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Government claims test and trace staff login issues ‘rapidly being resolved’

4 days 16 hours ago
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Health department says ‘all large-scale operations’ experience similar challenges

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The government has acknowledged that staff on the NHS Test and Trace programme launched today have experienced issues logging in to its computer system.

The initiative launched today, with 25,000 tracers having been hired to identify and track down people who may have been exposed to coronavirus through contact with others.

But, according to a report in The Independent, a number of staff that began work as contract tracers this morning have found themselves unable to log in to the programme’s computer system.

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One told the newspaper that they were presented with a screen indicating that the system had encountered a “critical incident”. Another said that they were scheduled to work a four-hour shift from 8am to midday but that, as of 11.30am, they and 14 other colleagues had been unable to access the system.

The Department of Health and Social Care has denied that the system has crashed, but acknowledged that some workers have experienced difficulties this morning.

“As with all large-scale operations, some staff initially encountered issues logging on to their systems. These issues are rapidly being resolved,” it said. “The wider NHS Test and Trace Service is up and running. The public can access the live site [at] contact-tracing.phe.gov.uk.”

Several MPs have reported being told by Dido Harding – the former TalkTalk boss appointed by the government to lead Test and Trace – that the programme will not be running at full capacity for another month.

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw tweeted: “Dido Harding just told me on an MPs’ conference call that Test, Trace and Isolate won’t be fully operational at local level till the end of June. Not sure where that leaves [Boris] Johnson’s promise of a fully operational ‘world beating’ system by Monday.”

The contact-tracing app developed by NHSX is one element of the tracking programme that is yet to launch. It was originally scheduled to have been rolled out nationwide in mid-May, but this timeline has been shifted back and the launch is now not expected any sooner than sometime “in the coming weeks”.

A few weeks ago, the UK’s chief scientific adviser cited the app as a central element of a tracing programme that would increasingly “do the heavy lifting” of controlling the coronavirus outbreak. 

But the software has more recently been characterised by several senior officials and politicians as a “cherry on top” of the manual tracing programme.

Author Display Name Sam Trendall Tags Digital, Data & AI Health IT & Security Leadership & Management Science & Technology Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

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

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‘Unfair and unnecessary’ to quiz top officials in Cummings row, says Johnson

4 days 16 hours ago
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PM steps in to stop chief science and medial officers from answering press questions on top adviser’s lockdown trips

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Vallance, Johnson and Whitty at yesterday's press conference Photo: PA

It is "unfair and unnecessary" for people to ask the government's scientific advisers about the Dominic Cummings row, Boris Johnson has claimed.

It comes as Durham Police confirmed the PM's top aide may have breached lockdown rules when he drove to Barnard Castle from his parents' property in Durham in March, but said they would not be taking further action over the matter.

Appearing alongside Johnson at Thursday's coronavirus briefing, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, was asked for his view on the matter.

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But the prime minister told journalists: "I know you've asked Chris [Whitty] and Patrick but I’m going to interpose myself if I may and protect them from what I think would be an unfair and unnecessary attempt to ask a political question.

It's very, very important that our medical officers and scientific advisers do not get dragged into what most people would recognise is fundamentally a political argument."

Johnson said he had said "quite a lot on this matter already and what I also note is that the Durham Police said was they were going to take no action and that the matter was closed".

"I intend to draw a line under the matter, as I said I think yesterday to the parliamentary Liaison committee," he added.

Author Display Name Kate Forrester Tags Health Leadership & Management Categories Government and politics Health and social care About the author

Kate Forrester is the senior reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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Cabinet Office 'urgently' seeking 30 deputy directors to bolster coronavirus response across government

4 days 16 hours ago
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Up to £118,000 and 'opportunity to make a real difference' on offer amid Covid-19 pandemic

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Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto/PA Images

The Cabinet Office is seeking 30 deputy directors to work across government to bolster departments’ pandemic response

In a job advert posted yesterday, the Cabinet Office said it was “urgently seeking a diverse range of talented individuals” to join departments’ senior leadership teams.

The deputy directors will earn between £70,000 and £117,800 and will work on a “multitude of emerging challenges and priorities as the government’s response to the pandemic moves forward and matures over time”, it said.

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They will contribute to setting strategic direction and developing new policy, delivering operational responses and bringing “high quality insight from a multitude of different data sources to inform strategy, policy and operations”.

The Cabinet Office said it was unable to say where successful applicants would be placed, but postings were likely to be in several departments including the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Transport.

“Successful candidates will be working on emerging priorities and as such the exact responsibilities and reporting structures for these posts will reflect the evolution of the government’s response to the pandemic and new challenges over time,” the ad said.

Responsibilities will include working with suppliers to obtain critical resources; bringing together experts to advice ministers and provide relevant evidence and research; delivering frontline services; and working on programmes to support businesses and citizens.

The Cabinet Office said it was seeking applications from a “broad range of candidates who are able to adapt quickly to a large scale and complex environment, can showcase their inspirational leadership qualities and bring fresh and diverse skills and perspectives into what will be a fast-paced and dynamic situation”.

They must have a track record of leadership, the ability to create strong relationships with a diverse mix of people, the “resilience to operate in a high profile and often high scrutiny environment” and good communication skills.

“The need for additional resource across government to support the government’s response to Covid-19 (coronavirus) and other priorities is expanding quickly as civil service departments continue to roll out their emergency response,” the job ad said.

“This is your opportunity to make a real difference and be involved in critical work that is vital for both the UK and international response to the pandemic.”

Tags HR Categories Communities, housing and planning Government and politics Health and social care About the author

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

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Beckie Smith

Sedwill green lit No.10 Cummings press conference on lockdown breach allegations

4 days 17 hours ago
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Sedwill says unprecedented media briefing was "appropriate" as it concerned spad's conduct in offical role

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Dominic Cummings arrives home after giving a press conference green lit by the PM and cabinet secretary. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images

Sir Mark Sedwill gave the go ahead to a press conference held by Dominic Cummings in the Downing Street rose garden, he has told MPs.

In a letter copied to SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford and shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves, the cabinet secretary said he believed it was “appropriate” for Cummings to explain his actions on government premises given the recent controversy over his conduct in his official role.

The special adviser told reporters on Monday that he had taken his family to stay on his parents’ property in Durham after his wife contracted coronavirus to ensure there was childcare available for his son if he became ill.

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He also admitted to taking a further 30-minute journey to Barnard Castle – saying he had wanted to test that his eyesight was good enough to drive back to London.

Durham police said yesterday that Cummings "might" have broken lockdown rules with the second journey, which the spad took after contracting and recovering from coronavirus.

It is unprecedented for a special adviser to give a press conference about their own conduct on Downing Street grounds.

In his letters to the two MPs, Sedwill said the statement had been authorised by the prime minister under the special advisers’ code of conduct “given the continuing public interest in this matter”.

“As the event related to his conduct in his official role, I considered it appropriate for the No.10 press office to facilitate it on government premises,” he said.

