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NHS data watchdog calls for ‘no surprises’ rule in use of patient info

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

Consultation opened on addition of eighth principle for the health system’s use of data

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Photo: Pxhere

The independent watchdog for the use of data across the NHS and social services has called for the enshrinement of a rule that there be “no surprises” for citizens in how their data is used.

The National Data Guardian for Health and Social Care Dame Fiona Caldicott has opened a public consultation on plans to add an eighth tenet to the existing total of seven Caldicott Principles that govern how patient information should be handled and used.

The new rule would, she said, “emphasise the importance of there being no surprises for patients and service users with regard to how their confidential health and care data is used”.

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Caldicott – whose role does not possess a regulatory function, but has statutory powers to formally guide and challenge the health and social care system – developed the principles that bear her name in 1997, having conducted a review of NHS information-handling practices.

They were launched as a set of six principles which all health-service organisations were asked to adopt: justify the purposes for using confidential information; don't use personal confidential data unless it is absolutely necessary; use the minimum necessary personal confidential data; access to personal confidential data should be on a strict need-to-know basis; everyone with access to personal confidential data should be aware of their responsibilities; and comply with the law.

Following the completion of a second review in 2013, a seventh principle was added: the duty to share information can be as important as the duty to protect patient confidentiality.

The proposed eighth rule is: “Inform the expectations of patients and service users about how their confidential information is to be used”

If this ‘no surprises’ rule is added, it would be the first new addition to the guidance in seven years.

Before it is adopted, Caldicott is asking citizens to respond online to a public consultation launched today and running until 3 September.

In addition to feedback on the proposed addition of an eighth principle, the consultation is also interested in hearing any suggested amendments to the existing seven.

Furthermore, the NDG wishes to receive views about the role of so-called Caldicott Guardians, whose remit is to “help their organisations to ensure that information is used legally, ethically and wisely in accordance with the principles”. There are currently 18,000 Caldicott Guardians working across bodies in health, social care, and related sectors.

Caldicott is asking the public to provide their “views on whether, under her statutory power to issue guidance, she should issue guidance proposing that all health and adult social care organisations in England should appoint a Caldicott Guardian”. The data watchdog also wishes to hear ideas for how such a proposal could be implemented “appropriately and proportionately” – particularly for smaller organisations.

Caldicott said: “I have long emphasised the importance of dialogue with the public about how confidential information is used by the health and care system. This is essential to ensure that people can trust that what they tell their doctor, social worker, nurse or other care professional is treated with appropriate respect and used beneficially. All those working in health and care have a part to play in that dialogue. I hope that our proposals will support this and look forward to hearing how they are received.”

Anyone wishing to take part in the consultation can do so here.

Author Display Name Sam Trendall About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this article first appeared.

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Who stole nine antique clocks worth £50,000 from the Foreign Office?

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

Annual fraud data shows lost phones, online shopping sprees and some mysterious missing timepieces

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The suspected fraud perpetrated against the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last year included an ex-employee’s online shopping spree, more than £5,000 in phone charges – and the unsolved theft of expensive antique clocks from its London headquarters.

The FCO’s annual release of data on its counter-fraud actions shows that, during the year to March 2020, it endured gross losses of about £133,650 across 18 separate instances of fraud or misappropriation. About one fifth of this money was ultimately recovered.

Among the more costly instances was an incident in the department’s African operations in which a satellite phone was lost, resulting in “recurring charges” of £5,700. The phone was cancelled but it was not possible to recover any money, the FCO said, and no further remedial or punitive action was taken.

Another big item was an online shopping spree in which a former staff member – who had been recently dismissed as a result of “poor performance and time management” – spent £3,699 with Amazon.

The department “advised the bank of the fraudulent activity and the card was frozen… [then] Amazon was able to refund the purchase completely”.

Since the incident took place, managers at the FCO office in question – which is in the Asia-Pacific region – have “requested a list of ALL corporate credit card/government procurement card owners so they can monitor them more closely”.

The single biggest attempted fraud was an incident in January of this year in which an “ex-officer in the consular section was found to have been appropriating FCO consular funds during their employment”. The employee defrauded the department of £57,000, of which it was able to recover about £15,000.

After being caught and reported to local police in Bangkok in April, the officer in question “has agreed to repayment of funds in monthly installments no later than March 2021”.

Perhaps the most eye-catching item on the list is the loss of nine antique clocks from storage facilities at the FCO’s headquarters on King Charles Street in central London. The clocks were worth a cumulative £53,000 – not a penny of which has been recovered.

“Conclusion was made that the clocks were unlawfully removed from the building and loss was reported to the police,” the department said. “Police are unable to investigate further as there are a lack of leads. Items remain listed on the police stolen antiques list.”

Security processes were reviewed following the incident, the FCO said.

Food and furnishings

Other losses incurred last year include about £5,000 spent mostly on “taxis and takeaways” by a UK employee misusing their corporate credit card. The official was “dismissed after other unrelated issues were also taken into account”. The FCO was able to recoup all of this money.

But it failed to recover a loss of £2,800 incurred as a result of “fraud relating to bottled water deliveries”. The incident took place in Africa.

The only incident that took place in the Americas during the year was one in which an “officer's purse was stolen, containing the corporate credit card and its PIN”.

The thief was able to use the card to make four cash withdrawals worth a total of £983.33, resulting in a net loss to the Foreign Office of £412.

“The officer was given a formal written warning based on gross negligence and will be paying back a percentage of the amount over nine months,” the department said. “Staff at post [have been] reminded to comply with mandated procedures for the use of the corporate credit card, including the need to keep PIN numbers safe.”

The theft of the antique clocks may appear unusual, but it follows an incident in the previous year in which two chandeliers worth £4,000 each were stolen from storage facilities

The FCO has filed annual fraud data since 2017 – when it was recommended to do so by a Public Accounts Committee report that concluded that government should do more to combat fraud in its overseas operations.

The cumulative gross losses of 2019/20 were about £50,000 lower than the prior-year total of £182,135. A far higher proportion of money was recovered this year compared with 2018/19 – when only about one pound in 13 was recouped.

The theft of the antique clocks may appear unusual, but it follows an incident in the previous year in which two chandeliers worth £4,000 each were stolen from storage facilities. The money in that case was written off as it was “not possible to say who stole them”.

A further £1,000 was also lost – and recovered – in FY19 after an “officer forged documents to steal used furniture intended to go for auction”. The employee in question was dismissed and reported to police.

The Foreign Office has been approached for a comment.

Author Display Name Sam Trendall Tags Fraud, Risk and Governance Transparency & Open Data Categories Government and politics About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this article first appeared.

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Beckie Smith

Mitie buys Interserve's facilities management arm to create outsourcing giant

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

£271m deal will give Mitie “strong positions in UK government and UK defence services"

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The outsourcing group Mitie has bought its rival Interserve’s facilities management arm for £271m in a deal that will merge two major government contractors.

The acquisition will make the combined organisation, which will provide services to several government departments, the largest facilities management company in the UK, with more than 77,500 employees.

