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Civil Service World News

Coronavirus: Government to charter flights in bid to bring thousands of stranded Brits home

18 hours 14 minutes ago
News

FCO to return flights where commercial airlines are no longer operating, says Raab

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The government is to spend £75m chartering flights to bring home thousands of UK citizens left stranded overseas because of the coronavirus.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said British Airways, Virgin, EasyJet, Jet2 and Titan were among the companies taking part in the huge airlift.

The elderly and those with medical needs will be prioritised in the first instance, he said.

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The government has come under increasing pressure to do more to repatriate travellers unable to get flights home because of the global lockdown as a result of the outbreak.

Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference yesterday evening, Raab urged Brits overseas to try to book themselves onto commercial flights back to the UK wherever possible.

But if that cannot be done, he said the government will arrange for flights to pick them up.

He said: "I can announce a new arrangement between the government and airlines to fly home tens of thousands of stranded British travellers where commercial flights are no longer possible.

"Under the arrangements that we are putting in place, we will target flights from a range of priority countries starting this week.

"Where commercial routes remain an option, airlines will be responsible for getting passengers home. That means offering alternative flights at little to no cost where routes have been cancelled.

"So for those still in those countries where commercial options are still available, don't wait. Don't run the risk of getting stranded. The airlines are standing by to help you. Please book your tickets as soon as possible.

"Where commercial flights are no longer running, the government will provide the necessary financial support for special charter flights to bring UK nationals back home.

"Once special flights have been arranged we will promote them through the Government's travel advice and through the British Embassy or High Commission in the relevant country.

"British travellers who want a seat on those flights will book and pay directly through a dedicated travel management company.

"We have designated £75m to support those flights and the airlines in order to keep the cost down and affordable for those seeking to return to the UK."

Meanwhile, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance revealed that social distancing measures first introduced by the Government two weeks ago are working.

He pointed to data showing that the number of people using the Tube, trains and buses has slumped compared to a month ago.

Sir Patrick also said that the daily rise in the number of Covid-19 patients being admitted to hospital was rising at a steady rate, suggesting that efforts to slow the transmission of the disease were having some effect.

He spoke as the latest figures showed the total number of UK deaths from coronavirus has reached 1,408 - an increase of 180 in the last 24 hours.

Author Display Name Kevin Schofield and John Johnston Tags Health International Affairs & Security Operational Delivery Categories Health and social care International Relations Transport About the author

A version of this story first appeoared on CSW's sister site PoliticsHome

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Richard Johnstone

DCMS ‘lacks full picture’ of museums’ maintenance needs

18 hours 41 minutes ago
News

National Audit Office questions financial planning for keeping top institutions in good repair

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The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport does not know how much funding the national museums it sponsors need to keep their historic structures in good shape for the long term, according to the National Audit Office.

A report from the public finance watchdog published last week looked at the 15 institutions DCMS is responsible for, including: the British Museum; the National Portrait Gallery; the Science Museum; and the Victoria & Albert Museum and their related estates, parts of which date back to the 17th century.

It noted that the department expressed concerns over the maintenance of its museum estate in a 2017 report, and last year established risks identified with its museums related directly to the need for repairs, or funding for such work. However, the report says DCMS “does not collect the information necessary to quantify the funding required to address the maintenance backlog in the long term” with the museums, which are effectively arm’s length bodies.

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The NAO said: “Although some museums choose to share information, the department does not formally require museums to provide data on their maintenance backlog, their current level of maintenance spending or the level required to avoid the backlog increasing.”

According to the watchdog, while information about spending requirements comes in submissions for capital funding during Spending Reviews and other funding rounds, submissions from museums only provide information relating to the timeframe and project types specified by the department.

“They do not give a complete picture of the museums’ backlog of estates work, and some museums told us their full backlog of works is greater than that included in their submissions,” the NAO said.

“Others said they do not know the full extent of their backlog.”

The report acknowledged that DCMS had secured additional funding of £42m in 2019-20 and 2020-21 through its maintenance fund, which is sourced from underspends elsewhere in the department. But it also noted that grant-in-aid received by the museums decreased from £361m in 2010-11 to £333m in 2018-19 – a real-terms fall of 20%.

The NAO did not provide recommendations, but said its report aimed to shed light on issues that had come to light through its financial audit work with museums.

“We have identified similar challenges in maintaining estates in other public sector bodies, such as prisons, schools and the NHS,” the report said.

“Available data did not support calculating an estimate of the cost of rectifying problems with the estate, and we considered constructing such an estimate beyond the scope of this investigation.”

The NAO said one example of museums facing problems with their estates included the Wallace Collection, where a piece of masonry fell from the portico in 2018 because of the deterioration of supporting beams. Another was the Science Museum Group’s Manchester site, where the Power Hall has been closed for urgent repairs.

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

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Richard Johnstone

Pointing the way to the future: how technology will change transport

19 hours 2 minutes ago
Opinion

As part of Civil Service World’s Digital Transformation special edition, we asked sector experts to share their insight on how a broad range of near-term advances in technology will transform the way public services are delivered.

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In this entry, Marcus Enoch is a professor of transport strategy in the School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering at Loughborough University, looks at the changes that could come

How are digital technologies currently used in the mobility sector?

Compared with some other sectors, like communications for instance, transport has been quite slow to adopt digital technologies – but this situation is now changing, with many new companies now entering the marketplace. Thus we are starting to see transport planners and operators engaging with providers of data (for example, from electronic payments, mobile phones, Bluetooth, wifi, and a whole range of sensors) to monitor, evaluate and hopefully improve transport system performance.

What is the potential for digital to transform services, and what challenges could this solve? 

Digital services could potentially revolutionise how transport is delivered in two ways. First, it could remove the need for a significant proportion of it through next-generation videoconferencing tools – in which case it would cease to be transport. This is something long expected but so far not quite realised, but this may change quite suddenly in light of recent social responses to things like climate change agenda and Covid-19.

Secondly, digital services could potentially revolutionise how transport is delivered by allowing users to directly communicate with transport providers in near-real time – something which has not been possible until now. This could see the current operator-led paradigm being gradually replaced with a user-led model. Here, transport services will be more tailored to the needs of individual customers. They could be more precisely priced according to the attributes requested by the user, the quality of service provided, a person’s ability to pay for it and the net social cost to society of that trip.

More comprehensive data will also enable transport operators to use machine-learning techniques to predict (and deal with) operational issues before they arise, and planners and policymakers to make more informed decisions around subsidies and investment at the strategic level.

Taken together, pervasive personalisation, precise pricing, powerful predictions and primed policy should ensure that services only run at optimal loadings (neither too full nor too empty), and where and when the infrastructure is able to accommodate them. Under this dream scenario, overcrowding would no longer exist, congestion and traffic delays would be designed out, and emissions and carbon dioxide would fall dramatically.

What will be the key factors in facilitating this transformation?

There are significant barriers to such a future. First, the technology to deliver the required changes to payment, information and timetabling systems to integrate them within a single system has proved more complicated than was initially thought – and will likely require more investment by the industry.

Second, there is a strong traditionalist culture among a large part of the transport sector that has remained almost unchanged in the 200 years since the first buses ran in Paris during the 1820s. This could form part of the reason why the taxi and bus markets have come under such pressure from new modes like Uber over the last few years.

Third, the regulatory framework would benefit from being reset. Currently, questions as to how an operator, service, route, vehicle or driver is registered and by which organisation, as well as eligibility criteria for grants or subsidies, or VAT exemptions on ticket sales are entirely mode dependent. Instead, perhaps a cross-modal treatment of these institutional components would be more able to cope with the potential opportunities provided by digital services, particularly as more regulatory dimensions begin to emerge – such as around data management and privacy.

Finally, there will be political and public acceptability challenges, particularly if painful choices around transport system efficiency, capacity, access, and pricing are not to be avoided.

Author Display Name Marcus Enoch Tags Digital, Data & AI Science & Technology Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research Transport About the author

Marcus Enoch is a professor of transport strategy in the School of Architecture, Building and Civil Engineering at Loughborough University

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Richard Johnstone

Ken McCallum named as new head of MI5

19 hours 27 minutes ago
News

McCallum, currently deputy director general of the Security Service, will take over from Sir Andrew Parker at the end of April

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MI5

Ken McCallum has been appointed as director general of the Security Service MI5, home Sscretary Priti Patel has announced.

McCallum has worked for MI5 for almost 25 years and is currently serving as deputy director general. He will take over the top job at the end of April when the current chief, Sir Andrew Parker, retires.

As deputy director general, a post he took up 2017, McCallum oversaw the MI5’s strategic response to the 2017 terror attacks, and led its operational response to the murder of Sergei Skripal

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He spent the first ten years of his career working on Northern Ireland-related terrorism, and a biography published on the MI5 website says his “work contributing to the peace process [remains] a career highlight”. He subsequently worked on both Isalmist extremist terrorism and cyber security.

