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Civil Service World News

Prime minister Theresa May survives no confidence vote

14 hours 29 minutes ago
News

May travels to Brussels today “seeking legal and political assurances” to concerns expressed about Northern Ireland backstop

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Theresa May has survived an attempt by Conservative Party rebels to kick her out of Downing Street by winning a vote of no-confidence in her leadership - despite more than one-third of her MPs rebelling against her.

Conservative MPs voted 200 to 117 to support the prime minister, meaning she cannot be challenged against for at least a year.

The result will provide some relief for Downing Street, but the number of those opposed could spell further trouble for the prime minister.

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The result was announced by Sir Graham Brady in Parliament's oak-panelled committee room 14, to loud cheers and a standing ovation by the watching MPs.

He said:  "The number of votes cast in favour of having confidence in Theresa May was 200 and against was 117. Under the rules set out in the constitution of the Conservative Party no further confidence vote can take place for a least a year."

In a statement after the vote, May said “we now need to get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country”.

That is “a Brexit that delivers on the vote that people gave, that brings back controls of our money, our borders and our laws, that protects jobs, security and the union, that brings the country back together, rather than entrenching division”, she added.

“For my part, I've heard what the House of Commons said about the Northern Ireland backstop and when I go to the European Council tomorrow I will be seeking legal and political assurances that will assuage the concerns that members of Parliament have on that issue.

The ballot was triggered yesterday morning when Sir Graham confirmed that the 48 letter threshold for triggering a no-confidence vote in the prime minister had been passed.

In an attempt to win over wavering MPs, May later told a meeting of the backbench 1922 Committee that she would not lead her party into the 2022 election.

May will attend a European Council summit today where she has vowed to push for fresh guarantees on the controversial Northern Ireland backstop.

But there are growing signs that Brussels will reject her central demand for "legal assurances" that the back-up plan for the Northern Ireland border will not stay in force indefinitely.

Brexiteers and the DUP - who the government relies on for her Commons majority - fear the backstop could leave the UK trapped in the EU's customs union without end if it is triggered.

A government source told the Financial Times that British negotiators would be seeking "a joint interpretative instrument" to try and convince sceptical MPs to get behind Mrs May's deal.

"We cannot contemplate any instrument that will complicate, constrain or in any way cut across the legal text of the Withdrawal Agreement that has already been agreed," a EU diplomatic source said.

Author Display Name Kevin Schofield and Matt Foster Tags Brexit Parliament Categories Government and politics About the author

Kevin Schofield is the editor and Matt Foster the deputy editor of PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared

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Richard.Johnstone

ONS data shows civil service headcount continues to rise

14 hours 39 minutes ago
News

Latest figures show 2.8% year-on-year increase to September

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The civil service’s headcount rose by 12,000 in the year to September – a 2.8% hike over the period, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Its latest public sector employment dataset puts Home Civil Service staffing at 435,000 in September, its highest level for exactly four years, and an increase of 4,000 employees in the three months since June.

Headcount at departments and their agencies has been steadily increasing since hitting a low of 416,000 in 2016, but the current level of staffing is still massively below June 2005’s pre-crash peak of 566,000

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Despite the bolstered numbers, a survey of senior civil servants conduced by the FDA union last week revealed a picture of increasingly unmanageable workloads challenging health and wellbeing among Whitehall staff against the backdrop of Brexit preparations.

Assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge called on Whitehall leaders to make sure civil servants had the resources necessary to do their jobs, with a focus on recruitment and retention to ensure there were enough staff to complete work and meet deadlines.

“The government is taking advantage of civil servants’ commitment to their work, and gaining many extra hours of work for free but this is a false economy,” she said.

“Increasing workloads are increasing the strain on civil servants who have been trusted with implementing government policy at a time of national upheaval.”

Employment in the Home Civil Servce from March 1999 to September 2018

Employment in the Home Civil Service from March 1999 to September 2018 Credit: ONS

The latest ONS figures suggest civil service headcount has grown at a greater rate in the 12 months to September than it did in the 12 months to March.

Its more detailed annual snapshot of the civil service earlier this year gave a growth rate of 2.5% over the period.

One department growing at a particularly rapid rate is the recently renamed Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Data it published in August, and which will have contributed to the ONS’s latest tally, suggested it had increased in size by 17% over the year.

Central government’s response to last year’s Grenfell Tower tragedy and a focus on ramping up UK housebuilding levels have been cited as two drivers of the department’s growth. 

More broadly the ONS said total public sector headcount had fallen to 5.36m over the 12 months to September because of the transfer of 120,000 housing association staff in England, Scotland and Wales to the private sector.

Excluding the housing associations transfers, the ONS said the estimated number of people employed in the public sector increased by 51,000 in the year to September, due mainly to more people working for the National Health Service and the civil service.

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Dave Penman: The public trusts civil servants in testing times

15 hours 3 minutes ago
Opinion

At a time of turmoil in government, the latest trust rankings for top professions provide a fillip for civil servants – and for trade union bosses

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We’ve all got moments from our youth that are seared into our memory. One of mine is being on a school trip in 1979 to the Soldier’s Leap in Killiecrankie (which I’ve always thought sounds like a made-up Highland name) and asking my teacher who had won the general election. I was 12 years old and about to go to high school. As you’ve probably guessed, I was not your typical school child.

“Thatcher,” the teacher spat out, without hesitating to reveal her view of this PM’s victory. Over the next few years I saw mass unemployment and the destruction of a lot of the heavy industry that had built Scotland’s reputation over centuries. It was of course only accelerating an already almost unstoppable decline, but the headlines always seemed to be filled with the names of steel mills or coal mines that were being closed, and with them communities destroyed. I witnessed the miners’ strike – if not first-hand, then very close to it. My uncle was a miner and the area I grew up in had been surrounded by mines either already closed or on the brink.

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My music and my politics were filled with the anger of those times. I have vivid memories of sneaking in underage to a club in Glasgow called Nightmoves to see Billy Bragg and the Redskins at the height of the dispute. The gig was a combination of the former’s clever passionate lyrics and latter’s thumping basslines. Like all good music, it felt like it articulated exactly how I felt: anger at what was happening around me.

So when people say politics have never felt so polarised, I often think “sorry millennial snowflake, you’ve just not lived long enough”.

If politics is not more divisive, are we at least more cynical, as many often suggest? Here, at least, there is evidence to analyse. The annual Ipsos-Mori Veracity Index has been running since I was pogoing to the Redskins. It measures trust in key professions, mainly around whether they can be trusted to tell to tell the truth.

Politicians have never been trusted, it seems. Their score has remained almost constant and was 17% in 2017. The latest survey was carried out just before the bullying and harassment scandal erupted in Westminster, so Ipsos-Mori carried out a fresh wave of the survey to see if it had had any impact. Their conclusion was that “even the recent harassment scandals at Westminster seemed to make little difference to low ratings in politicians as a class – either because it has already hit a floor, or because the public felt it reflected other aspects of trust such as moral behaviour more than their ability to tell the truth”. Interesting.

“With the political turmoil unfolding around them, fast streamers are expected by the country to be part of the solution. Quite the burden in the current climate”

Civil servants fare much better. Their profession is consistently on the rise in this Trust Top of the Pops, up 37 percentage points since 1983 at 62%. Despite everything that’s been thrown at the civil service over the last few years, the data shows the public inherently trust it as a profession.

I was talking about this to a group of fast streamers recently, in the ostentatious surroundings of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Map Room. I love talking to fast streamers: they’re some of the most talented graduates in the country and they have chosen public service. They’re bursting with energy and enthusiasm and are utterly committed to their work. With the political turmoil unfolding around them, they are expected by the country to be part of the solution. Whatever choices are ultimately made by politicians, fast streamers will be expected to make the best of it. Quite the burden in the current climate.

They do not shirk from this. They don’t resign when the going gets tough and leave it to others to sort out, even when most of that tough going is of those others’ making. They came into public service to serve governments of different colours, provide the best advice they can and then deliver whatever that government decides to the best of their ability. They came in with their eyes open and are here for the duration. Fast streamers are not unique in this, though: this is what it is to be a civil servant and ultimately why the public continue to trust them.

What about trade union officials? They’re now at 45%, up 27 points since 1983. So as the general secretary of a civil service trade union that gives me a chart-topping net trust factor of 107%: the new nation’s favourite.

Author Display Name Dave Penman Tags Brexit HR Operational Delivery Partnership working Categories Government and politics About the author

Dave Penman is the general secretary of the FDA union.  He tweets as @FDAGenSec

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Richard.Johnstone

Scottish Government sets out split pay plan for civil servants

15 hours 16 minutes ago
News

Finance secretary announces 3% increase for civil servants earning up to £36,500, but limits higher earners to 2%

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Derek Mackay delivering his 2019/20 budget. Scottish Parliament TV

The Scottish Government has been accused of failing to value the work of senior civil servants after it announced a split public sector pay plan that means top officials could get an increase below 2% next year.

In his Budget statement to the Scottish Parliament yesterday, the Scottish Government’s finance secretary Derek Mackay said he remained committed to providing pay increases above the 1% cap that applied until April.

