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DfT officials lacked skills to scrutinise Crossrail as project went off track, say MPs

1 hour ago
News

Damning report says department has yet to “get a grip” on the troubled trans-capital rail line

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Light at the end of the tunnel? Crossrail construction workers Credit: PA

The Department for Transport has come under renewed criticism from parliament’s public spending watchdogs for its oversight of the late-running and massively over budget Crossrail project.

MPs on the Public Accounts Committee said the department had yet to “get a grip” on the troubled trans-capital rail line. They said DfT had both failed to learn lessons from problems with the Thameslink and Great Western modernisation programmes, that staff had lacked the knowledge to judge how realistic delivery body Crossrail Ltd’s plans were. 

The Crossrail project is now running £2.8bn over budget, with a current estimated £17.6bn price tag. Its main central London section – linking Essex and south-east London with Reading and Heathrow to the west of the capital via 26 miles of new tunnels –  was due to open in December last year. But it is now not expected to be operational until the end of 2020 at the earliest. MPs said today that the full line “may not open until late 2022”.

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MPs said that as Crossrail Ltd had “not determined and agreed” a final opening date for the line, costs were likely to continue to climb beyond the current £17.6m projection – and that Transport for London would not receive the anticipated fares revenue from the project for the public purse until the new line was running.

DfT and the mayoral transport body are joint sponsors of the project, although Crossrail Ltd is wholly owned by TfL. Nevertheless, MPs said DfT was “ultimately responsible” for the use of taxpayers’ money on the project, even though the way the delivery company had been set up meant it had been left with “limited powers to step in and take action” when the programme had faltered.

The report said it was “unacceptable” that the department had presided over the creation of a governance structure for the project for which it was ultimately responsible, but which the department now acknowledged represented an “extreme” version of autonomy.

The PAC report said Crossrail Ltd “failed to understand the complexity and risks involved in the programme, failed in its management of its main contractors and failed to integrate different strands of the programme successfully”.

Damningly, it said that while DfT officials affirmed Crossrail Ltd had presented its proposals to the project sponsors as a “fully integrated plan to complete the programme”, this was because the plan had not been scrutinised properly

“Some of the causes of cost increases and delays on Crossrail relate to the poor integration of complex IT and operational systems and the lack of a fully integrated plan to complete the programme,” the report said.

“It is now apparent that the department did not understand what a fully integrated plan looks like, and therefore was unable to scrutinise the Crossrail Ltd executive effectively on the realism of its plans.”

The report said planning and integrating various elements of major programmes had been a key learning point from issues with the Thameslink and Great Western projects, but that DfT had “failed to ensure” Crossrial Ltd gave enough attention to them.

PAC chair Meg Hillier said delay and being over budget now appeared to be “par for the course” with major rail projects. 

“Crossrail Ltd has failed to understand the complexity and risks of Crossrail, to manage its main contractors, and to integrate different strands of the programme successfully,” she said.

“The Department for Transport is ultimately responsible for the use of taxpayers’ money on Crossrail; it still does not appear to have got a grip of the problems.

“It has also failed to get a grip of Crossrail Ltd, continuing to pay its executives bonuses, despite the programme going off track.”

The PAC report noted that despite the price hikes and delays Crossrail Ltd had continued to pay its executives bonuses, even as the programme was going off track. Then-Crossrail chief exec Andrew Wolstenholme was paid a bonus of £481,000 for performance in 2015-16 and £160,000 for 2016-17, the report said.

The PAC report said that DfT had insisted it was important that remuneration levels for those delivering large projects allowed for the recruitment of people with the right level of skills and experience. 

But MPs said that in the case of the Crossrail project, sponsors “did not provide enough oversight of, and challenge to, remuneration decisions made by Crossrail Ltd” and they noted previous concerns over DfT’s oversight of redundancy payments at HS2 Ltd.

They called on the department to carry out a full review of pay and redundancy arrangements at its delivery bodies and set out how it will ensure  they align with “the overall success of projects” and how DfT will “maintain appropriate control and oversight” over what top-earners get.

 DfT told Civil Service World it had “consistently challenged” the leadership of Crossrail on the delivery of the project.

“When problems became clear the department acted swiftly and effectively, changing the leadership of the board and strengthening governance structures,” a spokesman said.

“The new Crossrail Ltd management team has now produced a new plan to open the railway, and the department and TfL will continue to scrutinise progress to ensure this happens as soon as possible.”

DfT said it and TfL had undertaken a review with the Infrastructure and Projects Authority to “identify transferable lessons” from Crossrail for other major projects, including HS2 and rail timetabling.

It added that the majority of the additional funds needed to complete the project would be “funded by London”, not UK taxpayers.  

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‘A civil servant told me he would put a KitKat in Ken Clarke’s red box to get him to do more papers’: Lunch with… Whitehall chronicler Michael Cockerell

1 hour ago
Interview

Suzannah Brecknell breaks bread with acclaimed documentary maker and Whitehall watcher Michael Cockerell

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Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Who? Michael Cockerell began his career in the BBC’s Africa Service before becoming a reporter for Panorama and then a political documentary maker. His began making profiles of politicians, with subjects including Margaret Thatcher, Ted Heath, Barbara Castle, Tony Blair and David Cameron – indeed, he has interviewed more prime ministers than any other broadcast journalist. He also makes behind the scenes explorations of how government works, such as Inside 10 Downing Street and Life in the Whips Office, and his How to be...  trilogy looking at the roles of home secretary, foreign secretary and chancellor. In recent years he has focused more on portraits of institutions, with his Great Offices of State series and his 2015 Inside the Commons series, to which it took five years for the Commons to agree. He has also made documentaries looking exclusively at the civil service: The Secret World of Whitehall, and Man of Secrets.

The restaurant Kitchen W8: Sophisticated food in a relaxed environment near London’s Notting Hill

We discussed

Why he moved from making documentaries about politicians to those about government institutions and the civil service

You’ve traced a pattern which I haven’t myself been directly aware of. It’s partly there aren’t many people around anymore of the type I made portraits about. They needed to be at or near the top of British politics. They needed to know where the bodies are buried, and they need to be able to speak with some candour. They need to be interesting enough people to fill an hour of television, to have what Denis Healey called a hinterland, not just one or two-dimensional figures. Can you name me someone in politics who would fit that description today?

But really, I have been fascinated by the civil service and diplomatic service all my life. Often in my profiles of politicians the civil servants were shadowy figures in the background – but they would never give you an interview. This was in the 60s and 70s, and they felt they should not be seen. Indeed sometimes in those early days press secretaries in the departments used to have bets each week and the person who lost was the person who was seen on camera even just in the background. They wanted to be invisible.

Once, when I was making a film about the then-environment secretary Anthony Crosland and had been filming him at a ceremony in Nottingham, I got into the same carriage as two senior civil servants on the way back to London. I started talking to them, because you didn’t often get a chance to talk to senior officials. I assured them the conversation would be entirely off-record and so we talked for a few hours. It was the most anodyne and banal conversation I’ve ever had in my life. At the end, I said: “It was lovely to talk to you, how did you find our conversation?” and this guy, who had said absolutely nothing for two hours, said: “I found the whole business distinctly hazardous.”

Whether it was as tortuous to get civil servants to agree to go on camera as it was with the House of Commons

It was a case-by-case basis, really. In my documentary about Tony Blair, Richard Wilson spoke to me as serving cabinet secretary, which was pretty unusual. When I was making How to be Home Secretary Jack Straw said: “It’s always a gamble if you let the cameras in but you haven’t let me down.” We got quite a lot of filming with him – quite a lot about his own learning process and his relationship with civil servants.

It was 2009 and I was working on this series about the Home Office, Foreign Office and Treasury. It was clear in the summer there was going to be a reshuffle because Jacqui Smith resigned as home secretary and as it happened I knew Alan Johnson quite well. I phoned him and said: “There’s soon to be a reshuffle, the chancellor may be moved, the home secretary is moving and it may even be there will be a new prime minister, and I gather that you may be in the frame for any of those three jobs. If you get one of them, could we film you when you first meet your permanent secretary?” He said: “Well Michael, you know more details of my life than I do: I’ve heard nothing, but if any of those scenarios happen I’ll be happy to co-operate.”

Then we heard that he was to be home secretary, and I’d already been to see the Home Office and talked to [perm sec] David Normington who had agreed to take part in the series. He was keen to show that after a series of scandals and setbacks the Home Office was getting its mojo back. It also happened that Normington had worked for Johnson as education secretary, and I said: “When Alan comes down to meet you for the first time, can we put a microphone on you?” He agreed, so in that film you can see the first 10 or so minutes of his time as home secretary, meeting his perm sec and getting a briefing from a spin doctor before he goes in front of the press.

The character of different departments

When I make the profiles of politicians I call them portraits because I’m trying to get a true likeness and capture the essence of people. And in the films I’ve made about institutions I’ve used some of the same techniques, the biographical techniques, and explored the ethos, character, culture and nature. So I’m often looking for the illustrative stories [to show that].

I can give you one slightly oblique example showing how each department has its own ethos. I was talking to [former Treasury perm sec] Nick Macpherson and I said to him: “When you choose people to come into the Treasury what are you looking for?” He said “I suppose really what we’re looking for is that special quality of…Treasuryishness.” He never explained what “Treasuryishness” was but I’m sure you’ll find the equivalent in all the ministries.

“So many politicians just don’t answer questions. They say the same thing twice, have a formula that they repeat and repeat... Politicians ought to be braver”

What makes a good minister?

I’ll give you a civil service answer, a quote from someone I know in the Cabinet Office. I asked him what he was looking for in a minister, and he used three wonderful Whitehall words. He said: “We are looking for three things: grip, clout and bottom.”