After leading all counter terror investigations in the run up to, and during, the 2012 London Olympics, McCallum was seconded to the business department where he lead on digital issues. He has also served as a non-executive director for the Nuclear Decomissioning Authority.

The MI5 biography states that one of McCallum’s “current priorities is enabling MI5 to seize the fast-moving opportunities provided by technology, including machine learning.” It adds that his “out-of-work life is dominated by trying to be an active father” but when “when work/parenting allows, he enjoys hiking in mountains.”

In a statement, McCallum said: “MI5’s purpose is hugely motivating. Our people – with our partners – strive to keep the country safe, and they always want to go the extra mile.

"Having devoted my working life to that team effort, it is a huge privilege now to be asked to lead it as director general.”

Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said that McCallum’s “leadership will be crucial to ensuring that the Security Service remains agile and creative in the face of new and emerging threats to our security.”

 “I know that he will be a fantastic director general and I look forward to working with him.”

Sedwill also thanked Sir Andrew for “many years of distinguished leadership of the women and men of the Service, and his dedication to keeping our citizens safe and our country secure.”

Home secretary Priti Patel said: “Since becoming home secretary, I have worked closely with Ken and I’m delighted to appoint him as the new director general.

“We are facing unprecedented national security threats and I’m confident that his experience and vision will allow the UK to meet those challenges head on.

"I also would like to pay tribute to Sir Andrew Parker, who has led the service through a very challenging period which saw the threat to the UK evolve rapidly. He has served his country with dedication and commitment and I thank him for his efforts."

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Suzannah.Brecknell

Prison governors call for early release of low-risk prisoners to stop coronavirus overcrowding

20 hours 35 minutes ago
News

Boris Johnson is facing mounting calls to sanction the early release of low-risk offenders in a bid to stop prisons becoming overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis.

Unions representing prison staff and governors have said they would back a move by the prime minister to release some offenders to try and prevent jails being over-run amid staff shortages and the spread of the virus.

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Boris Johnson is facing mounting calls to sanction the early release of low-risk offenders in a bid to stop prisons becoming overwhelmed by the coronavirus crisis.

Unions representing prison staff and governors have said they would back a move by the prime minister to release some offenders to try and prevent jails being over-run amid staff shortages and the spread of the virus.

The Times reports that Johnson is set to allow pregnant inmates to leave jail, but is resisting pressure to extend the move to other low-risk offenders. 

Ministers are instead said to be considering plans to convert disused military barracks and immigration detention centres into prisons to try to ease the strain on jails.

Northern Ireland has already announced that it will release some of its prison population early, with Scotland set to follow suit. Northern Ireland’s move excludes those convicted of serious crimes including murder, terrorism and sex offences.

Andrea Albutt, president of the Prison Governors Association, told the paper: “Prisons are now at the point where a decision must be made and implemented immediately on early release of prisoners.

“The numbers infected and self- isolating are increasing and in the majority of prisons. If the government takes action now, we can help delay the spread of the virus in custody due to less crowding, which in turn will reduce the burden on the NHS.”

The latest Ministry of Justice figures, released on Monday, show that 55 prisoners have now tested positive for coronavirus in England and Wales across 21 prisons. 

Meanwhile 18 prison staff and four prison escort staff have also tested positive for Covid-19.

That represents a doubling of the total number of cases on the prison estate since the previous update on Friday. 

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “The crisis of Covid-19 in our communities is there for all to see and prisons are no different. The association will fully support [justice secretary] Robert Buckland if he decides on executive release of low-risk prisoners nearing the end of their sentence. This would free up spaces and resources to assist in an already stretched prison service and assist our hard-pressed members.”

He added: “We recognise that the general public would need to be reassured if the minister took this decision but the reality of the situation is that many serving prisoners in the open estate are released every day on licence to work in the community and many pose no risk.”

The MoJ has already moved to suspend prison visits during the Covid-19 outbreak, with some prisoners instead given secure phone handsets to allow those who have been risk assessed to get in touch with a “smal number of pre-authorised contacts”.

The department has also paused the usual regime prisons in a bid to observe government guidance on social distancing, which recommends that people stay two metres apart.

The MoJ said: “This means prisoners can no longer take part in usual recreational activities such as using the gym, going to worship or visiting the library.”

Author Display Name Matt Honeycombe-Foster Tags Justice and Public Safety About the author

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

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Chisholm named civil service chief operating officer to lead new reform drive

1 day 14 hours ago
News

BEIS perm sec will move to become Cabinet Office perm sec as he takes on roles held by John Monzoni

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Alex Chisholm, the permanent secretary of the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, is to move to the Cabinet Office to lead a new reform programme for the civil service.

Chisholm will move to the central department to take over the responsibilities of outgoing perm sec and civil service chief executive Sir John Manzoni, who will leave later this year.

The appointment has been made by Sir Mark Sedwill, with the agreement of prime minister Boris Johnson, with Sedwill saying that he has asked Chisholm to “lead the ongoing transformation of the civil service to further enhance its efficiency, effectiveness and agility, creating the high performance, innovative and digitally powered service we need for the times we are in”.

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In a statement welcoming Chisholm to the role, Sedwill said: “He will also bring proven leadership skills to help guide and support the 7,000 talented staff who work across the Cabinet Office and its arm’s-length bodies.”

In his comments welcoming Chisholm’s appointment, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove highlighting that in the medium term “much of Alex’s work will necessarily be coronavirus response related”, but he indicated that Whitehall reform would be among the other priorities.

“But Alex will be responsible for supporting ministers to develop and then drive forward a reform programme for the civil service, building on the government’s existing efficiency programme. He will also supervise all the Cabinet Office’s various work programmes including on preparing for the end of the transition period [for leaving the European Union, due to end in December], strengthening the union, and defending our democracy.”

Chisholm has been perm sec in BEIS since the department was created in September 2016, and had also been the head of the Department for Energy and Climate Change before its closure, and he had also been chief executive of the Competition & Markets Authority from 2013 to 2016.

Chisholm said he was “truly thrilled to be asked to lead the Cabinet Office and civil service reform at this time”.

The present coronavirus emergency was a “powerful reminder of how important the work of government is to the whole country”, he added.

“I look forward to working with ministers, colleagues in the Cabinet Office, permanent secretaries across government and public service leaders, to deliver for the government and the public together.”

Manzoni’s departure was confirmed earlier this year. The exact date of his departure has not yet been confirmed, as he has agreed to stay on to support the government’s response to coronavirus over the next few months. Manzoni’s title was chief executive of the civil service, but Chisholm has been named COO.

Sedwill said that he wanted to place on record his “sincere thanks and appreciation for all that my colleague Sir John Manzoni has accomplished over the last five years in the role”.

His leadership on civil service modernisation, in particular embedding our functional approach and improving our digital and commercial capability, has been “a significant contribution to effective government”, the cab sec said. “I wish him well in the next phase of his career.”

Gove also thanked Manzoni for his service since becoming civil service chief in 2014. “Over the last few years, the cross-departmental functional governance programme has become embedded as part of Whitehall’s machinery, leading to significant savings for the public purse and improved performance,” he said. “I wish Sir John all the very best for the future.”

Manzoni wished Chisholm “every success in his new roles”.

He added: “He will benefit from the fact – as I have done – that the civil service is truly world-class, with brilliantly talented people at every level of the organisation.

"It has been a privilege to work alongside so many of them in the Cabinet Office and beyond. Civil servants do extraordinary things every day to serve and support their fellow citizens. We are seeing this demonstrated more than ever as we manage the coronavirus pandemic.”

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Richard Johnstone

Acting MHCLG perm sec Jeremy Pocklington to stay on

1 day 15 hours ago
News

Pocklington succeeds Melanie Dawes, who became Ofcom chief exec in February

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The acting permanent secretary at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government will stay on as head of the department, it has been announced.

Jeremy Pocklington, director general for housing at MHCLG, has been acting perm sec since Melanie Dawes left the civil service to head up Ofcom in February. His role has changed with permanent effect.

He has held a number of director general posts in government, heading up the markets and infrastructure group at the then-Department of Energy and Climate Change and later becoming energy and security DG in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. He joined MHCLG in August 2018.

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Before he became a director general in 2015, most of Pocklington’s civil service career was spent in the Treasury, which he joined in 1997 after obtaining a master’s in economics and social history. In his last post there, he was director of the enterprise and growth unit, which was responsible for policies on growth, business and infrastructure and for advising on public spending for several departments.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said Pocklington’s appointment as perm sec was “excellent news for the department and the government”.

"He is a highly talented and dedicated senior civil servant who has been a great support to me since I became secretary of state and most recently as we work intensively to respond to Covid,” Jenrick said.

MHCLG has played an integral role in the government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Earlier this month the ministry announced it was setting up a taskforce to help coordinate the local response to the outbreak, including tabletop exercises to assess preparedness around the country.