Under the three-tiered plan, civil servants and other public officials earning £36,500 or less will receive a 3% pay rise, which Mackay highlighted was above inflation. However, for those earning between £36,500 and £80,000, the pay increase will be capped at 2%, while those earning above £80,000 will have their increases capped in cash terms at £1,600. A £1,600 increase for someone earning £80,000 equates to 2% but represents a much smaller percentage increase further up the pay band. It represents a less than 1% annual pay increase for Scottish Government permanent secretary Leslie Evans, based on her pay range of between £165,000 and £169,999.

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Announcing the plan, Mackay said it represented “a reasonable and affordable public sector pay approach and continues on a journey of restoration of public sector pay”.

He added: “Our commitment to public sector workers is part of our commitment to high quality public services.”

The document setting out the pay policy in full said that 70% of public sector staff in Scotland would receive an increase of at least 3%. The uprating could be higher as the policy also provides the flexibility for individual employers to use their discretion to reach decisions on pay progression for staff and to consider giving awards above 3% to the very lowest paid.

Mackay said he wished “to acknowledge the contribution of public sector workers in helping us to achieve our ambitions and deliver our priorities right across Scotland… at a time when budgets are being squeezed”.

Responding to the pay, FDA trade union national officer Allan Sampson said that while the union supported increasing the pay of the lowest paid workers, it was also important to remember that FDA members, who hold senior posts in the civil service, have also suffered from nearly a decade of pay restraint.

“The split nature of this pay policy sends a message that the Scottish Government doesn’t truly value the vital work carried out by our members in Scotland,” Sampson added.

“It is our members in the senior and professionals ranks who lag furthest behind their private sector counterparts – this policy risks creating barriers to effective pay settlements, limiting the Scottish Government’s ability to recruit and retain the talented staff it needs.”

The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents rank and file civil servants, called on Mackay to “show some courage” and provide a bigger increase to restore civil servants’ earing power that had been diminished since 2010.

PCS national officer Lynn Henderson said Mackay promised staff “the wage decline they suffered as a result of austerity was over and that last year’s scrapping of the 1% cap represented the first step in a journey towards restoring pay”.

However, she added: “Not only has that journey stalled at the first step, workers across the Scottish civil and public services will feel betrayed by today’s announcement.

“Our members have lost hundreds of millions of pounds in pay over 10 years and the impact on their living standards has been cruel and severe.”

She highlighted that even a 3% increase for staff was below the retail prices index measure of inflation, which stands at 3.3%, although this is not the government’s preferred measure of inflation. It uses the consumer prices index, which currently stands at 2.4%.

Prospect national secretary for Scotland Richard Hardy added: "The way of addressing low pay is through an underpin similar to the one Mr Mackay put in place and we fully support that, but the decision to propose a differentiated pay award is in our view is a mistake and sends completely the wrong message about the value being placed on the key roles our members are working hard to deliver."

Tags Finance HR Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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Richard.Johnstone

One-third of government spending is with outsourcers – and four departments spend over 50%

1 day 14 hours ago
News

Departments increasing spending with biggest suppliers despite financial troubles, review finds

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One third of all government spending is with outsourcing companies and extternal suppliers, with four departments spending more than half of all their revenue with outside firms, an Institute for Government report has found.

The analysis found that government spends £284bn with external suppliers, and the think-tank said it showed the government procurement could not easily be abandoned even if politicians wanted.

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The review highlighted that four departments – the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Transport, the Department for International Trade and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – spent more than half of their entire budgets with external suppliers last year.

Government spending with private firms covers everything that the public sector requires, from goods such as stationery and medicine to the construction of schools and roads, and from back office functions such as IT and HR to frontline services such as probation and social care.  

However, despite the scale of outsourcing – and financial problems in the supplier sector that included the collapse of Carillion last January and the planend debt for equity swap at Interserve – the IfG found that the data available on procurement and outsourcing is poor.

IfG research director Emma Norris said that with a clearer picture of how much is spent, on what and with which suppliers, government could make better-informed spending decisions.

“Government is spending hundreds of billions of pounds every year with external suppliers – but there are signs that some players involved in outsourcing are struggling, most recently Interserve,” she said.

But “government does not have the data it needs on its own outsourcing and procurement,” she added. “It needs to look hard at the experience of the past 30 years of outsourcing, develop a much stronger sense of what has worked well and what has not, and urgently review the health of its procurement markets.”

Despite the financial troubles of some of the sector’s key players, which has also included a profit warning issued by Capita and a £190m loss at Amey in 2017 – the IfG found that the largest suppliers are winning more and more government business. Last year, roughly a fifth of all central government procurement spending was spent with ‘strategic suppliers’ - companies that receive over £100m in revenue a year from government – up from around an eighth in 2013. This is risky for government, the IfG highlighted, as its top three suppliers in 2016-17 – Capita, Carillion, and Amey – have all experienced financial difficulties. 

Tags Commercial Operational Delivery Procurement & Commercial Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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Richard.Johnstone

Theresa May to face no-confidence ballot tonight

1 day 16 hours ago
News

Vote of confdence among Conservative MPs will be held this evening

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Theresa May could be removed as prime minister tonight after a vote of no-confidence in her leadership was triggered by furious Tory MPs.

Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, announced this morning that the 48-letter threshold to trigger a ballot had been reached and that the vote will begin at 6pm.

He said: "The threshold of 15% of the parliamentary party seeking a vote of confidence in the leader of the Conservative party has been exceeded.

"In accordance with the rules, a ballot will be held between 18.00 and 20.00 on Wednesday 12 December in committee room 14 of the House of Commons. The votes will be counted immediately afterwards and an announcement will be made as soon as possible in the evening."

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May will fight for her political life as she delivers a speech to warring Tory MPs ahead of the vote.

Cabinet ministers immediately offered their support to the prime minister, and criticised those trying to remove her from office.

Justice secretary David Gauke told LBC radio: "The idea that we should remove the prime minister at this stage is frankly irresponsible and self-indulgent."

Home secretary Sajid Javid - tipped as a possible replacement - said on Twitter: "The last thing our country needs right now is a Conservative party leadership election. Will be seen as self-indulgent and wrong. PM has my full support and is best person to ensure we leave EU on 29 March."

Communities secretary James Brokenshire, a close ally of the prime minister, tweeted: "Strongly support @theresa_may to continue as Leader of @Conservatives and Prime Minister.

"Now is not the time for this distraction and even more uncertainty. We need to get behind the Prime Minister in the best interests of our country."

James Cleverly, another potential leadership candidate and Tory deputy chairman, said: "Clearly I’m disappointed that some in my party have triggered a vote of no confidence just as the PM is having a series of international meetings to deliver Brexit. I will, of course, be voting in support of Theresa May."

But in a joint statement, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker of the Brexiteer European Research Group said: "‘Theresa May’s plan would bring down the government if carried forward. But our party will rightly not tolerate it.

"Conservatives must now answer whether they wish to draw ever closer to an election under Mrs May’s leadership. In the national interest, she must go."

Pressure has been mounting on the prime minister since her decision to delay the vote on her Brexit deal, which had been due to take place last night.

One senior Conservative MP told CSW's sister site PoliticsHome he had spoken to a handful of colleagues who had submitted letters of no confidence since May was forced to delay the meaningful vote on her Brexit deal on Monday.

"She was acting in her own self-interest, not in the national interest," said the MP, who predicted that she would be "gone by Monday".

May, who travelled to Europe yesterday to plead with EU leaders to offer her some concessions on the Northern Ireland backstop, will chair what could turn out to be her last Cabinet meeting as prime minister in Downing Street this afternoon.

Author Display Name Kevin Schofield Tags Brexit Legal & Constitutional Parliament Categories Government and politics About the author

Kevin Schofield is editor of PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets @PolhomeEditor

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Richard.Johnstone

Open competition planned for project management chief after Meggs departure

2 days 10 hours ago
News

Matthew Vickerstaff named as interim successor to government project chief ahead of a full recruitment drive in 2019

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Matthew Vickerstaff. PA: Paul Beckford Twitter

The government will hold an open competition for the new head of the government’s project delivery authority after it was announced that current chief executive Tony Meggs would leave to chair Crossrail.

Meggs had been nominated to take over as Crossrail chair from Sir Terry Morgan, who resigned on 5 December after predicting his imminent sacking as ministers lost confidence in his leadership amid the cost hikes on the cross-London rail link.

An Infrastructure Projects Authority spokesperson told CSW that Meggs, who has led the IPA since it was formed in January 2016, would step down to take on the Crossrail role at the end of the year. He will also step down as head of government’s project delivery function.

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“IPA's current deputy chief executive, Matthew Vickerstaff, will act as interim chief executive effective 1 January 2019, while a permanent appointment is made through open competition,” they added.

Meggs' successor will take on the role at a crucial time as government prepares for the Spending Review that is expected next year. In an interview with CSW in September, Meggs highlighted four main areas – project initiation, performance management, portfolio size, and getting the right skills in the right places – where the IPA was looking to make progress ahead of the 2019 Spending Review.

