The new Prime Minister will come into office amid a genuine political crisis. Rather than postponing the modernisation of government, he must prioritise structural changes at the heart of his administration as the key to delivering Brexit and getting a grip on the domestic agenda. In this paper GovernUp sets out the ten most pressing Whitehall reform priorities.
In today's Times newspaper, our Co-Chair Nick Herbert MP wrote about the new GovernUp report by Harvey Redgrave and the case for criminal justice devolution.
A new GovernUp report, launched today in Manchester, examines the case for devolution of criminal justice
GovernUp, the cross-party independent research project for effective government, today released a discussion paper identifying the need for action on the UK’s broadband market.
The paper finds that ‘business as usual’ will not be enough to ensure that the UK’s future broadband needs are met, and that a more competitive market is needed to deliver reliable, super-fast connectivity to all UK citizens.
In particular the paper recommends that as part of its current strategic review Ofcom should refer the broadband market to the Competition and Markets Authority.
Such a referral would identify how serious the issues with lack of competition and under-investment are, and allow a rigorous assessment of what further steps need to be taken to ensure that the UK has a fit-for-purpose, future proofed digital infrastructure.
Nick Herbert MP, Co-Chairman of GovernUp, said: “Getting our broadband market right is mission critical to the UK’s future. We need to ensure that business and consumers are fully able to take advantage of a rapidly expanding digital economy.
“Yet as this paper shows there are worrying signs that the broadband market is struggling to meet the needs of Britain today, let alone tomorrow.
“Concerns around under-investment, re-monopolisation and the lack of a level-playing field for non-BT communication providers, an unsatisfactory quality of service at the wholesale level, and limited choice for SME and rural customers, are just some of the warning lights that are too important to ignore.
“These symptoms all suggest that serious consideration must now be given to a structural separation of the Openreach network from BT.
“Separation might not be the silver bullet to fix all these issues, but at the very least there is a clear need for the market to be referred to the regulator with the best tools at its disposal to assess the structure fully, and if need be correct it.
“This paper gives policy-makers, regulators and all stakeholders a concise snapshot of what is at stake and a way forward,” Mr Herbert concluded.
Monday 23 March - The Minister for the Cabinet Office made a statement on 'Government Efficiency and Reform' in the House of Commons, highlighting savings and reforms made during the last five years.
GovernUp co-chairmen, Nick Herbert and John Healey, made interventions focusing on a stronger centre for government and a drive for improved professional standards across government. In his response the Minister praised the work of GovernUp and highlighted future challenges facing successful civil service reform.
Rolling list of articles and blogs following GovernUp's conference and publication of discussion papers this week:
The Guardian: Ministers need proper training say MPs
ConservativeHome: Fixing Whitehall: The growing consensus about what should happen next
UKCivilServant blog: Impressive GovernUp Conference: Report and Comment
Spectator blog: One area where Labour and the Tories have started agreeing
Global Government Forum: Analysis: ideas for radical reforms to the British government
Civil Service Commission response to GovernUp reports
The Times (£): Miliband move on Treasury risks new split with Balls
GovernUp, the cross-party group launched last year to promote Whitehall reform, today (Wednesday 11 February) publishes new proposals for a shake-up of the government machine.
The ideas include the creation of a powerful new Office of Budget Management, combining functions from the Treasury and the Cabinet Office to give a greater focus on the efficiency of public spending; a Decentralisation Act to enshrine the presumption that services should be delivered locally; Commons confirmation hearings to strengthen the accountability of leaders of operational parts of the Civil Service; the ability to appoint Ministers from outside Parliament; and a beefed-up Civil Service Commission to scrutinise the effectiveness of the Civil Service.
The discussion papers are being launched at a conference at Westminster which is being addressed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude MP, and the Shadow Minister, Lucy Powell MP.
The event is being attended by senior civil servants, politicians, academics and think tanks, including Margaret Hodge MP, Chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, and Bernard Jenkin MP, Chairman of the Public Administration Committee.
GovernUp was set up last year by Conservative MP Nick Herbert and Labour MP John Healey with the aim of building a new cross-party consensus on radical Whitehall reform. The group brings together senior politicians of all parties, former civil servants, Whitehall advisers and business leaders.
GovernUp’s research projects have looked at lessons from international experience; the shape of the centre of government; the centre-local balance; the skills needed in a modern Whitehall; the role of today’s politicians; and the opportunity which the digital revolution presents in re-shaping the relationship between citizen and state.
The research has identified the need to strengthen the centre of government, with a greater focus on the efficiency of public spending and scrutinising value for money. It warns that departmental boundaries, siloed budgets and central direction get in the way of innovation and local collaboration between agencies, and that government needs to be re-shaped to allow services to be designed according to user needs.