Bottom means that you’re a person of some stature and that you’re a significant figure; clout means that you have influence in your ministry and across Whitehall; grip means you have a grip on the agenda.

Personally, I think to be a successful prime minister or a minister you need to have two contradictory things. One is you need to be very thick skinned because, especially if you’re in one of the high profile ministries and especially now with social media, barbs will be coming at you thick and fast. But you also need – there is a wonderful German compound noun for it: Fingerspitzengefühl. It literally means “fingertips feeling”, namely an instinct or sensitivity for what’s going on. I think it’s similar to the way that a senior civil servant has to be political – understand politics and how it works – while being completely apolitical.

Ministers have also got to learn, certainly as prime minister and in busy ministries, to do two or three things at the same time. You can’t just focus on one thing and have tunnel vision. Things come out of a clear blue sky. You have to be able to multitask and prioritise because what is on the horizon now may come up and whack you the next day.

Interviewing former cabinet secretary Robin Butler

I went to interview Robin in his flat near Westminster Cathedral. I asked him why he lived there and he said “it’s amazingly convenient, a short walk to Westminster, and when we bought it there were a lot of IRA bombs. I thought the one place the IRA won’t bomb is the cathedral.”

It was meant to be an interview that lasted 45 minutes and we were still talking about five hours later. It almost became a kind of confessional: no one had actually talked about his whole life before. When I had asked him for an interview on a previous occasion he said: “The problem is, Michael, that I know so much about what went on in these various governments, I was at the centre, and I regard it rather like being a priest in the confessional: I only know it because of the status I had as a civil servant and that’s why prime ministers would confide me in me. I felt it my duty to guard the secrets of the confessional.” I took that as a no.

One day, when I tried him yet again, he said: “So many of Blair’s ministers have broken the secrets of the confessional that I regard my vow of secrecy absolved, so I will talk as cabinet secretary.”

Theresa May’s broadcast in March, in which she said the public was “tired of infighting and political games” and that “MPs have done everything possible to avoid making a choice”

Regardless of what she said, it was one of the most bizarre prime ministerial broadcasts I have ever seen in more than 50 years. She walks up to a podium in an empty room with a camera there and addresses…who? Very, very strange.

At the time of Suez crisis, Anthony Eden did prime ministerial broadcasts straight to camera, though  he was very unhappy because he was a very vain man and he wore glasses, but didn’t like to wear them on television in case there were “intimations of mortality”. In this case he put his glasses on, and glasses are often quite difficult to light, and he afterwards came away from the BBC studio and said: “Those communists at the BBC were shining the lights in my eyes.”

Red boxes

A civil servant once told me that he would always put a KitKat in [Conservative minister] Ken Clarke’s red box to goad him into doing more than just a few of his papers. Clarke tried to deny it, but the civil servant says it was definitely true.

Jonathan Powell was fantastically powerful in terms of the red box; he used to be very careful. He would see what was going in the red box before Tony [Blair] would see it and rearrange it. Often around the deadline – 4.30pm on Friday or something like that – the civil service liked to put something in just at the last moment, and he would always see that and move it down so that his document would always be the top.

Robert Armstrong [former cabinet secretary] said, about the papers that go to the prime minister: “She [Thatcher] has the red box, but she also has the black box”. In that box were the highly secret security things, as well as the dangerous pieces of gossip. I asked: “Which box would the prime minister tend to go to?” He said the black box – it was rather juicy stuff.

“[Butler] said, ‘The problem is that I know so much about what went on in these governments... I regard it rather like being a priest in the confessional’”

How government could be better

I do think that many of the parliamentary class have very limited experience now. So many people work in Conservative central office, or the Labour party headquarters and then become a special adviser, and then become an MP, and then become a minister. And much, if not all, of that preoccupation has been about presentation, and how a thing looks. They haven’t had real experience in the world. That would be one of the ways I would want to change it. MPs in the 60s, when I was first looking at politics, came from all walks of life – they were much older, and had much more experience running businesses and that kind of thing. Many of them had been in the war – Roy Jenkins was a code breaker at Bletchley Park.

I also think that the government could be – should be – more open. Much of the time, I feel that the secrecy around government information is more to do with preventing embarrassment than real commercial or security concerns.

So many politicians just don’t answer questions. They say the same thing twice, have a formula that they repeat and repeat. It increases distrust and dismissal of our politicians, so I just think politicians ought to be braver, to trust the people. A lot of them take people for fools. I think if they were more open about different policy problems, they would get more sympathy. Instead, they tend to simplify and deny the complexities.

About the author

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

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HMRC chief Jon Thompson to stand down this autumn

1 hour 42 minutes ago
News

Cabinet secretary lauds Thompson’s achievements at the head of the tax authority as move to Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority is announced

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Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

HM Revenue and Customs chief executive Sir Jon Thompson has announced he is to leave the tax authority later this year to head up the Financial Reporting Council.

Thompson, who has been the permanent secretary at HMRC since April 2016 and before that spent more than three years as perm sec at the Ministry of Defence, said it had been “a tremendous privilege to lead HMRC for more than three years, so to leave now has not been an easy decision for me to make”.

“I’m immensely proud to have led HMRC as we delivered year-on-year increases in the collection of revenues due for public services; prepared for Brexit and the challenges it will bring; and oversaw a recovery in customer service levels making dealing with their tax affairs easier for everyone,” he said.

“However, to have the opportunity to lead the Financial Reporting Council, as it turns into the Audit, Governance and Reporting Authority, and to promote public trust in doing business in the UK, at a point when we’re about to forge new alliances across the world, is too exciting to turn down.” The Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority will replace the Financial Reporting Council with beefed-up powers as the watchdog for audit and accounting firms, and Thompson will move in the autumn.

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His time at HMRC seen the body undertake a series of major reforms, including a wide-ranging programme to shut around 170 regional offices and replace them with 13 regional hubs, as well as plans to digitise tax collection, while also facing an increased workload due to Brexit.

A total 250 programmes of organisational change were under way across HMRC before Brexit, but there were reprioritised after Thompson said it was “not credible” to continue with all the planned changes while also developing plans for border and customs arrangements when the UK leaves the EU. As a result, HMRC delayed or paused 39 IT projects and other reforms, with elements of the flagship Making Tax Digital scheme among the areas to be stopped.

Death threats

Thompson revealed last year that he had faced death threats after setting out the costs of alternative customs arrangements after Brexit. In evidence to the Treasury select committee in May that the ‘maximum facilitation’ proposal – the preferred solution of some Brexit supporters to use technology to solve customs issues – would cost firms up to £20bn a year had led to “very significant personal consequences” including two death threats.

“We have had to literally change how I travel and what my personal security is. We have had two death threats investigated by the Metropolitan Police for speaking truth unto power about Brexit,” he said.

He insisted that it was incumbent on him as a civil servant to act with integrity and give ministers the best advice. “Civil servants do that and we’re really rather good at it, but in the end it’s a democracy. You give a minister your best advice – they may not agree, but in the end it is a democracy and when they make government policy you have to go implement that as best you can.”

However, his time at HMRC also saw a report reveal workplace abuse faced by some civil servants in the organisation, which led to Thompson announcing a full review of HMRC’s workplace policies and standards.

“We are committed to addressing these issues and is building a comprehensive action plan to support this work,” he said in February.

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

“Enormous contribution”

Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Sir Mark Sedwill praised to Thompson’s work at HMRC.

“I am grateful for the enormous contribution Sir Jonathan has made during his time at HMRC,” he said. “Jon has shown himself to be an exceptional leader as the Chief executive and first permanent secretary at HM Revenue and Customs, as well as head of the government’s operational delivery profession. During his tenure, we’ve seen year-on-year increases in the revenue collected, which critically goes into funding our public services.

“Particular credit goes to Jon’s work to diversify the workforce: appointing a diverse and gender balanced executive committee, and opening HMRC’s first regional centre, with two more due this year. I wish Jon all the best in his new role, and I am sure he will be an invaluable asset to the new Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority.”

Thompson initially joined central government in 2004 as on from being Finance Director of Ofsted from where he was named the director general of corporate services at the-then Department of Children, Schools and Families, before moving to be finance DG in the Ministry of Defence in 2009. He then became MoD perm sec in 2012, before taking up the HMRC post in 2016.

In his time in Whitehall, Thompson has had two spells as head of cross-government professions. He was head of the government finance profession for three years until April 2011, and then was named head of the operation delivery profession, government’s biggest professional grouping, in February last year.

“You’re learning the job to some degree”

In an interview with CSW last March, he reflected on his time at the head of two departments.

“When you become a permanent secretary, you’re learning the job to some degree,” Thompson, a former accounting apprentice, observed. “You try things and some things work and some things don’t work, and one of the things you get to do second time around is to take the things that have worked in your previous organisation and bring them to your second organisation, and try to lose the ones that didn’t quite work.

“So I did learn from what we had done in defence – I think after nearly four years in that job that I had a pretty decent grip on what it was like to be a permanent secretary.”

The main lesson Thompson said at the time that he brought to HMRC was “trying to get people more involved in some of the big changes”. One example of this in HMRC has been staff involvement in redesigning a controversial performance-management system.

“Rather than the executive committee sitting round and deciding on the future of performance management, we had a big conversation about it and more than 30,000 people have given us their views, and we had some pilots and some experiments,” he said.

This was also evident in the work to define the vision for HMRC, he said.

“We had a conversation with 60,000 people who then voted for four values and eight principles. It is a different way of involving people in the future of our organisation and the future of their organisation. It is just a great thing to do to go and travel and listen and learn, because I constantly need to learn about the organisation too.”