“To be really blunt about this, this is about promising too much at the outset, particularly on big transformation projects, which are very often extremely ambitious and where the initial timescale is set without proper project timing and review,” he said.

In comments announcing his departure, Meggs said: "It has been a privilege to lead the IPA, and the wider project delivery community, and support the country’s most complex projects which are improving the lives of so many citizens.

“I look forward to taking up my new role, working closely with partners, to ensure that Crossrail is delivered as soon and safely as possible.”

Vickerstaff said that while the IPA was sad to see Meggs leave, “there is much to do to build on his excellent work”.

“This ranges from improving project initiation to ensuring we have the right leaders on the right projects,” he said. “We will continue to work forward in our vision to make ours the greatest project system in the world."

Megg’s Crossrail role comes after DfT and TfL announced the project would receive £1.4bn in extra funds as core elements of the project, including the stations and the fit out of the tunnels, were “at varying stages of completion”, despite the line having being scheduled to open in October. A revised opening date of autumn 2019 is also set to be missed, according to the latest update.

Meggs led the IPA following a merger between the Major Projects Authority and Infrastructure UK and had led the MPA from October 2014. This followed a number of senior roles in the oil industry during a 30-year career, culminating in the role of head of technology at BP.

Tags Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Project & Programme Management Transformation Categories Government and politics Transport About the author

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

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Richard.Johnstone

DWP seeks 'innovative technologist' for £180,000 chief information officer role

2 days 14 hours ago
News

“This role is critical to our transformation as a department servicing around 20 million citizens each year,” according to the job advert.

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The Department for Work and Pensions is seeking a replacement for its outgoing chief digital and information officer Mayank Prakash, who will step down this month.

The department is offering £180,000 for the role – slightly less than Prakash’s pay packet, which has between £195,000 and £200,000 since he arrived at the department in 2014. However, the application pack says more may be offered “for exceptional candidates”.

The CDIO will be responsible for designing and delivering DWP’s digitalisation strategy, building digital capacity and promoting new ways of working using IT, and ensuring strategic risks are identified and dealt with.

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“This role is critical to our transformation as a department servicing around 20 million citizens each year. The role aims to drive transformation by driving digitalisation of the business by using the potential of modern online technologies and data,” the job advert says.

The successful candidate will also work with other government departments including the Cabinet Office, the Treasury, and the Government Digital Service to tackle the most complex issues in technology.

And they will "contribute to and actively participate in the executive leadership of DWP as [it delivers] unprecedented change to the welfare system, and to the products and services it delivers", the job advert said.

The successful candidate must be “an exceptional, innovative technologist and leader who has the ability to connect with people at all levels”, according to the application pack.

“Your proven strategic and technical capabilities, combined with significant experience of working at the highest level in a large multi divisional private or public sector organisations, will form a solid foundation to build on within this digital innovation role,” it added.

Prakash announced his plans to leave the civil service in September. He is set to step down at Christmas, and his permanent successor is likely to be in post a few months later as interviews are not expected to take place until March.

Simon McKinnon, DWP’s children, health and pensions services technology director, will act as interim chief information officer in the intervening months, a spokesperson told CSW.

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Digital, Data & AI HR Categories Government and politics Society and welfare About the author

Beckie Smith is reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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Beckie Smith

IPA chief Tony Meggs to head up Crossrail as delayed scheme gets DfT bailout

2 days 15 hours ago
News

Whitehall projects chief to chair body constructing cross-London line as it is revealed project faces further delays to opening and requires £1.4bn in extra funds

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Photo:  Paul Heartfield

The Department for Transport has announced that the head of the Infrastructure and Projects Agency, Tony Meggs, will be the next chair of the Crossrail rail project as the scale of problems at the delayed new line become clear.

DfT and Transport for London yesterday announced that core elements of the project, including the stations and the fit out of the tunnels, were “at varying stages of completion”, despite the line having being scheduled to open in October.

As a result, more funding is needed to complete the line, with an estimated additional cost of between £1.6bn and £2bn, taking the overall funding envelope for the project to £17.6bn.

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DfT has agreed to provide a loan of up to £1.3bn to the Greater London Authority, while the GLA will provide a £100m cash contribution. A contingency arrangement has also been put in place, with an option for DfT to loan TfL up to a further £750m in the event more money is required.

Announcing the package, DfT and TfL confirmed Meggs had been nominated to take over as Crossrail chair from Sir Terry Morgan, who resigned on 5 December after predicting his imminent sacking as ministers lost confidence in his leadership amid the cost hikes.

Meggs will step down from his role as chief executive of the IPA, which he has led since it was formed in January 2016 in a merger between the Major Projects Authority and Infrastructure UK. Meggs had led the MPA from October 2014, following a number of senior roles in the oil industry during a 30-year career, culminating in the role of head of technology at BP.

The central London section of Crossrail was supposed to open this month but was postponed earlier this year to autumn 2019.

Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild, who was appointed last month, is conducting an extensive review of the remainder of the programme and will provide clarity in the New Year on the opening date of future phases, transport minister Andrew Jones said. “Crossrail Ltd are working to establish a robust and deliverable schedule to open a safe and reliable railway. This will also provide greater clarity on the level of additional funding required.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan said the line would “truly transform travel across the capital”, but added that he hadn't hidden his “anger and frustration” about the delays.

It was “increasingly clear that the previous Crossrail Ltd leadership painted a far too optimistic picture of the project's status”, Khan said. He said he would release the minutes of all the Crossrail board meetings from the last five years to provide transparency, as well as backing a National Audit Office into the project.

TfL commissioner Mike Brown added that “only now is the scale of what is yet to be completed becoming clear”.

"The confirmation of this funding agreement will now allow Crossrail Ltd and its new leadership to focus on finishing the remaining construction work on the stations and tunnels and then completing the vital safety testing in order to open the railway for passengers as quickly as possible," he said.

In a statement, Meggs said: it was “a privilege to join the Crossrail team”.

He added: “My number one priority will be to work with the board and executive team to ensure this project is completed as soon and as safely as possible.

“The UK is renowned for its outstanding engineering and expertise in major projects and I'm confident that we will deliver a world class project that will benefit the country for generations to come.”

“We are in a lot better shape as a profession”

In an interview with CSW in September, Meggs set out the progress he had made in boosting project delivery since joining government.

“I think it would be fair to say that the profession itself is much more professional, we have a lot more highly trained people running and working on projects across government,” he said. “We obviously have the Government Major Projects Portfolio and transparency of information, and we have built a system that goes from the Green Book initiation of projects through the whole delivery pathway. We are in a lot better shape as a profession that both understands projects and how to do them, and has the skills to do them. I think everyone in government would attest to that.

“The second thing is that the importance of projects is well understood in a way it probably wasn’t before – the necessity to implement policy through good projects and programmes is well understood, and the prominence of the role of project delivery is in better shape.”

However, he also acknowledged that “everything in the garden is not rosy”, noting that there are “more reds and amber-reds than we would like to have” in the GMPP’s annual report’s traffic light system of project health.

He highlighted four main areas – project initiation, performance management, portfolio size, and getting the right skills in the right places – where the IPA was looking to make progress ahead of the 2019 Spending Review.

“To be really blunt about this, this is about promising too much at the outset, particularly on big transformation projects, which are very often extremely ambitious and where the initial timescale is set without proper project timing and review,” he said.

“I could give you plenty of examples of this – big projects where either at a Spending Review or after an election – early promises are made that are not based on realistic assumptions about how long things actually take. As we move into this Spending Review, we are using a lot of data about actual performance versus anticipated performance to inform decisions that are made.”

An IPA spokesperson said: "The Department for Transport and TfL have recommended to the Crossrail Ltd board that they appoint Tony Meggs as chair. Tony Meggs is stepping down as chief executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority and Head of government’s project delivery function. IPA's current deputy chief executive, Matthew Vickerstaff, will act as interim chief executive effective 1 January 2019, while a permanent appointment is made through open competition.”

Tags Economy, Business & Infrastructure Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Partnership working Project & Programme Management Categories Government and politics Transport About the author

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

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May shelves Brexit vote to avoid Commons defeat

3 days 1 hour ago
News

May postpones vote as a group of MPs says it is “disappointed” in the Treasury's forecasting of the economic impact of Brexit

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Theresa May makes a statement in the House of Commons confirming she has postponed the Brexit vote. PA

Theresa May has postponed the crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal in the face of overwhelming opposition from her own MPs.

Yesterday's move came just minutes after the prime minister’s spokesperson told reporters a planned vote was “going ahead" tonight as planned.

May has been under pressure from her own Cabinet to pull the vote to stave off a major defeat and allow her to return to Brussels to try and seek changes to the Brexit deal.

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In a statement to the House of Commons yesterday, May conceded that pushing ahead would mean “the deal would be rejected by a significant margin”. She said she had pulled the vote because of “widespread and deep concern” about the Northern Ireland backstop.

Following the decision, the prime minister will appeal directly to her German and Dutch counterparts, Angela Merkel and Mark Rutte, for further assurances that Britain will not be permanently locked into the Northern Ireland backstop after leaving the EU.