It will give Mitie “strong positions in UK government and UK defence services and expertise in delivering large, complex contracts” for departments including the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the company said in an announcement this week.

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Around 44% of IFM’s revenue came from its central government and defence division in 2019, Mitie said.

“Interserve Facilities Management enjoys strong relationships with the Ministry of Defence and other government customers and stakeholders, with high retention rates and a high proportion of engineering and security services contracts at attractive margins,” Mitie said.

IFM also has “particularly strong positioning” with hospitals, including PFI contracts. In all these areas, Mitie said it had “ limited presence and scale today”.

Mitie's contracts with government include prison facilities management services for the Ministry of Justice, and it is the largest provider of immigration removal centre management and operations and secure escorting services for the Home Office. It signed a three-year contract in February to provide security services to the Home Office.

The merger comes just over a year after Interserve was sold in a pre-pack administration deal to creditors including banks RBS and HSBC, and investors Emerald Asset Management and Davidson Kempner Capital.

The company had been on government watch for more than a year amid concerns it could collapse like fellow outsourcing giant Carillion.

Interserve provides facilities management services to several government departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Transport and the Foreign Office.

Last year it was involved in a payroll dispute with maintenance and cleaning staff at the FCO headquarters on King Charles Street in London, who went on strike over pay and cuts to terms and conditions.

Both Interserve and Mitie were involved in setting up the NHS Nightingale hospitals – the temporary facilities created to treat acute coronavirus patients.

The deal is expected to lead to some job cuts, as it includes a plan to save £13m through "rationalisation of overlapping headcount in the UK".

Mitie said it expected fewer than 600 back office, sales and business development, finance, human resources roles to be “rationalised” across the group in the three years after the buyout.

The company said it also planned to generate “additional revenue synergies” by selling more services to its existing customers through “cross-selling of bundled services”.

“In addition, it will seek to improve the technology offering to non-overlapping clients in particular in the public sector space, thereby improving service quality and increasing customer retention,” it said.

Mitie chief executive Phil Bentley said: "This will be a transformative acquisition, expanding the scale and footprint of our business to create the UK's largest facilities management company and accelerate the delivery of Mitie's long-term, technology-led vision.

"The transaction will better balance our public and private sector divisions, driving greater returns from the investments we have made in technology and customer service over the past three years.”

Interserve Group Limited will retain its three remaining divisions: Construction; Interserve Construction Limited and Equipment Services, which trades as RMD Kwikform; and Citizen Services.

The transaction comprises £120m in cash and a 23.4% shareholding in Mitie and is subject to approval by Mitie’s shareholders.

Mitie will also be engaging with the Competition and Markets Authority as part of the merger process.

The merger is not expected to affect services to government departments, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said.

Tags Procurement & Commercial Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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DWP admits it must fix Universal Credit loophole as it abandons legal battle

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

Department will not fight judgement that found payment rule “irrational"

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The Department for Work and Pensions has abandoned a long legal battle over a design flaw in Universal Credit system that left people out of pocket.

Work and pensions minister Will Quince said yesterday that his department would not appeal a Court of Appeal judgement, reached this week, that found Universal Credit rules limiting payments for working claimants who were paid twice in one month were “irrational” and “unlawful”.

He said DWP accepted it must fix a problem in its digital system, which treats claimants as if they have had a 100% pay rise when a weekend day or bank holiday means their salary is paid slightly earlier or later than usual, pushing it into the same month as another paycheque.

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The appeal judgement represents a victory for four single mothers who brought a legal challenge against the department after they were forced into rent arrears and debt and had to use food banks because they missed out on payments.

In January 2019 the High Court said it was “odd in the extreme” that DWP had refused to correct the issue.

Appealing the judgement, DWP said updating its online system would cost £7.5m and undermine the principle of Universal Credit.

But in this week’s Court of Appeal judgement, Lady Justice Rose said the feature was “perverse”.

“This case is, in my judgment, one of the rare instances where the secretary of state for work and pensions’ refusal to put in place a solution to this very specific problem is so irrational that I have concluded that the threshold is met because no reasonable [minister] would have struck the balance in that way,” she said.

The department is now attempting to identify all of the affected claimants and is assessing “remedial options”, Quince said.

“As we told the court, identifying claimants is hard; it is a difficult issue. To date, we are aware of around 1,000 claimants who have disputed their earnings and fall within the relevant cohort. We are looking at how we can further identify people in this group,” Quince told MPs in the House of Commons yesterday.

DWP estimates around 1,500 people have been affected by the issue, including the 1,000 claimants who have disputed payments, Quince said.

The minister said those affected would not suffer a financial loss, as any benefits they lose in one month because of the double salary payments will be added to their next month’s Universal Credit payment.

But he admitted the system may have caused “budgeting issues” for people who receive UC.

And he said fixing the problem would take time, especially amid the coronavirus crisis.

“That is not straightforward – it is not the simple click of a switch – particularly at a time when the department is focused on meeting the challenges of unprecedented demand for its services,” he said.

He said it would be “remiss not to afford more consideration before we press on, particularly when the court has not called for immediate action”.

“We will now begin the process of carefully considering possible solutions,” he said.

Mark Harper, a former minister in the department who oversaw the Universal Credit programme in 2014 and 2015, said he did “not underestimate how complicated it is to put in place a fix”.

In the short term, Quince said DWP had begun working with HM Revenue and Customs on ways for employers to report their employees’ earnings correctly.

Quince said HMRC had published guidance for employers that would reduce the number of people affected.

Tags Law Legal & Constitutional Categories Government and politics Society and welfare About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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Call for inquiry into Dominic Cummings’s centralisation of special advisers

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

Letter to PACAC comes as PM’s senior adviser hints at “hard rain coming” for civil service

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The head of the FDA union has called for a parliamentary inquiry into the role of special advisers to examine the increasing centralisation of the appointment of ministerial aides by the prime minister’s top spad Dominic Cummings.

In a letter to the Public Administration and Cuonsititonal Affairs select committee chair William Wragg, Dave Penman said the increasing role of No.10 in the appointment and oversight of spads, who are temporary civil servants, was creating “a series of constitutional contradictions” that should be reviewed by the committee.

In his letter, first reported by the Guardian, Penman said special adviser contracts were changed in September to explicitly mention that responsibility for their conduct and discipline would be jointly held between the appointing minister and prime minister’s chief of staff.

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“At the time, we raised concern over whether this arrangement was either welcome or constitutionally appropriate, given that the prime minister’s chief of staff is himself a special adviser,” he said.

Following last December’s election, Penman said it has become apparent that special advisers are being treated as a central resource, deployed between different ministers, with officials relocated in the reshuffle in February – a process that led to Sajid Javid’s resignation as chancellor.

“This resulted in some special advisers being left without posts, and concern that the process for determining who stayed, moved or left not only lacked transparency, but was being used to exert control and dilute the relationship between minister and adviser,” Penman wrote.