It also has organised food parcels to be delivered to people most at risk from coronavirus, the first of which were sent out at the weekend.

Pocklington said: “It’s an honour to be leading the department as we respond to the nation’s current challenges and support those who need our help most.

“MHCLG has a critically important agenda to level up all parts of our country, support local government and deliver the homes the country needs.

“I look forward to building on the department’s welcoming and inclusive culture and working closely with all our stakeholders to deliver for the government and the public.”

Tags HR Leadership & Management Categories Communities, housing and planning About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith

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First MHCLG food parcels delivered to vulnerable people

1 day 17 hours ago
News

Department says hundreds of thousands of boxes could be delivered each week as part of shielding plans for those vulnerable to Covid-19

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The first food boxes have been delivered to the 1.5 million vulnerable people the government has told should stay at home for 12 weeks to protect themselves from coronavirus.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced that the first 2,000 deliveries have been made this weekend to those who cannot leave their homes because severe health conditions leave them most vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus.

As many as 50,000 boxes are expected to go out this week. The department said hundreds of thousands of boxes could be delivered each week, depending on demand as the shielding policy for vulnerable people continues.

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People on the "shielded patients list" of people who have been told not to go outside for their own safety include people on long-term immune suppression therapy because they have had an organ transplant, people with severe respiratory conditions and people with some types of cancer. Under the shielding guidance, they have also been told to minimise all non-essential contact with other members of their household.

The packages contain essential food and household items such as pasta, fruit, tinned goods and biscuits, and toilet paper for vulnerable people who have no support network of family or friends to help them. Parcels will be left on the doorstep to minimise the risk of spreading the virus.

In the last week, 900,000 extremely vulnerable people have received letters from the NHS giving them guidance on how to shield from coronavirus. In total up to 1.5 million will be asked to be shielded in this way. Others who did not receive letters but think they are part of this clinically vulnerable group have been advised to contact their GP.

The food packages are part of the support network for this group being established by MHCLG, working with local government and local resilience forums, communities secretary Robert Jenrick said.

The deliveries represent “the start of extraordinary steps to support the most clinically vulnerable, while they shield from coronavirus”, he added.

“We will support these people at this difficult time, and the scale of an operation like that has not been seen since the Second World War.

“This is an unprecedented package of support and I want to thank the food suppliers, local councils and everyone who has come together to create this essential service in just a matter of days.”

Food suppliers Bidfood and Brakes have been involved in developing the food parcels.

Bidfood chief executive Andrew Selley and Brakes chief exec Hugo Mahoney said their firms were coming together to work with the government at a time of national crisis.

“In these difficult times, we’re proud to join forces and play such a vital role in supporting people in need during their period of isolation,” they said. “Together we are experts in food service and our distribution networks reach into every corner of the country. Our highly professional drivers and warehouse teams will be keeping the wheels turning in this vital national endeavour.”

Medicines will be delivered by community pharmacies and groceries and essential household items by food distributers, working with supermarkets.

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Richard Johnstone

Defence and foreign policy review must be delayed, ex-national security adviser says

1 day 17 hours ago
News

Comprehensive spending review and Brexit transition should also be pushed back, former Foreign Office perm sec Lord Ricketts says

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The government must delay a wide-ranging defence and foreign policy review that began at the beginning of this year, a former head of the Foreign Office and national security adviser has said.

No.10 announced plans at the end of last year for an integrated review of foreign policy, defence, security and international development, which is expected to be published alongside a comprehensive spending review this summer.

But Lord Peter Ricketts, who as the government’s national security adviser oversaw a similar review in 2010, said neither the integrated review nor the spending exercise were likely to go ahead as planned as departments scrambled to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.

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“It's a very big and detailed and important strategic review, and it can't be completed between now and July, in my view,” Ricketts told CSW.

Ricketts, who spent four years as permanent under secretary of the Foreign Office before becoming Britain’s first national security adviser in 2010, said he did not expect the review to be completed until early next year.

“It seems to me that the government is going to be doing nothing but this crisis until the mid year, probably. And so it would be sensible to give themselves another six months, nine months… They needn’t be precise about a time when they delay it. But I think they now need to be making clear there will be a delay and new timings will be agreed,” he said.

During his two years as national security adviser, Ricketts oversaw the 2010 National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review and set up the National Security Council, which will decide how the next review’s findings are implemented.

It is also unlikely the government will be able to carry out a full spending review by this summer, given the civil service’s stretched capacity during the pandemic, according to Ricketts.

“You can’t possibly, I think, do a sensible job on that between now and July,” the crossbench peer said, adding that any future review would need to take account of the “vast additional spending” on measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak and support people and businesses.

“So it may be that they need a one-year spending review settlement in July, to keep things going for a year, and then come back to both the strategy review and the spending review in the early part of next year.”

Ricketts said there would be “no shame” in making such a choice. “There's no reason the government should be criticised for it, it seems to me to be the absolutely obvious thing to do,” he said.

Brexit transition extension ‘inevitable’

Ricketts also said the government would need to request an extension to the Brexit transition period “fairly soon”, as it would be impossible to complete all the negotiations needed to define the UK’s future relationship with the EU by 31 December.

“I'm absolutely clear that it needs to be delayed, the end of the transition period. I don't see how in the current extreme crisis that we're in – because I think it is now a real, full-on crisis over the pandemic – that we can possibly find the bandwidth to negotiate these extremely detailed, difficult, controversial agreements on future relationship, there's no way we can do it,” Ricketts said.

Last week Sir Simon Fraser, who succeeded Ricketts as FCO perm sec in 2010, said the government must not rule out an extension in light of the coronavirus crisis, as it was looking increasingly unlikely the UK and EU would hammer out a comprehensive deal by December

He told CSW it would be “irresponsible” to end the transition period under circumstances that created more uncertainty for businesses, given Covid-19 had already created a “major economic crisis”.

“It seems to me it would be irresponsible, frankly, if we come out of this crisis in autumn to then present business with a whole new set of uncertainties around a very significant change in the status of our economic relationship with Europe, either through no deal or through a very thin deal at the end of the year,” Fraser, who was also previously perm sec for the then-Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, said.

Ricketts went further, saying the government would need to “face the inevitable” and call for an extension within the next month or two. The withdrawal agreement the prime minister signed last year allows for an extension of up to two years, but this must be signed off by 1 July. 

“I know it's difficult for the government to accept, but since half the negotiators on both sides seem to already have the virus and now ministers as well, it feels to me it's the time fairly soon to just accept that it should be delayed, say for another year,” he said.

“I don't think anybody would be surprised or outraged by that, if they think about it... It does create some problems about budgets and so on, but it seems to me just impossible that we can do a good job of negotiating something as difficult as that in this current crisis.”

Over the weekend, Boris Johnson announced he was self isolating after testing positive for Covid-19. Health secretary Matt Hancock is also among a handful of ministers to have contracted the virus.

This came after EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this month, and a day later his UK counterpart David Frost began self isolating after showing symptoms of the virus.

Tags Brexit International Affairs & Security Project & Programme Management Spending Review Categories Defence and Security Government and politics About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith

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Beckie Smith

Read in full: Boris Johnson's letter to the nation on coronavirus

1 day 18 hours ago
News

The prime minister's letter will be sent to 30 million households, Number 10 said. Read it in full here

 

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Photo: Boris Johnson chairs a morning Covid-19 update meeting remotely during his self-isolation after testing positive. Photo: PA

I am writing to you to update you on the steps we are taking to combat coronavirus.

In just a few short weeks, everyday life in this country has changed dramatically. We all feel the profound impact of coronavirus not just on ourselves, but on our loved ones and our communities.

I understand completely the difficulties this disruption has caused to your lives, businesses and jobs. But the action we have taken is absolutely necessary, for one very simple reason.

If too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to cope. This will cost lives. We must slow the spread of the disease, and reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment in order to save as many lives as possible.

 

That is why we are giving one simple instruction - you must stay at home.

You should not meet friends or relatives who do not live in your home. You may only leave your home for very limited purposes, such as buying food and medicine, exercising once a day and seeking medical attention. You can travel to and from work but should work from home if you can.

When you do have to leave your home, you should ensure, wherever possible, that you are two metres apart from anyone outside of your household.

These rules must be observed. So, if people break the rules, the police will issue fines and disperse gatherings.

I know many of you will be deeply worried about the financial impact on you and your family. The government will do whatever it takes to help you make ends meet and put food on the table.

The enclosed leaflet sets out more detail about the support available and the rules you need to follow. You can also find the latest advice at gov.uk/coronavirus

From the start, we have sought to put in the right measures at the right time. We will not hesitate to go further if that is what the scientific and medical advice tells us we must do.

It's important for me to level with you - we know things will get worse before they get better. But we are making the right preparations, and the more we all follow the rules, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner life can return to normal.