The controversial back-up plan, which would impose different trade rules on Northern Ireland, has been a focal point for growing opposition to May’s deal.

In the face of almost certain defeat, she yesterday opted to delay the meaningful vote on the agreement and will instead ask for extra clarification on the backstop in an effort to win support for her plan.

There had also been concerns about the level of information and analysis available to MPs to help them decide how to cast their ballots. A report from the Exiting the European Union Select Committee yesterday slammed the government for its “unacceptable” failure to publish a long-delayed white paper setting out its future immigration policy ahead of the vote.

And a Treasury Select Committee report published the same day said MPs would not be able to rely on the Treasury’s economic analysis of potential Brexit scenarios when deciding how to cast their ballots, because of critical omissions in its modelling.

The committee said it was “disappointed” that the forecasts, published last month, included modelling of scenarios that the EU had already rejected – such as the Chequers agreement – but omitted others “that are considered probable and have the potential to be persistent over the medium to long term”.

One of the five analyses was based on a white paper published in February 2017 that set out the government’s goals for its future relationship with the EU. The white paper scenario was “the most optimistic and generous reading” of the political declaration accompanying May’s deal, but could not be used to inform any vote because it “does not represent the central or most likely outcome under the political declaration”, the report said.

The report also criticised the Treasury for making “no allowance for any other dynamic, domestic policy responses” that could affect the impact of Brexit on economic growth, such as policies developed under the industrial strategy, in its analyses.

Author Display Name Matt Foster and Beckie Smith Tags Brexit Economy, Business & Infrastructure Legal & Constitutional Parliament Categories Economics and finance Government and politics About the author

Matt Foster is news editor of PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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Facts and figures: meet government's chief scientific advisers

3 days 11 hours ago
Feature

Chief scientific advisers provide vital expertise to help departments make informed policy decisions – not least during national emergencies. But to be effective, they must also be experts in the workings of Whitehall. Beckie Smith spoke to CSAs past and present to discover how they combine these distinctive skills.

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From left tgo right: Patrick Vallance government chief scientific adviser, John Beddington former government chief scientific adviser, and Charlotte Watts, chief scientific adviser, Department for International Development

"What did I think when I went in? The first thing was that the brief was enormously wide: all science and engineering in the UK.” So remembers Sir John Beddington, a population biologist and academic who was government chief scientific adviser from 2008 to 2013.

Being the government’s top scientist means being responsible for ensuring government policies and decisions are supported by sound scientific evidence. Reporting directly to the prime minister, the GCSA can be called upon to provide evidence from any area of science, in any policy area or emergency.

“Renaissance man though I am, it was pretty clear to me fairly early on that to do the job properly, you had to have a network of people,” Beddington says with a chuckle.

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Back then, the network he oversaw as head of the Government Office for Science – or GO Science – consisted of only a handful of departmental chief scientific advisers. Over the next five years, Beddington set up the government science and engineering profession, undertook a mammoth department-by-department review of science advice he likens to “painting the bloody Forth Bridge”, and installed a CSA in every department.

This beefed-up network remains in place today, although some gaps have emerged. No two roles are the same and depending on their departments’ needs, some CSAs are analysts or statisticians from within the civil service; others eminent natural scientists, engineers or chemists from academia or industry.

Each has their own contacts outside government, creating what Beddington calls the “Yellow Pages” of specialist advice. These contacts are essential, says Chris Whitty, chief scientific adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care, because “no chief scientific adviser knows everything in their field; we’re all specialists in one field and can cover a moderately wide range outside that, but we have to call on outside advice”.

“We ran some ‘reasonable worst case scenarios’. There might be an explosion due to ignition of hydrogen, and there were four reactors, so what if all four went up?”

Another remnant of Beddington’s time in office is the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, which he set up to provide scientific and technical advice to Cobra, the government’s emergency response committee.

In each crisis, his cue to assemble SAGE was a call from No 10. Three such calls stand out: swine flu; the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption; and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

This group’s membership changes according to the emergency. When the Fukushima Daiichi plant went into meltdown in 2011, SAGE included nuclear scientists, health experts and statisticians who together modelled radioactivity levels and their associated health risks to help officials and ministers decide whether to call UK citizens home from Japan.

“We ran some ‘reasonable worst case scenarios’,” Beddington recalls. “There might be an explosion due to ignition of hydrogen, and there were four reactors, so what if all four went up?” After assessing all the risks, he advised the government to tell citizens it was safe to stay.

The speed at which CSAs respond to an emergency is critical, says Whitty (left), an epidemiologist and physician, who was interim government chief scientific adviser when the first novichok poisoning happened in Salisbury in March.

Because that was a matter of national security, he couldn’t call on external experts in the same way he had in other crises he has faced in his decade as a chief scientific adviser, first at the Department for International Development and now at DHSC. Instead, he was reliant on a much smaller group of people with the necessary security clearance.

But no matter the challenge, Whitty says, science advisers must rely on the resources at hand. “There’s no point in providing excellent advice three weeks after all the decisions are taken. So you have to go with what you’ve got at the time.”

That said, CSAs often remain involved long after emergencies have happened. Ian Boyd, a marine and polar scientist, is CSA to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is leading the clean-up in Salisbury. “Emergencies have an acute phase and a chronic phase, and in that particular case we are right on the tail of it – so for me, the emergency’s still ongoing,” he says.

When it looks like an emergency could be on the horizon, CSAs can set up a precautionary SAGE group to assess emerging hazards. That’s what Charlotte Watts, chief scientific adviser at DfID, did during the 2016 Zika outbreak, after a director general asked her: “What’s the risk to Africa?”

The group she assembled determined there was little they could do to control the virus that was racing through Brazil and Latin America if it reached sub-Saharan Africa, so Watts knew the department needed some “no regrets” options.

“The option we chose was not one that you might expect,” she says. At her urging, DfID led a drive to increase access to contraception. “We knew that there was substantial unmet need, and we wanted to make sure that women in high-risk areas would have an option to delay pregnancy [to reduce the risk it would be affected by the birth defects caused by Zika],” she explains.

“That had value in its own right, but it would also help us support resilience if this strain of Zika did spread to sub-Saharan Africa.”

Her next step in addressing the crisis was for DfID to fund research to help curb future outbreaks. The department is one of three – along with DHSC and the Ministry of Defence – where the chief scientific adviser oversees a significant research budget. Guided by Watts, a professor of mathematical and social epidemiology, DfID funds research tackling pressing problems for development – such as violence against women, food security and epidemics.

This supported the testing of an Ebola vaccine during the 2014 epidemic in West Africa, which is now being deployed by the World Health Organisation and the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as they continue to battle the disease. “That makes me feel incredibly proud, when I can see something that we have supported really making an impact for the world’s poorest,” she says.

“There’s a need from time to time for me and my colleagues to go to someone and say, ‘You haven’t asked us for advice but I’m going to give it anyway because it matters’"

Despite being immensely complex, emergencies are one area where chief scientific advisers’ function is straightforward to grasp. “People will naturally turn to scientific advice when there are floods, earthquakes, a pandemic like influenza,” Whitty says.

Then there are what he calls “slow-burn issues” where science plays an obvious role, such as air pollution. “There’s clearly a political and economic element to that, but also a very strong scientific element: which pollutants matter, how do we make sure that they’re as far away from people as possible, how do we minimise risks to children and so on,” he says. “A good policy outcome is going to combine all of those things.”

And in Defra, Boyd says, science is so deeply embedded that from fishing quotas to flood management to farm subsidies, “there are very few areas where, if you took the science out, it would remain functional.”

But there are other areas where its importance is less obvious to officials. “There’s a need from time to time for me and my colleagues to go to someone and say, ‘You haven’t asked us for advice but I’m going to give it anyway because it matters’ – where I think someone hasn’t spotted the fact that there is quite a strong science component, or they have an unspoken assumption about the science that is out of date or needs thinking through,” Whitty says.

Science advisers must also look ahead at hurdles the government will have to overcome in future.

“Most people in Whitehall departments, most of the time, are dealing with the immediate problem. They’re only looking six months, a year or 18 months ahead,” Boyd says. “Most of my role is about looking from a scientist’s perspective at what the world is going to look like in 10, 20 or 40 years’ time, and how we need to structure policy or the department itself to meet those challenges. Much of it is about bringing a scientist’s intuition to problem solving.”

One of his proudest achievements is pushing waste up the policy agenda through a report he wrote with former government chief scientific adviser Sir Mark Walport last year. A few years ago, waste was a “deeply politically uninteresting topic, there were just no ministers interested in it,” Boyd says. Now it is one of Defra’s main priorities.

He doesn’t claim credit for the recent “complete turnabout” in the UK’s approach to waste, “but we at least predicted that it would have to turn around and got the evidence in place to be able to land that appropriately”. His work will inform Defra’s forthcoming resources and waste strategy.

This forward-planning should work two ways, Whitty says. “The difficulty is that the policy process moves very fast, and if you’re having to collect science information from scratch you can nowhere near keep up with the speed of policy,” he says, adding that it takes the average PhD student a year to write their first chapter.