Tags Brexit HR Leadership & Management Operational Delivery 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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'Singled out': Unions slam plans to exclude civil service from inflation-busting pay bump

2 hours 51 minutes ago
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Public sector pay rises set to outstrip 2% rise for civil servants revealed last month

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Civil service trade unions have planned above-inflation pay rises for public-sector workers that exclude civil servants amount to a snub that demonstrates government has "not seen fit to recognise the hard work of the civil service" amid extraordinary pressure in the run up to Brexit.

Around two million police officers, teachers, NHS staff and members of the Armed Forces will see their pay go up in one of Theresa May's last acts as prime minister, The Times reported.

However, the cash will need to be found from existing Whitehall budgets, meaning savings will be required elsewhere to pay for it.

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According to The Times, police officers will receive a 2.5% rise, while soldiers will see their pay go up by 2.9%. Teachers and other school staff are in line for a 2.75% hike, dentists and NHS consultants will get a 2.5% rise, all above the 1.9% consumer prices index measure of inflation.

However the measure, which the prime minister is expected to confirm shortly before she leaves No.10 for the last time next Wednesday, is unlikely to include any extra cash for civil servants.

Officials are in line for an average 2% pay rise this year, according to Cabinet Office guidance published last month. The pay remit guidance gave departments the flexibility to award civil servants an average 1% pay rise on top of the average 1% budgeted for in the current Spending Review period, and The Times reports that senior civil servants' salaries will also go up by 2%.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said the announcement had "added fuel to the fire" as the union ballots its members for strike action over pay.

“It is outrageous that the vast majority of civil servants  who do some of the most important jobs in society, are once again being left behind on public sector pay," he said. He noted that existing departmental budgets have only set aside a 1% pay rise for many civil servants including those working in job centres, tax offices and the border force – although many agencies will follow the Cabinet Office guidance to top up this increase to 2%.

Serwotka said these public servants would "feel enraged that the government is refusing to reward its own staff properly".

And Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said there had “never been a government in peacetime so reliant on the hard work and professionalism of the civil service and the coming months will prove even more challenging.

“Against that backdrop, it is astounding that the prime minister has not seen fit to recognise the hard work of the civil service, which has worked so hard and diligently to support the government."

Graham said the civil service had been "singled out for the harshest of treatment amongst public sector workers" while pay in the wider economy rose by 3.6%.

Responding to the reports on Twitter, FDA general secretary Dave Penman challenged chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss and Cabinet Office minister David Lidington to "explain why the government values civil servants less than the rest of the public sector".

He said the proposed increases showed teachers, soldiers and police officers "clearly have their champions in cabinet".

"Once against the civil service languishes at the bottom of the public sector pay league," he said.

Jonathan Cribb, a senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told The Times: "These public sector pay rises are higher than last year’s and considerably higher than the 1% for many years before that.

"It is the highest nominal pay increase since the coalition. But these increases are still slower than pay rises that are happening on average in the private sector. With the partial exception of schools, there seems to be no new money to fund these pay rises, meaning savings will have to be made elsewhere."

Author Display Name Kevin Schofield and Beckie Smith Tags HR Categories Employment Government and politics About the author

Kevin Schofield is editor of CSW's sister site PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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Unions seek government talks after court ruling on partner pension entitlement

3 hours 7 minutes ago
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Prospect says landmark judgement could have significant implications for all public-sector pension schemes with similar rules

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Civil service trade unions are seeking clarification from government on the implications of a court decision that saw a woman win the right to her late partner’s pension.

The Court of Appeal ruled on Wednesday that Jane Langford was entitled to the pension of her late partner, Royal Air Force commodore Christopher Green, despite being disqualified under current rules.

Langford and Green has been in a relationship for 15 years when he died unexpectedly in 2011 but were not married.

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Although the rules for the armed forces pensions scheme, and those across the public sector including the civil service, entitled meant pensions could be received by unmarried partners, this did not apply in Langford’s case because she had not formally dissolved her marriage to her husband.

However, the Court of Appeal said such a rule, which also exists in other public sector schemes, was against Langford’s human rights.

Lord Justice McCombe said the rule was "unlawful and cannot be justified or proportionate in Ms Langford's case".

Following the judgment, Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said that the decision had “significant implications for all public sector pension schemes with similar rules about marriage and entitlement to partners’ benefits”.

He said the union was looking into the implications of the case and was “keen to discuss the potential implications for the civil service pension schemes with the Cabinet Office as soon as possible”.

“The impact of marital status on entitlement to an inherited pension after the death of a civil servant has resulted in terrible situations with unmarried partners left in financial distress because they had no right to an ongoing pension,” he said. “It has long been Prospect’s policy to secure benefits for all partners, regardless of marital status, and hopefully this ruling opens up new legal grounds to argue for that.

“This is a landmark judgment and it potentially has significant implications for all public sector pension schemes with similar rules about marriage and entitlement to partners’ benefits.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told Civil Service World: "PCS is looking further at this ruling and will consult our lawyers about whether it can be applied more widely to other schemes.”

The Ministry of Defence, which is leading on the case for government, has been approached for a response.

Tags HR Justice and Public Safety Categories Government and politics Public order, justice and rights About the author

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

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UK Statistics Authority should be broken up, MPs say

20 hours 32 minutes ago
News

PACAC concludes dual roles of producing and regulating official data compromise the public good in a climate of fake news 

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PACAC chair Sir Bernard Jenkin 

The UK Statistics Authority should be split into two distinct new bodies because tension between its core roles has “compromised” the organisation’s ability ensure official data serves the public good, an influential group of MPs has concluded.

A report from the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee said the UKSA needed to be more independent of government, particularly in a climate of growing concern about fake news.

The UKSA – which was created in 2008 – is both a regulator of departmental stats while also being responsible for the provision of official statistics through the Office of National Statistics. Until his retirement last month, John Pullinger was both UK national statistician and chief executive of the UKSA. Jonathan Athow is his interim successor.

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Committee members said the government should bring forward legislation to divide the two core functions of the UKSA into new organisations. However it recognised that  such a move may not be possible in the near future.

As an alternative they said that UKSA could make a start on introducing a clearer internal separation between its roles – in some cases physically separating staff. 

PACAC’s report said the UKSA had not made itself sufficiently independent of the government, particularly the Treasury, and was “shying away” from its responsibility to be accountable to parliament and the public. 

It cited the “continued mishandling” of errors with data underpinning the Retail Price Index inflation measure as evidence of the conflict between UKSA’s role as a statistics regulator and a statistics producer.

“For almost a decade now there has been concern about the discrepancy between UKSA’s calculation of RPI and the Treasury’s CPI (consumer price index), but UKSA has refused to account for its RPI figure,” MPs said.

“As a result of overestimated RPI, commuters face higher rail fares and students are dealt higher student loan interest rates. In January 2019 the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords reported that by failing to fix RPI, UKSA risks breaching its statutory duties.”

PACAC said UKSA had allowed what was “originally a simple mistake in price-collection of inflation data to snowball into a major unresolved issue for a decade”.

Committee chair Sir Bernard Jenkin said the UKSA’s conflicting dual role had led to governance issues within the organisation that affected its ability to serve the public good and also led to it failing in its duty to properly to regulate national statistics.

“In a time of growing concern about disinformation, the public needs access to trustworthy national statistics,” he said.

“PACAC is calling for a fundamental restructure of UKSA into two separate bodies; one dedicated to providing robust, useful and freely accessible stats and an official statistics regulator with the capacity to monitor and challenge all official statistics.

“Our report is clear that if parliamentary time cannot be found to pass the necessary legislation for restructuring soon, then UKSA must take other steps to separate its two roles as soon as possible. UKSA must not miss the opportunity to build changes into its new five year strategy.”

A UKSA spokesperson said the organisation took its remit to promote and safeguard official statistics very seriously.

“The authority is reading the committee’s report with interest,” they said. “Today’s report contains a number of substantial and detailed recommendations which will require consideration from the authority’s board, the Office for Statistics Regulation, and the soon-to-be appointed national statistician.

“We will respond to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in full in due course.”

PACAC said UKSA should demonstrate more proactive, quicker responses to concerns about the accuracy and misuse of statistics and should “more clearly demonstrate its independence from key stakeholders”, when it had “significant disagreements” with producers of statistics.

MPs also said they were concerned over UKSA's difficulties in finding a successor to Pullinger, questioning whether the national statistician role could be split in a way that made succession planning easier. 

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Jim.Dunton

What ministers want: advice for civil servants about to meet the new boss

1 day ago
Opinion

The only certainty in the Conservative leadership race is that some civil servants will get a new boss, says the Institute for Government’s Tim Durrant

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MoD perm sec Stephen Lovegrove meets then-defence secretary Gavin Williamson and Treasury perm sec Sir Terry Burns greets ex-chancellor Gordon Brown on the respective ministers first days. Photos: PA

A new prime minister will mean new ministers across Whitehall. The exact scale of the change of personnel is unclear, but we know there will be some new – or returning – faces. Some of those will have experience of being in government; some will not.

The civil service is well practised at managing the arrival of new ministers. This, of course, goes beyond changing the nameplate on the office door. First impressions matter and getting the relationship off to a good start is essential: ministers need to be able to trust their officials and officials need to get clear direction from their ministers. A poor start to the relationship could jeopardise both of these things.

Here are three things officials should remember when preparing for their new political masters – according to former ministers themselves.

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Number one: your job is to tell it how it is. Civil servants understandably want to establish rapport and credibility with their new ministers. And new ministers will want officials to get on with their priorities immediately – the first few weeks of a new government set the tone for its duration. In combination, these pressures can lead to civil servants being too eager to please their new bosses, rather than being honest about the difficulties of a particular idea. This is rarely what ministers actually want from their officials.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a minister during the coalition government, told the Institute for Government that civil servants “find it really hard to say no”, but that she would have preferred officials to say “I don’t agree with you and I’m not going to do it” rather than put things off.