Sedwill was responding to letters sent by the two MPs, both sent on 23 May, raising concerns about Cummings’s conduct.

Reeves wrote to the cab sec on 23 May after media reports that Cummings had travelled during lockdown, calling on the Cabinet Office to launch an “urgent investigation” into the matter.

The shadow minister questioned the arguments put forward by No.10 backing the spad, including the claim that it was “essential” for him to travel to ensure the wellbeing of his young child. Reeves said the journey breached the PM’s instructions to “stop non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel”.

She put a series of questions to Sedwill about when Boris Johnson was informed about Cummings’s journeys, why No.10’s official spokesperson said Cummings was self isolating “at home” with Covid-19 on 31 March, and if his actions had breached lockdown rules or the spad code.

Blackford’s letter meanwhile called for an investigation into Cummings’s “rule-breaking and the Tory government’s cover-up”.

He also asked several questions, including why the aide was not sacked or asked to resign when the events occurred.

In his letter – which came after Johnson told MPs this week that he was not convinced a public inquiry would be a "good use of official time" – Sedwill said the prime minister had “accepted Mr Cummings’s explanation of his conduct”.

The cab sec added that it was ultimately for Durham Constabulary to determine whether Cummings had breached lockdown regulations.

The force said that while it did not consider the journey to Durham to have broken the rules, in the case of the Barnard Castle trip “there might have been a minor breach of the regulations that would have warranted police intervention.”

“Durham Constabulary view this as minor because there was no apparent breach of social distancing,” it said in a statement yesterday.

Tags HR Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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Johnson hints at review of no recourse to public funds policy after ‘jaw-dropping’ committee grilling

5 days 16 hours ago
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Work and pension committee chair to follow up with No.10 after PM ‘clearly surprised to hear that people in this situation can’t claim Universal Credit or other benefits’

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Photo: PA

Boris Johnson has hinted that the government will review rules that prevent thousands of migrants living in the UK from accessing a raft of state benefits despite paying taxes here.

The prime minister said people who “live and work here should have support” during the coronavirus crisis, after he appeared to be caught off guard when Labour MP Stephen Timms quizzed him on the long-standing no recourse to public funds (NRPF) rule.

Migrants who have been given the NRPF status by the Home Office are not eligible for most state benefits, including Universal Credit, employment support allowance, housing benefit, help with council tax payments.

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The rule, which was toughened up under the coalition government, also denies access to means-tested free school meals for the children of those with the status, and the measure is applied by authorities even where people have leave to remain in the UK and are required to pay tax.

Pressed on the issue at the Commons Liaison Committee, Johnson said: “Hang on Stephen. Why aren’t they eligible for Universal Credit or Employment Support Allowance or any of the other [benefits]?”

Timms replied: “Well, it’s a very good question.

“It’s because they have no recourse to public funds. That’s a condition that’s attached to their leave to remain.

“They’ve been here for years, their children have been born in the UK but, because for a ten year period, we have this no recourse to public funds, at the moment they can get no help at all.”

The prime minister said: “I’m going to have to come back to you on that Stephen.”

But, hinting that he could consider a policy change, Johnson said: “Clearly people who have worked hard for this country, who live and work here should have support of one kind or another.

“But you’ve raised a very, very important point.

“The condition of their leave to remain is that they should have no recourse to public funds. I will find out how many there are in that position and we will see what we can do to help.”

PM 'right to be shocked'

The PM’s pledge to look into the issue has already been welcomed by the Joint Council for the Welfare of Migrants, which has previously urged the Home Office to scrap the rule and warned it could push people into fresh hardship during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

The JCWI’s Minnie Rehman told PoliticsHome: “The prime minister is right to be shocked that migrants, and their families, have been left to fend for themselves during this pandemic.

“We see children and their parents driven to destitution every day, who have been forced to risk their lives in unsafe jobs, and made homeless because they are refused access to the safety net that protects us all.

“We will be holding Boris Johnson to the commitment he has made to help those who have been placed in this situation by government policy.”

Stuart McDonald, the SNP’s migration spokesperson, meanwhile told PoliticsHome that his party would work with the government to ditch the rule in its flagship immigration bill.

He said: “It is absolutely jaw dropping that after umpteen years as Mayor of London, in Parliament, in cabinet and now as prime minister, Boris Johnson appears totally unaware of the plight of people who are prohibited from having recourse to public funds.

“However, looking on the positive side, I’m pleased he seems as mystified as anyone as to why people should be prevented from getting the support they need.

“He has the perfect opportunity to fix things with the immigration bill comes back to Parliament in a couple of weeks, and we’ll be very happy to help him”.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “That the prime minister apparently had no idea what ‘no recourse to public funds’ was and meant for people is extraordinarily worrying.

"We’ve called for its suspension in this public health emergency and, with the prime minister promising to look at it, let’s hope that he can persuade the Home Secretary to think again.”

Timms has now written to the prime minister to follow up the exchange. He said: "For two months, ministers have been promising to act, but we’ve seen no substantial change.

"The prime minister was clearly surprised to hear that people in this situation can’t claim Universal Credit or other benefits – so I am hopeful that he will now put his foot on the accelerator and offer much needed support to people facing financial hardship."

The hint at a review of NRPF status comes after Johnson last week bowed to pressure, including from some of his own MPs, and announced that NHS and care home staff from overseas would be exempted from a £400 health surcharge that they had previously been expected to pay.

Author Display Name Matt Honeycombe-Foster Tags Legal & Constitutional Operational Delivery Policymaking Categories Government and politics Public order, justice and rights About the author

Matt Honeycombe-Foster is the acting editor of PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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PM: Cab sec inquiry into Cummings lockdown journeys ‘would not be a good use of officials’ time’

5 days 16 hours ago
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PM tells committee of senior MPs it is time to move on from row over adviser's possible lockdown breaches

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Cummings leaves his north London home as a row over his trip to Durham during lockdown continues. Photo: Isabel Infantes/EMPICS Entertainment

Boris Johnson has ruled out a public inquiry into an apparent breach of coronavirus lockdown regulations by his top political adviser Dominic Cummings.

Appearing via video link before the Liaison Committee yesterday, the prime minister said he had not asked Sir Mark Sedwill to look into Cummings’s behaviour, after it emerged the special adviser had travelled more than 250 miles with his family while his wife was suffering from Covid-19.

He said it was “reasonable” for MPs to ask whether Sedwill would lead an inquiry into the matter, but said he was not convinced an inquiry would be “a good use of official time”.

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When pressed, he said he had seen evidence to support Cummings’s version of events.

But asked whether he believed it would be beneficial to pass that evidence to Sedwill or even to publish it, he said: “I think it would not be doing my job if I were to shuffle this into the hands of officials, who… are, as I think the public would want, working flat out to deal with coronavirus.”

He indicated that Sedwill had not been given the opportunity to question Cummings about what had happened. “I’m not going to go into the discussions that have taken place but I have no reason to depart from what I’ve already said,” he said.