“Our concern is that… we have a cadre of special advisers with little security of employment and who are being directly managed by No.10 through the PM’s chief of staff. Even without the concern over how this power over employment is being deployed, it is clear that there is a deliberate approach from No.10 to fundamentally change the nature of the role.

"If special advisers are no longer appointed to serve a single minister, then how can the accountability and responsibility outlined in the ministerial code be enforced? If a minister is allocated a special adviser from a pool, they have not appointed them as envisaged under section 15 of the Constitution, Reform and Governance Act 2010. Indeed the current model could potentially result in only the Prime Minister being constitutionally and legally responsible for their employment and conduct.”

Penman warned earlier this year that Downing Street was using the appointment of special advisers as a way to circumvent civil service recruitment rules when it launched a website, spadjobs.uk, to coordinate special adviser recruitment.

“Special advisers are temporary civil servants, exempt from the statutory requirement of open and fair selection because they are essentially personal advisers to individual ministers. This simply confirms No.10 is abusing this exemption to try to get around civil service impartiality rules,” Penman said earlier this year.

In his letter to Wragg, Penman added that while “it may well be within the gift of the prime minister to make these fundamental changes”, they should be done with “appropriate scrutiny and transparency”.

He said: “Whilst there are concerns around how the power over appointment is being used and the impact on individuals, there are also fundamental concerns on whether this centralised approach makes for effective government. Control – whether that is over individuals, ministers or the machinery of government – comes with responsibility. That responsibility is not only about how power is exercised in relation to individuals, but also whether it is in the broader interests of effective and transparent government.”

A PACAC spokesperson said MPs were considering whether to hold an evidence session or launch a full inquiry in light of a backlog of inquiries because of Covid-19, the Guardian reported.

“It will remain something the committee will be looking at closely but it remains to be seen if it will be [examined by an] individual evidence session or a full inquiry,” he said.

The call comes amid reports that Cummings told special advisers this week that “a hard rain is coming” for Whitehall following the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Zoom meeting, Cummings said that the aim of his long-mooted reforms to government would be to make “the centre of government smaller, empower departments and change civil service fundamentals to improve performance”

According to the ConservativeHome website, Cummings signalled big changes coming to how No.10 and the Cabinet Office work, with “a smaller, more focused and more elite centre” being required.

He told advisers: "Anybody who has read what I've said about management over the years will know it's ludicrous to suggest the solution to Whitehall's problems is a bigger centre and more centralisation. It's already far too big, incoherent and adds to the problems with departments.”

He said the coronavirus response had underlined problems in the structures and many officials now accepted the need for radical change, before concluding with the message: "A hard rain is coming."

Author Display Name Richard Johnstone Tags HR 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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Beckie Smith

Truss refuses to rule out DIT merger with new foreign and development department

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

"I’m not focused on the precise structure of Whitehall," Truss tells MPs

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Photo: Parliament TV

International trade secretary Liz Truss has refused to rule out that her department will be scrapped, as the Foreign Office prepares to absorb the Department for International Development.

When questioned by MPs about the future of the Department for International Trade yesterday, Truss repeatedly refused to confirm that it would remain a standalone department.

Boris Johnson, the prime minister, sparked rumours that he could be planning to scrap DIT last week when he announced he would merge the Foreign Office and DfID in the autumn.

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Announcing the formation of the beefed-up Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Department on 16 June, Johnson said British ambassadors would head up overseas staff in their host country – including DIT trade commissioners. However a Department for International Trade spokesperson told CSW that day that this did not mean a change in the department's role. Johnson has also previously said he wants to create a “unified Whitehall voice” for the UK’s post-Brexit foreign policy.

Appearing before MPs on the International Trade Committee yesterday, Truss repeatedly refused to say that Johnson was not planning to scrap DIT.

Asked by committee chair Angus MacNeil what she made of the “speculation” about DIT’s future, Truss said the department “already has a huge amount of achievements under its belt, negotiating £110bn of transition deals – but it has really stepped up in recent months”.

Truss said the merger of the FCO and DfID was a "long time coming".

But asked whether she had been given any assurances as to her own department’s future, Truss answered: “I’m 100% focused on getting good deals, I’m not focused on the precise structure of Whitehall.”

“What I am clear about is having a trade department that focuses on trade policy, under the leadership of [second permanent secretary] and [chief trade negotiation adviser] Crawford Falconer, has delivered huge amounts already and is due to deliver a lot more in the coming years,” she added.

And pressed further, she added: “The prime minister is very clear that the Department for International Trade remains and has a lot of important work to do.”

However, she would not answer further questions about how long the department would remain in its current form.

The trade secretary said she believed foreign and trade policy should be “prosecuted in concert”, but would not say whether this could lead to structural changes in future.

She said she was working closely with Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, as the two departments prepare for the Brexit transition period to end in December.

“We have to speak with one voice internationally, which is why I’m working very closely with the foreign secretary, which is why our trade commissioners are working closely with local ambassadors and high commissioners,” she told the MPs. 

DIT was one of two departments founded by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, in the wake of the referendum to leave the EU in June 2016. The other, the Department for Exiting the European Union, was scrapped in February.

Tags HR International Affairs & Security Categories Government and politics International Relations About the author

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

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‘I hope an enduring legacy will be how we seek to work together’: one civil service union’s Covid lessons

1 month 2 weeks ago
Opinion

The deputy general secretary of Prospect says the civil service has never before worked at such pace as it had to in response to coronavirus. Close collaboration between staff and employees could be one the pandemic’s legacie

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When the current crisis is over, it is my hope that people will look back on it as one of the defining moments of success in the civil service, and as a hugely positive example of unions making a difference. Trade union engagement has been essential not only to the safety of staff but also the ability of the civil service to support and protect citizens, businesses and our country. It is easy to forget the pace of movement. Looking at my diary – Prospect was interviewed on Sky News calling for access by visitors to the House of Commons to be limited due to the threat of the spread of Covid-19. In some quarters the call was regarded as outlandish – this was Friday 13 March. Ten days later, the prime minister announced “lockdown” across the UK.

I have never seen the civil service reorganise itself at such pace or have to deal with key issues of policy development and delivery at such speed. Even before the pandemic, with Brexit in the offing, the country in peacetime has never been more reliant on its civil service. It is not an exaggeration to say that the way the civil service has responded to the Covid crisis is akin to gearing up for a war effort. That is all the more remarkable with around 80% of civil servants working from home. A significant number of staff have been having to attend workplaces for operational reasons – keeping our transportation system safe, protecting the food chain, supporting our nation’s defence, protecting people at work – the list goes on. I reflect with irony on those who suggested that the country was “sick of experts”. Daily press briefings have seen ministers and the prime minister himself flanked by experts and it has felt the public has looked more to them for their views as opposed to the opinions of ministers.

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Keeping our members in the civil service safe and supporting their work and wellbeing has been crucial to everything that Prospect has been doing – working with other unions, individual employers, the Cabinet Office and representatives in the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales. By working closely, what has felt like a blizzard of guidance has been produced, seeking to ensure the civil service continues to deliver and staff are protected and supported. The pandemic has also shone light of the impact of austerity and capacity challenges for the civil service. STEM skills at all levels are crucial, and in both policy development and delivery. 