I want to thank everyone who is working flat out to beat the virus, in particular the staff in our fantastic NHS and care sector across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It has been truly inspirational to see our doctors, nurses and other carers rise magnificently to the needs of the hour.
 
Thousands of retired doctors and nurses are returning to the NHS - and hundreds of thousands of citizens are volunteering to help the most vulnerable. It is with that great British spirit that we will beat coronavirus and we will beat it together.

That is why, at this moment of national emergency, I urge you, please, to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

Boris Johnson

Author Display Name Civil Service World Tags Communications Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Categories Government and politics Health and social care Image description PA Twitter Link

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Richard Johnstone

Pointing the way to the future: how technology is going to change justice

1 day 18 hours ago
Opinion

As part of CSW’s Digital Transformation special edition, we asked sector experts to share their insight on how a broad range of near-term advances in technology will transform the way public services are delivered, and we will be sharing their thoughts all this week. In this first entry, Tom Read the chief digital and information officer at the Ministry of Justice, looks at the opportunities in the sector

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Photo: PA

How are digital technologies currently used in your sector?

The justice system in the UK traces its roots back more than 800 years, with King Henry II opening the first commoners’ courts in 1178, and the first state prison opening in 1816. It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that digital technologies have quickly become an integral part of the modern justice system during the past decade.

Citizens can now apply for things like legal aid, a lasting power of attorney, and help with the costs of visiting people in prison online. It is still early days though: the MoJ offers around 224 services to the public, but fewer than 50% are digital by default.

What is the potential for digital to transform services and what challenges could this solve? 

One of our priorities is to ensure that justice is available to everyone in the country, not just to those wealthy enough to afford legal help. Making services that are simple to use, written in plain English, and available through smartphones helps to reach people who might otherwise be missed.

The opportunities for digital transformation in the prison and probation service are equally huge. When people leave prison, they are often unprepared for life outside and have been cut off from societal changes. We are looking at ways of using digital channels to help people rehabilitate themselves while inside, focusing on education and keeping contact with their families.

What will be the key factors in facilitating this transformation?

Funding is obviously key to everything we are trying to do. Banks and other private sector businesses can dedicate up to 20% of their staff to digital transformation, whereas in government it tends to be significantly lower.

We cannot just beg for more and more money from the Treasury though, we need to get much better at explaining to the business the economic benefits of digital transformation. Back in 2013, GDS used the example of booking a driving test costing £6.62 by post, £4.11 by telephone, but just £0.22 online. Across the justice system, we should expect a similar scale of savings.

Away from money, we also need strong political support as much of our work can be of interest to the public. Digital transformation in prisons can seem like a soft approach if the outcomes are not well understood, and this requires political buy-in.

Author Display Name Tom Read Tags Digital, Data & AI Justice and Public Safety Categories Public order, justice and rights Science, technology and research About the author

Tom Read the chief digital and information officer at the Ministry of Justice

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Richard Johnstone

Coronavirus: UK will not 'return to normal' for six months, deputy chief medical officer warns

1 day 19 hours ago
News

Comments come as PM’s top adviser Dominic Cummings self-isolates after developing symptoms

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Life in the UK will not "return to normal" for six months, deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries has warned.

The UK is currently in lockdown after prime minister Boris Johnson ordered people to stay at home except to shop for essentials, do one piece of exercise a day, collect medicine or go to work.

Anyone going outside must also stay at least two meters away from others in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

Johnson said the effectiveness of the policy would be assessed in three weeks' time to see if the measures could be relaxed.

But appearing at the daily Downing Street press conference, Harries said it would be "quite dangerous" for restrictions to be ended too early.

She said: "If we stop, then all of our efforts will be wasted and we could potentially see a second peak.

"So over time, probably over the next six months, we will have a three-week review. We will see where we are going.

"We need to keep that lid on – and then gradually we will be able to hopefully adjust some of the social distancing measures and gradually get us all back to normal.

"Three weeks for review, two or three months to see whether we have really squashed it. But about three to six months ideally, and lots of uncertainty in that, but then to see at which point we can actually get back to normal."

Meanwhile, the prime minister – who revealed on Friday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus and is now self-isolating in 11 Downing Street – has paid tribute to the 20,000 former NHS staff who have answered the call to go back to the health service during the crisis.

Johnson also revealed that 750,000 members of the public have now volunteered to help the NHS - three times the original target.

"One thing that the coronavirus crisis has already proved is that there is such a thing as society," he said.

It has also been revealed today that Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings self-isolating after experiencing coronavirus symptoms

Chief medical officer Chris Whitty is also self-isolating after reporting having symptoms.

A No.10 source said Cummings began to feel ill over the weekend, but remains “in contact” with the Downing Street operation.

Cummings was filmed by broadcasters running out of Downing Street on Friday lunchtime, shortly before the PM’s positive test was announced.

The former special advisor to Michael Gove and Vote Leave campaign director will now have to spend at least a week in quarantine, according to the Public Health England guidelines.

Johnson has continued to lead the UK response to the pandemic since testing positive, and was seen taking charge of a meeting of his senior team via video link over the weekend.

He has also posted a video from inside the flat above Number 11 Downing Street, where he is self-isolating, saying Britain's response to the crisis shows "there really is such a thing as society”.

The PM made the claim as he revealed 20,000 former NHS staff have so far answered the call to go back to work during the crisis.

Meanwhile 750,000 members of the public have volunteered to help the health service - three times the original target.

Johnson added: “It’s a most amazing thing. And that’s of course in addition to the 750,000 members of the public who have volunteered to help us get through this crisis.

"We are going to do it. We are going to do it together. One thing I think coronavirus crisis has proved is that there really is such a thing as society."

The comments are a reference to Margaret Thatcher's claim in a 1987 magazine interview that "there is no such thing as society”.

Johnson will this week write to every UK household setting out details of the government’s social distancing strategy and to urge them to stay at home, protect the NHS and save lives.

He will urge everyone to follow the rules to save lives and thank NHS staff working round the clock as well as everyone volunteering their time to protect others.

Read the letter in full here.

Author Display Name Kevin Schofield and Alain Tolhurst Tags Health Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Categories Government and politics Health and social care About the author

Kevin Schofield is editor and Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for CSW's sister publication PoliticsHome, where a version this story first appeared.

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Richard Johnstone

People Survey reveals work-life balance improved despite Brexit

1 day 19 hours ago
News

But HMRC and Border Force workers are still among the most stressed parts of the civil service, according to poll data

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The Civil Service People Survey’s key stress index and staff satisfaction with their work-life balance have both made positive movements over the past 12 months – despite the political turmoil and organisational challenges of preparing for successive no-deal Brexit dates, it has emerged.

Data from the just-published 2019 survey reveals that respondents were slightly less stressed than was the case in October 2018’s poll, and happier with the manageability of their workloads too.

More than two-thirds (71%) of civil servants agreed with the statement “I achieve a good balance between my work life and my private life”, up two points from 69% in 2018; while 63% of respondents said they had “an acceptable workload”, up from 60% the previous year. Both represent the most positive responses to the questions in the People Survey’s 11-year history.

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Last year, the People Survey included a new proxy stress index, pulled together from responses to existing questions in the survey – including those on workload, motivation, empowerment, team spirit, and harassment and bullying – and aligned with the Health & Safety Executive metrics.

The scores were inverted so they served as a measure of factors that added to stress rather than those that alleviated it – and meant that the departments and agencies with the highest scores were indicative of more stressful environments.

The 2018 Stress Index gave a civil service benchmark of 29% – and named HM Revenue & Customs as the most stressed, with an organisational “score” of 33%.

According to the 2019 data, the civil service-wide Stress Index benchmark is now 28%. HMRC is still the most stressed department and has failed to push down its 33% score.

As with the 2018 data, EU-exit related activities were a factor for many of the other more stressed parts of government.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Department for Exiting the European Union saw its Stress Index score rise year-on-year, up from 26% in 2018 to 28% in 2019.

The Home Office Group stayed at 32% on the index across both years, but Home Office Border Force saw its index score drop from 38% to 35% while colleagues in Home Office Immigration Enforcement saw their score ease from 34% to 33%.

At the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – often cited as the department with the biggest Brexit burden – stress scores remained high but unchanged year on year at 29%.

The same was the case at Defra’s Rural Payments Agency, which was stable on 33% and the department’s Animal and Plant Health Agency, which was stable at 34%.

In a change for 2019 the most stressed civil servants, according to the survey data, are at the Scottish Public Pensions Agency, which scored 40% on the index, up 5 percentage points on 2018.

Last year’s highest scoring staff worked at the Defence Electronics & Components Agency, but its 41% score reduced to 37% this year.

The least-stressed staff in 2018 were at the Attorney General’s Office, but – possibly owing to the pressure around September’s quashed prorogation of parliament – the department’s Stress Index score for 2019 was 25%, up from 17% the previous year.

