list of nominees here.

Tags Collaboration Commercial Cross-Government Efficiency HR Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Partnership working Policymaking 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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Unsung officials: why the Commons clerks are the latest in the ultra-Brexiteers' firing line

5 days 7 hours ago
Opinion

The attacks by ultra-Brexiteers on the Commons clerks mirror the attempts to impugn Olly Robbins, writes Sue Cameron

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'Arch-Brexiteer' and ERG deputy chair, has taken aim at the Commons clerks. Photo: PA

As a bemused public watches the Brexit drama play out at Westminster, few will realise that nearly all those arcane amendments – the Brady, the Malthouse, the Cooper-Boles, et cetera, et cetera – bear the handiwork of the House of Commons clerks.

These unsung officials hit the headlines last month with suggestions in the Sunday Times that one of them had somehow behaved improperly by “secretly” plotting with Tory MP Dominic Grieve “to overturn centuries of Commons procedure”. Steve Baker, deputy chair of the pro-Brexit European Reform Group was quoted as saying that he was “appalled”.

Hmm. The ultra-Brexiteers are rather given to bad language. They allow words like “appalled” and “treachery” to trip off their tongues without a second thought. Is their indignation synthetic? Or do they really think that officials in Westminster are plotting against them? The issue will be brought into focus by the appointment this month of John Benger as the new clerk of the House of Commons, the top job. Benger, who has worked in the House since 1986, can be expected to defend fiercely the impartiality of Westminster officials.

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The attacks by some of the most ardent Brexiteers on the Commons clerks mirror the attempts to impugn Olly Robbins, the senior civil servant who is Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator. There have been allegations that Robbins was the PM’s Rasputin, that he was a Europhile zealot, seen by Brexiteers like David Davis and Boris Johnson as the “great betrayer”. The claims were so outrageous that they were publicly condemned by Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, who wrote to The Times saying that the anonymous snipers attacking Robbins “should be ashamed of themselves”. Unabashed, the Brexiteers turned their sights on the Commons clerks.

Responding to these attacks, the Westminster authorities issued a terse statement saying it was “common practice” for the clerks to advise MPs on the drafting of bills, motions and amendments – always on a “rigorously impartial” basis. What it didn’t say is that the Brexiteers themselves have relied on advice from the clerks.

“It’s sheer hypocrisy for the Brexiteers to complain given the amount of help they have had from the clerks ,not least when they were trying to frustrate the legislation to implement the Maastricht Treaty,” said one clerkly insider. “It’s the job of the clerks to give advice to any MP who asks – regardless of whether or not it fouls up the government’s business.” Yet he was quick to add: “The clerks are just as diligent in advising ministers how to make their proposals watertight.”

Working for both sides at once is what makes the task of the clerks different to that of Whitehall civil servants, who only have to look after their minister and not the opposition. Yet individual clerks often find themselves giving procedural advice – in strict confidence of course – to MPs who have diametrically different aims. Advising both sides simultaneously can be a delicate matter. Any doubts about what advice should be offered, are referred to the clerk of the House, the most senior of them all. And it’s this august position, which carries a salary of between £195,000 and £200,000, which is about to have a new incumbent.

Benger has been number two to the present clerk, Sir David Natzler, who is retiring. There had been a chance that for the first time in over 650 years the job could have gone to a woman. Philippa Helme, clerk of the Table Office, who was on a shortlist of three along with Benger and Liam Lawrence Smyth, clerk of legislation. The most senior clerks are the ones who sit in front of the Speaker when the Commons is sitting. Until two years ago they had to wear eighteenth century wigs and white ties but under John Bercow, the current speaker and a reformer, most of the flummery has gone. 

It is the senior clerks who advise the speaker, going to his study before a Commons sitting to discuss the business of the day. Their advice, usually oral and not committed to paper, tends to set out the pros and cons of various options rather than giving a hard-and-fast recommendation. The speaker can, of course, overrule the clerks’ advice – as Bercow reportedly did in January when he ditched long-standing precedent and allowed MPs to vote on an amendment forcing ministers to come up with revised plans for Brexit within three days. If parliament were always bound by precedent, he said, nothing would ever change.