The projects identify flawed accountability as a crucial weakness in the system of government, and highlight a need to strengthen leadership and capabilities across government to support delivery.
They suggest that Ministers need the resources to drive the government machine and ensure that their policies are delivered, and that strong political leadership is required to focus on the operational effectiveness of government.
Nick Herbert MP, Co-Chairman of GovernUp said: “These are bold ideas for reform but all are do-able. Our aim is to shape proposals which all the major political parties could broadly support, and to demonstrate why they are necessary. The machinery of government must be equal to today’s challenges when resources are tight and the demand for services is rising.”
John Healey MP, Co-Chairman said: “Successive governments have tried to improve policy delivery and performance. But problems remain while pressures grow. We now have a unique moment when all three major parties have current or recent experience in office and see that our system of government itself requires reform.
"Our proposals aim to help map out the must-make changes, whichever party is elected in May. There needs to be a drive for reform from the very top of government and the Civil Service if newly-elected ministers want to deliver on their promises to the people.”
The policy suggestions in these papers have been produced by the authors for discussion and reaction. GovernUp’s conclusions and proposals from the research projects will be published following feedback on these ideas. We welcome all responses, which should be sent to email@example.com by Wednesday 11 March 2015.
Summary of discussion paper proposals
• Redesign public services to improve both cost efficiency and quality of service.
• Restructure the Government’s approach to managing public finances - budgeting, investment and revenue management.
• Strengthen functional leadership and capabilities across government to support delivery.
• Optimise the structure, scale and operating model of government.
• Develop the vision, accountability and capabilities needed to drive a large-scale transformation.
• Enable operational parts of the Civil Service to focus on serving the public by turning them into autonomous business units, with visible, accountable leadership and governance.
• Progressively create a more unified strategic core for government, “One Whitehall”, by turning the policy and headquarters functions of the Civil Service into a single organisation, built around the priorities of the government of the day, with much more working across traditional boundaries.
• Reshape the centre of government with an Office of Budget and Management and a powerful Management Board responsible for the professionalism and effectiveness of government.
• Build a powerful, balanced, mix of professions in leadership roles and across Whitehall, with finance, digital, commercial and operational skills working alongside policy, and much more open-ness and contestability.
• Provide external scrutiny and assurance on the pace and effectiveness of change, as well as protecting impartiality through a repurposed Civil Service Commission.
• Empower local political leadership by scaling back central government limits on local decision-making, and legislate to set up locally-designed governance arrangements and "civic enterprises" that would allow local and national bodies, public, private and third sectors to pool funds, staff and accountability in streamlined, fast-tracked local joint ventures.
• Bring about local fiscal autonomy and responsibility, by giving local elected leaders greater responsibility for funding local services, and raising the money to pay for them.
• Ensure local public services are intelligently designed and delivered, by reforming the commissioning of public services, so it is done close to the coal face by people who understand what is needed and are closer to service-users.
• Build citizen power by opening up local public services so local citizens can see how well they are doing, challenge them and take responsibility themselves.
• Pass legislation to make these happen - an English Decentralisation Act - early in the Parliament.
• Opening up policymaking. Each Secretary of State to have a Principal Policy Adviser and a team of Policy Advisers, politically restricted, but drawn from outside the civil service to provide challenge and expertise. The ability to seek policy advice from outside Whitehall extended.
• Reform of Ministerial offices, with an experienced Chief of Staff with a remit to help Ministers navigate relationships within Whitehall and facilitate interactions outside it.
• Ministers appointed from outside Parliament, with new methods of accountability to elected MPs. A stronger role for some Junior Ministers, heading new ‘programme ministries’.
• Stability, coaching and/or mentoring to give Ministers the time, skills and confidence they need to be effective.
• The current Capabilities Plan should remain in place for at least the duration of the next UK Parliament to allow for stability, but with an extensive 2015 refresh.
• Further Civil Service capability reform should address fundamental issues including organisational design and reward, as well as skills.
• Development programmes for civil servants should nurture wider abilities than the Capability Plan’s specific priorities, such as being able to design and deliver services through complex networks and across multiple channels.
• Pay levels should be recalibrated for those withspecific, highly-marketable skills and experience to mainstream Civil Service employment with the wider working world.
• A new shared digital civic infrastructure, by building shared digital platforms for common needs, available for use by central and local government teams, but also for use by partners and suppliers.
• A new approach to managing and using data, giving citizens control of their data and creating a transparent framework for how government uses data.