According to the 2019 data, government’s least-stressed civil servants are now to be found at HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate – which is also one of the Attorney General’s Departments – where the score was 18%, down from 22% in 2018.

Author Display Name Jim Dunton Tags HR Leadership & Management Categories Government and politics Health and social care Image description PA Twitter Link

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Richard Johnstone

Thousands of DWP staff move to handle surge in Universal Credit

4 days 17 hours ago
News

Perm sec says demand levels mean policy changes such as cutting five-week payment delay for those affected by Covid-19 would be ‘operationally unfeasible

 

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Photo: Parliament TV

The Department for Work and Pensions has said it does not intend to reduce the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments or make significant changes to benefits, as it revealed it has shifted staff to deal with an unprecedented number of new claims amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, announced last week that the Universal Credit allowance would increase by £20 a week for the next year. But DWP has faced calls to further increase its support for Universal Credit claimants affected by Covid-19 by delivering the first payment more quickly or by making the first payment a non-repayable grant, and to extend benefits to migrants who are not usually allowed to claim them.

But DWP permanent secretary Peter Schofield said making major changes to the way Universal Credit is delivered would be unfeasible given the huge volumes of new claims it is receiving.

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The department is in the process of redeploying thousands of staff to process new Universal Credit claims and has suspended reviews and reassessments for all benefits for three months so it can redirect resources.

Schofield told the Work and Pensions Committee this week his department had processed some 477,000 new claims for Universal Credit in nine days – including 105,000 on Tuesday – as people lost work because of the outbreak.

He said the department was working to minimise delays by redeploying thousands of staff to handle Universal Credit claims, including 10,000 staff working on other frontline DWP “over the next few weeks”. As of Wednesday, 1,500 had already moved, with around 3,900 to follow by the end of this week.

It will later move as many of the civil servants working in functional areas such as finance, change programmes, capability – some 10,000 in total – as it can to the front line, he said, and later bring in staff from other departments.

“It’s a major success for the organisation and we did it because a lot of the system is automated and we’re not changing the way we’re running the system; we’re running that level of capacity,” he said.

“To make a change… requires reprogramming, resetting or manual processes, which we simply at those volumes wouldn’t be able to manage.”

Pressed on the five-week wait for people to receive their first payment under the new benefits system, work and pensions minister Therese Coffey added that “the underlying principles of Universal Credit have not gone away”.

“By that I mean the design that this is supposed to be based on your general income, we need a month to assess what your likely income’s going to be,” she said.

Coffey said claimants could apply for an advance to tide them over until their first payment had come through. Of the 275,000 people who applied for Universal Credit last week, 70,000 had asked for an advance, she said.

Asked whether this could instead be made a non-repayable grant, Coffey said it would be unfeasible to make such a change to the IT system in a short space of time.

“I have to say that any other changes – and I appreciate this is not a big policy change – but any technical changes, it would be difficult to make some of the operational changes people are asking for,” she said.

Pressed on why it was impossible to make these operational changes quickly, given the UC IT system had been designed to be “agile”, Coffey said: “Can I suggest we get into this at another time, about the original design of the the Universal Credit IT system… but I don’t think the system was built to be so agile that we can just literally put a new cell in a spreadsheet and it feeds through millions of records in one go.”

She said offering grants would raise questions about the “fairness to the wider taxpayer element”.

The session came amid reports people are experiencing long delays in the Universal Credit application process as services struggle to keep up with demand. 

Once they are registered with the system, claimants must verify their identify through the government’s online Verify service, which has had hours-long delays for some claimants, prompting concerns that payments could be delayed in turn.

Schofield said it was important not to cut corners on this step because “we don’t want robots, frankly”, cheating the system.

He said the department had put “extra money” into Verify in anticipation of a surge in demand, “but they are facing an unprecedented number of people who’ve never had to engage with the government in this way before,” he said. DWP declined to tell CSW how much money it had given the service.

Meanwhile, around 23,000 Jobcentre staff had been moved into “virtual service centres within jobcentres, so that’s straight away brought a big surge of resource in”.

But despite these measures, Schofield said he could not rule out any payment delays. “I absolutely would love to be able to give that reassurance and I’m absolutely committed to driving to that end, I really am. The caution in my voice is we don’t know what’s going to happen to the numbers of claims coming through,” he said.

'Policy has not changed' for immigrants

Coffey also confirmed the government had not changed its hardline stance on preventing many immigrants from accessing benefits. 

Asked about the government’s approach to helping people with no recourse to public funds, Coffey told the committee that “as it stands, the policy has not changed”, despite calls for the Home Office to change its approach. The policy means immigrants who have been working legally in the UK but have lost work because of Covid-19 cannot claim Universal Credit. 

The same day Coffey gave evidence to the committee, a cross-party group of 98 MPs wrote to the prime minister asking him to "temporarily waive the NRPF [no recourse to public funds] status and issue guidance to local government with guidance on how to support those affected.

"We welcome the government’s measures to ensure that those who are unemployed or whose businesses have been affected by the impact of coronavirus will be able to keep a roof over their heads and food on their table during this difficult time," the letter, coordinated by Labour MP Taiwo Owatemi, said.

"However, we are concerned about the large number of people in the UK living here with no recourse to public funds. The government has not yet announced how vulnerable people with NRPF status will be helped through this crisis. We are writing to urge you to act immediately and provide clarity."

But Coffey said she had spoken to Home Office officials this week, who had “not yet changed their policy and so we are not extending” benefits to immigrants.

Coffey said people with no recourse to public funds may be able to get financial support from a £500m hardship fund the government has given local authorities to help the most vulnerable.

But she admitted the fund was primarily intended to give council tax relief and said local authorities would have to ask the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government for permission to use it for other purposes. “If local authorities are getting requests from groups not specifically identified in the guidance, I’m very confident they will be making that case to MHCLG about what other options they could be using the funds for,” she said.

Tags Digital, Data & AI HR Project & Programme Management Categories Government and politics Society and welfare About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith

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Beckie Smith

Boris Johnson self-isolating in Downing Street after testing positive for coronavirus

4 days 18 hours ago
News

PM says he will continue to lead the national fight-back against coronavirus "thanks to the wizardry of modern technology"

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Prime minister Boris Johnson outside No.10 Downing Street last night, joining in with a national applause for the NHS to show appreciation for all NHS workers who are helping to fight the coronavirus. Photo: PA

Boris Johnson has tested positive for the coronavirus.

The prime minister was tested after complaining of mild symptoms of the deadly disease. He is now self-isolating in Downing Street.

No.10 said he will remain in charge of the government's handling of the Covid-19 outbreak.

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A Downing Street spokesperson said: “After experiencing mild symptoms yesterday, the prime minister was tested for coronavirus on the personal advice of England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty.

“The test was carried out in No 10 by NHS staff and the result of the test was positive.

“In keeping with the guidance, the Prime Minister is self-isolating in Downing Street. He is continuing to lead the government’s response to coronavirus.”

The PM revealed the news in a video, saying: “Hi folks, I want to bring you up to speed with something that’s happening today - and that’s I’ve developed mild symptoms of the coronavirus.

“That’s to say a temperature and a persistent cough, and on the advice of the chief medical officer I’ve taken a test, that has come out positive so I am working from home, I’m self-isolating, and that’s entirely the right thing to do.

“But be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fight-back against coronavirus.”

Johnson added: “And I want to thank everybody who is involved, above all our amazing NHS staff, it was very moving last night to take part in that national clap for the NHS.

“But it’s not just the NHS, it’s our police, our social care workers, teachers, everybody who works in schools, DWP staff, an amazing national effort by the public services and by every member of the British public who is volunteering, an incredible response, 600,000 people have volunteered to take part in a great national effort to protect people from the consequences of coronavirus.

“I want to thank you, I want to thank everybody who is working to keep our country going through this epidemic, we will get through it, and the way we’re going to get through it is of course by applying the measures you will have heard so much about.

“The more effectively we all comply with those measures the faster our country will come through this epidemic, and the faster we will bounce back.

“So thank you to everybody who is doing what I’m doing, working from home, to stop the spread of coronavirus from household to household, that’s the way we’re going to beat it.

“We’re going to beat it, together. Stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives.”

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

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

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Richard Johnstone

NHSX marks the spot: diplomat-turned-digital chief Matthew Gould talks patient data and AI

4 days 18 hours ago
Interview

In February 2019, Matt Hancock announced plans for a new innovation agency in the NHS. A year on, its chief executive, Matthew Gould, talks to Beckie Smith about health data, listening to patients, and his move from diplomacy to digital

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This interview was conducted before the UK's coronavirus outbreak

You could say Matthew Gould’s journey to leading NHSX started three and a half thousand miles away. A career diplomat, Gould was serving as the British ambassador to Israel when he helped to launch the UK-Israel Technologies Hub – an initiative run out of the British Embassy in Tel Aviv to forge technology partnerships between UK and Israeli companies.