Six months or a year’s notice on potential future policy moves goes a long way, he says, because “there is a trade-off between the quality of what we can give officials and the amount of time we’re given.”

As well as working within departments, the chief scientific advisers meet weekly to share intelligence and assess challenges as a network. They are also working on a number of cross-government topics, including air pollution, modern slavery and Brexit.

The group meets regularly with officials from departments such as the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Home Office and the Treasury to talk about what negotiations with the European Union mean for science – for example, whether UK researchers will be able to access EU funding – and for science-related policies such as medicines and clinical trial regulations.

“We make sure that we agree on what we think are the most important priorities across government and make sure that no department is disadvantaged by the government’s negotiating strategy,” Whitty says.

Whitty also co-chairs, with Chris Wormald, head of the government’s policy profession and DHSC perm sec, the so-called “Red Team” that scrutinises the government’s Brexit preparations to identify potential stumbling blocks early on. He says he was asked because CSAs “are seen to have a degree of independence and can provide a safe, internal challenge to the system”.

"There are many areas where it’s quite interesting and you could give some science advice but it’s unlikely actually to change the policy process"

Science advisers need to understand “how you can be influential without wielding line management accountability, because you don’t have that,” says Patrick Vallance, a biologist who became government chief scientific adviser in April.

They can’t compel politicians or officials to follow their advice and, he adds, nor should they. “I’m not the decision maker; my job is to try and present the evidence as clearly as I possibly can, but never to bend the evidence to meet somebody’s desired outcome. My job is to make sure they’ve got the evidence in front of them to make decisions with their eyes open.”

Chief scientists know their input must be weighed against legal, financial, political and other factors, Beddington says, adding that although his advice wasn’t always universally welcomed, it usually had some impact. Only once does he remember being completely ignored: on whether the NHS should fund homeopathic treatments, which he calls “complete scientific nonsense”. (The NHS finally announced it would stop routinely funding homeopathy last year.)

The extent to which advice is heeded depends on the issue and the individual, Boyd (left) says. “Sometimes there are individuals who totally get it really quickly and there are sometimes individuals you need to work with really hard, who eventually get it or never get it at all. You’ve got a full spectrum, and that includes ministers and officials at all levels.”

He admits that when he presents long-term ideas, “most of the time it doesn’t land very well”.

“What you hear is ‘I’m too busy, can’t deal with this,’ or ‘what’s he going on about?’ but enough of the time it gets through.”

He compares the process to the fairground game where players try to ring a bell at the top of a tower by hitting a lever at the bottom as hard as they can. “I feel like I’m continually hitting the sledgehammer on the thing and it goes up and doesn’t quite get there – but every so often it gets there. Suddenly you get a response from the department, and things shift. They don’t always shift hugely, but they shift enough.”

 Knowing when not to give advice is as important as knowing when to give it, Whitty says.

“A lot of the art of being a good CSA is to work out when [your input] genuinely does matter. There are many areas where it’s quite interesting and you could give some science advice but it’s unlikely actually to change the policy process.”

These judgements help to establish a chief scientist’s credibility, he adds. “I’ve seen people who are very eminent scientists who are respected in academia come into government and fail. Not catastrophically, but they haven’t managed to do as well because the skillset you need to operate in government is quite different to the skillset you need to operate in a university, and that’s the experience most CSAs have.”

Watts agrees that being a successful CSA requires a combination of scientific expertise, political acumen and people skills: “It’s that combination of being able to understand and communicate quite technical issues, and to do it in a simple and accessible way that isn’t dumbing down the issue, but is really capturing the essence of the issue so that generalists can understand.”

"Not everybody in the civil service immediately sees why science and engineering could be helpful to them"

One of Vallance’s priorities now is to fill the gaps that have appeared in Whitehall’s science advice network. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government recently reopened recruitment for its first permanent science chief in six years, after initially attempting to fill the role earlier this year.

Last year MPs on the Science and Technology Select Committee were dismayed to discover the post at what was then DCLG had been empty for so long, including the period leading up to the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 72 people. The department has said it receives support from GO Science and the chief scientific adviser network.

Vallance wants to ensure CSAs are not only present in every department, but also equipped with relevant expertise. At MHCLG, he will appoint an engineer.

Like Beddington a decade ago, Vallance has found “not everybody in the civil service immediately sees why science and engineering could be helpful to them,” he says. “Some will say, ‘we’re not a scientific department, we don’t have any labs, we haven’t got any people in white coats.’”

But, he says, this could change. “I’ve had people who are sceptical and said they’re not convinced, but that’s different from saying, ‘I’m not open to being convinced.’”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Science & Technology Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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‘Science is a method of solving problems’: government chief scientist Patrick Vallance interview

3 days 11 hours ago
Interview

The government chief scientific adviser reflects on his career to date and strengthening how science and policy work together in the civil service

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Photos: Photoshot for CSW

Had things gone differently, the most powerful scientist in the country might never have been a scientist at all. Patrick Vallance, who became the government’s chief scientific adviser in April, says there was a time when he “would have loved to have been a chef more than anything”.

Vallance talks about his culinary career like a long-discarded dream – he still cooks but says, “I’ve become casual in my cooking, by which I mean I don’t really follow recipes.” When pressed, he won’t even commit to a signature dish.

Not was his path to Whitehall inevitable. He was a consultant physician and taught at St George’s Hospital Medical School before taking up a professorship at University College London in 1995, researching vascular biology.

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It was there he hit a rough patch. “I very nearly gave up my career because of an interaction with a senior person who was making my life very, very difficult,” he recollects. “I was close to saying, ‘This isn’t for me.’”

Had he done so, he would likely have returned to being a doctor. “At that time I’d already had a degree of success [as an academic] so it was really a very difficult decision,” he says. He grappled with the dilemma for “a long time, a year or more” before a mentor stepped in and convinced him to stay. He went on to become UCL’s head of medicine, and later president of research and development at the pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.

He stayed at GSK for six years before moving into government, where he advises the prime minister and her cabinet on scientific and technical elements of policy, leads the civil service science and engineering profession, and heads up a network of departmental scientific advisers.

Listening to Vallance talk about his career at the Government Office for Science headquarters in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, it’s hard to believe it could have looked radically different. There is nothing, he says, that beats a scientific discovery: “I don’t think there’s anything more exciting than getting a result in an experiment that means for that moment – and it may only be a very short moment – you are the only person in the world who knows that.”

His most exhilarating discovery came early on, when he demonstrated that people’s blood vessels are actively dilated. “It completely turned over how people were thinking about blood vessels,” he says. “It was the first experiment where it was obvious that that was the case, so it was super exciting and important.”

Bringing cancer and HIV medicines to market at GSK was also an “an unbelievably privileged, exciting thing to have been part of,” he says.

Vallance’s time at GSK makes him unusual among government chief scientific advisers, who have typically come from a purely public sector background.

“I’ve never thought about careers in a planned way, but one thing I’ve learned about myself is I quite like going into areas where I’m not certain, and where I’ve got to learn quickly,” he says. This was certainly the case in Whitehall, where he soon learned “it’s incredibly difficult to work across government”.

“In industry, once people are instructed to work across groups, they get on with it. I don’t think that happens here; people are a bit respectful of the hierarchy in a way that sometimes stifles imaginative cross-working.”

Vallance stresses that his private sector experience is not “uniquely special”, but says it meant he had some practice in setting up structures and processes from scratch, which he didn’t at UCL. That gave him a different perspective on those institutional barriers that, had he been relying solely on his academic background he might not have had.

“At most universities, you don’t need to do that when you’re looking after your own research or a group of academics – who are frankly going to do what they were going to do anyway, so you’ve got no way in which you can corral that,” he says.

Sidestepping a question about whether academics or civil servants are harder to corral – “I’ve yet to find out” – he adds: “What I haven’t come across at all is an unwillingness to [work across silos]. There are just structural barriers that make that a bit difficult.”

Fortunately, Vallance is unintimidated by hierarchies: in June he told the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee his advice would not always be popular, and must therefore be “fearless”.

Four months later, Vallance is midway through writing a national security strategy document. “I know that what I’m writing is not going to be liked by everybody,” he says with a shrug. “Whenever you do something like that you’ll tread on somebody’s toes.”

“Someone will feel fiercely protective of one part of it. Sometimes the science will say something that’s not what somebody intuitively feels they want to do. And that’s OK.”

Whether politicians take his advice is not his concern; as long as he has communicated the evidence in a useful way, he has done his job. That is, he admits, “easier to describe than to do”.

Something else he won’t compromise on is ensuring all departments have an appropriately qualified chief scientific adviser. He has also said he wants increase diversity, and when the first appointment was announced since his arrival, in October – astrophysicist Carole Mundell at the Foreign Office – to the male-dominated network, it was taken as a sign he was serious.

Indeed, Vallance believes scientists and engineers across government – as in industry – are too homogenous a group. He says there needs to be a clear plan to further develop the profession, which he’s working on. Diversity will be part of that.