The short list for the new clerk was drawn up by a panel chaired by the deputy speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. The final decision was taken by members of the House of Commons Commission with Bercow in the chair. This is only the second time the top job has been advertised. In the old days, the outgoing clerk produced a couple of names of those he thought should succeed him, and the speaker then chose one of them to go to the PM and then to the Queen, who makes the final appointment. The old system was clearly in need of modernisation, but last time around the new approach did not go entirely smoothly.

Bercow was keen to appoint an outsider – a woman, Carol Mills, from the Australian parliament – instead of promoting Sir David. The plan provoked a major row, with some at Westminster dubbing the Australian candidate “Waltzing Matilda”. It is understood that this time there was also an international candidate – a clerk from another parliament – who failed to make the shortlist. There may be a little disappointment in some quarters that the new clerk is not female, but the choice of the hugely experienced Benger will be widely welcomed. He will be the 51st clerk since Robert de Melton first took up the post in 1363. Perhaps the greatest of Benger’s predecessors was the nineteenth century Sir Thomas Erskine May, whose manual on procedure, now in its 24th edition, is the clerks’ bible.

In the current febrile political atmosphere, the job of the clerk will be more demanding and more closely scrutinised than ever before, with the Commons facing unprecedented constitutional turmoil. Helping MPs to navigate the procedural pitfalls of Brexit will be a huge task in itself, given how divided MPs are.

Also on the agenda will be how to tackle accusations about MPs bullying and sexually harassing Commons staff. The claims were investigated by former judge Dame Laura Cox, whose report late last year called for a new independent system for dealing with such allegations. Some may ask if MPs impugning the Commons clerks should count as bullying or harassment. Certainly the new clerk of the House’s to-do list is likely to include a strategy for dealing with any further attacks on officials’ impartiality. The propensity of some politicians to play the man – or in this case the clerk – rather than the ball is unlikely to go away, but one comfort for the new clerk is that he can only be sacked following an address by both Houses.

Author Display Name Sue Cameron About the author

Sue Cameron is a writer and broadcaster concentrating on politics, parliament and Whitehall

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PCS to ballot DWP staff for strike action over ‘unmanageable’ Universal Credit workloads

5 days 7 hours ago
News

Union sets out five demands to cut workload of staff at Universal Credit service centres in Wolverhampton and Walsall

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Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd announced a number of changes to Universal Credit at Kennington Jobcentre last month. Photo: PA

The Public and Commercial Services trade union has announced it is to ballot Department for Work and Pensions staff working at two Universal Credit service centres for strike action due to unmanageable workloads for the welfare reform.

The ballot could lead to two days of strike action next month at the Wolverhampton and Walsall service centres, with up to 295 staff being balloted for both strike action and action short of a strike.

The union said that the rollout of the government’s flagship welfare reform, which will merge six existing working-age benefits into one payment, has made some DWP staff's workloads unmanageable.

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PCS has made five demands of DWP to ease the pressure. These include hiring 5,000 new staff nationwide and permanent contracts for fixed term staff to increase capacity as more people transition onto the new benefit system. It also wants the department to limit the number of phone calls per case manager, commit to service centres rather than contact centres, improve staff consultation, and a implement quality-focused working environment, with an end to management by statistics.

The union's general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said: “The possibility of a strike by Universal Credit staff should serve as a wake up call to ministers who have repeatedly insisted Universal Credit is working well for workers and claimants when the opposite is in fact the case.

“Our members have not taken the decision to ballot lightly but the responsibility for the breakdown in industrial relations lies squarely with the government, who want to run this service into the ground while treating staff with contempt.”

The ballot will close on 25 February.

Responding to the announcement, a DWP spokesperson said the department was determined to give all employees, including those delivering Universal Credit, the necessary resources to carry out their roles successfully, including manageable workloads.

The size of a case manager’s workload depends on a number of factors, including their experience and the complexity of the caseload, they added.