Similarly, Justine Greening, who held several secretary of state roles, talked about the importance of a “bring out your dead” process at the start of her tenure in each new department. She wanted to know about the problems the department was facing up front, rather than “suddenly being told that something is way off track” after six months in the job.

“For those new ministers who haven’t been in government before, Whitehall can be a baffling place with its own language”

Secondly, however, civil servants need to be aware of the politics. A frequent complaint of ministers is that civil servants don’t fully grasp the political context they operate in and, in particular, the importance of parliament and their relationships there. Former work and pensions secretary Damian Green told us that one of his biggest surprises on becoming a minister was “how little knowledge of… parliament” officials had, despite it being “hugely important” for ministers.

This is even more significant given that the arrival of a new prime minister won’t change the parliamentary arithmetic: they will still be running a minority government facing significant division over how to resolve the UK’s exit from the EU. So civil servants need to recognise that while they will want ministers to focus on departmental issues, the biggest challenge in their political masters’ minds will be the balance of votes in parliament.

Finally, many ministers will be doing a job for the first time. For those who haven’t been in government before, Whitehall can be a baffling place with its own language of submissions and write-rounds – and as many of our interviewees have said, there is no formal induction on how that all works. So civil servants need to remember that their new minister may not be fully versed in their world.

A large part of this work falls to private offices. As Caroline Spelman, environment secretary at the start of the coalition, said: “One of the things the principal private secretary had to do in the early days and weeks was actually explain what we [as ministers] had to do, because no-one had explained that to us.” But civil servants across departments will need to bear in mind that their ministers will be getting up to speed.

Even those who have served as ministers before will need to adjust to new roles. Patrick McLoughlin talked to us about the difference between being a junior minister and a cabinet minister, saying that the “recognition that, actually, as secretary of state, you decide what the government’s policy is… was quite an eye opener to me”.

The incoming prime minister may not bring a completely new cabinet with them, but there will undoubtedly be some changes of personnel. Those new ministers are human too, and if officials can give them the right support, the new government will be more likely to hit the ground running.

Author Display Name Tim Durrant Tags Leadership & Management Categories Government and politics About the author

Tim Durrant is a senior researcher at the Institute for Government. Interview quotes in this article are drawn from the IfG’s Ministers Reflect archive

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Richard.Johnstone

MPs call on Treasury to properly fund post-Grenfell safety work

1 day ago
News

£200m cladding scheme drawn from MHCLG’s existing budget is ‘insufficient’ select committee says

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Housing secretary James Brokenshire: Credit PA

The Treasury should play a greater role in the government’s work to make buildings safe after the Grenfell Tower tragedy because the current approach is “unsustainable” and will not deliver enough money, MPs have warned.

The recommendation from members of parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee came in a wide-ranging report on the government’s response to the 2017 fire in west London that claimed 72 lives.

MPs said the pace at which ministers had moved to implement regulatory change and remove unsafe aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding – of the type acknowledged to have contributed to the spread of fire at Grenfell – from other buildings had been “far too slow”.

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In May, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government perm sec Melanie Dawes sought a written ministerial direction from secretary of state James Brokenshire to implement a £200m fund to pay for the removal of ACM from privately owned buildings in the interests of tenant safety.

Committee members saluted the decision to put public safety ahead of chasing private landlords to act as the Treasury's public-spending guidance Managing Public Money would prefer, but warned that the fund – which comes from MHCLG’s existing 2019-20 budget – was “not sufficient” to cover all of the buildings it was earmarked for.

They added that it also failed to take into account of other forms of potentially dangerous cladding – such as high pressure laminate – affecting “hundreds more existing residential and high-risk buildings”, which the government would be “duty bound” to fund replacement for in some circumstances.

MPs said the £200m fund signed off by Brokenshire in May represented 3% of MHCLG’s capital and resource programme budgets for 2019-20.

“We are concerned that funding for remedial works is to be found from existing programme budgets,” they said. “Notwithstanding the detriment to those budgets, this approach is likely to be unsustainable if the fund is found to be insufficient or is extended to other forms of cladding.

“The costs of replacing all unsafe cladding should be established and the Treasury should provide this funding to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to fully cover the costs of remediating buildings with unsafe cladding.”

Elsewhere, the committee said it was concerned that MHCLG had only last month begun consulting on a new package of regulatory reforms, more than a year after Dame Judith Hackitt’s post-Grenfell review of building regulations and fire safety reported.

MPs were equally worried that former Grenfell Tower residents who had given evidence at its hearings had been permanently rehoused in poor-quality homes and had not received the health screening they had been promised.

Committee chair Clive Betts said the government was “far behind where it should be in every aspect of its response” to the tragedy.

“Further delay is simply not acceptable,” he said. “The government cannot morally justify funding the replacement of one form of dangerous cladding, but not others.

“It should immediately extend its fund to cover the removal and replacement of any form of combustible cladding – as defined by the government’s combustible cladding ban – from any high-rise or high-risk building.”

Betts said the committee wanted to pay tribute to the victims and survivors of the tragedy.

“We have a duty to learn the lessons of the failures that had such a devastating impact on so many lives,” he said. “As of yet, the government has failed to do so.”

MHCLG had not responded to CSW’s request for comment on the report at the time of publication.

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Jim.Dunton

Departments compiling demands for extra staff as Whitehall no-deal Brexit prep ramps up

1 day 1 hour ago
News

Departments to provide details of requirements by the end of this month, says civil service chief exec

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Government departments have been asked to provide details of what additional staff they would need in the event of a no-deal Brexit by the end of this month as planning ramps up, civil service chief executive John Manzoni has said.

In an evidence session at the Public Accounts Committee, Manzoni said that preparation for a no-deal Brexit, which was dialled down in April following an extension to the UK’s exit date from the European Union to the end of October, was being reactivated.

“We are ramping up again, ready for 31 October – there has been and there will be quite a lot of activity over the summer,” he said.

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Among the areas that have been reactivated are the staffing arrangements for no-deal planning that was in place earlier this year, Manzoni said. So-called buddy arrangements were developed to streamline the sharing of staff, as well as the creation of a government "clearing hub" for secondments across Whitehall. In February, Manzoni said around 300 people had moved already and up to 300 had been “matched” to other roles as part of the planning for a no-deal exit.

Departments are now being asked to set out their staff demands for an October no-deal exit before the end of this month, he told PAC on Monday.

“We have remobilised the people aspects,” Manzoni told the committee. “The hub that sat in the centre of government which started moving people around, in the last analysis last time, has begun ramping up again. By the end of this month we will have the demand in the departments now.

“As I said to… an internal committee recently, I believe it will be easier this time to move people around than it was last time, because I think the role definitions will be clearer. It wasn’t perfect last time, but I think will be better this time. So, I think in those dimensions, projects continue, communications will be ramped up.”

The UK is set to leave the EU on 31 October, and both candidates to replace Theresa May as prime minister next week, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, have said they would consider a no-deal Brexit if there is no further progress on negotiations.

Manzoni told MPs that some of the key issues that the UK faced in the runup to the March exit date would remain.

“I would say the areas which were always there which remain there – and I don’t want to be political about it – but the areas [include] trader-readiness, [which] is still an issue out there in the marketplace.

“So, the discussion is how do we ramp up communications again to try and persuade those people who took no notice last time… or said ‘no, I’m going to wait until it’s going to become real?’

“There’s obviously the Northern Ireland issue and associated things – there are still some issues at the border that we need to resolve. There is the data issue – that data-adequacy agreements won’t be made on an exit date. So, those issues that were there before are still there.”

Manzoni’s comments came as Johnson, who is the favourite to be confirmed as prime minister on Tuesday, said he would increase government communications on no deal if he became PM.

Although he said no deal was an “unlikely eventually", he told ITV's Peston show: “What we will do, is we will encourage people in a very positive way… From the get-go, we start saying, ‘Look, what do you need, what help do you need, what reassurances do you need? Agricultural, farmers in Wales… Fishermen, everybody, just in time supply chains, here is what the government has for you, are you ready?’

“And we make sure that everybody understands all the risks and eventualities, and it’s by doing that to get to the point that you made correctly just now, it’s by doing that in a really wholehearted and systematic and confident way, that you of course minimise any disruption that might take place in the unlikely eventuality of you having to come out on WTO [World Trade Organisation] terms.”

Additional reporting by Anahita Hossein-Pour

Author Display Name Richard Johnstone and Sam Trendall Tags Brexit HR Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Project & Programme Management Categories Government and politics About the author

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

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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Richard.Johnstone

Integrity and loyalty best way to prevent leaks, former diplomats say – but fines could have role to play

1 day 3 hours ago
News

“The fundamental thing is the culture of integrity and loyalty of the people who see this stuff," ex-US ambassador Sir Peter Westmacott says

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Photo: Parliament TV

Former top-ranking diplomats have expressed concerns that integrity in some parts of the diplomatic service could be “eroding” following a row over leaked memos written by former ambassador to the US Sir Kim Darroch, and raised the prospect of fining officials for leaks.

Appearing before parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, the ex-diplomats welcomed the government's response to the leak. Foreign Office permanent secretary Sir Simon McDonald has said the Cabinet Office will lead a government-wide inquiry into the leak that led to Darroch’s resignation last week, and the Metropolitan Police opened a separate investigation on Friday.

Sir Adam Thomson, former UK permanent representative to NATO and director of the European Leadership Network, told MPs that when it came to preventing leaks, “my strong view is that this is really all about the integrity of the working practices of the British diplomatic service and the British government.

"My sense is that that is eroding a bit, although leaks are still more the exception than the rule.”