“Whatever anyone thinks about diversity from a straightforward societal or moral point of view – and I absolutely agree [it is a moral issue] – there’s also a massive scientific and business imperative for diversity, which is difficult problems are not solved by everyone thinking the same way or coming from the same background,” he says.

One way he will work towards that is by considering how jobs are advertised. “It’s not good enough to say, ‘it was an open competition, we advertised and we didn’t get anybody.’ You’ve got to think about why that is, and what specific pull measures you need.” Flexible working conditions, the language job adverts use and the people candidates meet during the recruitment process all matter, he says.

Diversity was also a big focus for him at GSK, where – despite being a self-confessed “straight, white, middle-aged guy” – he led the LGBT group. His status on the executive team meant it took “one phone call” to get the company to hang a rainbow flag during Pride week, which staff had been trying to do for two years.

“Things like that mean quite a lot symbolically. That had a big impact on the number of people who declared they were part of that community, because they knew it was OK,” he says.

Vallance is also working with Chris Wormald, permanent secretary at the health department and head of the government’s policy profession, to determine how civil servants in science and policy can work together better. It's early days but he says they are considering plans for seminars and programmes to help the two sides learn from each other.

“My job is not science for science’s sake; it’s to inform and help policy,” he says. “It’s worth remembering – and I think this is where people often go wrong – science is a method of solving problems.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Science & Technology Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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Northern Ireland civil servants' code of ethics under review

3 days 16 hours ago
News

Review follows the revelation that senior officials failed to take notes in important meetings because of concerns about media scrutiny

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The RHI inquiry revealed officials had not taken minutes in some key meetings. Photo: PA

The code of ethics for civil servants in Northern Ireland is under review, the Department of Finance has confirmed, following revelations that officials had not kept records of several high-level meetings.

The department confirmed the review after it emerged during an inquiry into the botched Renewable Heat Incentive scheme that civil servants had chosen not to take minutes of some meetings, out of concern they might be obtained by the press.

David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, told the RHI Inquiry last March that senior officials "got into the habit of not recording all meetings on the basis that it is safer sometimes not to have a record that, for example, might be released under Freedom of Information [legislation]”.

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Civil servants’ record keeping has come under particular scrutiny during the inquiry, which is examining how the RHI, which began in 2012, racked up a £490m subsidy bill after a lack of cost controls left it open to abuse.

Northern Ireland Audit Office comptroller and auditor general Kieran Donnelly was especially critical during a hearing in October, when he said civil servants needed to go "back to basics" on administrative matters such as records and spending.

He said he was “very annoyed” that notes were not taken in a number of important meetings about RHI. “This is something the civil service was traditionally good at, keeping the public record,” he said.

Although the NICS code of ethics is near-identical to that of the home civil service, they diverge slightly regarding the handling of information.

The Civil Service Code says that officials in Britain must "keep accurate official records and handle information as openly as possible within the legal framework". The equivalent section of the NICS code includes the same phrase, but omits the requirement to “keep accurate official records”.

But that is now under review, the Department of Finance has confirmed. In a statement sent to CSW, a spokesperson said: “The code of ethics for the NICS and the home civil service are two different documents for two different civil services. We are currently reviewing the NICS code.”

“There is no requirement for ministers to be in place to revise the NICS code. However, officials would consult and engage with a range of stakeholders,” they added.

Legislation awaiting ministerial sign-off has piled up over the last two years, since a power-sharing agreement collapsed in January 2017, leaving no functioning executive in place at Stormont. Data released under the FoI Act last month showed more than 160 such decisions had stalled.

A bill passed by the Westminster government in November will make it easier for some of these decisions, such as some confirming public appointments, to move forward. However, Sterling told the RHI inquiry is nevertheless imperative the power-sharing agreement is restored as quickly as possible.

“As head of the civil service I have to accept that we cannot afford to put our people at risk of being asked to deliver something for which they are not adequately resourced or equipped,” he said when he appeared before the inquiry in March.

He added that the scandal had undermined public confidence in NICS staff. “We take that very seriously and I think we know that we have a job to do to rebuild confidence in the general public that we’re capable of delivering.”

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

Beckie Smith is reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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'What's measured gets managed': Andrew Greenway on battling bureaucratic badness

3 days 17 hours ago
Opinion

Public spending on tech and consultancy is so dull as to be invisible – but failing to measure it is a mistake

 

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Old time tech. Flickr, West Midlands Police, CC BY-SA 2.0 

What’s measured gets managed. As a business school truism, this is a straightforward idea. Whatever you measure, all roads ultimately lead to profit. The CEO may quantify her own goals and put real-time displays all over the office to show off how the firm measures up, but real twitchiness will be reserved for the bottom line.

Governments rarely enjoy such simplicity. Picking which numbers take prominence in government is mostly a matter of opinion, even if the original owner of that opinion left the scene long ago. So here’s a theory : if you can get a government to measure something according to the same definition for more than two administrations, it will measure it forever. And if an institution adopts a metric, the metric shapes the institution.  

Take the evergreen GDP – widely derided as an indicator of a country’s economic health – as an example. It’s become increasingly popular to call for it to be replaced by metrics that quantify wellbeing or happiness instead. But GDP enjoys the advantages of an incumbent. It has been collected for a long time, giving it immunity from charges of short-term political manipulation or gimmickry. However flawed it is as a measure, those flaws are well known.

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Governments will forgive a thousand sins if you can offer no surprises in return.  

Administrations with an eye on reform have spotted the value of using indicators to turn the whole state’s gaze on a problem. The Blair administration was known for its attachment to targets, doubling down on class sizes and hospital waiting lists. Thatcher’s monetarists briefly revelled in increasingly arcane definitions of money supply – M0, M1, M2, M3 – creating a small motorway network’s worth before abandoning most of them. These measures led agendas, in the press and in Whitehall, before ultimately becoming victims of Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” 

For reformers, there are two benefits to changing the dashboard. The first is it costs nothing to do – other than the blood, toil, tears and sweat of bureaucratic warfare and wheedling. The second is it cloaks new thinking in the grey cagoule of a technocratic tinkerer.  

When you don’t measure things, the management of them tends to suffer. Take IT spending as an example. The public sector spends £16bn per year on IT – except it almost certainly doesn’t. Taken from a document published in January 2010, three elections ago, that remains the latest publicly available figure. We certainly don’t know how much of this cash is asset or liability, how much we’re wasting, or where we might be missing a trick by not spending anything at all. 

The UK is not alone in this. Go to any level of any reasonably-sized government and ask how much it’s spending on technology. The chances of people knowing are slim. 

And these figures are not trivial. That £16bn in 2010 is nearer to £22.5bn of today’s money; the total GDP (there it is again) of a small European country. 

The story is similar in management consultancy, where the UK public sector could be forking out £3bn or so per year. This number is five years old, speculative, and not from official sources (I’ve taken it from a PhD, which based the figure on estimates drawn out of analysis by the Management Consultancies Association).  

IT and consultancy are invisible to most officials, let alone voters. But to ignore them is a mistake, because bad practice in bureaucracies doesn’t swish about in a cape, twirling its moustache between long, thin fingers. Bureaucratic badness is boring. If you read “IT and consultancy” as “how the state delivers a large chunk of public services”, it might seem worthier of closer examination. 

The argument against doing so is that buckets of expenditure are usually managed through looking at programmes as a whole. There’s a certain iron logic behind this – ministers and accounting officers must explain spending decisions to parliament and it makes sense for money to be doled out according to lines of accountability. The question is whether lines of accountability should only be drawn on a departmental or programme basis.  

Drawing lines of accountability in this way means the only big picture view of how money is spent is framed through the vertical lines of departments. This structure underpins the traditional departmental Spending Review process: a tug of war played by people wearing blindfolds. Much time and energy is spent considering whether the “what” of government activity adds up to a strategic whole. Almost none is spent considering whether the “how” of stuff getting done adds up in a similarly coherent way. With EU exit likely to herald some of the costliest public investments in technology and consultancy ever seen, perhaps now would be a good time to dust off the calculator. 

Author Display Name Andrew Greenway Tags Digital, Data & AI IT & Security Operational Delivery Transformation Categories Government and politics Science, technology and research About the author

Andrew Greenway is a former deputy director at the Government Office for Science and has also been a digital programme manager for the Cabinet Office. He now works as an independent consultant

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EU citizens without Android devices could have to travel 250 miles in Home Office settlement scheme pilot

3 days 18 hours ago
News

EU citizens working in the NHS and higher education sectors can now apply for settled status in the UK – but those with an iPhone could face a long journey if they wish to do so

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EU citizens wishing to take part in the pilot of the government’s settlement scheme could have to travel 250 miles if they wish to scan their documents but do not have access to an Android device.

Pilots of the settlement scheme got underway last month, with EU citizens working in the NHS or social-care sector throughout the UK now able to apply for settled status. Employees of many higher-education institutions can also take part in the pilot phase, as can some children in local-authority care or those receiving support from certain community organisations. To obtain settled status during the pilot, EU citizens must apply

It emerged earlier this year that the government app through which applicants can scan their passports or residence cards was designed to work only on Android smartphones or tablets. 