As more officials return to work, detailed negotiations are taking place with individual employers to produce guidance and remote training on a range of issues including workplace risk assessments, which will be crucial to building confidence as staff return to work over time. We have also negotiated arrangements where staff have particular safety concerns that these can be escalated rapidly and that staff have confidence that they should not be required to put themselves in harm’s way.

For many Prospect members – across the public and private sector – the management of risk and safety is part of their professional day job. The pandemic has been unique in its challenges however, safety has been at the fore – but so also has been ensuring that members are dealt with fairly and feel supported by their employer and their union. Some of our webinars on wellbeing and mental health have been the most popular we have done.
We are about to survey our members on their experiences over the past months and their hopes and expectations of work for the future. Government guidance on working from home remains unchanged though there are more staff returning for essential operational work. Through positive engagement with employers this is being done in ways that command the confidence of employees with rigorous risk assessments and the ability of individuals to escalate concerns where they believe safety may be being compromised.

The past months have shown how extraordinary the civil service is and how everyone benefits when unions and employers are able to work positively together. Many civil servants have been the unsung heroes of the health crisis and politicians owe them a debt of gratitude. I am proud as a union that our expertise has helped keep people safe and members have felt supported. I hope an enduring legacy of the pandemic will be how we seek to work together.

Author Display Name Garry Graham Tags Health Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Policymaking Categories Government and politics Health and social care Society and welfare About the author

Garry Graham is the deputy general secretary of Prospect

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Jenkin backs call for coronavirus 'lessons learned' review ahead of second wave

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

"It is essential that the UK is prepared for a second wave of coronavirus later this year,” Liaison Committee chair says

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Sir Bernard Jenkin, chair of parliament’s Liaison Committee, has backed a call by senior medics for a “rapid review” of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic to help it prepare for a second wave of infections.

In a joint letter published in the British Medical Journal yesterday, the leaders of Britain’s medical royal colleges said a review is “crucial and needs to happen soon if the public is to have confidence that the virus can be contained”.

“While the future shape of the pandemic in the UK is hard to predict, the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk,” they wrote.

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“Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain. 

“The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic, but to ensure that the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase.”

The warning came after the prime minister, Boris Johnson, announced the lifting of several lockdown measures intended to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Among other things, the two-metre social-distancing rule is being replaced in shops and on public transport with a "one metre plus" system, and pubs and bars will be allowed to open on 4 July.

Jenkin, who chaired the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee for a decade, said the group was right to call for a review.

"It is essential that the UK is prepared for a second wave of coronavirus later this year,” he said.

“We do not want another Chilcot-type inquiry at this stage, but medics are right to call for a swift cross-party 'lessons learned' exercise to be completed by October. 

“This would not only contribute to the UK's readiness for a new Covid peak but would also strengthen public confidence in the government’s readiness.”

Jenkin said the government should commission the review, to be led by parliament, “as soon as possible”.

He suggested the Liaison Committee could act as a vehicle for the review. Alternatively, it could model it on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards set up after the banking crash, which Jenkin said would “still be able to draw on cross-party expertise from Lords and Commons”.

“It is vital that we work together and make the most of the opportunity to learn from recent experience, before a possible new wave of Covid,” he said.

Tags Health Transparency & Open Data Categories 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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Disadvantaged workers being ‘failed’ by apprenticeships system, government advisers warn

1 month 2 weeks ago
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 “This is an easy win for the government in its attempts at levelling up – if it can get this right," SMC chair says

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Apprentices with Boris Johnson, who promised to "guarantee apprenticeships for young people". Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/PA Images

Workers from disadvantaged backgrounds are being “left behind” by the UK’s apprenticeships system, the government’s own social mobility advisers have warned.

A new report by the Social Mobility Commission says there has been a 36% drop in apprenticeship starts among people from deprived backgrounds since a major reform of the system in 2017.

That compares with a drop of 23% for apprentices from more well-off backgrounds – with older and female apprentices particularly hard-hit.

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Meanwhile the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds starting degree-level apprenticeships – which are equivalent to a bachelors degree – has tumbled by 13%.

The report’s authors say that apprenticeships are “one of the few indisputably effective tools of social mobility currently available to the government”.

They can, the commission’s co-chairs Sandra Wallace and Steven Cooper say, boost earnings and lead to “richer, more fulfilled working lives”.

“Yet the system is not working,” they warn. “Instead, the main beneficiaries of apprenticeships are the people who do not need them.”

The government’s apprenticeship levy, which was brought in in 2017, sees all employers with annual paybills of more than £3m asked to pay a charge to fund apprenticeships.

But the report warns that the charge has “disproportionately funded higher-level apprenticeships for learners from more advantaged communities, rather than those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds”.

“Today, workplace learners from more deprived backgrounds are less likely to get selected for an apprenticeship than their more privileged peers,” it says.

“If they are successful, it is likely to be for an entry-level Intermediate placement – usually working in a sector where despite their importance to the economy overall they have traditionally lower rates of pay, such as health, education or hospitality.”

'An easy win for the government'

Report author Alison Battiston said the coronavirus pandemic was only likely to have “made the disadvantaged gap worse”.

She added: “There needs to be urgent consideration of the impact of the apprenticeship levy on social mobility outcomes.”

Cooper, the commission’s interim chair, added: “This is an easy win for the government in its attempts at levelling up – if it can get this right. The government must look at the structural barriers in place and take action to channel resources where they will have the greatest effect.”

The findings come after Boris Johnson pledged to “guarantee apprenticeships for young people” as he acknowledged the UK would face “many, many job losses” in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis.

But Labour said the report showed apprentices faced a “bleak” future “without urgent government action”.

Shadow education secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey said: “If the government is serious about offering an ‘apprenticeship guarantee’ it will heed calls from the FE [further education] sector for a post-Covid skills funding package, address the barriers to success and support employers to provide the opportunities and decent pay new apprentices need to succeed.”
 
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are looking at how we can make sure more people and businesses can take advantage of apprenticeships in the future including supporting employers, especially small and medium-sized businesses, to take on new apprentices this year."

Author Display Name Matt Honeycombe-Foster Tags Skills & Education Categories Education and skills Government and politics About the author

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

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HMRC opens new voluntary redundancy round linked to hubs programme

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

Staff who can't travel to new regional hubs may be allowed to work remotely – but they won't know until November

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Photo: Gary Todd via Flickr

HM Revenue and Customs will embark on a redundancy scheme that unions say could affect 2,000 people tomorrow, as part of its office closure programme.

From tomorrow, staff based at some of HMRC’s offices that are set to close between September and next March months will be able to apply for redundancy.

The department is closing 90% of its local offices and replacing them with larger, regional hubs.

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Staff working at those offices will transfer either to one of the new regional hubs or to a “transitional site”.

The scheme, which was described by one MP in the House of Commons yesterday as "massive", will be open to HMRC employees who are “outside reasonable daily travel” of their intended site, a spokesperson for the tax agency told CSW.