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Sir Peter Westmacott, former UK ambassador to the US, France and Turkey, said it was “terribly important” that the inquiry uncovered how and why the leak happened, and said introducing powers to fine any civil servants responsible for leaks could help to prevent them in future.

“[The cause of the leak] might be something absurd, ridiculous and accidental, or an act of malevolence or a so-called whistleblower, but it might be something a great deal more sinister,” such as hacking by a "malevolent government", he said.

“If it is about a culture of individuals, for political or other reasons, who think, ‘I can just do that to ensure that the civil service is no longer a bunch of namby-pamby professionalised, apolitical creatures, and we can get real believers into the key positions of authority'. We need to know that as well.”

Asked whether he thought civil service contracts should be amended to introduce fines for officials who are found to have leaked confidential information, Westmacott said there was “scope for having some very firm language, perhaps including financial penalties”.

“It could also be about disqualification from future employment in the public sector if you are deliberately and consciously breaking the rules, even if that stops short of a criminal prosecutable offence under the Official Secrets Act,” he said.

“That would be helpful, but it is also about people feeling loyalty to government, colleagues, the system and the integrity of their profession so that they do not want to do it.”

Thomson said it was “very welcome to see… that stern action is being pursued” after Darroch’s memos, one of which described the Trump administration as “uniquely dysfunctional”, appeared in the press earlier thins month.

“If somebody is sacked for damaging disclosures that contravene the Official Secrets Act, that is healthy for the functioning of our system. Confidentiality is absolutely the lifeblood of doing diplomacy,” Thomson said.

Asked whether the existing classification system for secret documents was still fit for purpose, he said the Foreign Office used the same classifications as the rest of government. "That makes sense; there are reasons for that.

“It is hard to imagine that changing easily. It is not that FCO communications are uniquely more sensitive than those of other agencies or departments.”

Westmacott said he did not believe a review of the classifications “would be much help”. “You could [carry out a review], but you would spend a lot of time and a lot of money looking at it. We did that not very long ago,” he said.

“The fundamental thing, I am afraid, is the culture of integrity and loyalty of the people who see this stuff and handle it,” he added.

The former officials also told the committee that there had been a varied approach to handling leaks during their time in government.

Thomson said that some leaks had been investigated, “usually if there has been enough of a media storm around it”, but in other cases he had not been aware of “any particular follow-up” to a leak.

“If the chairman will forgive me, I found the Ministry of Defence particularly leaky, and any follow-up to that appeared to be very rare, in terms of trying to control it,” he told the committee.

And Sir Ivan Rogers, former UK permanent representative to the EU, said that as far as he knew, there had been no inquiry into the leak that led to his resignation in December 2016. Rogers stepped down after a minute he had written to Theresa May was made public, which he said detailed “basically my reaction of surprise and some shock at the prime minister’s party conference speech on the four red lines” for Brexit negotiations.

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Communications 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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Beckie Smith

Government tech reforms aim to ensure projects help improve Whitehall collaboration

1 day 21 hours ago
News

GDS innovation chief says that civil service business cases should encourage the development of ‘shared aims and objectives’

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A review of how civil servants construct business cases for digital projects will focus on encouraging organisations to better work together towards common goals, according to the innovation head of the Government Digital Service.

The GDS team led by deputy director for innovation Sue Bateman last month published the Government Technology Innovation Strategy. After almost a year in the making, the strategy laid out a wide-ranging vision for how, in the coming years, government can best cultivate and support innovation in three different areas: people; process; and data and technology.

One of the key pledges in the process section was that government will review how business cases are applied to digital projects.

Currently, proposals for government projects, policies, and strategies require the use of the so-called five-case model. This method asks civil servants to construct a compelling case that encompasses strategic, economic, commercial, financial, and management arguments.

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The innovation strategy said: “Currently, the way in which business cases are applied requires a high degree of upfront certainty in terms of the eventual costs and benefits of a project. However, there is a degree of uncertainty inherent to digital transformation programmes.”

Bateman told CSW’s sister title PublicTechnology that reviewing the use of business cases for digital projects is something she and her team are only “just starting to work through with the process owners”.

But she said that the intent behind the review was to identify ways in which the business case process could better support government entities in working together where they have a common purpose or goal.

She said: “Where we were coming from in terms of business cases was [asking] how do we enable public sector organisations to join up more effectively together where there is a shared aim and objective, and help them to demonstrate the benefits for a number of organisations that may reach beyond a traditional business case with one organisation.”

The potential revamp of business cases is one of a number of measures in the strategy that aim to address a common complaint among advocates of Whitehall transformation: the obstruction posed by government siloes.

“I think we're starting to get there, not just [with] the Innovation Strategy, but with some of the other foundations that that we and other organisations have started to lay from the centre,” Bateman said. “So, the Digital Economy Act has unlocked a number of barriers around data sharing, and that [has been] encouraging organisations to come together. [There’s] going to be a lot of this foundational stuff that ultimately helps unlock that ability for government to join up.”

About the author

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

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Richard.Johnstone

Spending Review 2019? The cost of postponement, the opportunity of delay

2 days ago
Feature

A combination of Brexit and the Conservative leadership campaign has all but officially postponed the 2019 Spending Review. Beckie Smith and Richard Johnstone look at what impact the delay will have, and whether there are opportunities to be grasped in the extra time

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When chancellor Philip Hammond set out his plans for a three-year Spending Review in his March Spring Statement, his warning that it could only go ahead if Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement was passed seemed little more than a footnote. The review would launch before the summer recess, he said, “assuming a Brexit deal is agreed over the next few weeks and the uncertainty that is hanging over our economy is lifted”.

Four months on, with the final vote on Conservative Party leadership to replace May as PM looming, the Brexit deal has been rejected three times. If anything, the fog of uncertainty this summer is thicker than it was in the spring, and a Spending Review delay is now almost inevitable.

It would, after all, be “an awful lot to demand of officials to get a full, comprehensive review completed across government in time for the autumn Budget, with presumably a new prime minister and chancellor using that Spending Review to set priorities”, according to Nicky Morgan MP, who chairs parliament’s Treasury Select Committee.

And although no formal decision has been made, few are still pretending that the exercise will kick off as planned. Last month, chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss admitted a summer start date was “unlikely”.

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But some decisions will need to be made even if the full review is delayed. Government departments have capital budgets in place lasting up to 2020-21, but their revenue budgets – which govern day-to-day spending – will expire next March.

The Treasury could carry out a one-year Spending Review, as it did in 2013 under the coalition government with the 2015 general election approaching. Martin Wheatley, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government and former Treasury and Cabinet Office official, notes that this would be a “much more limited and non-strategic exercise” than Hammond had originally planned, to set budgets for 2020-21.

Another option would be to roll over departmental budgets’ existing allocations for another year.

This would be a “really quite frustrating lost opportunity”, Morgan told attendees at an event hosted by the IfG last month.

Having been education secretary during the 2015 Spending Review, the Conservative MP said preparing for the exercise had been “a really useful process for a department to go through to think about our priorities for the next spending period”.

Meanwhile, several departments are hoping for more cash to support services that have been squeezed under austerity measures that began in 2010, and there are some policy decisions that cannot be made without greater financial certainty.

The Spending Review is just one of a “a whole set of processes that are either underway or due to come to a head in the autumn” that the new prime minister and chancellor will inherit, according to former Treasury permanent secretary Lord Nick Macpherson.

Speaking at a Policy Exchange event in June on what the next prime minister’s economic priorities should be, Macpherson said the civil service needs to be ready to present information on the trade-offs of new policy ideas “very quickly” when they take office.

Waiting game

Tied to the Spending Review is the Treasury’s planned zero-based review of capital spending, which is expected to be published alongside the results of its infrastructure finance review in the autumn.

Truss has confirmed that if the Spending Review is delayed, the infrastructure funding strategy probably will be too. “The intention is to publish all those three things [the Spending Review, the zero-based capital review and the infrastructure strategy] together. I cannot commit as to whether it will happen exactly like that under a new prime minister, but it strikes me as sensible to be able to make progress on that basis,” she told the Lords Economic Affairs Committee in May.

However, there are some pressing decisions that must be made in the coming months – including whether to give the green light to construction on the HS2 high-speed rail project, a decision needed by December.

Speaking at the same event as Macpherson, Truss hinted at some of the infrastructure projects the Treasury could theoretically prioritise over HS2 in the zero-based review.

“It is certainly the case that we are not investing enough in our intra-city rail network. Leeds is the largest city in Europe without its own metro system and there was a recent study that showed that Birmingham could be 33% more productive if it had better cross-city transport.”

Delays to capital spending plans will also have an impact on policy well beyond big projects like HS2.

In her session in the Lords, Truss said the Treasury was looking at all projects in the capital budget, which she categorised as “economic infrastructure and social infrastructure”.

One area of social infrastructure that could suffer from any delay is health and social care. Although a five-year settlement for frontline NHS services was announced last year – a real-terms funding boost of 3.4% a year over five years – and was welcomed by many in the health service, crucial questions remain unanswered, particularly around capital allocations.

The NHS is in a “privileged position” compared to many public services thanks to the settlement, says Anita Charlesworth, director of research and economics at the independent charity the Health Foundation, but it needs to be certain of its investment plans for the next decade.

Capital investment, including equipment needed to improve cancer diagnosis such as MRI and CT scanners, could falter without extra funding, she says. Also pressing is the government’s long-delayed social care green paper, which was expected to be published as part of the Spending Review process.

The green paper will set out plans to overhaul social care funding – which are urgently needed as rising demand for services means the sector faces a funding gap of £4.4bn by 2023-24, according to the Health Foundation.

Urgent action is also needed to address the high rates of staff turnover in a minimum-wage sector that relies heavily on migrant workers, Charlesworth says.

