“We wanted the best, but everything turned out as usual.” The much quoted words of Viktor Chernomyrdin, the former prime minister of Russia, are apt when discussing UK civil service reform. Every few years, it seems, a new civil service reform plan is launched. The reforms often focus on well-trodden territory. Whether it’s improving public services, managing performance, generating cost savings or building the skills and capability of civil servants – it has already been tried many times before. The 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan has pushed further and faster on many of the same themes. But in their assessment one year on, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, and Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service, conceded that ‘[they] were too slow to mobilise’ and had made variable progress. The sense of underachievement in 2014 is nothing new. There have been rare successes, however. In 1988, Margaret Thatcher launched Next Steps, one of the most ambitious and far-reaching reforms that hived off around three-quarters of civil servants into arm’s-length agencies. This is generally thought to have improved financial management, performance and customer relations, among other things. Recently, Sir Michael Barber, former head of the Prime Minister’s Delivery […]

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