This will be the second wave of redundancies to happen as part of the hubs plan. It was set to open in April or May, but was pushed back because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The first tranche of people who opted to take redundancy earlier this year were originally set to leave at the end of June, but were asked to stay on until the end of September to support HMRC’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

PCS said last year that the department had lost 17,000 years’ worth of staff experience through redundancy and departures because of the hubs programme.

The trade union has pushed back against the latest plans, saying redundancies were not needed as the “overwhelming majority” can do their jobs remotely.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “We’ve been assured by the minister that redundancies will only go ahead if they are ‘necessary and unavoidable’. The redundancies announced in HMRC are the very opposite of that and come at a time of massive uncertainty and economic upheaval for many.”

The department is currently reviewing whether it will offer long-term options for people to work flexible or even to work from home permanently.

However, staff may not know if they will be allowed to work flexibly until the end of November. The department said staff wanting the option to work from home would not be forced to take redundancy before the review was completed.

Serwotka said it was “incredible” that HMRC was announcing job losses before the review had been completed.

“If the department is serious about learning the lessons of Covid-19, HMRC should work with PCS to ensure the department retains these key workers' vital skills and should make the necessary changes to its locations plans to protect the service in the future,” he said.

During a debate on the government’s response to Covid-19 yesterday, SNP MP Chris Stephens said the pandemic had demonstrated the benefits of home working, “particularly in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, with staff having gone the extra mile to support business through the schemes”.

Around 90% of HMRC staff have been working from home throughout the pandemic, according to figures released last month.

The remaining 10% needed to be in their normal workplace “owing to operational requirements”, financial secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman said at the time.

In light of the recent working arrangements, Stephens said the redundancies appeared to undermine the prime minister’s insistence that he wants to “get people back into work”.

“The prime minister will be aware that HMRC has now launched a massive redundancy scheme, which could affect 2,000 staff,” he said.

“What message does he believe he sends when he says that people should get back to work but government departments want to put people out of work?”

Boris Johnson said: “On HMRC and the sad redundancies... I will certainly look at that, though I think that, obviously, it is also important to cut the cost of government.”

He added that as coronavirus lockdown measures are eased, people “have to work from home if they can” but it is “up to employers and employees to decide whether they need to get back to their workplaces to do their jobs”.

An HMRC spokesperson said: “We remain committed to building and moving into our regional centres and specialist sites, providing safe, high quality and modern workspaces for our staff. 

“We know that some colleagues would much rather remain working for HMRC but may feel like they have no other option than to take voluntary redundancy. We are reviewing whether there are some longer term opportunities to work more flexibly in future, including in some cases the opportunity to work from home on a permanent basis, and help as many colleagues as possible to stay with us if they can.”

Tags HR Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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Daily coronavirus press conferences scrapped after PM unveils easing of lockdown rules

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

“We’ll continue to hold press conferences to coincide with significant announcements," No.10 says

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Government press conferences updating the nation on the coronavirus response will no longer be held daily, Downing Street has revealed.

Off the back of a wide range of announcements by the prime minister on easing the lockdown, No.10 has suggested that there is no longer the need to hold the televised briefings so often.

instead, they will be held more sporadically, called instead to “coincide with significant announcements”. They will be used when the government has more alterations to the restrictions to reveal or messages to relay, rather than answering questions from journalists and members of the public.

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A Downing Street spokesperson said yesterday: “From today, the press conferences will no longer be daily. 

“We’ll continue to hold press conferences to coincide with significant announcements, including with the PM.

“We will be publishing all of the data which has previously been included in the press conference slides on Gov.uk every week day.”

“We’ll continue to hold press conferences to coincide with significant announcements, including with the PM, The press conferences began in late March after calls for the government to better outline its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and have been held seven days a week ever since, barring some bank holidays. Daily coronavirus press conferences scrapped after PM unveils easing of lockdown rules: https://buff.ly/3fLvTHY

They have been used by ministers to communicate their strategy for dealing with the disease, and have allowed questions to be asked of the scientist and medics advising them.

But in recent weeks fewer members of Sage have appeared alongside the politicians, and their usefulness as the threat from the disease recedes has been questioned both inside and outside of Number 10.

Author Display Name Alain Tolhurst Tags Communications Health Operational Delivery Policymaking Categories Government and politics Health and social care About the author

Alain Tolhurst is the chief reporter at CSW's sister site PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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Home Office to spell out plan to implement full Windrush review before summer

1 month 2 weeks ago
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Home secretary pledges to ensure Home Office “fundamentally shifts its way of working” after report

 

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The government will share its plan to implement all recommendations set out in a review into the Windrush scandal in full before Parliament breaks for summer, Priti Patel has confirmed.

The home secretary said she was committed to actioning all 30 points set out in the Wendy Williams review and that there were "serious and significant lessons" for her department to learn.

Patel said the 2018 scandal, which saw people from the Commonwealth incorrectly told they were in the UK illegally and in some cases wrongly deported, was "absolutely appalling".

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"I was clear when Wendy Williams published her review that I would listen and I would act," she told the Commons.

"I will continue to apologise... and ensure the Home Office not just learns lessons, but fundamentally shifts its way of working."

The Williams review, published in March, criticised the "hostile environment" policy on tackling illegal immigration and told the BBC that ministers "should have realised the impact" of the legislation on different groups of people.

It called for an overhaul of the ethos of the Home Office to ensure it was based on "fairness, humanity, diversity and inclusion", but stopped short of branding the department institutionally racist.

Patel's statement came 24 hours after the UK marked Windrush Day, the 72nd anniversary of the arrival of Commonwealth citizens who helped to rebuild the country in the wake of the Second World War.

In comments yesterday, Williams said the Home Office must "make good on its commitment to learn the lessons" from the Windrush scandal or face a “very grave risk of something similar happening again”.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour to mark Windrush Day, Williams said: "The Home Office has a very stark choice. It can decide not to implement my recommendations and, if that happens, then I think there is a very grave risk of something similar happening again."

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission announced earlier this month that it would launch legal action to review whether the Home Office complied with equality law when implementing the curbs on immigration.

The assessment will, the watchdog said, look at “how the department engaged with affected individuals and communities to understand the relevant historical and contextual factors when developing immigration policy from 2012-18“.

It will also consider whether the department “understood, monitored and reviewed the impact of placing increasingly onerous documentation requirements” on those swept up in the crackdown.

Author Display Name Kate Forrester Tags International Affairs & Security Justice and Public Safety Leadership & Management Categories Government and politics Public order, justice and rights 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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Pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers to re-open as PM sets out lockdown easing

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

Boris Johnson says country’s “long hibernation is coming to an end”

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Hair today, gone next week? PM announced plans to reopen hairdressers. Photo: PA

The hospitality industry will be able to re-open from 4 July as Boris Johnson unveiled the biggest easing of lockdown restrictions yet.

The prime minister said the fall in new infections in recent weeks has allowed him to finally reduce the two-metre rule on social distancing, allowing the sector to get going again.