He said there had already been a “huge amount of exegesis and discussion of what happened in the life of [Cummings] between 27 March and 14 April”.

Following press reports this weekend, Cummings confirmed in a press conference on Monday that he had travelled to stay on his parents’ property in Durham to ensure there was childcare available for his son if he became ill.

He also confirmed that after contracting and then recovering from coronavirus, he had taken a further 30-minute journey to the beauty spot Barnard Castle. He told reporters he had wanted to test that his eyesight was good enough to drive back to London.

Durham Police are now looking into the matter and a growing number of MPs have called for Cummings’s resignation. Among them are Cabinet Office minister paymaster general Penny Mordaunt, who said the row over the spad’s conduct had “undermined key public health messages”.

He rejected a challenge that the episode had made it difficult for parents to know what action it was appropriate for them to take if they became ill. England’s deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries has told parents to stay at home and to contact community hubs if they become ill without access to support, but communities secretary Robert Jenrick said yesterday that they may travel to areas where they have a support network if they become ill – as Cummings did.

Johnson said there was “not much discrepancy” between the two sets of guidance. 

“If you have exceptional difficulties with childcare, you should take account of them,” he said.

Johnson said yesterday that “a lot of what was written and said” about Cummings’s conduct over the weekend was “totally false” – although he did not elaborate on which allegations were untrue.

The prime minister did not apologise for his aide’s conduct, saying instead that he was “deeply sorry for all the hurt and pain and anxiety that people have been going through throughout this period”.

He told the MPs it was time to “move on”.

“It’s been a very frustrating episode and I understand why people have been so concerned, because this country’s going through a horrendously difficult time, but I really think that… what we need to do is focus on getting the message right then… to get onto how we’re going to sort out coronavirus,” he added.

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags HR Justice and Public Safety Legal & Constitutional Parliament Categories Government and politics Public order, justice and rights About the author

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

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Public have ‘civic duty’ to take part as NHS Test and Trace programme launches across England

5 days 17 hours ago
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System launched ahead of NHS app intended to help people find out if they have came into contact with anyone with Covid-19 symptoms

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A much-anticipated mass coronavirus contact tracing programme is being launched in England on Thursday, with health secretary Matt Hancock telling Brits they have a “civic duty” to take part.

The system, known as NHS Test and Trace, will be run by a staff of 50,000 and will allow the country to move from a national lockdown to individual groups of isolation.

Speaking in front of the Liaison Committee of senior MPs on Wednesday afternoon, Boris Johnson said the "new test and trace operation" will be up and running today,

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The programme is seen as vital in containing the virus and preventing a second wave of infections as the country starts to come out of lockdown.

It will work by requiring anyone with Covid-19 symptoms to request a test by dialling 119 or going to NHS.UK/coronavirus, and if it comes back positive the team of tracers will then start tracking down anyone who has been in close contact with them - defined as within two metres for 15 minutes or more.

Those people will be then told to self-isolate for fourteen days, even if they are not displaying any symptoms themselves.

Health secretary Matt Hancock, who appeared in front of a new "NHS Test and Trace" slogan on the Downing Street lectern, on Wednesday appealed to people’s better nature to abide by the rules.

"It is your civic duty, so you avoid unknowingly spreading the virus and you help to break the chain of transmission," he said.

Sanctions ‘on the table’

The government has hired 25,000 contact tracers, who will work with around 5,000 clinicians and the 20,000 people already working in the coronavirus testing programme to run the system.

It will rely on people to follow the rules in place on informing the NHS when they have symptoms, and those who have been around them sticking to the strict 14-day quarantine period.

Initially it will be launched without any fines or penalties in place for not complying, but Hancock does have the power to impose them if the public does not abide by the rules.

Johnson said: “This is something where we’re relying on people’s public spiritedness, on their willingness to cooperate and defeat the disease.”

He said in other areas, such as tracing HIV infections, the system does work, and therefore he is “confident” it will for Covid-19 too.

But the PM added “of course we would keep sanctions on the table”.

Officials also want to stress that if contact between two people was made by either one of them breaking lockdown rules, that information will not make its way to the police.

As it is an NHS service, the details of contacts will be kept fully medically confidential, so people are being told they cannot get a fine by revealing who they have spent time with.

The tracers are simply interested in getting hold of whoever may have contracted the disease and who they were in contact with, not the reasons behind it, organisers want to make clear.

And they stress the system is fully compliant with data protection laws, amid privacy concerns about people personal information and contact details.

They say the model being used is the standard practise for public health infectious disease contact tracing.

Speaking to ITV's Peston on Wednesday night, Hancock confirmed that those who had already had the virus could be asked to go back into self-isolation under the scheme.

"Yes, including me," he said. "I tested positive, I recovered, and I have had one of these antibody tests, I know I have the antibodies.

"But what we do not yet conclusively know, and this is a million dollar question, is if you have antibodies, does that mean you are both immune to getting the disease yourself again and critically, does it mean you can't pass the disease on to other people?

"Because some people, like children, very very rarely actually get symptoms but they still pass the disease on."

The test and trace programme is launching without a much-vaunted NHS app, which is still being trialled on the Isle of Wight.

But Danny Mortimer of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said: "Much has been made of the importance of the app, but while its rollout is still some weeks off, this will not be the make-or-break element.

"Local involvement is really the key, and we are hopeful this will reduce the risk of a second wave of infections, thus saving lives and protecting the NHS."

He added: “It is now absolutely critical that any problems are identified and ironed out as quickly as possible so that all parts of the programme can be delivered, and that the government follows through on its promises of testing expansion.

"We would also call for more detail on how the impact of the 14-day self-isolation requirement can be mitigated in the health and care workforce.”

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said his party had "long called for a functional testing and tracing regime" as a key part of easing the nationwide lockdown – and claimed that the row over Dominic Cummings' trip to Durham during the curbs could dent confidence in it.

"The government's decision to abandon contact tracing in mid-March was a huge error leaving a huge gap in our defences against the virus," he added.

“We will need everyone asked to cooperate fully with NHS Test and Trace’s stay at home instructions to keep all of us safe.

"It’s why Boris Johnson’s support for Dominic Cummings is both dangerously irresponsible and undermines vital public health messaging. It’s remains clear there is still one rule for Johnson’s friends and another for the rest of us.”

Author Display Name Alain Tolhurst and Matt Honeycombe-Foster Tags Health Policymaking Categories Government and politics Health and social care About the author

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

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Matt Hancock hails 'biggest step forward' since coronavirus crisis began as he reveals new treatment trial

6 days 16 hours ago
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Tests of antiviral medication remdesivir to begin

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Health secretary Matt Hancock has described the trialling of a new treatment for coronavirus patients as "the biggest step forward since the crisis began".

The government's daily press conference on Tuesday heard that a select number of NHS patients are to begin taking antiviral medication remdesivir.

Hancock said the treatment had already yielded "promising early results", shortening recovery time by around four days.