CSW understands the Department for Health and Social Care is pushing to have the green paper published this summer irrespective of when the Spending Review happens. If it is, could there be a silver lining in allowing more time to develop legislation before funding is allocated?

No, Charlesworth says: “reform of social care is impossible without additional funding, so a green paper that doesn’t address funding will not be an effective answer.”

And past experience shows that policy pledges that aren’t tied to funding are unlikely to be delivered. One example Charlesworth gives is that the 2014 Care Act introduced legislation to cap an individual’s lifetime care costs at £72,000, which still hasn’t been enacted. The cap could cost up to £3.4bn to implement.

And because health and social care are “inextricably connected”, further delays to social care reform would make it impossible to fulfil the NHS long-term plan – which “made clear it could only deliver improvement if there was an effective social care system” when it was published in January, Charlesworth says.

She adds that a rollover of existing budgets would be “really problematic... because we’ve got a long-term plan for day-to-day spending but deep uncertainty about capital investment”.

“That pushes us to use the day-to-day spending badly. It’s the worst of all worlds, really – it’s pushing services to use money badly.”

Austerity fatigue

Despite the ongoing confusion about whether the Spending Review will go ahead or not, details of the Treasury’s thinking have begun to seep out.

That includes Hammond’s own clarification that his promise that “austerity is coming to an end” will not mean a budget increase for all government departments. In a letter to the Treasury Select Committee in February, the chancellor said across-the-board budget rises hadn’t been the norm before austerity began in 2010 and expecting them now would be relying on a “poor definition of ending austerity”.

“Reform of social care is impossible without additional funding, so a green paper that doesn’t address funding will not be an effective answer”
Anita Charlesworth, Health Foundation

Instead, he said to expect an emphasis on value for money, looking at “how we invest most effectively in our economy through a renewed focus on delivering high-quality outcomes”.

It remains to be seen whether, following the inevitable reshuffle under a new Conservative leader, Hammond’s successor as chancellor will share his definition of “fiscal responsibility”.

As Robert Chote, chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, has observed, fiscal discipline is no longer the “frontrunning topic of conversation” in political debate, as a desire to push down the national debt has been replaced by “austerity fatigue”.

“We’ve had a long period of relatively painful fiscal consolidation and clearly there is less political appetite to press on with debt reduction,” he said at last month’s IfG event.

But making his pitch to lead the country, prime ministerial hopeful and foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, has said he wants to reduce the national debt through an “iron discipline” on public services. He has also promised to increase defence spending by £15bn a year. His leadership rival and predecessor at the Foreign Office, Boris Johnson, has said he would up secondary school funding and spend billions on improving access to superfast broadband across the UK. Both contenders have promised expensive tax cuts.

The leadership campaign highlights that “the new PM will want to show that he has ended austerity without throwing away a political dividing line with Labour on fiscal discipline,” says Nick Pearce, director of the Institute for Policy Research and professor of public policy at the University of Bath.

Such an approach could well suit the Treasury, he said.

“If Johnson is PM, the new chancellor will be a powerful figure in government, since Johnson is not likely to run a powerful, centralising No.10 operation, and is not known for his command of the details of policy.”

Silver linings

One arguable benefit of a Spending Review delay is that it could give departments more time to develop the policies of a new government and prime minister.

Although Wheatley warns that pushing the three-year review back to 2020 would “only make next year’s decisions – which will almost certainly be taken by a different cast of leading characters – even more difficult”, one positive that the Treasury may be able to “salvage from the wreckage of this year’s process” is that it would give departments extra time to prepare submissions. Civil servants must ensure their bids for extra funds are backed up by strong evidence and analysis, and an extra year would give departments and other public bodies more time to do this.

And, Wheatley adds, “the Treasury needs to figure out a way to conduct the process so it produces plans which can actually be followed, unlike in the 2015 review when so many plans for ambitious savings unravelled on contact with reality.”

An IfG analysis of 2015 Spending Review pledges found, for example, that the Ministry of Justice was unlikely to achieve its “very optimistic” goal of cutting spending by £500m by 2019/20, partly because of delays to a courts digitisation programme.

A delay could also give government departments more time to embed the Public Value Framework into their budget planning.

The framework is intended both to inform policy design and to be a diagnostic tool to determine how successfully projects and programmes achieve value for money. It does this using a series of questions relating to four core “pillars”: pursuing goals; managing inputs; engaging citizens and users; and developing system capacity.

In March, Truss said a revised version of the framework first proposed by former No.10 Delivery Unit head Sir Michael Barber in 2017 was to become “part of the culture” of government departments. She said they would be expected to embed the framework in their Single Departmental Plans.

At the time, Barber told CSW that it was a “great step forward” that the framework would, after years of pilot testing, “play a significant part in the forthcoming Spending Review”.

The document outlining the framework notes that it “remains a work in progress” – adding that “any and all engagement on how it could be improved is always welcome”.

Truss, tipped as a possible next occupant of No.11, has since expanded on what the framework could mean for departments. She told the Lords committee that the Treasury was seeking submissions on how departmental plans would boost human capital – part of the framework’s first pillar – which she defined “roughly as people being able to lead a good life”.

“We have asked departments to look at how all their programmes perform, whether that is the troubled families programme, primary school education or health visitors. We want to know how much that is contributing to helping people to live a better life,” she told peers.

“The fact is that governments carry out numerous programmes over the years, and some are more effective than others. A good government should look at which ones do not work, what we should stop and where we should put the extra money… Where do we put the incremental pound in to improve people’s human capital?”

This may lead to new approaches, but in the end it will all come down to Brexit, according to Pearce.

“If we crash out with no deal, then there will need to be some emergency Budget measures which will change the envelope for the immediate years ahead and dictate some priorities – like farmers affected by hikes in tariffs, as Hunt has pointed out, or support to exporters. No deal will also squeeze public finances through lower growth and weaker tax receipts.

“If the government secures a deal, there will be less change than the talk in the leadership election has implied: some increases to spending on schools, local government and policing, and the already agreed NHS increases, plus symbolic tax cuts largely offset by rises elsewhere. Capital spending may well be the big winner.”

“If Johnson is PM, the new chancellor will be a powerful figure in government, since Johnson is not known for his command of the details of policy” Nick Pearce, IPR

One way or another, as Macpherson warned in June, the shadow of Brexit is likely to linger beyond simply one Spending Review.

“This Europe business is going to go on for years. There will be a whole lot of posturing about it but, in the end, we will reach a new equilibrium,” he said.

Countries’ closest trading relationships are always with their neighbours, he pointed out. “We were never properly in the European Union, and I dare say we will leave it at some point, but at that point we will never be properly out of it.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith and Richard Johnstone Tags Cross-Government Efficiency Finance Health Spending Review Categories Government and politics Health and social care About the author

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

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

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Pension reform: PCS warns trust in Treasury is low as Truss promises talks

2 days 1 hour ago
News

Union says postponed revaluation of civil service scheme would have likely led to a cut in employee contributions

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PCS members protest outside the Treasury in 2017. Photo: PA

The Public and Commercial Services trade union has warned that a lack of trust in the Treasury could hinder planned talks with ministers on how to respond to a court ruling that elements of the government’s 2015 public sector pension reforms discriminatory.

In a written statement on Friday, chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss confirmed the Treasury would meet with public service unions after the Supreme Court refused the government’s appeal of a ruling thath the transitional arrangements in the reformed pensions schemes were discriminatory.

The case, initially brought by the Fire Brigades Union and some judges, successfully argued that an overhaul of the Firefighter's Pension Scheme in 2015, which mirrored reforms across the public sector, discriminated on the basis of age. The changes – including a move from a final salary to a career-average defined benefit – were not applied to people within 10 years of retirement age.

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Truss said that the transitional protections were intended to ensure people close to retirement age were treated fairly. These protections allowed only members who were closest to retirement at the time new pension schemes were introduced to remain members of their respective old schemes.

The chief secretary said that as a result, the government would meet with unions to discuss the implications of the ruling. Truss has previously said that extending the protections to all pension scheme members would cost around £4bn, a figure trade unions dispute.

But in a response, the PCS union said for its members “and the other unions, trust is in short supply” as the Treasury had previously cancelled a revaluation that was due for the civil service scheme.

“The government now claims that the cost of the remedies for discrimination by use of age-related transitional arrangements must be evaluated before restarting the pension valuation process,” the statement said.

The union said the Treasury had “used the valuation outcomes to make unilateral changes to the methodology for future valuations and, at the same time, increased the employer costs in a massive raid on future departmental expenditure limits – in other words, future spending cuts.”

Employer contributions to the civil service pension scheme are set to rise due to a number of reductions to the discount rate for public sector schemes. This is the calculation of how much economic growth is likely to help grow pension assets, and was reduced from 3% to 2.8% in the 2016 Budget, and then to 2.4% in last year’s Budget.

The Treasury said this was “in line with established methodology to reflect [Office for Budget Responsibility] forecasts for long-term GDP growth”, and added that it would “support departments to ensure that recognition of these costs does not jeopardise the delivery of frontline public services or put undue pressure on public employers”, with the additional contribution for employers calculated by the Government Actuary Department as an increase of 6.1%, required from April. A decision on whether departments or the Treasury would meet these costs beyond 2019-20 was intended to be made in this summer’s Spending Review, although this looks likely to be delayed.

PCS also highlighted that the specific remedies for firefighters and judges had been referred back to an employment tribunal, but Truss indicated that the government wouls develop proposals to achieve a consistent approach.

“While this part of the statement is welcome, it is also intended to head off the pressure from unions for the cost sharing arrangements to operate as previously agreed,” PCS said.

“In the civil service pension scheme, the latest valuation undershot its target by such a wide margin that significant scheme improvements, including reducing the rate of employee contribution, are needed.”