“We are disappointed that PCS has chosen to take this course of action and planned meetings with the union are ongoing,” the spokesperson said.

“Our top priority remains assessing and making payments to customers. We are comfortable with current staffing levels and will monitor and reallocate resource where necessary.”

Tags HR Operational Delivery Policymaking Project & Programme Management Categories Government and politics Society and welfare About the author

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

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Extra funding for departmental audits among National Audit Office priorities

5 days 8 hours ago
News

Brexit will remain a key focus as the NAO rebalances its resources to cope with its mounting workload

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Auditor general Sir Amyas Morse. Photo: Photoshot

The National Audit Office is to increase its funding for audits of government departments as part of moves to maintain its assurance work alongside monitoring how departments are handling Brexit.

The NAO set out its planned spending allocations for the next three years in a strategy document published yesterday, which said the watchdog was having to adjust it approach due to both its growing remit and the “very uncertain and challenging time for the public sector”.

“Decisions on the future relationship with the European Union and implications from the United Kingdom’s exit will affect public services for the foreseeable future,” it noted.

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Brexit has been a key focus for the NAO over the last two years, during which it has monitored departments' progress on preparing for Brexit and cross-government working.

Its work has also been significantly affected by the tightening of public finances in recent years, it said – a challenge that is likely to remain a factor for the years covered by the strategy. The report said the NAO’s work was “growing in size and complexity” as government bodies sought to deliver services “in new ways and with fewer resources, through greater delegation to local bodies, complex commercial relationships with the private sector, and with digital technology”.

The NAO will spend £52.6m on audit and assurance in 2018-19 – 60% of its overall budget – according to the document. This figure is set to rise to £55.6m next year and £56.8m by 2021-22, when it will account for 62% of its £92.8m budget.

The increase should help the watchdog cope with its growing workload, which is partly as a result of it taking on oversight of the Student Loans company and four BBC production companies as well as its extra Brexit-related responsibilities.

The list of organisations the NAO regulates is likely to grow still further, it said, as new bodies are set up to regulate areas that are currently overseen by the EU. The UK will have to establish ways to replicate the work of EU bodies such as the European Food Safety Authority, the European Medicines Agency and the European Chemicals Agency, it said.

“At the time of writing, we do not have enough knowledge of what the regulatory environment will look like to plan for this with any confidence, but these could be substantial additional commitments,” the report said.

The strategy added that the NAO was having to spend more time on individual audits because tightened financial reporting standards meant accounts had become “more complicated both to prepare and to audit”. Budget pressures have left some departmental finance teams stretched, which has led to delays in reporting, in turn delaying the NAO’s work. “We need to make sure that we have the capacity to respond to these challenges.”

Part of this funding increase will come from savings the NAO has made in other areas thanks to better planning and allocation , alongside improved analytics that allow it to deploy people more efficiently.

Over the same time frame, spending on value for money work will dip from £18.1m to £16.5m before rising slightly to £17m by 2021-22.

The auditor’s spending on other areas will remain broadly unchanged, staying flat at £5.4m for its work supporting parliament and £900,000 on international relations. Its investigations and insight budget will rise very slightly in cash terms from £10.9m to £11.3m by 2021-22.

'Need has never been greater'

The strategy divides the NAO’s work over the next three years into four core objectives.

It will focus on delivering high-quality work, using modern audit techniques, to address public sector challenges, particularly concerning Brexit work; giving bodies it audits better insight into how they manage public money; supporting skills development; and putting digital technologies in place to support effective decision-making and working practices.

These objectives stem partly from an understanding of the importance of Brexit and how it will affect government departments, the strategy said. Brexit will lead to new funding streams to replace EU programmes, new regulatory and accountability arrangements, upgraded IT systems and processes, and a body of new UK legislation to replace EU law, it said.

“These changes cut across departmental boundaries and such widespread change has little to no historical precedent.

“In the uncertain environment in the coming years, the need for effective and transparent accountability for public spending has never been greater,” it added.