“I spent a lot of time building links between the UK and Israel in tech. The Israeli tech scene is extraordinary,” Gould says.

Israel was his last international posting – previously he had spent time in Islamabad, Washington, Manila and Tehran, during which time he was sent to negotiate the release of a group of marines and sailors who had been taken prisoner by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. (“When you get off a plane and into a taxi and turn on the BBC News, and item number one on the worldwide news is the fact that you’ve just got off a plane, you feel very much like you are the centre of things and need to deliver,” he says.)

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Rather than go back to the Foreign Office when he returned to the UK in 2015, he became director of cybersecurity at the Cabinet Office – a move in part spurred by his involvement in the tech partnership in Israel, he says.

“That in turn led me to become the government’s first director general for digital policy. And then having lived it on a national and policy level, the prospect of doing it for real in a very sort of punchy way here [for the NHS] was too good an opportunity to pass up.”

Gould became chief executive of NHSX – an organisation that sits across NHS England and the Department for Health and Social Care – last May, three months after health secretary Matt Hancock announced its creation. Its aim, according to Hancock, is to “bring strategy, leadership and technical expertise to... the world’s most exciting public sector digital transformation project”.

The role of NHSX – and its relationship to existing bodies like NHS Digital, which provides tech and information systems to support healthcare – is not yet well understood by many outside the organisation. But when CSW puts this to the former ambassador, he says the two have very different roles to play.

“NHSX is the guiding mind at the centre: we are the centre for strategy, we hold the budgets, we set the policy and we commission from NHS Digital and from others like NHS Business Services Authority.”

He refers to a speech by Hancock in January, which described NHS Digital and NHS BSA as the “tracks down which tech runs in the NHS”. Gould adds: “So they are the core delivery partner for health and care.”

“They do a lot of build, normally commissioned by us, so there is a clear distinction between our world and theirs. We haven’t done a good enough job yet explaining that publicly – partly because we’ve been working out ourselves exactly how we want the delineation to work – but I think it is a familiar one. And I think it’s useful. And I think it will be clear.”

For now, the two words the public are likeliest to associate with NHSX would be “innovation” and “data”. Last year headlines declared that the innovation body had taken control of industry access to patients’ data and commercial deals with the NHS.

“I’m not sure I’d frame it quite like that,” Gould says, choosing his words carefully. Rather, it provides policy and guidance on the use of data. NHSX is in the process of setting up a team known as the Centre for Expertise, whose job will include providing commercial and legal advice to NHS organisations signing data agreements, developing standard contracts and guidance, and advising on ensuring deals benefit the health service.

And NHSX has worked with NHS Digital and with the Office for Life Sciences – which straddles DHSC and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and which champions research, innovation and tech in healthcare – to come up with a set of principles to govern the use of patient data, including in commercial transactions.

“In all this, we’re very clear, first of all, that the privacy of patient data is absolutely paramount. We need to keep patients with us and we need to keep staff with us, so we can’t do anything that erodes trust,” Gould says.

“People who are trying to care for patients at their most vulnerable are doing so with a hand tied behind their back because we haven’t found a way to make sure that the information about the patient can flow in the way that it needs to”

The principles establish, among other things, that any use of patient data must have an “explicit aim to improve the health, welfare and/or care of patients in the NHS”; that the terms of data-sharing agreements should include “quantifiable and explicit benefits for patients”; and that agreements should be transparent and must not undermine the work of the health service.

And there is one that Gould calls an “absolute”: no hospital or trust can sign a deal giving a research group or company exclusive access to its patient data. “Because one of the things that is most valuable about the patient data that the NHS holds, is that it is a coherent set of 55 million people’s records.” Whittling away at the whole would undermine that value, he says.

“That’s very corrosive. I don’t think the public would support it, and I think it’s damaging to the system. So we’ve laid down that rule.”

But CSW wonders how many members of the public need to get as far as thinking about cohorts or exclusive agreements before they start to get nervous about how their data is used. The bigger worries for many people are twofold: that they won’t be given a choice over what happens to their data, and that it could be traced back to them.

These aren’t new worries. In 2016, the ill-fated care.data project, which was to extract anonymised records from GP surgeries into a central database, was closed after concerns about patient consent and confidentiality. But one need only look at the last year’s worth of headlines to see that debate around the topic is not getting any less heated, and that some of the public already have already lost trust in what is happening to health data. In December, the Atlantic ran an article warning about the trend of big companies gathering up huge reams of health data – whether that’s Apple gathering it directly through footstep and sleep trackers on people’s iPhones, or Facebook’s AI division working with radiologists to teach its machine-learning systems to read MRI scans. The headline? “Everyone should be worried by big tech’s huge NHS data grab.”

What does Gould think – should everyone be worried? “Well, I think what I would rather frame it as is: we should make sure that whatever we do is in line with the principles that we’ve set out,” Gould says.

He says polling shows that while there will be people at either end of the spectrum of attitudes to data, “there’s a large group of people in the middle... who are comfortable with their data being used to develop new treatments or therapies or whatever it is, as long as they are confident that it’s being done in a way that sufficient benefit comes back to the NHS”.

Indeed, a poll commissioned last year by the National Data Guardian Dame Fiona Caldicott – who advises and challenges the health and care system on safeguarding citizens’ confidential information – found about seven in 10 people in England approved of partnerships that led to benefits like access to new technologies at a reduced cost and better patient care. In other areas the respondents were more evenly split: half said private companies should share in any profit generated from the deal, or that it was fair that they could; and exactly half were happy for the NHS to receive a one-off payment for access to data.

But the question that remains unaddressed is what to do about the cohort that Gould readily admits “would find it difficult to countenance their data being used for any purpose other than direct care”. And another uncomfortable issue remains. What if the safeguards that Gould talks about don’t work?

Last year, the Clinical Practice Research Datalink – part of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, through which companies can buy patient data compiled from GP surgeries and hospitals for research purposes – changed the way it described the data it was selling from “anonymous” to “anonymised”. The latter means it has been through processes to de-identify the patients it comes from – but there is no rigid standard for how this should be done.

Two days before CSW meets Gould, the Observer has published claims by anonymous “senior NHS figures” saying patient data sold for research via CPRD could be traced back to individual medical records.

Gould says he wouldn’t want to comment on that story, given that it concerns a separate government body. “That was a particular data set belonging to a particular organisation. I wouldn’t leap to a conclusion that because people have concerns, therefore it’s not working.”

But leaving aside that specific example, Gould acknowledges that when data is shared, “there is certainly a risk, depending on what data you have, that it can be pieced together and the process of anonymisation can be reversed.”

He adds: “The question is, what systems and what safeguards do you have in place, so that you can be sufficiently confident that doesn’t happen?”

The conversation returns to those safeguards when Gould speaks about another of NHSX’s areas of expertise: artificial intelligence. Last September, the agency put out a report on good practice in AI, and is now in the process of setting up the National AI Lab.

The lab – a joint venture with the Accelerated Access Collaborative, which speeds up adoption of new treatments and tech in the NHS – will fund and develop artificial intelligence technologies to tackle tough healthcare challenges.

Gould says the lab is “starting to turn into more concrete plans” after the initial announcement of £250m to set it up last year. It will provide grants and facilitate cross-government, industry and academic collaborations on both mature and earlier-stage AI tech. The first tranche of funding, £114m, was announced in January.

But many people have mixed feelings about AI – not least because of a scandal that erupted when Royal Free Hospital handed over 1.6 million patients’ health records to DeepMind, an AI company owned by Google, without their consent. The Information Commissioner’s Office later found the hospital had failed to comply with data-protection legislation.

When CSW asks what some of the safeguards around data and AI should be, Gould says: “First of all, making sure that patient confidentiality is protected. So the data needs to be shared in a way that does that. If you allow an algorithm to span over a data set, have you done that in a way that protects patient data or puts it at risk? It’s a technical question about how you structure the access.”

Gould also acknowledges that “there is concern, both in the NHS and in the health tech community, that we haven’t created coherent rules [for AI] that all fit together and give people the sense that there’s cover for what they’re doing”.

In January, he convened a roundtable with the heads of 14 regulators and agencies involved in setting those rules – among them the MHRA, the information commissioner and the Health Research Authority. There they agreed to develop a platform to improve communication and share advice; create a regulatory “sandbox” where AI tech can be tested; and identify any gaps in regulation.

Gould is keen to realise what he says has been a long-held belief that “smart, innovation-friendly regulation that keeps citizens safe” will give the UK a competitive edge internationally. In other words, rules must be in place, but must not be so stringent that they “strangle the technology”.

One risk the regulators will consider has become something of a ministerial talking point ever since then-PM Theresa May warned in Davos in 2018 that public bodies must ensure “algorithms don’t perpetuate the human biases of their developers”. She said the government’s new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation must tackle this.