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This is despite the fact that, according to market research firms, Android accounts for less than 40% of UK smartphones and about a quarter of the tablet market. Apple is the dominant force in both sectors, accounting for almost all the remaining market share.   Notspots – cities and towns the furthest away from any document-scanning location
  • Thurso: 264 miles by road to Edinburgh
  • Penzance: 191 miles by road to Bath
  • Port Logan: 134 miles by road to Edinburgh
  • Holyhead: 118 miles by road to Sale
  • Cromer: 105 miles by road to Lincoln
  • Belleek: 104 miles by road to Belfast
In April, the Home Office said it was “in discussions with technology companies… to ensure as many people as possible can use” the document-scanning app. But these discussions did not result in the app being extended to any additional platforms. It can still only be used on a smartphone or tablet running Android 6.0 or above and with near-field communication capability.   Advice on GOV.UK says that, if applicants wish to scan their documents but do not have an Android device, “you can use someone else’s phone or tablet to do this”. Once the settlement scheme launches in full next year, users that cannot access the app will also be able post their documents to immigration authorities.   The guidance published by both the government and the NHS strongly urges that citizens wishing to apply for settled status during the current pilot phase should have access to an Android device so they can use the document-scanning app. 



However, for those without access to such an Android phone or tablet, the government has also set up 13 locations (marked on the pictured map) around the UK where users can make an appointment to scan their documents.

While these are scattered throughout the country, there are numerous areas of the UK – such as parts of Cornwall, East Anglia, and west and northern Scotland – that are a long way from any of the available locations. In some cases, the distance by road is as much as 260 miles.

The locations – which are mostly register offices – are in Belfast, Edinburgh, Stockton-on-Tees, Hull, Lincoln, Sale, West Bromwich, Caerphilly, Bath, Hatfield, Southampton, and two in London: in Hackney; and Southwark.

The Home Office indicated to PublicTechnology that, once the programme launches in full, the number of document-scanning facilities available to applicants will be expanded beyond the current 13 locations – although a specific number is not yet available, according to the department.

The settlement scheme is due to be fully up and running by 30 March next year – the day after the UK’s scheduled exit from the European Union. From this date, EU citizens wishing to remain in the UK after the end of 2020 will have 15 months to apply for settled status or, for those who came to the country from 2016 onwards, pre-settled status.

Applying will cost £65 for adults and £32.50 for children.

Author Display Name Sam Trendall Tags Digital, Data & AI IT & Security Operational Delivery Transformation Categories Government and politics International Relations About the author

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

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Richard.Johnstone

Latest civil service & public affairs moves — December 10

3 days 18 hours ago
News

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

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Government departments

  • Department for Education and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Sam Gyimah resigned as minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation and Chris Skidmore was appointed to the role.
  • Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Committee on Climate Change – Piers Forster appointed to the committee, replacing Brian Hoskins; Nuclear Decommissioning Authority - Lawrie Haynes appointed chair designate of the new subsidiary body planned for September, Magnox Ltd.
  • HM Treasury: The Crown Estate Board – Paula Hay-Plumb reappointed as crown estate commissioner.
  • Home Office: Disclosure and Barring Service – Gillian Fairfield took over from Bill Griffiths as chair.
  • Department for International Trade: Mark Menzies named as the trade envoy to Argentina.
  • Department for Transport: HS2 Ltd – Allan Cook replaced Terry Morgan as chair.
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Sir Nicholas Kay KCMG has been appointed as NATO's next senior civilian representative (SCR) in Afghanistan; Philip Rushbrook has been appointed Governor of St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha in succession to Lisa Honan in May 2019.
  • Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport: Sue Owen to stand down as permanent secretary.
  • Ministry of Defence: New appointments from spring 2019: Vice Admiral Timothy Fraser CB is to be promoted admiral and appointed vice chief of the defence staff, in succession to General Gordon Messenger; Vice Admiral Tony Radakin CB is to be promoted admiral and appointed first sea lord and chief of naval staff, in succession to Admiral Sir Philip Jones; Air Marshal Michael Wigston CBE is to be promoted air chief marshal and appointed as chief of the air staff, in succession to Air Chief Marshal Sir Steven Hillier; Lieutenant General Patrick Sanders CBE, DSO is to be promoted general and appointed commander joint forces command, in succession to General Sir Christopher Deverell; Defence Innovation Advisory Panel – Julia King, Simon Segans, Dave Allen and Fiona Murray appointed as members.

Non-Ministerial Departments

  • Charity Commission: Tony Cohen, Ian Karet and Nina Hingorani-Crain appointed as board members from 1 January, when Eryl Besse and Tony Leifer will stand down.

Devolved authorities

  • Welsh Labour: Mark Drakeford elected as leader of the party, replacing Carwyn Jones.
  • Northern Ireland Assembly: Emma Sheerin appointed as the new Sinn Féin MLA for Mid Ulster.
  • Welsh Government: Social Care Wales - Arwel Ellis Owen to stand down as chair in July.

Local authorities

  • By-election Results 6 December: Highland Council – Alexander MacInnes elected for Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh – SNP gain from Liberal Democrat. (Kate Stephen resigned); Leicester Council – Padmini Chamund elected for Belgrave – Labour hold. (Mansukhlal Chohan died);  Oxford Council – Liz Wade elected for Wolvercote – Liberal Democrat hold. (Angie Goff died); Surrey Council – Amanda Boote elected for The Byfleets – Independent gain from Conservative. (Richard Wilson died).

Interest Groups

  • Learning and Work Institute: Naomi Clayton and Joe Dromey to become deputy directors of research and development in January.
  • Cancer Research UK: Rita Akushie appointed as chief financial officer.
  • Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis: Louise Wright named as the new chief executive.
     
Author Display Name Dods People Tags HR Leadership & Management Parliament Categories Government and politics About the author

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

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Richard.Johnstone

No-show on immigration white paper ahead of Brexit vote ‘unacceptable’ say MPs

3 days 19 hours ago
News

Brexit select committee also seeks continued scrutiny role following mooted machinery of government changes

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The government’s failure to publish its long-promised immigration white paper is “unacceptable”, members of parliament’s Exiting the European Union Select Committee have warned.

In a report published over the weekend, the cross-party panel said that despite “repeated promises” ministers had not revealed the document setting out their thinking on future immigration policy.

Last week home secretary Sajid Javid indicated that the document would not be released ahead of the vote that was planned for tomorrow on Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement, although this has now been cancelled. The committee said it was one of a host of fundamental choices that ministers had failed to make about the UK’s future.

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The report also called on the government to set out its estimates for the UK’s future financial liabilities to the European Union under the various options for an extended transition/implementation period that the draft withdrawal agreement contains.

The government’s previous estimate of liabilities was £35-39bn, but MPs said estimates of how any extension period would affect the assessment should be set out before the division bell.

Elsewhere, committee chair Hilary Benn said the political declaration accompanying the draft withdrawal agreement was “neither detailed nor substantive” despite repeated assurances from Brexit secretaries David Davis and Dominic Raab.

“It does not give the British people or our businesses the clarity and the certainty they need about our future trading relationship with the EU in five or 10 years’ time,” he said.

“And with these negotiations having not even started yet, this could take years to sort out.”

The report said that the declaration contained “insufficient detail” for committee members to decide whether all but one of the 15 tests they previously set on future trade, security and cooperation with the EU had been met.

Benn said many aspects of the withdrawal agreement represented a “huge step into the unknown” because the government had “refused to face up to” hard choices confronting the nation. However he said the report aimed to provide an up-to-date summary on the government's progress towards Brexit.

“It is now time for colleagues to decide on the prime minister’s deal,” he said. “Throughout this process, the select committee has always argued for parliament to be given a full and proper role, and a vote on what has been negotiated.”

New Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay told the committee’s 3 December evidence session that moving to the next phase of EU exit would “undoubtedly” require an amended governance structure in Whitehall, and that the issue was under discussion with the prime minister and other colleagues.

“There will be a lot of different work streams and there is the mere fact that we will be outside the EU institutions, so the prime minister’s own interaction outside of those institutions will change,” he said.

MPs said that regardless of the future of the Department for Exiting the European Union and wider machinery of government changes, it was vital that a select committee remained dedicated to overseeing the Brexit and negotiations on the future relationship with the EU.

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Jim.Dunton

Civil servants reveal health problems caused by high workloads

6 days 14 hours ago
News

FDA union’s latest working hours survey paints picture of understaffing, stress and reduced productivity  

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Departments’ productivity is being dented and staff health compromised by increasingly unsustainable Whitehall workloads, according to a survey of senior civil servants.

The FDA union’s just-published 2018 Working Hours Survey found more than two-thirds of respondents reporting their departments’ effectiveness was “negatively impacted” by its workload and additional working hours.

Three-quarters of the survey’s 1,300-plus respondents said working excessive hours was a problem in their department or agency and 82% said they believed working excess hours has adversely affected their wellbeing – with stress, depression and damage to relationships frequently cited.