Speaking in the House of Commons he revealed pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers will be among the businesses able to open again in less than two weeks time - as long as they follow new guidelines on making their premises Covid-secure.

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He said the UK’s “long hibernation is coming to an end”.

Other places set to unlock their doors are hostels, bed and breakfast accommodation, holiday homes, campsites, caravan parks and boarding houses.

Places of worship, libraries, community centres, cinemas, bingo halls, museums and galleries can also re-open, as can theatres and concert halls - but without any live performances.

Outdoor playgrounds and gyms can re-open, but indoor gyms, swimming polls, spa and fitness and dance studios will not be allowed to.

Nightclubs, casinos, bowling alleys and indoor skating rinks will also have to wait to get going again, as will nail bars, beauty salons, massage, tattoo and piercing parlours.

Johnson also revealed a major change to people’s social lives, with people now allowed to invite another household into their homes, and stay over, with no limit on the size of the group.

And with no exclusivity rules, a family could invite one set of grandparents over on one occasion, and meet the other set of grandparents on a different occasion, as long as they keep to social distancing. 

This new policy is separate to the “support bubble” system previously announced, and is based on what the government says is clear evidence the UK is getting coronavirus under control, with the R rate below one and the number of infections falling at a rate of 2-4% a day.

It comes a day after Britain recorded its lowest daily death toll since mid-March, with just 15 deaths registered on Sunday. 

And the number of new cases dropped to below 1,000 for the first time since lockdown began on 23 March. 

But the government is warning if the virus begins to pick up again they won't hesitate "to put the handbrake on and reverse" the changes" announced.

Author Display Name John Johnston Tags Health Operational Delivery Policymaking Categories Government and politics Health and social care About the author

John Johnston is a reporter for PoliticsHome where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @johnjohnstonmi

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Explained: All the key changes to England's coronavirus lockdown announced by Boris Johnson

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

Boris Johnson has announced a major relaxation of the coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England. But what are the details of the new plans and how will it impact on our day-to-day lives?

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The government have just made some major changes to the lockdown restrictions in England after they said a falling infection rate had now made it safe to reopen swathes of the economy and relax rules on social contact.

Two-metre rule relaxed

Social distancing rules are being eased from the current two metre advice when travelling on public transport or visiting shops to a new "one metre plus" system.

The new guidance says people should remain at least one metre apart when outside their homes but will be asked to take other "mitigations", including the use of face coverings to limit the transmission of the disease.

Social contact

Outdoor gatherings of up to six people from six different households will continue as normal, but with those attending asked to follow the new one metre advice.

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However, the new guidelines will also allow two households of any size to meet outdoors provided they maintain social distancing.

The biggest change on social contact is that households will be able to meet for the first time indoors with one other household provided they also follow the one metre rule.

And the Government has been clear these meetings are not subject to "exclusivity", meaning a family could meet with one set of grandparents on one day and meet the other set the following day.

The rules will also allow households visiting each other to stay overnight.

However, there are no changes to the 'Support Bubble' system which allows single adult families to link up with one other household provided they do this exclusively.

Major reopening of shops, pubs and bars

From 4 July a whole host of hospitality and leisure businesses will be given the greenlight to open, provided they implement new safety measures to ensure staff and customers can follow social distancing rules.

Crucially, the limit on two households meeting indoors also applies when visiting any of the newly opened businesses.

In simple terms, it means you can go for dinner or drinks with people from one other household but bigger get togethers remain banned.

The full list of premises given the greenlight to reopen from 4 July includes:

  • Hotels, hostels bed and breakfast accommodation, holiday apartments or homes, cottages or bungalows, campsites, caravan parks or boarding houses
  • Places of Worship
  • Libraries
  • Community Centres
  • Restaurants, Cafes and Workplace Canteens
  • Bars
  • Pubs
  • Cinemas
  • Bingo Halls
  • Theatres and concert halls (provided they are not putting on live performances)
  • Museums and galleries
  • Hair salons and barbers
  • Outdoor playgrounds
  • Outdoor gyms
  • Funfairs,  theme parks and adventure parks and activities
  • Amusement arcades
  • Outdoor skating rinks
  • Other indoor leisure centres or facilities, including indoor games, recreation and entertainment venues
  • Social Clubs
  • Model villages
  • Indoor attractions at aquariums, zoos, safari parks, farms, wildlife centres and any place where animals are exhibited to the public as an attraction

All of those planning to open will be asked to apply new Covid secure guidelines which are expected to be announced later today.

But they are expected to include new requirements for protective screens, an increase in handwashing facilities and other measures to ensure the 1m rules are followed.

Businesses are also set to be asked to register customers to ensure contact tracing can be easily carried out if someone subsequently contracts the disease.

And the guidelines for places of worship come with a number of caveats. For instance, wedding ceremonies of up to thirty people will be permitted from July but any subsequent receptions or dinners would be limited to the two household restrictions.

Staying shut for now

Meanwhile, a host of other businesses will remain shut until medical advice says it is safe for a further relaxation of the rules.

They include:

  • Nightclubs
  • Casinos
  • Bowling alleys and indoor skating rinks
  • Indoor play areas including soft-play
  • Spas
  • Nail bars and beauty salons
  • Massage, tattoo and piercing parlours
  • Indoor fitness and dance studios, and indoor gyms and sports venues/facilities
  • Swimming pools and water parks
  • Exhibition or Conference Centres - where they are to be used for exhibitions or conferences, other than for those who work for that venue
Author Display Name John Johnston Tags Health Operational Delivery Policymaking Categories Government and politics Health and social care About the author

John Johnston is a reporter for PoliticsHome where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @johnjohnstonmi

 

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NAO scrutiny 'generated £1.1bn in savings and better public services' in 2019

1 month 2 weeks ago
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Watchdog says every £1 it spends creates £16 of positive financial impact

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Photo: NAO - National Audit Office

The National Audit Office’s work generated £1.1bn in savings, improved services and other benefits last year, the watchdog has said.

The watchdog far exceeded its target for positive financial impact by some £400m, generating £16 for every £1 it spent, the watchdog has said.

The regulator has audited £1.7tr of government books in 12 months, according to its 2019-20 annual report, published today.

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“Each year we assess where our work has resulted in an improvement with a financially quantifiable benefit for the public purse,” NAO chair Lord Michael Bichard wrote in the report.

In 2018-19 the positive financial impact was £539m – £8 for every £1 spent.

The 2019-20 figure included £82m in benefits and savings that have come from the NAO’s recommendations and work to support the Competitions and Markets Authority, it said. Resulting improvements have enabled the CMA to handle enforcement cases more effectively, close down unfruitful cases, and increase its capacity.

“These improvements have supported the strengthening of the competition and consumer regimes, and increased deterrence of anti-competitive commercial practices,” the report said.

But while the figures show the watchdog is having an impact, Bichard said public bodies were not taking on its recommendations quickly enough.

“I have constantly stressed the need for us to add value, to spread best practice and to measure our success by the impact we make, just as important in times of crisis as in times of business as usual. Is the public sector learning the lessons from our work? Yes, but not quickly enough,” he said.