Gould was on the team that set up the data-ethics centre in his previous role as director general for digital and media policy in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, “so it’s an area of thought that I’ve sort of brought with me to this job,” he says. He wants AI to be used to tackle health inequalities, not worsen them.

“We’re super mindful of the risks. There’s no easy answer other than making sure that in regulation and practice, how we distribute resources and everything we do, the risks of exclusion, algorithmic bias and unintended consequences have been properly thought about, and we’re doing it in a way that mitigates against those risks.”

In October, NHSX published a report entitled “Artificial intelligence: how to get it right” setting out a framework for governance, models of “good AI” and guidelines for international best practice.

It’s important to get this right because AI has huge potential benefits for the NHS, Gould says: “One of the exciting things about this is that some of the more mature and proven AI systems are precisely in those areas where the NHS has some of its most acute clinical shortages.” AI programmes have been developed to read mammograms, and work with DeepMind at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London has led to a breakthrough tool to improve referrals for eye disease.

And there is also a wealth of non-clinical AI applications that could save the NHS time and money, Gould adds. A doctor at University College London Hospital has developed a system to predict when someone is likely to miss an appointment, which can then be used to send out prompts.

“It’s really easy in a big system to lock yourself away at the centre and come up with the answers. But we won’t get that right unless we listen to patients”

Gould is quick to point out that NHSX has another – rather less controversial – strand of work on data sharing, within the health service itself. “There’s a lot of stress in the system around when it’s okay to share patient data, even for direct care,” he says.

In his early days in the role, Gould visited hospitals, GP surgeries and mental-health trusts and found that while it was technically possible to transfer patients’ records from one of these bodies to another, it often wasn’t happening because people were nervous about what would happen if they mistakenly shared the wrong data. Overwhelmed by seemingly conflicting guidance from different authorities, “some people have got a bit paralysed”, he says.

NHSX is using what Gould calls its “convening power at the centre” to work with the National Data Guardian, the Information Commissioner’s Office and NHS Digital to simplify the guidance “so that people know when it’s safe to share and do so”. He adds that this is a way NHSX “can directly impact on patient care and patient outcomes.”

Gould became familiar with these data blockages on a personal level when his wife underwent treatment for breast cancer last year. “She was treated in four places, all local, none of which could speak to any of the others. She would have to carry around her scans, all her details, her test results; she would very often go and see the oncologist, who wouldn’t be able to call up the results of the scans that he had ordered.”

And Gould points out that not everyone can do that. “It’s infuriating when you’re in control of it; it’s heart breaking when the patient isn’t in a state to be able to provide their own interoperability.” He recalls visiting a hospice outside Manchester, where staff found themselves unable to access records for the patients in their care.

“That’s heart breaking, when you think that these people who are trying to care for patients at their most vulnerable are doing so with a hand tied behind their back because we haven’t found a way to make sure that the information about the patient can flow in the way that it needs to,” he says.

“This just is not the best, most efficient, safest way to run the system. If we can help with that, through creating clarity around the rules so that the data can flow, creating shared care records so that technically it’s possible, having both technical standards, but also standards for how we describe different things so that systems can speak to each other – I think that will probably be the single most useful thing NHSX does.”

As well as drawing on his own experiences and visits to health providers, Gould says he values patients’ perspectives on the health service.

In November, he announced NHSX was seeking two citizens to act as part-time advisers to ensure “the patient voice is properly built into everything we do”. The agency will consult them during the conception, design, and development of new services.

Asked where the idea comes from, he says the “X” in the organisation’s name stands for “user experience”.

“One of our guiding principles is it’s all about user need. It’s really easy in a big system to lock yourself away at the centre and come up with the answers. But actually, we won’t get that right unless we are talking to users, and we’re listening to patients, listening to staff and listening to people at the front line.”

Every project should have a “patient voice” represented, he says, as well as the rigorous user research that already takes place. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get caught up in what an organisation thinks patients need, even if that doesn’t quite align with what they actually do need.

“Because ultimately, this is not about the tech. It’s not even about the data. It’s about patients. It’s about the citizens. And so having those people who will make sure that in everything we do, we are focused on that and we remember why we’re doing it and we skew what we do to the patient, I think can only be a good thing.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Digital, Data & AI Health Science & Technology Categories Health and social care Public order, justice and rights Science, technology and research About the author

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

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Richard Johnstone

Coronavirus: HMRC ‘working urgently’ to implement self-employed support as Sunak unveils £9bn package

4 days 19 hours ago
News

Chancellor hints at changes to the way the self-employed are taxed once crisis is over to ensure “all pay in equally in future”

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Self-employed people will get 80% of their average salary covered by the government to help them survive the coronavirus crisis, Rishi Sunak has announced.

The chancellor announced the £9bn aid package amid concerns that up to five million people faced financial ruin unless the Government stepped in to help.

It will be capped at £2,500 a month – the same level of support Sunak gave to workers who are being kept on the payroll by their employers throughout the crisis –  and the cash is expected to be available from the beginning of June.

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On average, recipients are expected to receive payouts of £940 a month.

Speaking in No.10 Downing Street, Sunak said he was "proud of what we have done so far" to help workers as Treasury civil servants had worked non-stop to develop new support schemes, but admitted that the self-employed needed more help.

Addressing them directly, he said: "You have not been forgotten. We will not leave you behind. We all stand together.

"So to support those who work for themselves, today I am announcing a new self-employed income support scheme.

"The government will pay self-employed people who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus a taxable grant worth 80% of their average monthly profits over the last three years, up to £2,500 a month."

The cash will be available for three months, the chancellor said, but that could be extended if the crisis continues for longer.

He added: "We are covering the same amount of income for a self-employed income as we are for furloughed employees who also receive a grant worth 80%.

"That's unlike almost any other country, and makes our scheme one of the most generous in the world.

"Providing unprecedented support for self-employed people has been difficult to do in practice, and the self-employed are a diverse population with some people earning significant profits. So I have taken steps to make this scheme deliverable and fair."

The scheme will be open to those with trading profits of up to £50,000, but only available to those who make the majority of their income from self-employment.

Sunak said: "95% of people who are majority self-employed will benefit from this scheme.

"HMRC are working on this urgently and expect people to be able to access the scheme no later than the beginning of June.

"If you are eligible, HMRC will contact you directly, ask you to fill out a simple online form and pay the grant straight into your bank account."

However, the chancellor also hinted at changes to the way the self-employed are taxed once the coronavirus crisis is over.

He said: "I must be honest and point out that in devising this scheme in response to many calls for support, it is now much harder to justify the inconsistent contributions between people of different employment statuses.

"If we all want to benefit from state support, we must all pay in equally in future."

Sunak also admitted there was "nothing we can do" under the new scheme for people who have only recently become self-employed.

He said: "For those who are very recently self-employed we cannot operate a scheme like this.

"There is just too much complexity, both operationally and fraud risk with that. So, we would have to say to those people, please look at the extra support we have put into the welfare system to support you at this time."

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: "My worry is that if people cannot get access to the scheme until June it will simply be too late for millions. People need support in the coming days and fortnight.

"Asking people to rely on Universal Credit when more than 130,000 people are queuing online will be worrying to many people, so there is a real risk that without support until June the self-employed will feel they have to keep working, putting their own and others' health at risk."

Tags Finance Operational Delivery Policymaking Categories Economics and finance Government and politics About the author

Kevin Schofield is the editor of PoliticsHomewhere a version of this story first appeared.

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Richard Johnstone

Civil Service People Survey 2019: Engagement and pay satisfaction rises

4 days 19 hours ago
News

Delayed results of sentiment poll paint broad picture of ongoing improvement

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Despite a year of unprecedented pressure, the just-published results of the latest Civil Service People Survey reveal in increase in the key employee engagement index and pay and reward satisfaction at post-2010 highs.

But while the results of the 2019 survey – conducted in the autumn by a record 308,556 staff – have many positives, they also show an increase in the proportion of civil servants reporting that they were victims of bullying or harassment.

The People Survey’s headline score is the employee engagement index, which reflects the proportion of staff who answer positively to statements about how motivated they feel and whether they would recommend their organisation as a good place to work. In the 2019 survey it increased by 1 percentage point to 63% - the highest level in the survey’s 11-year history.

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On a department-by-department level, staff at HM Revenue and Customs remain the least engaged civil servants at any of government’s main departments – as categorised by the Cabinet Office.

The tax-collection agency has bumped along the lower end of People Survey engagement index scores for much of the barometer’s life. The 2019 results show it scoring 49% on the engagement index, the same as last year.

Most engaged of the main departments was HM Treasury, which notched up a score of 74%, even though that was a one point dip on 2018.

The Cabinet Office’s engagement index score dropped from 66% to 65% year on year; while the Department for Education’s index score rose from 65% to 69%.

Perhaps not unconnected with the looming end of its existence, the Department for Exiting the European Union marked a dip in its employee engagement score, which declined from 68% to 64% –   exactly the same proportion it posted in 2016, just weeks after it was founded.