Tags Finance 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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Defra appoints next chief scientist

2 days 1 hour ago
News

Henderson will succeed Sir Ian Boyd in October

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The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has appointed a geochemist and Oxford professor, Gideon Henderson, as its next chief scientific adviser.

Henderson, a professor of Earth sciences at the University of Oxford, will provide scientific input on policy matters and strategic oversight of science-related policy including air quality, waste disposal, biosecurity and disease and water quality.

He will also work to “ensure that science and evidence remains at the heart of Defra and continues to underpin its work” post-Brexit, according to the job advert for the £120,000-a-year position.

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Henderson has been a professor in Oxford’s Department of Earth Sciences since 2006 and was until recently head of the department. He has also been senior research fellow at University College, Oxford since 2012.

As of this year, he also chairs the Royal Society Global Environmental Research Committee and is a member of the Natural Environment Research Council, part of the funding body UK Research and Innovation.

Henderson said he was “thrilled to be joining Defra at a time when the environment is such a strong priority and there is an ever-growing public level of environmental awareness.”

He said he was looking forward to working with officials on challenges including climate change and helping the UK meet a net zero emissions goal, food security and implementing the government’s 25-year environment plan.

He will take over from Sir Ian Boyd, who has been the department’s chief scientist for seven years, in October.

Defra had been expected to appoint its next CSA in 2017 after Boyd announced his plans to depart the role. However, he delayed his departure after being asked to stay on by environment secretary Michael Gove following a snap general election that summer.

Last year Boyd first announced his plans to step down in 2017, but delayed his departure after being asked to stay on by environment secretary Michael Gove following Theresa May's snap general election.

Last year – several months before the delay to the UK’s exit from the European Union was announced – Boyd told CSW he planned to stay in the role until after Brexit, partly because of the disruption it was creating for Defra. More than 80% of the department’s workload is affected by Brexit.

Boyd said he would spend his remaining months in the department ensuring “the whole functionality of science in Defra continues on an upward trajectory with momentum behind it, so that when my successor walks in, they walk into a situation which is full of opportunity rather than just challenge”.

Announcing Henderson’s appointment, environment secretary Michael Gove said: “Sir Ian Boyd’s contribution to Defra’s work has been invaluable, and I am immensely grateful for all the advice he has provided over the past seven years, informing key government policies.

“I warmly welcome Professor Henderson to the role and look forward to working with him and seeing his positive impact on science in the department going forward.

“It is absolutely crucial that all our policies are based on sound scientific advice to ensure we are addressing the UK’s most pressing environmental issues in a targeted and innovative way, and Defra’s chief scientific adviser is vital to this process.”

Defra permanent secretary Tamara Finkelstein added: “high quality science is central to everything this department does… I am delighted that Gideon Henderson is joining us as the new CSA for Defra, bringing with him strong experience in geochemistry, ocean sciences and climate.

“I look forward to working with him as part of the Defra executive committee and as a leader of our superb scientist community.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Energy & Environment HR Science & Technology Categories Environment 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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Home Office’s ‘unhealthy good news culture’ blamed for Emergency Services Network delays

2 days 3 hours ago
News

Further cost increases to much-delayed and over-budget programme "inevitable", committee says

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The Home Office has yet to “get a grip” on whether it can deliver its Emergency Services Network programme despite extending its budget and deadline multiple times, MPs have said in a scathing report that questioned whether the programme would ever deliver value for money.

In a report published today, the Public Accounts Committee said an “unhealthy, good news culture” at the Home Office had meant officials ignored warning signs that the programme to deliver ESN, which will replace the emergency services communication network Airwave, was undeliverable.

“Many of the issues with the department’s original approach were foreseeable and should have been challenged earlier,” the MPs said of the programme, which is now expected to cost £9.3bn – nearly 50% more than its initial budget.

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Since work on the programme began in 2011, the programme has been delayed on several occasions, once because it emerged that technology developed by two of the programme’s suppliers was incompatible.

And just a few weeks ago, the Home Office revealed in a contract notice that it had extended the deadline for completion of the service by another year to December 2024 and agreed to pay supplier Motorola an extra £82m to adopt an off-the-shelf "push-to-talk" product.

The MPs said despite the multiple revisions to the programme, they had yet to be convinced that the Home Office would be able to deliver the programme. Some of the technology needed to make the network function is not yet ready and the department does not yet have a fully developed plan for how and when each emergency service will deploy ESN, they said.

The report also questioned whether the department had the “plans or skills” to integrate the different elements of ESN into a coherent service, and officials’ ability to manage the commercial risks faced by the programme, given their failure to date to ensure contractors delivered ESN to the agreed timetable.

The Home Office has consistently said the ESN will eventually be cheaper to run than Airwave. However, its latest estimate is that this will not be the case until 2029, seven years later than expected, according to the 2015 business case.

But the department’s cost forecasts for ESN will not be finalised until its revised business case for the programme is approved in early 2020 – over a year later than planned.

And the MPs said it seemed “inevitable” that the £9.3bn cost would increase still further. “This will further delay the point at which ESN is cheaper than Airwave, weakening the argument for continuing with ESN,” they said.

Continued delays to ESN were “likely to create cost pressures for emergency services” as they may need to buy new Airwave devices while they wait for its replacement to be completed, the report said.

Last year the National Audit Office found that delays were already costing the Home Office’s police budget £330m a year, because of the cost of maintaining the current Airwave system.

And further issues could arise because the intended users of the network – emergency services including police and fire services – also lack confidence that the ESN will meet their needs, the report added.

It said although the Home Office has said it will not force services to use ESN until they are content that it is “as good” as Airwave, “but it has not defined what this means with sufficient clarity”.

“It has also yet to confirm what happens if some users require expensive changes before they will accept ESN.”

Committee chair Meg Hillier said the MPs were “not convinced that the Home Office has the capability and plans to deliver a coherent single system that provides the functionality and dependability the emergency services demand”.

“The endless delay in delivering a new system for our emergency services to communicate and share data is creating a crisis of confidence as police, fire and ambulance on longer have trust in the new system being delivered,” she said.

“Neither the emergency services, nor the PAC, are convinced that the Home Office has a credible plan to deliver a reliable and effective service anytime soon.”

She added: “The Home Office’s reset of the Emergency Services Network programme has failed to deliver any more certainty. The financial benefits originally predicted for this programme are rapidly evaporating and it will not now realise cost savings, on the most optimistic forecasts, for at least a decade.”

A Home Office spokesperson said the ESN could “transform” emergency response for police, fire services and ambulance crews and save £200m a year.

“This ambitious project has not been without its challenges, but following our thorough review and decision to roll ESN out in stages, our approach has gone to plan, with the network already live and devices and software being tested,” they said.

“We will continue to monitor progress to ensure the successful delivery of this programme.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Parliament Procurement & Commercial Project & Programme Management 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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One Public Estate: Hear from the programme on course to create 44,000 jobs, and unlock space for 25,000 homes

2 days 11 hours ago
Award

With only a week until award nominations close, we hear from the programme manager of the 2016 Collaboration Award winners about what the team have achieved in the three years since 

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Credit: Baldo Sciacca

Collaboration across local authorities, public services and between central and local government is often lauded as the gold standard when it comes to best practice. But few schemes are as wide reaching as the One Public Estate (OPE) programme.

Launched in 2013, the achievements of OPE were recognised when the team won the collaboration title at the Civil Service Awards in 2016.  “We were absolutely delighted to win,” programme manager Kirsty Rouillard says. “[Our work] had reached a third of local authorities [by then] and we were starting to see results but were somewhat flying under the radar. To have that recognition was really motivating for the team.”

Three years on and the ethos of the programme has not changed – it is still focused on encouraging joint working between two or more public bodies to bolster economic growth, drive efficiency savings and deliver better public services to transform local communities – but its reach has grown. From an initial 12 pilot areas (including Bristol, Essex, Hull, Nottingham and Portsmouth), the team has now supported more than 450 projects across 95% of the local authorities in England, and 13 government departments. By 2020, it’s estimated that those projects will have delivered £56m in savings, have created 44,000 jobs, unlocked land for 25,000 homes and cut running costs by £158m.

“There isn’t anything duplicated across government at this scale,” Rouillard says. “We bring partners together to think about their assets and their ambitions, and identify opportunities to work collaboratively to deliver something that is better for them and their local communities.

We’re there to be a neutral broker ... [and are] very flexible in the way that we work – we can support the health agenda, we can support the housing agenda, we can support a wide variety of different deliverables that cross the divide between local and central government.”

The team itself is made up of members of the Cabinet Office’s Government Property Unit and the Local Government Association. While not a housing programme specifically, OPE partners are encouraged to use property and public land to find efficiencies and boost local growth. The flexible nature of the scheme means what that looks like can vary wildly. The team is working with the Ministry of Defence, for example, to release nine of its sites for housing, a move that is expected to save the department almost £3 billion in running costs by 2040. Work has also been done with the Department for Health and Social Care to draw up plans to build 3,000 homes for NHS staff on surplus NHS land across five London boroughs. Cornwall has worked with OPE to introduce 10 integrated public service hubs around the county (bringing council offices, health, the Job Centre Plus and emergency services under one roof), and added its first tri-blue-light services officer – a trained paramedic, police and fire officer – in 2015. And in York, a partnership has been agreed between the City of York Council, National Rail, Homes England and the National Railway Museum, to regenerate York Central Station across a 72 hectare site, building 1,500 new homes and adding 100,000 square metres of commercial space. 