The need to speed up departments’ responses to its audits was part of the driving force behind the NAO’s new strategy, which was published last month.

Writing for CSW about the strategy and the consultation leading up to it, NAO head Gareth Davies said he had been “heartened by the high regard in which the NAO is already held, but the feedback confirmed [...] that there is scope for us to be more influential still”.

The strategy set out three priorities: to improve support for effective accountability and scrutiny; to increase its impact on outcomes and value for money; and to provide more accessible insights.

“We heard from our stakeholders that it is not as straightforward as it should be to find out what we have learned on a topic and to understand how they can apply this to improve delivery and value for money,” Davies wrote.

And this year our work had a positive financial impact of £1.1bn, comfortably exceeding our target of £700m. In this Annual Report we have included a range of case studies showing some of the qualitative benefits from our work

In a survey of organisations it audited, 89% said its financial audits were high quality and 71% had actively sought its feedback on accounting and financial control issues.

The report has been published as Bichard prepares to step down as chair of the NAO after six years.

“This role has afforded me the joy of working with people of the highest quality who have a passion for what they do. But all good things come to an end. Statute limits my term of office and I will soon step down. Chairing the NAO is a privilege and I wish the organisation every success,” he said.

Tags Operational Delivery Transparency & Open Data Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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Home Office seeks next chief scientific adviser

1 month 2 weeks ago
News

Chief scientist will also be director general for science, technology, analysis, research and strategy

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Photo: David Pearson

The Home Office is offering up to £140,000 for its next chief scientific adviser, whose advice will inform the department’s approach as it manages the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and a major transformation programme.

The next chief scientist will also be a director general for science, technology, analysis, research and strategy to “help shape the Home Office’s strategy and inform policy making and operational decisions”, according to the job ad.

The job comes with management responsibility for “at least” three directorates totalling about 700 people.

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As well as leading on scientific advice informing the department’s strategy, policymaking and operational decisions, the successful candidate will therefore take on a “significant leadership and transformation challenge”, the job ad said.

They will be tasked with ensuring the department can access the scientific evidence it needs, and that it “thinks strategically about its future”.

Writing in the candidate pack, government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: “This is an essential and varied role that cuts across the whole range of the department’s work, including national security, crime, immigration, the border and more.

“The successful candidate will have the opportunity to bring challenge and shape the way that science and technology is used to inform policy making in the department.”

The next CSA will be a “highly credible scientist of international renown in a relevant discipline, from academia, industry or other research environment”, the advert said. Their professional credibility and network will enable them not only to work with colleagues but also to call on external advice where specialist input is needed.

They must have “extensive” senior leadership experience that includes “developing a compelling organisational vision and providing direction for large, disparate teams”.

“Candidates will have the personal resilience to adapt and operate in an ambiguous, fast-changing and complex environment which is subject to regular scrutiny by the media, public and others,” the advert said.

They will succeed John Aston, a professor of statistics at the University of Cambridge, who will return to his academic post when his three-year term ends.

His successor will be hired on a three-year contract but loans or secondments will be considered.

They will earn between £111,500 and £140,000 and could be based in London, Croydon, Sheffield or Birmingham.

The job is only open to UK nationals, who must undergo a developed vetting process. Applications close on 19 July.

Tags HR Science & Technology Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

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

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Implement my recommendations or risk another Windrush, review author warns Home Office

1 month 3 weeks ago
News

Warning comes as department forms a cross-government working group to "address the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and their descendants"

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The Home Office has been warned by that it must "make good on its commitment to learn the lessons" from the Windrush scandal or face a “very grave risk of something similar happening again”.

In comments to mark Windrush Day, Wendy Williams, who undertook a review into the scandal, said that the department faced a "stark choice" in deciding whether to implement the findings, which was published in March.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour to mark Windrush Day, Williams said: "The Home Office has a very stark choice. It can decide not to implement my recommendations and, if that happens, then I think there is a very grave risk of something similar happening again."

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And she said the department "should have realised the impact" its policies would have on different groups of people.

Williams’s review criticised a set of measures collectively known as the hostile environment policy, which are designed to make it difficult for people to live in the UK illegally.

Her report said the Home Office has shown "ignorance and thoughtlessness" on race when setting policy and dealing with members of the Windrush generation, some of whom were wrongly told they were in the UK illegally and denied access to services.

Williams’s comments came as home secretary Priti Patel announced the department had set up a cross-government working group to "address the challenges faced by the Windrush generation and their descendants".

Patel said today that the panel, which will help to determine the Home Office's response to Williams's lessons learned review, would be “crucial to delivering on our promise to right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation.”

The cross-government group announced today will be chaired by home secretary Patel and Bishop Derek Webley, a minister in the New Testament Church of God and former chair of the West Midlands Police Authority.

It will support the design and delivery of “practical solutions”, including education, work and health programmes, “to address the wider challenges that disproportionately affect people from Black and wider BAME backgrounds”, the Home Office said.

And it will advise on the Windrush Schemes Community Fund, which will give grants to organisations that celebrate and educate about the Windrush generation.

Its members will include community representatives and senior civil servants from government departments including No.10, the Home Office, the Department for Education, the Department of Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Department for Work and Pensions.

Members named today include Bishop Joe Aldred from Churches Together in England; Paulette Simpson, executive director of black newspaper the Voice; Blondel Cluff, chief executive of the West India Committee, a charity promoting ties and trade with the British Caribbean; and Kunle Olulode, Director of Voice4Change England, which represents BAME third-sector organisations.

“All members bring a balance of experience in community engagement and specific sector expertise,” the Home Office said.

Members also will include representation at a senior level from a number of government departments.

Patel said: “This group is crucial to delivering on our promise to right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation and it is right that we advance these issues in a constructive, sensitive and responsible way”.

“We know that the best way to make sure we reach all those affected is by listening to them and hearing their voices, including how best to address the wider challenges that disproportionately affect those from BAME backgrounds,” she said.

Webley added: “This working group recognises that the work we’re doing can’t be done without the voices of the community, and we will work with them and the government in finding a way forward that would meet the satisfaction of the Windrush community.”

Tags Justice and Public Safety 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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Coronavirus: DWP ‘must not ignore’ people claiming legacy benefits after Universal Credit boost

1 month 3 weeks ago
News

Recipients of benefits including jobseekers’ allowance and employment support allowance have “slipped down the list of priorities”, says committee chair

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The government must boost a host of legacy welfare benefits to help people cope with the coronavirus crisis, MPs have said.

A new report by the Work and Pensions Committee says the pandemic is leaving “huge numbers” of people “struggling to cover the cost of essentials.

The government has already raised Universal Credit and working tax credit payments by £20 a week for 12 months.

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But the committee warns that those on benefits that have not yet been replaced by Universal Credit — including jobseekers’ allowance, employment support allowance and child tax credits — have not received the same help.

The cross-party group says it is “unacceptable that people have been left facing hardship through no fault of their own, simply because of the outdated and complex way in which so-called legacy benefits are administered”.