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"As you can understand we’ll be prioritising the use of this treatment where it will provide the greatest benefit," he told reporters.

"This is probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began."

All patients receiving the treatment, already being trialled in other countries around the world, will be adults and adolescents hospitalised with "serious Covid-19 infection", the Department of Health said.

Hancock added: "These are very early steps. But we’re determined to support the science and back the projects that show promise. I’d like to thank the NHS, the MHRA, the devolved administrations, because this is UK-wide and Gilead, the pharmaceutical company for their work in making it happen.

"After all, it’s worth remembering that in the battle against this virus, we are all on the same side."

Author Display Name Kate Forrester Tags Health Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Categories Government and politics Health and social care About the author

Kate Forrester is the senior reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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Government plans to remove Huawei from 5G network by 2023 – reports

6 days 16 hours ago
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Prime minister plans to backtrack on previous decision to allow Chinese giant to play a role in next-generation telecoms

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Photo: Andre M. Chang/Zuma Press/PA Images

Officials have confirmed that the government plans to phase out Huawei technology from UK telecoms infrastructure over the next three years.

The move comes after Conservative MPs put pressure on Boris Johnson to ensure the Chinese company had no role in the country’s 5G network over fears it could compromise national security.

Huawei was granted a limited role in providing 5G technology to the UK earlier this year, although it is only allowed to supply equipment to the “periphery” of the network – where its kit must never account for more than 35% of the total.

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Huawei given green light for role in 5G network

However, the UK’s international allies have also criticised the plans, with US resident Donald Trump branding it a “betrayal”.

On Friday, The Telegraph reported that the prime minister had caved to his critics and had instructed aides to put together plans to remove the Chinese telecoms giant.

A source told the paper: “[The PM] still wants a relationship with China but the Huawei deal is going to be significantly scaled back. Officials have been instructed to come up with a plan to reduce Huawei’s involvement as quickly as possible. He has taken a great many soundings from his own MPs on this issue and shares their serious concerns. The deal was struck before the pandemic hit, but coronavirus has changed everything.”

The government now faces more pressure to extend the proposed measures and set a date for when the plans will reach the Commons.

Conservative MP Neil O’Brien told the Financial Times: “It’s a decision that everyone in the world is having... Covid-19 is just accelerating things. We need to make a distinction between having an open economy and interactions with the Chinese state.”

Meanwhile, chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Tom Tugendhat wrote in the paper: “In a downturn, the difference between state-backed credit and the buying power of normal commercial investors will become starker, further strengthening the hand of state-owned enterprises. If we’re not careful, much of the intellectual property we will need for our long-term innovation and prosperity could disappear to Shanghai or Shenzhen.”

Author Display Name Eleanor Langford Tags Digital, Data & AI IT & Security Policymaking Categories Defence and Security Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Eleanor Langford is a reporter for CSW's sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared. She tweets as @eleanormia.

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BEIS to shell out up to £63k in search for next permanent secretary

1 week ago
News

Successful candidate will succeed Alex Chisholm, now civil service COO

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Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has agreed to shell out up to £63,000 to a recruitment firm to find its next permanent secretary.

BEIS perm sec Alex Chisholm was promoted to become civil service chief operating officer and Cabinet Office permanent secretary in April.

The department signed a contract to find Chisholm’s successor at the end of last month with Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search company. It is worth up to £63,000 – nearly six times the sum offered to find a perm sec for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs last year.

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The company uses a combination of competency interviews, leadership questionnaires, culture assessment, references and “deep market knowledge” to find and assess candidates for high-level roles.

Several government departments have used Russell Reynolds Associates to recruit personnel in the past. In 2016 the firm was paid £56,000 to find a chief people officer for HM Revenue and Customs – in return for which it marketed the role, advised HMRC on market salary roles and carried out a targeted search.

Last summer the company won a contract worth £163,000 to act as a recruitment agency for the Ministry of Defence.

The perm sec role has not been advertised on the civil service jobs website.

Sam Beckett, director general for trade, Europe and analysis at BEIS and co-head of the Government Economics Service, is acting perm sec while the department finds Chisholm’s permanent replacement.

When Chisholm’s move to the Cabinet Office was announced at the end of March, BEIS said it would announce plans to appoint his successor “in due course”.

Tags HR Transparency & Open Data Categories Business and industry Government and politics About the author

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

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Cummings row: Cabinet Office investigates after civil service “truth twisters” tweet

1 week ago
News

Cabinet Office investigating 'unauthorised' tweet sent in heat of Cummings lockdown row

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The Cabinet Office is investigating an “unauthorised” tweet sent from the official UK civil service Twitter account that branded the government “arrogant and offensive” in a row over top special adviser Dominic Cummings’s apparent breach of coronavirus lockdown rules.

The tweet, sent out on Sunday evening from the official @UKCivilService account after prime minister Boris Johnson defended his chief aide Dominic Cummings from criticism after he breached lockdown rules, read: “Arrogant and offensive. Can you imagine having to work with these truth twisters?”

It was removed within 10 minutes of being posted on Sunday evening but not before racking up more than 30,000 “likes” and being archived for posterity.

It appeared as a row unfolded over the revelation that Cummings had apparently broken lockdown rules. Cummings admitted making a more than 250-mile round family trip to his parents’ property in Durham while he and his wife had Covid-19.

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The spad said he had travelled to ensure there was childcare for his young son.

The prime minister has so far stood by his aide, which has prompted fierce criticism and the resignation of a junior minister.

And this morning a scientist advising the government on its response to the coronavirus crisis said Boris Johnson’s defence of Cummings threatens to “undermine” measures intended to prevent the infection from spreading.

In a statement on Twitter, the Cabinet Office said: “An unauthorised tweet was posted on a government channel this evening. The post has been removed and we are investigating the matter.”

An unauthorised tweet was posted on a government channel this evening. The post has been removed and we are investigating the matter.

— Cabinet Office (@cabinetofficeuk) May 24, 2020

In response to the initial tweet, Harry Potter author JK Rowling offered to give a year’s salary to the person responsible.

Rowling, who has an estimated net worth of around £800m, was among those attacking Johnson for backing Cumming's actions, and said: “When you find out who it was, let us know. I want to give them a year’s salary.”

When you find out who it was, let us know. I want to give them a year’s salary. https://t.co/D7DRlwcjty

— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) May 24, 20 Tags Communications HR Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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PM's defence of Cummings 'undermines' coronavirus message, government adviser says

1 week ago
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Scientist speaks out as junior minister resigns over spad's lockdown breach

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Cummings leaving his London home this morning, after defending his actions at a No.10 press conference yesterday. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire/PA Images

A scientist advising the government on its response to the coronavirus crisis has accused the prime minister of undermining public health messaging on Covid-19 by defending Dominic Cummings’s breach of lockdown rules – as a junior minister resigned over the matter.

Stephen Reicher, a social scientist who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours, said by backing his top special adviser, Boris Johnson threatened to “undermine the sense of community” that ensured people followed coronavirus measures.