Writing for CSW last year, the comptroller general Sir Amyas Morse, who heads the NAO but whose ten-year term comes to an end on 31 May, said making "the right prioritisation decisions internally" had been one of the greatest challenges he had faced in 2018.

He added that Brexit would be a core focus for the watchdog in the coming year. "Many challenges remain... not least the agreement of a future trade arrangement – and it is becoming clear that the Brexit process will continue for many years yet," he wrote as part of CSW's annual permanent secretaries' roundup.

The NAO’s challenge, as ever, will be to provide an independent source of credible and insightful information for the benefit of both decision-makers in parliament and the wider public."

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Brexit 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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Thompson confirms HMRC workplace culture review after report uncovered 'bullying and disrespect'

5 days 8 hours ago
News

Move comes after report by former John Lewis HR chief Laura Whyte concluded civil servants face both abusive and abrasive behaviour

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Photo: HMRC

HM Revenue and Customs is conducting a full review of its workplace policies and standards after a report found that staff in the department face both abusive and abrasive behaviour but do not have confidence in measures to improve conditions.

In a letter to the Public Accounts Committee, HMRC chief executive Jon Thompson announced “a full review of relevant policies, processes and standards to ensure we provide our employees with a working environment they deserve, and a culture that meets our values”.

The department accepted in full the findings of an independent report into respect at work led by Laura Whyte, a former HR director at John Lewis Partnership, uncovered “a significant amount of so-called low level poor behaviour” that would not be acceptable in other environments, Thompson said.

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Whyte’s review highlighted a number of commons concerns about working in HMRC. These included bullying and disrespect in all directions, a lack of common courtesy, treatment of staff as cogs in a machine rather than people, and a failure to remove barriers for disabled staff.

“Swearing, breaching confidentiality, mocking colleagues, seemed to be unremarkable,” according to Whyte. “This creates a snowball effect where the environment may not feel a safe space for some colleagues, and more serious or extreme behaviours may emerge.”

Her recommendations included tackling the ‘low level’ unacceptable behaviour though clear standards that apply from staff induction, as well as improved training and policies. Policy and processes for dealing with abusive behaviour should also be improved ang while mediation used more extensively, she said. The department should also help disabled staff through an improved reasonable adjustments policy and raising awareness of mental health conditions, and improve its people data management.

Thompson told PAC: “We are committed to addressing these issues and is building a comprehensive action plan to support this work.”

He added: “The report found that most people in HMRC have dedication, pride and commitment in the work they do and come to work every day to do a good job, serve customers and support their colleagues. And they expect and deserve to work in a safe, tolerant and supportive environment.”

Thompson also addressed the allegations of misconduct and sexual harassment by staff in HMRC that had been reported at the same time as the Whyte review.

According to the Guardian, Mark Nellthorp, a deputy director at HMRC, was sacked after sexual misconduct claims by female employees were upheld. He is understood to be appealing against his dismissal and did not respond to requests for comment at the time.

Thompson said: “We take any accusations of misconduct by our people extremely seriously and thoroughly investigate all allegations, involving the police where necessary. The conduct of HMRC officers is subject to oversight and investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct. HMRC will refer any misconduct by our officers to the IOPC which meets the reporting requirements as laid down by their regulations.

“As you will appreciate, we are unable to provide specific details on individual cases. The safety and wellbeing of our people is our top priority and we work hard to ensure everyone works in a safe, positive and inclusive environment. If you [committee chair Meg Hillier], or your committee, would like any further information I will happily provide.”

Tags HR Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Categories Government and politics Public order, justice and rights About the author

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

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DfT was warned of 'significant risks' before signing Seaborne Freight ferry contract

6 days 7 hours ago
News

DfT only received three bids for no-deal ferry contracts, NAO review finds

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The building housing Seaborne Freight's office, in Aldgate, London. Photo: PA

The Department for Transport was warned that awarding a contract to Seaborne Freight to run extra ferry services across the Channel in the event of a no-deal Brexit would entail “significant risks”, a National Audit Office report has revealed.