Another department posing a dip in its score was the Department for International Development, with its 69% figure representing the first time in the department’s history that its engagement index was lower than 70%.

Pay-satisfaction rises 3%

After a year in which civil servants had less to cheer about in terms of pay than counterparts elsewhere in the public sector, the 2019 People Survey shows a three percentage point rise in satisfaction levels for both pay and benefits.

According to the data, 34% of civil servants agreed that their pay “adequately reflects” their performance, while 39% of respondents said they were “satisfied” with the total benefits package they received. Both scores were at their highest since 2010, when they were 38% and 39% respectively.

The proportion of survey respondents who believed their pay was reasonable compared to that of people doing a similar job in different organisations also increased by one point to 28% in the 2019 survey’s results. The figure is also a post-2010 high.

Cabinet Office perm sec and civil service chief executive Sir John Manzoni said the 2019 figures were based on sentiment from an “extraordinary year of change” and were being published in the middle of an “even more urgent endeavour” in the form of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Across the civil service there are some really positive survey results. Scores in eight of the nine core themes showed an improvement, including for ‘leadership and managing change’, up two percentage points and its highest since the survey began in 2009,” he said.

Manzoni, who is due to step down from his civil service roles later this year, accepted that the survey results also showed areas where Whitehall could not rest on its laurels.

“We would never pretend that there aren’t areas where we can, and must, do better. For example, while average rates of discrimination have fallen slightly from 12% to 11%, bullying and harassment rates have gone in the opposite direction, rising from 11% to 12%,” he said.

“There is no place for bullying, harassment and discrimination of any kind in the workplace, and I remain committed to stamping it out in the civil service.”

Manzoni said one notable positive movement was the continuing rise in the proportion of people who had been bullied or harassed reporting the problems they were encountering.

“It suggests greater awareness of the need to report – and how you can do it – and greater confidence that the issue will be met head on,” he said.

According to the survey results, 51% of people who said they had been bullied or harassed – or both –  confirmed that they had reported their experience. Last year’s figure was 40%, itself up from 2017’s 36%. The People Survey only began asking staff whether they had reported their experience of bullying or harassment in 2016. In that year the proportion of people who answered “yes” was 36%.

The Cabinet Office said the 2019 People Survey had a 67% response rate, an increase of 0.2 percentage points compared to 2018.

Author Display Name Jim Dunton Tags HR Leadership & Management Categories Government and politics Image description PA Twitter Link

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Richard Johnstone

Andrew Greenway: How GDS conquered the world

5 days 17 hours ago
Opinion

The UK government blazed a trail on digital innovation, but others are catching up fast and it would be all too easy to squander the advantage of earlier work

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Digital and Technology Fast Streamers working at GDS. Photo: GDS/flickr

The civil service is an exporter of ideas. The tendrils of deliverology cross continents, while the echoes of Green Book-inspired analytical theatrics can be seen in a thousand investment cases around the world, were anyone to actually read them. Digital transformation is now on that list. This cross-pollination is often helped along by civil servants turned consultants. I’m one of them, so feel free to disregard all that follows as the shilling of a shameless mercenary if you like.

Taking the global view, the UK still has plenty to be proud of when it comes to all things digital. The history of the Government Digital Service – and ex-PM David Cameron’s boast of it being a “great unsung triumph” of his administration – still carries weight. We have managed not to have a spectacular IT cock-up for a while. Teams working on things like the GOV.UK Notify platform and Design System are besieged by other governments who want to borrow from their lead. The Canadian and Australian governments have both adopted a version of Notify. I expect queues will soon be forming at the door of the NHS team currently doing a heroic job of coordinating the online response to Covid-19. There are product teams in the UK still delivering world-class work.

What made the UK a model that others wanted to copy is a question with many answers, but you could boil it down to two things: a series of smart teams built really good things, and they did so in the open. This made it palpably evident to other governments that there were things the UK has done well, and easy for them to piggyback on their efforts. This is a transaction that involved little traditional diplomacy, no trade trips, no strategy documents, no memoranda of understanding. Instead, it involved some civil servants, some contractors, political capital, new ways of working, and lot of hard yards. Not complicated, just difficult.

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If the UK wished to squander this advantage fast, it would be very easy for the current administration to do so. It would need to stop getting multidisciplinary teams to build and run good services, and busily rebuild all Whitehall’s usual barriers to communication – within and without. Close the GitHub repos, shutter the blogs, turn off Slack, turn on Microsoft Teams, let communities of practice wither, and plead commercial confidentiality for any supplier dealings.

With a serious technophile pulling the strings in No.10, this full-on harakiri seems relatively unlikely. More possible – not least because, contrary to popular belief, Dom can’t be everywhere all the time – is that the conditions required for such teams to thrive in the civil service are further eroded. The much-remarked-upon decline in GDS’s influence has not coincided with a diminishing of resources. It follows a diminishing of political and official power, focus and boldness. Without leadership, delivery teams lose their shit umbrella. You really need that umbrella. Whitehall has never been stormier.

Meanwhile, outside the UK, power, focus and boldness is being applied to the digital agenda in seemingly ever-greater supply. Countries from Madagascar to Vietnam are concluding digital must be high on the political agenda if they are not to fall behind the pack. When the right stars align, economies with little legacy can move very far, very fast. Peru knocked up its beta equivalent to GOV.UK in 3 months. Argentina’s digital driving licence was built in 65 days and can be used in multiple countries.

In the UK, we have a lot of legacy. Stand still, and we’ll find ourselves leapfrogged. If that happens, we can look forward to the ex-civil servant mercenaries coming to our shores.

Author Display Name Andrew Greenway Tags Digital, Data & AI Leadership & Management Policymaking Transformation Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Andrew Greenway is a former senior civil servant who now works as a consultant. He is co-author of the book Bluffocracy

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Richard Johnstone

HMRC sets out measures to fix ‘inefficient and ineffective’ recruitment

5 days 17 hours ago
News

MPs told previous verbal and numeric testing regime was slashing candidate pool by half

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Phoro: HMRC

HM Revenue and Customs has adopted new social media techniques to support job applicants and dumped some selection tests after its own director general of customer services accepted the department’s recruitment processes had “a number of inefficiencies and some ineffectiveness”.

The measures have emerged in the government’s official response to concerns from parliament’s Public Accounts Committee over deteriorating customer service performance, which saw the department miss four out of five key targets. The issues – such as the proportion of callers waiting more than 10 minutes to speak to an adviser – were blamed on “recruitment challenges” in the last financial year.

According to the government’s official response, a review of recruitment practices for customer services staff in the department prompted a new drive to present itself as a desirable and inclusive employer to boost applications, and take extra measures to stop candidates losing interest.

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Part of those measures included “revised, more appealing job adverts, supported by enhanced marketing” and “attraction and outreach activity, aimed at driving up candidate numbers and reaching all diversity groups”.

Improvements have also been made to the way HMRC communicates with candidates, such as the introduction of social media groups and newsletters to “make them feel part of the organisation before they arrive”, the government said.

In a notable admission, the government said HMRC’s verbal and numeric testing had been “impacting candidate numbers and leading to up to 50% of candidates deselecting themselves from the process”. It said the measures had been replaced with “situational judgment testing” that was proving more effective.

“This has resulted in higher candidate retention through the recruitment process and has delivered strong candidates into the business,” it said

The response to MPs added that HMRC had also worked more closely with recruiters to improve the planning process, which it said had led to “swifter, smoother progress”, a 20-day improvement in the time taken to hire candidates, and a reduction in drop-out rates from 20% to 8%.

It concluded: “HMRC continues to review and refine our process to drive down the time it takes us to hire, and to further improve the quality of candidate experience.”

Following an evidence session in October, PAC members said they were “disappointed” that “inefficient and ineffective” recruitment practices had led to problems in staffing customer service teams. They called on HMRC perm sec Jim Harra to set out the remedial measures put in place.

As part of the inquiry, customer services director general Angela MacDonald had told MPs that recruitment for customer services staff had been exacerbated by other Brexit contingency pressures.

“Our processes were just not being driven hard and fast enough to keep pace with the overall volume of colleagues that we needed,” she said.

“In a normal business-as-usual environment, that shortfall would have been absorbable or far less noticeable. However, I needed to marginally add an extra group of colleagues on top.

“The combo of the two things together meant, of course, that day one no deal was the priority. I moved people out of business as usual to make sure that, come what may, we could support day one no deal. That was the place that struggled a little bit; that was where we hit.”

MacDonald told the inquiry her customer services directorate had around 23,000 staff. HMRC’s annual report for 2018-19 said the department had a total of 63,575 staff at the end of March last year.

Author Display Name Jim Dunton Tags Finance HR Operational Delivery Categories Economics and finance Government and politics Image description PA Twitter Link

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Richard Johnstone