The warning came as Douglas Ross, a junior minister in the Scotland Office, resigned saying the prime minister’s defence of Cummings, who made a 260-mile round trip with his family while his wife was suffering from Covid-19, meant he could “no longer serve as a member of this government”.

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Johnson has continued to stand by his senior adviser, who said on Monday he had acted “reasonably and legally” by driving from London to his parents’ property in Durham after his wife contracted coronavirus. Cummings said he was concerned he would become ill and the pair would be unable to care for their small child.

In a televised statement yesterday, Cummings said he understood the “intense hardship and sacrifice” the country had been through during the crisis, but insisted  he had acted “legally and reasonably” as he gave his first on-the-record account of why he moved his family from London to Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.

Speaking in the Rose Garden behind 10 Downing Street, Mr Cummings said: “I know millions of people in this country have been suffering. Thousands have died.

Recounting the reasons for his journey, the aide said he had received a “sudden” call from his wife who had fallen “badly ill” the day after Boris Johnson himself tested positive for coronavirus.

Cummings said a raft of Covid-19 diagnoses at the top of government meant there was “a distinct possibility” that he had “already caught the disease”.

“I was worried that if my wife and I were both seriously ill, possibly hospitalised, there was nobody in London we could reasonably ask to look after our child and expose them to Covid,” he said.

And he added: “My wife felt on the edge of not being able to look after him safely... I was thinking, what if the same or worse happens to me, there is nobody here I can reasonably ask to help.”

Cummings has been accused of breaking strict lockdown guidelines in place to halt the spread of Covid-19. but he told reporters of his decision to travel to Durham: “The regulations made clear, I believe, that risks to the health of a small child were an exceptional situation, and I had a way of dealing with this that minimised risk to others.”

However, Reicher told Sky News the “real problem” that had emerged over the weekend was “not simply what Cummings did but in the messaging the prime minister put out”.

SPI-B provides advice and analysis to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which is advising the government on its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Reicher said one of the “central messages” the group had given government was that “the way we have got through this pandemic to date was by acting together, by thinking in terms of what’s good for the community”.

“Millions of people up and down the country have done precisely that in very difficult circumstances, agonising circumstance, around their families have thought, what is good for us as a community?”

The social psychology professor said the lesson people would take away from Johnson backing Cummings was: “forget about the ‘we’; it’s about ‘I’. When the going gets tough… you think about your own interpretation of what the implications are for you.”

He added: “It threatens to undermine that sense of community if a figure as prominent as Domnic Cummings, and if the prime minister himself, starts undermining that ‘we’ message and starts talking about ‘I’.

In an open resignation letter, Ross also said Cumming's interpretation of the government's "stay home" advice was "was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked".

He said he was not satisfied by Cumming’s explanation of his actions – which included making a 30-minute trip to the beauty spot Barnard Castle to test that his eyesight was good enough for the journey back to London.

The MP, first elected in 2017, said he had constituents who had been unable “to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the government”.

He added: “I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the government was right.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith, Matt Honeycombe-Foster and John Johnston Tags Health HR Categories Government and politics Health and social care About the author

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

Matt Honeycombe-Foster is the acting editor and John Johnston is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome.

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Non-essential shops can open from 15 June if they are ‘Covid secure’, Boris Johnson says

1 week ago
News

New guidelines to be published by governemnt as part of retail re-opening

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Boris Johnson told the retail sector to “get ready” as he announced that shops selling non-essential items will be allowed to reopen from 15 June.

Outdoor markets and car showrooms will be allowed to open earlier from June 1 as “it is easier to follow Covid secure guidelines in open spaces”, the prime minister said.

He also announced that new government guidelines would be issued and that officials would be able to “enforce compliance where that is required”.

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Speaking at the daily Downing Street briefing yesterday, Johnson said: “I want to give the retail sector notice of our intention to reopen shops so they too can get ready.

“So I can announce that it is our intention to allow outdoor markets to reopen from June 1, subject all premises made Covid secure, as well as car showrooms, which often have significant outdoor space and where it is generally easier to apply social distancing.”

He continued: “Then from June 15, we intend to allow all other non-essential retail, ranging from department stores to small independent shops to reopen.

“Again, this change will be contingent upon progress against the five tests and will only be permitted for those retail premises which are Covid secure.”

The announcement came as the government attempts to gradually ease strict lockdown measures which have been in place since March.

As part of plans to gradually reopen shops, new guidance would be issued “detailing the measures they should take to meet the necessary social distancing and hygiene standards," Johnson confirmed.

He also hinted that there would be sanctions for rule-breakers, stating that businesses “now have the time” to implement changes and that “there can be no doubt about what steps they should take”.

“While the vast majority of businesses will want to do everything possible to protect their staff and customers I should add that we will, of course, have the powers we need to enforce compliance where that is required,” the prime minister said.

“I want people to be confident that they can shop safely provided that they follow the social distancing rules for all premises.”

Yesterday, Johnson also confirmed that the plans to partially reopen schools would go ahead from 1 June.

The decision has attracted a backlash from unions and teaching organisations, with some councils refusing to open schools under their jurisdiction.

Author Display Name Eleanor Langford Tags Economy, Business & Infrastructure Policymaking Categories Government and politics About the author

Eleanor Langford is a reporter for PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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Latest civil service & public affairs moves — May 26

1 week 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

  • No.10 – Simon Case appointed as permanent secretary with specific responsibility for overseeing the Covid-19 crisis.
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Nigel Baker has been appointed Her Majesty’s ambassador to the Slovak Republic in succession to Andrew Garth in August. David Steel has been appointed governor of Gibraltar in succession to Edward Davis in June.
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Regulatory Policy Committee – Stephen Gibson named as interim chair.
  • Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service  Clare Chapman appointed as chair from 27th July, replacing Brendan Barber.
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Ofcom – Alison Marsden appointed as director of content standards, licensing and enforcement.
  • Department of Health and Social Care/Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy – Kate Bingham appointed as chair of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce.

Houses of Parliament

  • House of Commons: Liaison Committee – Bernard Jenkin elected as chair.

Devolved authorities

  • Northern Ireland Assembly – Cara Hunter became the new SDLP MLA for East Londonderry, replacing John Dallat. Public Accounts Committee  Matthew O'Toole appointed as a member.
  • Northern Ireland Government: Northern Health and Social Care Trust – Paul Corrigan and Jim McCall reappointed as Nnon-executive directors. Northern Ireland Guardian Ad Litem Agency  Gemma Loughran appointed as non-executive chair. Veronica Callaghan as social work professional non-executive member.

Local authorities

  • Nottingham City Council  Mel Barrett appointed as chief executive.

Industry

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

Interest Groups

  • Jewish Leadership Council  Claudia Mendoza and Michelle Janes to become joint chief executive on an interim basis, replacing Simon Johnson on 23 June.

Consultancies

  • MHP – Nick Vaughan to become an Associate Director.
  • Cicero/AMO  Sonia Khan to become a Director.
  • APCO Worldwide - Richard Harrington appointed as a Senior Adviser.