• Real time government and democratic engagement, performance data should be published side-by-side with services, Minister should have access to real-time data on how services are performing.
• Putting services at the heart of the civil service, restructuring the civil service around end-to-end services and using shared platforms.
Politicians talk a lot about failures to deliver, but too little about the real reasons why failure happens. More often than not, the blame for a government project that goes wrong is attributed to political mistakes. It is right, of course, that elected leaders should be accountable for the decisions they take. But the desire to pin responsibility on political opponents has often allowed more fundamental problems to go uncorrected.
When an opposition party has been out of power for some time, its shadow ministers tend to have little experience in office. They may convince themselves that the government of the day’s main mistakes are the result of having the wrong policies and that a change of administration is the cure-all. This was largely the case in the run-up to both 1997 and 2010 elections.
This is not the case today. Uniquely since the Second World War, all three major parties have current or recent experience in office. All understand the importance of good policy and clear direction. And all know that the effectiveness of the policy delivery machine is also vital.
We believe a new consensus is building: that our system of government itself requires attention and reform, a view emerging more and more strongly in recent reports from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, Public Administration Committee, academics and think tanks in the field.
Professors Anthony King and Sir Ivor Crewe capture this in their book ‘The Blunders of Our Governments’, noting that modern “governments of all parties appear equally blunder-prone – a fact that in itself suggests that there are systemic defects in the British system of government, defects rooted in the culture and institutions of Whitehall and Westminster having little to do with party leaders, party members or partisan ideologies.”
The identified causes are common to many reports: a weak centre of government; high ministerial turnover; hyperactive political agendas; a deficit in accountability; feeble parliamentary scrutiny; inadequate skills in the Civil Service, and a lack of deliberation to counter short-termism.
King and Crewe conclude: “… we take the view that in Britain our attention is too often directed towards the failings and foibles of individual politicians and parties and not nearly often enough towards the flaws in our political system. Our study of blunders has made both of us far more sympathetic towards radical change than we were when we started out.”
We set up GovernUp ten months ago with the aim of promoting such radical change. We did not believe there was sufficient ambition within Whitehall, or pressure from outside, to force the reform required.
GovernUp set out to analyse the current problems and then to consider the reforms needed. We set up six research projects to ensure focus on the right issues. They have looked at lessons from international experience; the shape of the centre of government; the centre-local balance; the skills needed in a modern Whitehall; the role of today’s politicians – because this isn’t just about the Civil Service – and the opportunity which the digital revolution presents in re-shaping the relationship between citizen and state.
Today, we publish authored discussion papers from each of the projects. These examine evidence of the problems and set out ideas for debate. The starting point for their analysis is that there is both a necessity and an opportunity for change. The necessity is driven by the fiscal challenge, the requirement to reduce the deficit and drive greater efficiency in public spending, compounded by ever rising public expectations and demand for services. The opportunity is that of technology to revolutionise not just the way services are delivered, but how citizens interact with government.
A number of common themes emerge. First, the centre of government needs to be strengthened, with a greater focus on the efficiency of public spending and actually scrutinising value for money. A more unified strategic core for government, “One Whitehall”, could be developed by turning the policy and headquarters functions of the Civil Service into a single organisation, built around the government’s priorities, and breaking down traditional departmental boundaries. An Office of Budget and Management, combining functions from the Treasury and Cabinet Office, and a powerful Management Board responsible for the professionalism and effectiveness of government, would embed a fundamental change of culture in Whitehall.
Second, government needs to allow services to be re-designed according to user needs. Too often departmental boundaries, siloed budgets and central direction get in the way of the innovation and localised inter-agency collaboration which personalised services require. Civil Servants need to be deployed flexibly and strategically, budgets need to be devolved to allow local commissioning, and the architecture of government policy-making needs to support the design of end-to-end services.
A landmark Decentralisation Act would enshrine a presumption that services should be delivered locally, radically reducing the ability of central government to influence the day-to-day management of local government, with more public spending financed and controlled locally. Junior Ministers could be deployed more effectively through the creation of cross-cutting programme divisions, breaking down departmental silos and making a named Minister responsible for those issues that are in the purview of two or more departments.
We also need to invest in the next generation of civic infrastructure. Shared digital platforms for common needs should be used by central government teams and made available for local government partners, and suppliers. The idea of “government as a platform” builds on the approaches taken by leading digital companies and could enable more user-responsive services and better information for citizens.