A review by the spending watchdog also showed that DfT only received three bids for the ferry contracts, and that two out of the three operators that won contracts did not meet the department’s own criteria for bids.

The revelations were made in a memo to the Public Accounts Committee, which also disclosed that no formal assessment of Seaborne’s financial stability had been carried out.

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The memo was published yesterday, just days after DfT scrapped its contract with Seaborne after the company’s main financial backer pulled out.

Mott MacDonald flagged “significant execution risks” in its assessment of Seaborne Freight’s bid for the DfT contract last year, the NAO said. The engineering consultancy was commissioned to provide “comfort to the department” that operators had the required technical capacity to run additional ferry services.

The department deemed Seaborne Freight a “high risk proposition” because, among other reasons, the company owned no ships – a fact that has prompted widespread derision of the procurement process.

Despite these findings, Seaborne was handed a contract in December worth £13.8m to run ferry services from the port of Ramsgate to transport goods in a no-deal Brexit scenario. Brittany Ferries and DFDS, which won contracts worth a total of £89m, both passed the technical assessment.

Mott MacDonald was one of three companies that carried out checks on operators bidding for the contracts in December. DfT spent £800,000 on these consultancy services, the note said.

The advisory firm Deloitte examined operators’ profitability, solvency and other measures of financial robustness. However, it said it lacked the information needed to carry out the standard tests on Seaborne because the company had only been incorporated in April 2017.

The law firm Slaughter and May assessed how the contracts dealt with commercial and legal risks, and carried out background checks on the three bidders. Seaborne Freight passed its “basic ‘blush’ test”, which was based on director searches and its filing history with Companies House.

DfT’s own assessment found that two of the three bids it received – all of which were ultimately successful – did not comply with the requirements it had set out in its invitation to tender. Seaborne failed because it was a new operator without a significant financial history, and DFDS because its bid did not include all of its costs.

“The department, considering the information it held on the bidders and the due diligence it had undertaken, decided to award contracts to all three bidders,” the NAO report said.

It said DfT’s accounting officer had judged the need for additional ferry capacity to be sufficiently pressing to justify awarding contracts. The officer concluded that failing to act could threaten access to critical goods in a no-deal scenario, and judged that the department had taken “reasonable measures” to ensure value for money.

Between the devil and the deep blue sea

The NAO report lays bare the limited choice facing the department when awarding the contracts. Having used emergency powers to skip an open tender process, DfT invited nine operators to bid for contracts but received only three bids.

The department had expected that enough companies would come forward to transport the equivalent of 25% of the goods usually shipped across the channel. Its final contracts only accounted for 11%.

“The department informed us that by early December operators were reacting to the increased risk of no deal and were less willing to provide more UK freight services,” the NAO said.

DfT’s objectives for its contingency planning, set last November, are to minimise the economic impact of a no-deal scenario and secure extra capacity allowing e it to prioritise the movement of particular goods.

When the procurement process closed in December, little more than three months before the UK was set to leave the EU, the department was left with few options to fulfil these objectives, the NAO report showed.

By this point, the government had estimated that in a worst-case scenario, the normal flow of goods across the Channel could be reduced by up to 87%.

The UK relies on these crossings to obtain time-critical products such as perishable goods, medicines and manufacturing components used in just-in-time supply chains, the NAO said. Nearly a quarter of goods travelling between the UK and EU – 22% – are transported via the Port of Dover and the Channel on ‘roll-on, roll off’ ferries.

In a bid to mitigate the risks of working with Seaborne Freight, DfT added extra protections to its contract. Conditions included several milestones that would enable it to track how work was progressing, and that the services would begin at the end of April rather than March, which the department deemed “more manageable and lower risk”.

A DfT spokesperson said no money had been paid to Seaborne Freight and that “as the NAO has made clear, the Department for Transport acted transparently and competitively throughout the process of securing extra freight."

“This was done by approaching ferry operators and encouraging bids that could be fairly assessed against each other," they added.

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Brexit Commercial Procurement & Commercial Transparency & Open Data Categories Government and politics Transport About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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