Corporates

  • Monzo – Tom Blomfield stood down as UK chief executive and will become President. TS Anil will take up the role alongside his US chief executive role.
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Boris Johnson urged to face grilling by senior MPs ‘at the earliest possible opportunity’

1 week 4 days ago
News

“At this difficult time, it is of crucial importance that parliament is able to hold government to account," Jenkin says

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The new chair of a powerful cross-party Commons committee has urged Boris Johnson to face a grilling when Parliament returns after recess.

Sir Bernard Jenkin invited Boris Johnson to appear “at the earliest possible opportunity in June”, following his first meeting as chair of the Liaison Committee, which brings together the chairs of all other Commons scrutiny bodies.

The Tory MP, who spent 10 years as chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said: “As you are aware, your immediate predecessors committed to appearing before the committee three times per year. 

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“This would be your first appearance before the committee since being appointed prime minister last July. 

“On this occasion, therefore, the committee would like to hold a two-hour hearing with you. The committee is keen for this to be well before the end of June.”

He added: “At this difficult time, it is of crucial importance that parliament is able to hold government to account. 

“While you have been answering questions from the media and in the house, select committee chairs have yet to have the opportunity to conduct the more detailed scrutiny which is even more essential in the present crisis.”

Boris Johnson had last been due to appear before the committee - the only one with the power to question the prime minister - in October.

But he pulled out of the meeting shortly before, marking the third time he had postponed or cancelled his attendance since entering No.10.

Writing to Johnson at the time, former chair Sarah Wollaston said she was astonished that he had pulled out “at such short notice” adding: “It is unacceptable that you are refusing to be held to account.”

Jankin was appointed to replace Wollaston, who lost her seat in the 2019 general election, on Wednesday. 

His nomination to the role caused controversy, with MPs, including fellow Conservatives, angered at efforts to put a government-approved candidate in the top job.

Author Display Name Matt Honeycombe-Foster Tags Parliament Categories Government and politics About the author

Matt Honeycombe-Foster is the acting editor of CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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Which departments have the most staff working from home during coronavirus?

1 week 4 days ago
News

Just 20% of staff in one department are able to work from home

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Photo: WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/PA Images

Up to four in five staff at the Department for Work and Pensions are working on site amid the coronavirus crisis, new figures have revealed – while most staff in other departments work from home.

DWP was one of only two departments – the other being HM Revenue and Customs – to say they had a double-digit proportion of staff working from government offices during the pandemic.

The figures were shared in responses given over the last month to a series of parliamentary questions from SNP MP Margaret Ferrier and Labour MP Dan Carden.

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Work and pensions minister Mims Davies said at the end of April that while the department’s HR system does not specifically log working from home figures, data from its computer system suggested around 20% were logging in remotely.

Responding to a follow-up question on 11 May, Davies said that where staff were able to “effectively contribute” to its response to Covid-19 from home, they were doing so.

“Not all colleagues can work from home because they need to access equipment, programmes and support to enable them to do their telephony and processing work,” she said.

While Jobcentres have been closed to the public since March, thousands of staff are required to be on site to run virtual call centres and other operations that have been set up to handle a huge surge in applications for Universal Credit.

DWP permanent secretary Peter Schofield said in late March that around 23,000 Jobcentre staff had been moved into “virtual service centres” to deal with claims.

Earlier this month work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey said staff were handling around 20,000 to 25,000 Universal Credit claims a day – twice the usual volume before the coronavirus outbreak – having peaked at ten times the usual volume of claims in one week.

“We are requiring these employees to be in the office but in line with the government’s advice on critical workers, we are taking all practical steps to protect the health and safety of colleagues working in our offices,” Davies said.

DWP has also procured extra IT equipment – including nearly 13,000 computers – to enable more staff to work from home. This also includes specialist equipment for employees who need it for accessibility reasons, Davies said.

Asked about the figures, a DWP spokesperson directed CSW to Davies’s second statement on 11 May.

Of the 13 departments the two MPs put questions to, HM Revenue and Customs had the second-highest proportion of employees working in government buildings – around 10% “owing to operational requirements”.

“HMRC will keep this under review as and when the government advice in response to Covid-19 evolves, ensuring that they protect the safety of their workforce and continue to deliver their vital public functions,” financial secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said on 11 May.

At the Department for Health and Social Care, more than 90% of staff were estimated to be working from home, and at the Department for Transport, around 94% were working remotely.

“The remaining 6% is made up of those who cannot work from home due to their frontline roles, those who require access to specialist equipment, or can’t work from home because of their living arrangements,” transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris said.

The responses indicated that in most ministries, all but a handful of staff were able to work remotely.

“In response to the prime minister’s statement on 16 March, the civil service moved to remote working by default, where possible to do so,” said Kemi Badenoch, exchequer secretary to the Treasury, where “less than 1%” of staff are physically an office during lockdown.

She said on the “very rare occasions where it is not possible for Treasury employees to work from home”, they are allowed to work from the office with permission from their director, she said.

The Cabinet Office, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Department for Education all gave similar responses, saying the vast majority of staff were working from home.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Scotland Office said all of their staff were able to work from home.

At the Department for International Development, 98% of staff were working from home

The Department for International Trade, which has more than 2,000 employees in the UK, said it had a “small number of essential staff” in the office – around 10 at any time.

“This is by exception and requires prior approval from a senior manager,” trade minister Greg Hands said.

The Home Office and the Ministry of Defence declined to provide figures on the number of staff working from home, as they said the data was not held centrally. However, both said they had guidance in place telling employees not to come into the office unless they had critical work they could not complete at home.

Tags HR IT & Security Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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Former Downing Street PPS Simon Case to return to civil service as No.10 perm sec

1 week 4 days ago
News

Case left government to run Prince William's household in 2018

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Simon Case, a former senior Brexit official and No.10 PPS who was poached by Kensington Palace, is to return to government as permanent secretary at Downing Street it has been reported.

The Cabinet Office this morning confirmed reports that Case had been appointed to the newly-created post, which will focus on leading the government's response to the coronavirus crisis.

Case will be the second even perm sec at No.10. Jeremy Heywood spent two years in the role from 2010 to 2012, before becoming cabinet secretary two years later.

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Case spent just over a year as principal private secretary to prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May before becoming director general for the UK-EU partnership in May 2017. During that trime he worked with the UK Representation to the EU leading the government's work on Brexit and the UK's future relationship with the EU, before moving in January 2018 to lead work on finding a solution to the post-Brexit Irish border problem.

Previously he was head of the Implementation Unit, the Cabinet Office unit set up to to support and coordinate departments’ work on key government policies, and director of strategy at the communications agency GCHQ.

He left the civil service in July 2018 to become private secretary to Prince Wiliam – the most senior appointment in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's household, with overall responsibility for its management.

Commenting on the appointment, Institute for Government programme director Alex Thomas said Case "knows and understands No.10" having spent a significant amount of time working in and around Downing Street.