And they call on the DWP to increase rates for legacy benefits by an equivalent amount, with the payment backdated to April.

Committee chairman Stephen Timms said: “DWP’s frontline staff have worked hard to get support to millions of people. Without their actions, the impact of the pandemic could have been much worse.

“But the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted weaknesses in a social security system which at times is too inflexible and slow to adapt to support people in times of crisis.”

He added: “The focus has mostly been on the unprecedented numbers of new claims for Universal Credit. But in the background, people on legacy benefits – including disabled people, carers and people with young families – have slipped down the list of priorities.

“It’s now time for the government to redress that balance and increase legacy benefits too. It’s simply not right for people to miss out on support just because they happen, through no fault of their own, to be claiming the ‘wrong’ kind of benefit.”

The committee is also calling on ministers to ditch the long-standing ‘no recourse to public funds’ immigration rule, which sees thousands of migrants routinely shut out of access to state benefits including Universal Credit.

They say it “cannot be in the public interest” during a pandemic to expect people who include key workers and front-line medical staff to “comply fully with restrictive public health guidance while simultaneously denying them full access to the welfare safety net".

Savings gap

The report by the Work and Pensions Committee came as a separate study by the Resolution Foundation think tank revealed that poorer households are being pushed into borrowing during the coronavirus pandemic while richer ones are able to pile up the savings.

The study, carried out with the Standard Life Foundation, also found that typical workers in a shut-down sector of the economy went into the crisis with average savings of just £1,900, far less than the average amount squirrelled away (£4,700) by someone who is now able to work from home.

A quarter of the poorest households say they have increased their use of consumer credit during the crisis, while just one-in-eight high income households have done so — and a third (34%) of richer households are seeing savings increase.

George Bangham, an economist at the Resolution Foundation, said: “The impact of coronavirus crisis will be with families for many years to come.

“That’s why it’s important for the Government to both strengthen the social security safety net via Universal Credit, and assist more low and middle-income households in building up their private safety nets by boosting their savings.”

Author Display Name Matt Honeycombe-Foster Tags Operational Delivery Policymaking Transformation Categories Government and politics Society and welfare About the author

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

 

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Richard Johnstone

Home Office faces court challenge over 'discriminatory' visa algorithm

1 month 3 weeks ago
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JCWI says the algirith discriminates on the basis of nationality – by design"

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A judicial review has been launched to challenge the lawfulness of an algorithm used by the Home Office to process visa applications.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has filed the review asking the High Court to find the so-called automated streaming tool unlawful and suspend its further use until a “substantive review” can be conducted. The JCWI, whose action is supported by “tech justice” organisation Foxglove, argues that the algorithm “discriminates on the basis of nationality – by design”.

The review claims that every application made for a visa to enter the UK is graded by the streaming tool on a traffic-light system of green, amber and red. Following this algorithmic assessment, applications are then passed on to government officials.

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The Home Office maintains “a secret list of suspect nationalities”, the JCWI said, with applicants from those countries more likely to be graded red and, consequently, to face “intensive scrutiny” from assessors. They are then ultimately more likely to see their application refused, thus creating what JCWI describes as “a feedback loop… in which biased enforcement and visa statistics reinforce which countries stay on the list of suspect nationalities”.

Prior to filing the review, the migrants' rights charity had corresponded with the Home Office but claims the department has “refused to provide JCWI with meaningful information about the algorithm”. The review will claim that the streaming tool is “opaque” and that, other than a list of nationalities, “it is unclear what other factors are taken into account in grading applications”.

Chai Patel, JCWI's legal policy director, said: “The Home Office’s ‘streaming tool’ has for years had a major effect on who has the right to come here to work, study, or see loved ones. And it has been run in a way that – by the Home Office’s admission – discriminates, singling out some people as ‘suspect’ and others as somehow more trustworthy, just because of where they come from. This is the digital hostile environment.”

The judicial review is not the first time concerns have been raised about the streaming tool. Earlier this year, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration David Bolt released a report in which he encouraged the Home Office to be more open about the role of the technology and how it is designed to work.

“Some stakeholders remain deeply suspicious of the streaming tool, believing that it unfairly discriminates against particular applicants, resulting in high levels of refusals,” he said. 

Bolt added: “The more cryptic the Home Office is seen to be about the way visa decisions are made, the more it will fuel concerns about bias and poor practice. The department’s reputation and the staff who work in this area would be better served if its first instinct were to be open and engaging rather than seemingly reluctant to reveal more than it absolutely has to.”

The Home Office has stressed that the tool does not make any visa decisions itself, but is only used to filter and direct applications to officials.

In response to the launch of the judicial review, a spokesperson for the department said: “It would be inappropriate to comment whilst legal proceedings are ongoing.”

JCWI and Foxglove are being represented by solicitors Leigh Day.

Author Display Name Sam Trendall Tags International Affairs & Security Justice and Public Safety Categories Government and politics International Relations Science, technology and research About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared.

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Beckie Smith

Latest civil service & public affairs moves — June 19

1 month 3 weeks 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

  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – Ben Bradley MP stood down as PPS to secretary of state Alok Sharma.
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Spor– Baroness Wyld appointed as non-executive board member for three years.
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office – Caroline Wilson CMG appointed as ambassador to China from September. Mark Clayton appointed ambassador to Georgia from August.
  • HM Treasury: Office for Budget Responsibility – Sir Christopher Kelly re-appointed as non-executive member; Financial Policy Committee – Jonathan Hall appointed as external member.

Non-Ministerial departments

  • Vicky Fox appointed chief executive of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, taking over from Mark Ormerod CB, who retires in September.

House of Commons

  • Procedure Committee – Kate Hollern and Alex Norris discharged; Angela Eagle and Kevan Jones added.
  • Scottish Affairs Committee – David Duguid discharged; Douglas Ross added.
  • Welsh Affairs Committee – Anna McMorrin discharged; Ruth Jones added.

Devolved authorities

Welsh Parliament

  • Mohammad Asghar MS for South Wales East region passed away on 16 June.

Northern Ireland Executive

  • Carál Ní Chuilín MLA replaced Deirdre Hargey MLA as minister for communities, who has temporarily stepped down on health grounds.
  • Sarah Havlin appointed as local government boundaries commissioner.
  • John Larkin QC’s term of office as attorney general for Northern Ireland will cease at the end of June.
  • Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland – Derek Martin reappointed as vhair and Tom Wright and Harry Sinclair reappointed board members for a second three-year term.
  • Northern Ireland Screen – Carmel Mullan and Peter Weil appointed board members for five years and Tom Gray for three years.
  • Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority – Christine Collins MBE appointed interim chair.

Industry

  • Dods Group – Mark Smith appointed as interim non-executive chairman.
  • Financial Reporting Council – Kate O’Neill appointed as director of Investor and stakeholder engagement.
  • Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland – Stephen Henderson appointed head of dental division.
  • The Scouts – Chloe Kembery appointed as director of communications and marketing.

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

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Beckie Smith