Third, a crucial weakness within our system of government is flawed accountability. The fiction that the buck can only stop with ministers, while officials can side-step responsibility for delivery, cannot endure. The operational parts of the civil service could be turned into autonomous business units with visible, accountable leadership and governance. Appointments to run a selected number of the delivery agencies central to delivering a new government’s programme should be made by the Secretary of State in charge, conditional on full confirmation hearings by a Commons select committee, so that public and parliamentary accountability for delivery alongside strategic policy is established. An enhanced Civil Service Commission in which the grip of former civil servants is broken would provide external scrutiny and assurance on the pace and effectiveness of reform, whilst safeguarding core Civil Service values such as probity, integrity and political impartiality.
Stronger local accountability mechanisms with greater transparency, scrutiny and contestability for local services would drive the development of better, more efficient, user-focused services. A ‘Digital Bill of Rights’ would affirm the principles of people’s right to control their own data and create a transparent framework for how government uses data.
Fourth, we need to strengthen leadership and capabilities across government to support delivery. Civil service skills could be enhanced with more professional specialisation and better remuneration, funded by efficiency savings. To achieve its capability ambitions, the Civil Service needs to learn from the best of both public and private sectors to attract, recruit, reward, develop and retain talented people. But Ministers too, often need to better equipped to do their job. They could have access to coaching or mentoring to supply them with the skills to be as effective as possible. Both ministers and officials would benefit from longer periods in post.
Fifth, since Ministers are ultimately accountable, they need the resources to drive the government machine and ensure that their policies are delivered. Ministers are an essential element of good government but are too often isolated in departments, insufficiently supported and ineffective. The principle of Extended Ministerial Offices, augmenting teams around Ministers, is a good one which needs to be developed and fully implemented. This is about providing more experienced and better qualified teams to support Ministers, not about politicising Whitehall. Each Secretary of State could have a Principal Policy Adviser and a team of Policy Advisers, politically restricted, but drawn from outside as well as inside the Civil Service to provide challenge and expertise. The ability to seek policy advice from outside Whitehall would be extended, and Ministers would have an experienced Chief of Staff with a remit to help them navigate relationships within Whitehall and facilitate interactions outside it. The Prime Minister could appoint Ministers from outside Parliament, with new methods of accountability to elected MPs.
Some of these ideas are bold but all are do-able. GovernUp welcomes views on them, and on areas for reform which we may not have identified.
Our aim, after assessing the feedback, is to shape proposals for a reform agenda which all the major political parties could broadly support. And we hope a wide range of other opinion will also broadly back such reforms.
Most important will be the final ingredient: political leadership. The last Labour government made a start on reforms, and this current Coalition government has pursued reform plans, which, significantly, have been largely supported by the Opposition. But the support for change amongst senior ministers has been far too narrow. There needs to be a drive for reform from the very top of government and the Civil Service if the next government want to deliver on their promises to the people. The time has come to govern up.
GovernUp will be holding a high-level conference, and presenting discussion papers from our six research projects, on Wednesday 11 February at the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre at Westminster, 9.00 - 11.30 am. The event will be addressed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, The Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, and by the Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Lucy Powell MP. The discussion papers and presentations will be published on www.governup.org on the morning of the conference. Attendance at this event is by invitation only. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Simon Walker, Director General of the IoD:
"Businesses are compelled by necessity to respond to economic, technological and cultural changes. If they don't, they fail. In contrast, vast areas of government activity continues to operate as if it were immune from these pressures and considerations. There is a vital and exciting opportunity here to rethink the way in which government operates and there's no better starting place than looking at how business values efficiency, quality, accountability and value for money.
"GovernUp has an opportunity to radically reimagine the way in which our civil service and our institutions operate. I believe this is an idea whose time has come, and I look forward to the Institute of Directors being part of it."
John Cridland CBE, CBI Director-General:
“This is a welcome cross-party initiative to ensure our public services are fit for purpose for the twenty first century. This is particularly important at a time of austerity.”
Lord Browne of Madingley, former Chief Executive of BP, lead non-executive director for the Government and a member of GovernUp’s Advisory Board:
“The Civil Service now faces a fundamentally different environment and set of challenges to those for which it was designed. I have called in the past for an independent review of the future of the Civil Service, and so I am very pleased to be part of a project which will take on that task.”
Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office said:
“Britain needs an exceptional Civil Service, ready to meet the challenges of the Twenty First Century. That’s why this Government’s reform programme - supported by Ministers and civil servants - is designed to build on strengths while addressing long-standing weaknesses. We have made some significant progress but we still have much to do.
“It’s fantastic that GovernUp are joining the important debate on the future of Whitehall. GovernUp has assembled an impressive cross-party group of former ministers, civil servants and advisers, as well as those from business. I look forward to following the work of this influential group closely as we develop our ongoing programme of Civil Service reform”.