He said Case's main responsibilities were likely to be "keeping coherence and good order" as the pandemic continues to unfold.

An unnamed No.10 official told the FT the post “reflects the size of what we’re trying to do and how many strands of work there are”.

A government spokesperson said: “The cabinet secretary, with the agreement of the prime minister, has appointed Simon Case as permanent secretary at 10 Downing Street.

"Simon is extending his secondment from the royal household and will be supporting the prime minister and cabinet in developing and implementing the government’s coronavirus response.”

The prime minister’ official spokesman confirmed the move was “specifically co-ordinating the coronavirus response”, adding: “Coronavirus is obviously a very significant piece of cross-governmental work, and that’s what Simon is focused on.”

Asked at the daily lobby briefing if that wasn’t Sir Mark Sedwill’s job, the spokesman replied: “Sir Mark is the cabinet secretary. Simon reports to Sir Mark.” And he denied that the appointment should be seen as Sedwill’s “wings being clipped”, as has been suggested in the media, saying: “Absolutely not

Tags HR Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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How the DVSA uses AI and agile to support ‘a lifetime of driving’

1 week 5 days ago
Interview

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has already done a great deal of work implementing technology across its operations. But digital chief Alex Fiddes tells Sam Trendall it has even bigger ambitions

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Many motorists might assume that their interaction with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency ends the moment they pass their driving test.

But, as the organisation’s head of digital operations Alex Fiddes points out, this is just the start of “a lifetime of driving”. 

A lot can change in a lifetime, and motoring is an area where legislators make frequent tweaks and additions. The DVSA runs a Safe Driving for Life website where drivers can access or buy learning materials, and take free practice theory tests.

Fiddes does so regularly, and would like the agency to encourage more people to do the same. 

“We need to look at how we better inform people” of the available resources, he adds. “I am constantly looking at the new material, and going in and doing a bit of learning now and then.”

Although the DVSA administers the theory test, its delivery is outsourced to Pearson Vue. The computer-based testing specialist has worked with the agency since 2004 and the most recent extension of its engagement, signed in 2016, was worth about £30m a year.

From September of this year, however, delivery of the test – which is sat 2.5 million times each year – is being taken back in house.

Doing so is a major undertaking, but it will bring greater flexibility and control.

“In the new world, we will be able to make incremental changes if we see questions or areas [where additional focus is needed],” Fiddes says.

Work on updating the test has already begun, with 30-second video clips – each depicting a different driving scenario – introduced a few weeks back to replace written case studies. 

The DVSA is exploring how to take this concept further still, and is looking at the possibility of implementing virtual-reality headsets to make the experience more lifelike and immersive.

In the longer-term future, the agency will look to ascertain the feasibility of enabling learners and drivers to take test remotely – they currently have to sit it in person. To date, the potential for fraud has effectively rendered this impossible. But the development of biometric tools could provide a solution to the security challenges.

“Eye tracking and facial recognition…. on a small scale these products are available, but that hasn’t really scaled up into a really secure service,” Fiddes says. “We have done some very early trials; we as an organisation have an appetite to use digital, and an appetite for transformation.”

The goal is not to use flashy technology for the sake of it – but to improve users’ experience.

“If we look at it in terms of accessibility to government services, we have people in the Highlands and islands who are waiting for a mobile classroom to travel round once a month,” the digital chief says. “But we will look at the risks, and if something is too high risk, we won’t explore that further.”

The practical driving test has already undergone a technological transformation; the DVSA’s fleet of almost 1,700 driving examiners are now all equipped with iPads with which they can mark candidates. 

Testing times

Not only has replacing pens and clipboards enabled the organisation to cut back its paper usage by three million sheets a year, but it also allows for information to move more freely, quickly and securely.

“The in-car iPads… allow examiners, at the end of the test, to automatically transfer the data to the DVSA and email the candidate with their result,” Fiddes says.

Members of the agency’s enforcement team, who are charged with performing checks on vehicles suspected of being on the road illegally, have also been equipped with technology tools. A mobile search app allowing them to quickly check a vehicle’s information and status at the roadside was launched in September 2019, and continues to be reiterated and improved; the latest version added functionality for reporting “clear” encounters – where a vehicle is found to have no prohibitions or faults and is thus allowed to continue on its way.

About 10,000 searches are conducted each day, and the standards body claims that the technology has effective eliminated what was previously a 15-minute administrative process.

“We have also developed a mobile solution to collect roadside fines in an easy manner,” Fiddes says.

In its capacity administering MOTs, the DVSA recently trialled an approach in which technology and automation was used to inform and influence – and try and pre-empt any enforcement action before it was needed. Working with the same artificial intelligence and camera technology that powers police automatic number plate recognition systems, drivers with expired MOTs were identified and sent a – friendly – letter of reminder.

Within a short timeframe thereafter, 80% of them had renewed their MOT, according to Fiddes.

AI and machine learning is also being used to analyse data and calculate a risk score for garages and testers providing MOT services, allowing enforcement officers to focus attention on those found to have suspicious patterns – which might indicate poor performance or, in some cases, deliberate fraud.

The agency works with specialist suppliers such as BJSS, who support the DVSA’s in-house team of software developers. The standards organisation is committed to following agile principles including two-week sprints, and continuous improvement.

“We always start off by doing a really good discovery phase, and we have a really strong emphasis on user design,” Fiddes says. “And we think about the whole end-to-end service, not just the core application; if we are clear that the solution is a digital solution – because it is not always the case – then we will seek funding to make that into a product.”

Throughout the process, the digital chief stresses the importance of remaining focused on the end – and not the means.

“You should never lose sight of the objective you are trying to achieve,” he says. “Because we do fortnightly sprints, we are always looking at the success of what we are doing – and we are always two weeks away from continuing, or stopping, or going in a different direction.”

Fiddes adds: “Digital is not the right approach for everything, and sometimes you have to brave enough to say ‘we need to stop’.”

The work of digital professionals also needs to ensure it is meeting the needs of not just users, but also colleagues in policy and operational delivery professions.

“It is absolutely essential that the policy leads are involved, either themselves on the project board, or that members of their team are involved in delivery,” Fiddes says. “They need to be involved in setting the outcomes – because most things that we do are all about achieving outcomes, not just delivering software.”

And, no matter their profession or specialism, DVSA’s 4,600 civil servants are all ultimately striving for the same outcome.

“This is all about making the road safer and making drivers safer, and giving them a better experience during a lifetime of driving.” 

This was part of the PublicTechnology ‘How to Design a Government Service’ project. Over the course of a week of dedicated content, the project featured a range of exclusive research, analysis, interviews, and features. Click here to access all the content

Author Display Name Sam Trendall Tags Digital, Data & AI Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Transformation Transparency & Open Data Categories Government and politics Image description PA Twitter Link

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Brexit: Michael Gove says there will be ‘additional new processes’ at Northern Ireland border

1 week 5 days ago
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Cabinet Office minister says there will be “some limited additional process on goods arriving in Northern Ireland” under the Brexit deal

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Michael Gove at Holyhead port. Photo: PA

There will be “additional new” checks on some goods coming into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as a result of Brexit, Michael Gove has confirmed.

