The government’s civil service reform programme requires increased momentum, clearer plans and renewed attention from senior figures. 

This report reviews progress on the Declaration on Government Reform launched in June 2021 by Michael Gove and signed by both the prime minister and the cabinet secretary. 

The Declaration – which included 30 actions to be completed by the end of 2021 – correctly set out an ambition to fix some of the biggest problems with the way government works, such as blurred accountabilities between civil servants and ministers, rapid turnover of staff leading to reduced expertise among officials and low levels of recruitment from outside government.  

But of the 30 actions only eight had been completed by the beginning of April. Important work on civil service governance and accountability for decision making is behind schedule. Actions which pledged new entry routes into the civil service and an increase in secondments have also taken longer than hoped. While some actions were difficult to deliver, others were underwhelming – and many reflected work that was already planned or in progress when the Declaration was published. More could have been done in the past 10 months. 

To prevent the Declaration becoming the latest in a succession of reform efforts that identify the same big problems but do not resolve them, this report says the government must now set out a series of tightly focused and ambitious actions, set against appropriate deadlines.  

These should include: 

  • making accountability in government clearer: meaning that mistakes are less likely to happen and to learn lessons more effectively after things go wrong
  • reducing staff churn: addressing the rapid turnover of people in key jobs to improve subject expertise and deepen relationships
  • increasing outside recruitment: widening the pool of talent, diversity of perspectives and knowledge base available to the civil service
  • creating a ‘smarter centre’ of government: supporting the prime minister in setting direction, identifying critical points for intervention and holding departments, their agencies and other tiers of government to account.  

 

Original source – The Institute for Government

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