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The survey, conducted among the FDA’s civil service membership in the spring, found what the union described as a “worrying trend” of working excessive hours becoming the “new normal” against a backdrop of understaffing – even though the civil service headcount is now rising.

One finding from the survey was that 69% of respondents agreed with the statement: “My workload is set with no correlation to whether it is possible to complete in the time available, because it is assumed I will complete the work no matter what.”

According to the survey, 48% of respondents worked up to six extra hours unpaid every week; 24% worked between six and 10 hours extra every week; and 11% of respondents said they worked more than 10 hours extra unpaid every week.

FDA assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge called on Whitehall leaders to make sure civil servants had the resources necessary to do their jobs, with a focus on recruitment and retention to ensure there were enough staff to complete work and meet deadlines.

“Civil servants are devoted to their work and to serving the nation, but they cannot run on pure dedication,” she said.

“Our survey results show that these vital workers are under real pressure. The current status quo of ever-increasing workloads and stagnant pay cannot continue if the civil service is to deliver on the significant challenges ahead.

“The government is taking advantage of civil servants’ commitment to their work, and gaining many extra hours of work for free but this is a false economy. Increasing workloads are increasing the strain on civil servants who have been trusted with implementing government policy at a time of national upheaval.”

The FDA report contained a selection of anecdotes from staff detailing the effect excessive working hours had on their lives – ranging from soaring blood-pressure levels, to nervous breakdowns and depression.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Civil servants work incredibly hard to deliver important public services and projects, including laying the ground work for the UK's successful exit from the EU.

“This is recognised by senior leaders, and all staff have access to a range of flexible working arrangements to help them manage their work life balance more effectively.”

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Jim.Dunton

Brace for Brexit criminal data-sharing 'cliff-edge', Home Office told

6 days 15 hours ago
News

The committee also warned that uncertainty about future border arrangements "will make it extremely challenging for the Home Office" to prepare for the future

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MPs have urged the Home Office to prepare for the possibility it will face a “cliff edge” in the exchange of data needed to protect public safety after the Brexit transition period, in a report that warns existing arrangements for leaving the EU could compromise the UK’s security.

The UK has yet to negotiate access to EU-wide criminal databases used by police and intelligence agencies after Brexit, and it will be “near impossible” to secure access by the time the transition period ends in December 2020, the Home Affairs Select Committee said in a report today.

The report said prime minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, which MPs will vote on next week, contains no reference to either the Schengen Information System (SIS II), which facilitates data sharing on missing and wanted individuals and stolen objects, or ECRIS, which records convictions in other member states.

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British police forces access SIS II more than 500 million times a year, according to the report, but access to the database is still being negotiated under a separate security treaty. “A failure to retain access to SIS II and ECRIS would be a significant downgrade of our policing and security capability at a time when cross border crime and security threats are increasing,” the report said.

“It is crucial that the Home Office plans for a possible cliff edge in data exchange after the transition period ends, and publishes a full and detailed risk assessment of the impact of losing access,” it urged.

“We are extremely concerned that the government is either being complacent or failing to be transparent about the security implications and it should provide full and accurate information to parliament about the security risks,” it said, following arguments from within the EU that the databases should be limited to countries in the EU or Schengen Area.

“There is far too much complacency on this issue, on the part of both the UK government and the EU.”

The committee also said it was “extremely concerned” about the lack of clarity the draft withdrawal agreement gave on what customs and border arrangements will look like after Brexit.

“The wide range of outcomes allowable under the declaration will make it extremely challenging for the Home Office to make preparations for UK border operations after transition ends,” it warned.

“Given the Home Office’s track record in hiring people and developing IT systems, any significant programmes of work will need to begin immediately.” It said the department should provide the committee with a statement outlining its plans and timeline to transition to “whatever the new system will be”.

The report also said MPs on the committee were “concerned that the Home Office is overly-optimistic about how easy it will be to negotiate a replacement process to take over” from the European Arrest Warrant, the EU-wide extradition agreement.

And it rapped the Home Office for its repeated delays in publishing the planned immigration white paper. Its publication was originally slated for before this year’s summer recess, but has been pushed back several times, and delays have likely been “exacerbated by confusion over who is driving the policy between the Home Office and the prime minister”, the committee said.

It is “extremely disappointing” that the paper is unlikely to be published before next week’s vote on the withdrawal deal, MPs said.

“Given that new immigration arrangements will have a significant impact on UK citizens’ ability to live and work in the EU in future and on EU citizens ability to live and work in the UK, we are very troubled that this information is not available to parliament before the vote,” they said.

A Home Office spokesperson said the draft Brexit deal “delivers the broadest security partnership in the EU’s history and provides a framework for a future security relationship between the UK and the EU to keep people safe”.

“It is in everyone’s interests to combine efforts on security and, whilst our relationship with the EU will change, we have agreed to share vitally important information, including passenger name records, DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration,” they said.

“We will also be establishing a streamlined extradition process so that our law enforcement agencies can quickly investigate and prosecute criminals and terrorists.”

Author Display Name Beckie Smith Tags Brexit International Affairs & Security Justice and Public Safety Parliament Policymaking Project & Programme Management Categories Defence and Security Government and politics International Relations About the author

Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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Beckie Smith

Julia Unwin: The power of kindness in policymaking

6 days 15 hours ago
Opinion

When we evaluate public policy we reach for the rational lexicon, but this risks creating cold and ineffective public services

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There are some things that matter to every one of us. The places we live, our sense of identity and belonging. The people we live with, love and care for. And the way we are looked after and supported when we are most in need. At the heart of all of this are emotions and human connections. We all know that it is love and relationships that fill our lives with joy and make life worth living. And equally, when we are at our most vulnerable, it is kindness and compassion that get us through the tough times.

But talk about kindness in public policy and you often get one of two reactions. There’s the out-of-hand dismissal, that says kindness is not the stuff of real policy. And there’s the “kind reaction”, that agrees, of course we want to be kind, wouldn’t it be so much better if communities and frontline workers were nicer to each other?

In both of these reactions, there is a sense that this isn’t about “us”, it’s about “them”. Kindness is deflected onto others – onto the care assistants, nurses and teachers, the most hard-pressed and least well rewarded people in public service. And that’s because kindness is uncomfortable and disruptive. It challenges the core of our approach to policymaking, the nature of evidence and professional boundaries.

But it has never been more important.

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Over the past two years, as a Carnegie Fellow, I have been exploring the role of kindness in public policy, through a series of public and private events across the UK. These discussions have confirmed to me that there are two lexicons in public policy. There is the rational language of metrics, value added, growth, resource allocation and impact. And there is the relational language of kindness, loneliness, love and friendship.

In the last 30 years, our focus on rational speech has empowered us to do many things much better than ever before. The capability for measurement and analysis and the ability to amass data on a grand scale have enabled us to understand and interrogate inputs and outcomes, drive efficiency and rapidly modernise organisations. And careful attention to regulation and professionalism have provided much greater certainty around behaviour and boundaries, increased transparency and fairness, and allowed a more reliable assessment of risk and safety.

And yet, combined with strong downward pressure on costs across the UK, the forces that have created so much positive change have also raised questions of kindness, relational care and the emotions that are bound up in public services and the way we live together.

Public policy is all about emotions. It is concerned with our homes and communities, our economy and livelihoods, the education of our children and the care of those in ill health. It engages with our humanity and our vulnerability, it requires trust and sharing, and therefore – always and everywhere – it engages an emotional response. And yet, when we design public policy, evaluate its impact and think about quality improvement, we invariably reach for the rational lexicon.

“Kindness is uncomfortable and disruptive. It challenges our approach to policymaking, the nature of evidence and professional boundaries”

This is important for a number of reasons. After a decade of austerity, we are operating in a challenging environment, with rising demand on already stretched services and declining trust in public institutions. We know that compassion and personal relationships can improve outcomes – just as we know that designing more human services can help to rebuild confidence in the public sector.

The role of kindness in public policy has a particular urgency, because we are undergoing another great change. The growth of digital technology and artificial intelligence have already transformed our experiences of banking, retail and communications. These technologies and capabilities are beginning to transfer from markets to public policy, bringing major opportunities to understand and evaluate complex problems, and to enhance public services.

But this change needs to be shaped around people’s needs, and these opportunities also bring risks. If we fail to respond to this challenge, we could end up generating greater inequality and social division, perpetuating the sense of disenfranchisement in communities across the UK, and delivering some increasingly cold, unresponsive and ineffective public services.

This is why kindness cannot be about “us” and “them”. Kindness is an issue for those with power and authority just as much – if not more – than those in communities and frontline services. The challenge is to retain a focus on how kindness informs measurement and audit, policy design and regulation; and to use our understanding of the importance of human relationships to drive the higher levels of trust, improved engagement and better outcomes that we so desperately need.

Author Display Name Julia Unwin Tags Leadership & Management Operational Delivery Partnership working Policymaking Categories Education and skills Government and politics Society and welfare About the author

Julia Unwin CBE is a fellow at Carnegie UK Trust. Her report, Kindness, emotions and human relationships: The blind spot in public policy, was published on 1 November

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Richard.Johnstone