The Cabinet Office minister outlined an “expansion of existing” infrastructure at the frontier as he set out the government’s plan to implement the Northern Ireland Protocol part of last year’s EU deal.

A new command paper published on Wednesday spells out what ministers are calling a “pragmatic, proportionate way” to manage the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, amid concern from the EU that customs checks and controls will be needed to protect its single market.

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Boris Johnson has previously said there “won’t be checks” as a result of his deal.

But Gove said: “Implementing the protocol in this way will ensure we can support businesses and citizens, and protect Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s customs territory while upholding our commitments to the EU’s single market.”

He told MPs there would be “some limited additional process on goods arriving in Northern Ireland”.

But he added: “There will be no new physical customs infrastructure and we see no need to build any. We will, however, expand some existing entry points for agrifood goods to provide for proportionate additional controls.”

The command paper outlines a string of pledges from the government on the border, with ministers promising “unfettered access” for Northern Irish businesses “to the whole of the UK market” by the end of the transition period.

They are also ruling out imposing any tariffs on goods “that move and remain with the UK customs territory”, promising to allow businesses in Northern Ireland to benefit from lower tariffs under trade deals Britain hopes to strike with United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

And it says: “Implementation of the protocol will not involve new customs infrastructure - with any processes on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland kept to an absolute minimum so that the integrity and smooth functioning of the UK internal market is protected.”

The plans have been given a cautious welcome by Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which voted against Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal last year amid concerns it would create a fresh divergence between NI and the rest of UK.

But DUP leader Arlene Foster, who is also the first minister of Northern Ireland said the objectives set out by the UK “must be unmovable foundational positions for the UK government”.

She said: “Much more work will be required on the details of practical arrangements, and we will continue to engage with businesses across Northern Ireland intensively to ensure that the issues we face work to the benefit of the Northern Ireland economy.  

“The UK government’s decision to establish a business engagement forum to allow Northern Ireland’s businesses to put forward proposals on how to maximise free flow of trade will also provide a further very useful platform.

“The prime minister has previously indicated that the government will want to support the growth of the Northern Ireland economy and we will want to further explore how to best achieve this. We look forward to further and ongoing engagement with the prime minister on all these vital matters.”

'FACED REALITY'

Boris Johnson's spokesperson on Wednesday said the Government's "top priority" remained protecing the peace process in Northern Ireland and preserving its "place within the UK".

No.10 added: “The future of the protocol is ultimately up to the people of Northern Ireland, democratically-elected local politicians will decide its fate in a consent vote that can take place every four years.

“A flexible approach is therefore needed to reflect that it may not be in place forever, and to recognise the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland.”

However, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh said the government had had “finally faced reality; his deal will mean additional checks and processes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

Hitting out at “seven months of denial and mixed messages from the very top”, Haigh added: “While we welcome the engagement today, these proposals are desperately short on the detail businesses and communities are crying out for. 

“There are 32 weeks until these changes comes into force, and businesses are still in the dark.”

Author Display Name Matt Honeycombe-Foster and Alain Tolhurst Tags Brexit Economy, Business & Infrastructure Legal & Constitutional Operational Delivery Policymaking Categories Government and politics International Relations Transport About the author

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

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A year of working from home: Home Office's post-coronavirus lockdown plan revealed

1 week 5 days ago
News

"You should not expect to be back in your usual workplace anytime soon," officials told

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Photo: Joe Giddens/PA Wire/PA Images

Home Office staff in England could be working from home for the next year as departments limit the number of people working in their buildings to comply with coronavirus social-distancing measures, a departmental email has revealed.

The message, from Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft and second perm sec Shona Dunn and seen by CSW, sets out a four-phase plan for staff to return to work in the coming months.

The department bosses set out a four-phase plan for staff to return to the office as lockdown measures are eased, which will see a limited number of people allowed on site to enable social distancing to continue.

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At the moment, all Home Office staff apart from those who are considered key workers and need to be in an office to do their jobs, are working from home.

“For most it is likely that this situation will remain the case for the next six to 12 months so if you are currently working from home, you should not expect to be back in your usual workplace any time soon,” Rycroft and Dunn said. 

“It is important that no one makes their own decisions about returning to the workplace and no business areas should assume they will revert to their old footprint,” they added.

The four phases

In the first phase, only those people whose work requires them to be in an office will be allowed to return. “Seniority will not be a factor in these decisions,” the Home Office said.

The second phase will open up offices to staff “who are prioritised for their own wellbeing as they are vulnerable working from home or who have health and safety requirements best accommodated in a workplace”.

These two groups of people are likely to occupy most of the Home Office’s reduced building capacity, it said. 

It is unlikely that other staff will be able to return until government lockdown measures are eased, the guidance said.

After this point, the third tranche of staff to return will be those in jobs that can be done mostly from home, but which include “some duties that either cannot be performed from home or could be performed more easily in a workplace”.

And in the fourth phase, teams working on “highly collaborative, fast-paced projects or programmes” that would benefit from people working in the same building will be allowed to return.

The action plan applies only to officials in England. "For colleagues living or working in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the easing of restrictions will reflect differences in approach set out by the devolved administrations, so please continue to comply with their guidance," the email said.

'A responsible employer'

“Overall, our top priority remains to protect the health and wellbeing of all our people while maintaining the delivery of our most critical work. And our message still holds: you should continue to work from home if you are able to do so,” the perm secs said.

The department is working with unions to plan its next steps. It will later share a set of protocols to help managers considering when it is appropriate for staff to return to their workplaces. Risk assessments and guidance will be shared “to ensure a consistent approach across the Home Office and wider government”, the message said.

“Covid-19 has had a huge impact on all of us in different ways and many colleagues are juggling both work and caring responsibilities,” it added.

“Whether you’re coming into a workplace, have continued working on the frontline or are working from home, we are extremely grateful to all of you for your flexibility and professionalism."

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, said the guidance was “exactly what we’d expect from a responsible employer and is fully in line with government guidance and the realities the country faces over Covid-19".

"As has been consistently said by the government's scientific advisers, we will have to adapt longer term to some form of restriction. With limited capacity on public transport and the realities of social distancing in the workplace, staff who can continue to operate from home will be expected to," he said.

"It is testament to the skill and dedication of the civil service that it has been able to adapt so comprehensively and quickly to these new realities, particularly at a time when the demands being placed on it are increasingly complex and of an unimaginable scale.”

A government spokesperson said: "The guidance for civil servants is the same as the rest of the country. They should work from home where they can, but those who cannot do that are encouraged to go to work, and there is guidance on how to do this safely with social distancing." 

"Civil servants across the UK continue to make significant and valuable contributions towards the country's efforts to tackle coronavirus.”

Tags HR Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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Beckie Smith