‘We were somewhat flying under the radar. To have that recognition was really motivating for the team’ 

OPE’s input on projects includes funding – it contributed £200,000 to the early stages of the York project for example, and has distributed around £40m to projects to date – as well as helping to identify local opportunities, mapping existing assets and monitoring the projects’ progress via regional programme managers. “Those regional managers are really important,” Rouillard explains, “because they enable us to help identify [and diffuse] some of the risks and opportunities. It might be a local authority can’t gain access to a central government department; it might be helping them identify funding streams they can apply to; it might be in developing business cases; it might be [helping to think] through how to move [a project] forward.

“Local authorities are best placed to make those decisions in local areas,” she adds. “[But] we’ve been able to help them think on a larger scale and to recognise what opportunities they have.” There are challenges that come with working in this way, she admits, particularly as the OPE team operates in an advisory role and does not make any of the project decisions themselves. There can also be resistance when juggling multiple priorities and deadlines across the various partners. “We are working across many different agendas and they bring their own challenges,” she says. “For us it’s about not applying our own assumptions. It’s letting those partners decide for their own areas.”

The team hopes to take the OPE model to more local authorities, particularly in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and to explore the potential of encouraging partnerships between public and private sector bodies. Prioritising collaborative working is something Rouillard believes would also be beneficial for the wider civil service, particularly when it comes to optimising current performance. “[Different departments] can’t always [work together] but we should share more and talk about best practice,” she says. “Let’s think about where we can get more [out of what we have] by being more collaborative.”

The Civil Service Awards are accepting nominations until the 24th July. For more information please visit the site here.

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New Office for Tackling Injustices joins Cabinet Office equalities hub

3 days ago
News

Outgoing prime minster Theresa May says tackling societal injustice requires a long-term focus

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The government is to create a new team in the Cabinet Office that will be tasked with presenting ministers with more evidence-based policy on how to tackle societal injustices on the basis of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or disability.

Outgoing prime minister Theresa May said that the new Office for Tackling Injustices would hold the government and wider society to account for tackling social injustices.

The unit will build on the approach of the Race Disparity Audit, which has used data to analyse how a person’s ethnicity affects their experiences of public services. Sitting alongside the Race Disparity Unit in the Cabinet Office equalities hub being formed from November, the OfTI will use data and analysis to find out what the barriers are for specific groups and gather data that is currently unreliable or simply not available.

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The unit is the latest in a series of moves announced by May ahead of her departure to boost government action on equalities. The hub in the Cabinet Office will include an expanded Office for Disability Issues and the Government Equalities Office as well as the Race Disparity Unit.

May said that “deep-seated societal injustice requires a long-term focus and cannot be eliminated overnight”, adding that she had “challenged the injustices which still exist in our society through the power of data – from our world-leading gender pay gap reporting to the Race Disparity Unit – and I have demanded that if disparities cannot be explained, they must be changed”.

“[The] Office for Tackling Injustices will go further, using the power of data, gathered from extensive sources, to shine a spotlight on key injustices and provide the catalyst for better policy solutions. By holding government and wider society to account, we can create lasting change.”

In a written statement confirming the details of the unit, women and equalities minister Penny Mordaunt said that as well as delivering an annual data-driven report on progress to parliament, the OfTI will also publish thematic studies. It will make use of relevant published data from various public authorities, monitoring trends and considering their underlying causes and drivers.

The Race Disparity Unit won the Chris Martin Policy Award at the 2018 Civil Service Awards, with di-rector Marcus Bell telling CSW there were lessons about the RDU’s approach that the wider civil service can learn

He put the team’s success down to its multidisciplinary nature, with a mixture of technical people (such as statisticians and developers), and policy people working together, and highlighted how much data is available but not being utilised effectively by departments. “There’s quite a lot of untapped potential there,” he added. “We’ve made use of their data to explain where we are as a country with ethnicity but there’s plenty more to be done.”

Tags Diversity HR Operational Delivery Policymaking Transformation Categories Government and politics Public order, justice and rights About the author

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

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Home Office ramps up tech training

3 days 1 hour ago
News

Number of staff taking courses has more than trebled in last three years

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In the last three years, the Home Office has increased the range of digital and IT courses it offers to staff and has seen a big surge in the number of employees undertaking training.

A Freedom of Information request from the Parliament Street think tank finds that, in 2016/17, the department offered staff 11 digital skills courses. A total of 971 workers took one of the courses during the year.

Since then, the number of courses on offer has shot up to 27. Some 3,214 staff signed up for one of the training programmes in 2018/19 – a more-than-threefold increase in the space of two years.

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The Home Office’s Windows 10 and Office 2016 e-Book course was the most popular offering last year, with 1,182 civil servants taking part. 

Other courses on offer cover areas such as working with spreadsheets, using social media, and improving the accessibility of IT. Courses titled Basic digital skills and Working more digitally are also available.

Sheila Flavell, chief operating officer of IT recruitment specialist FDM Group, welcomed the findings of the think tank’s research.

“It’s encouraging to see a major government department investing heavily in upskilling workers with the latest digital skills and IT expertise,” she said. “Technology has a crucial role to play in delivering faster, more efficient public services, whether that’s fighting crime or managing personal details of citizens.”

Author Display Name Sam Trendall Tags Digital, Data & AI GDPR HR IT & Security Skills & Education Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

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

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Treasury confirms talks with unions after losing pension reform ruling

3 days 1 hour ago
News

Liz Truss says government stands by 2015 reforms to public service pensions after transitional protections ruled discriminatory

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The Treasury has confirmed it will meet with public service unions after a court ruled that elements of the government’s controversial 2015 pension reforms were discriminatory.

In a written statement yesterday, chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said that the government respected the decision of the Supreme Court to refuse its appeal after the transitional arrangements in the reformed pensions schemes were ruled discriminatory.

The case, initially brought by the Fire Brigades Union and some judges, successfully argued that an overhaul of the Firefighter's Pension Scheme in 2015, which mirrored reforms across the public sector, discriminated on the basis of age as it included transitional arrangements. These meant the changes – including a move from a final salary to a career-average defined benefit – were not applied to people within 10 years of retirement age.

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Truss’s statement yesterday said that the transitional protections were intended to ensure people close to retirement age were treated fairly. These protections allowed members who were closest to retirement at the time new pension schemes were introduced to remain members of their respective old schemes, but the court found those too far away from retirement age to qualify for these protections have been unfairly discriminated against.

“As ‘transitional protection’ was offered to members of all the main public service pension schemes, the government believes that the difference in treatment will need to be remedied across all those schemes,” Truss said. “This includes schemes for the NHS, civil service, local government, teachers, police, armed forces, judiciary and fire and rescue workers. Continuing to resist the full implications of the judgment in court would only add to the uncertainty experienced by members.”

As a result, she said that the government would now meet with unions to discuss the implications of the ruling. Truss has previously said that extending the protections to all pension scheme members would cost around £4bn, a figure trade unions dispute.

“The matter will be remitted to the employment tribunal in respect of the litigants in the firefighters and judicial pension schemes. It will be for the tribunal to determine a remedy,” she said. “Alongside this process, government will be engaging with employer and member representatives, as well as the devolved administrations, to help inform our proposals to the tribunal and in respect of the other public service pension schemes.”

Truss added that the government’s reasons for the 2015 reforms remain, as public service pensions are “a significant cost for the taxpayer, now and in the future”, and said that the judgment “does not alter the government’s commitment to ensuring that the cost of public service pensions are affordable for taxpayers and sustainable for the longer term”.

After the Supreme Court ruling earlier this month, civil service unions urged the government to clarify what it would mean for Whitehall pensions.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the decision was “a fantastic win for the FBU and a vindication of their strategy to legally challenge the government over their discriminatory pensions policy”.

He added: “It is also clear that many thousands of PCS members in the civil service pension schemes, and other public service schemes, have also been discriminated against in the same way as FBU members, at the time that pension reforms were imposed in 2015.

Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “It is unclear yet what the legal remedies may look like. What is clear is that they are likely to be complex – vary by impact across schemes and involve a range of detailed assumptions.”

He added that Truss’s £4bn cost estimate was a “wild figure” that “appears to have little substance”.

FDA assistant general secretary Lucille Thirlby told CSW that the FDA believed the ruling should be considered on a scheme by scheme basis.

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DIT to train up trade experts to expand post-Brexit talent pool

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Trade secretary Liam Fox says he hopes trainees "will be able to enjoy their whole career at DIT"

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DIT second permanent secretary Crawford Falconer and trade secretary Liam Fox at the programme launch. Photo: DIT

The Department for International Trade has launched what it says is the world’s first training scheme for trade experts as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.

The scheme is intended to expand the pool of trade policy and promotion experts to help support the UK’s post-Brexit international trade, according to the department.

The programme is described as “an alternative to traditional graduate schemes, aimed at people of all ages and experience levels” and pays an annual salary of up to £30,109. Most candidates will be school-leavers, people switching careers or those looking to work in government for the first time, DIT said.

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“Candidates don’t need to have a degree or previous experience in government – instead DIT is asking for commitment to learn and work in one of the most fascinating and complex subject areas in global economics,” the department said.

As part of their course, trainees will undertake a six-month international placement at one of DIT’s 127 locations worldwide.

The announcement comes after the National Audit Office said in May that the section of DIT tasked with overseeing work to open up overseas markets to UK business after Brexit was 20% below its target staffing level.

Announcing the scheme, international trade secretary Liam Fox said: “For decades, people didn’t look at trade as a viable career option. Now, the international trade development programme will make a career in trade policy and promotion not only viable but highly desirable.

“A whole generation will be equipped with these vital skills, charged with driving our export and investment performance, securing market access deals for our businesses and promoting the UK’s prosperity.

“My vision is that anyone joining the scheme will be able to enjoy their whole career at DIT, building skills and experience across the department to eventually take on one of our highest-ranking and most prestigious roles as HM trade commissioners.”

Applications for the scheme close on 4 August.

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

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