Government warned to expedite reform efforts or risk missing the boat

Written by Tevye Markson on 25 April 2022 in News
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The Declaration on Government Reform could be another failed opportunity, a think tank has warned

Credit: Nick Youngson/Alpha Stock Images/CC BY-SA 3.0

The government must implement its civil service reform plan more quickly or risk it becoming another wasted opportunity, a leading think tank has warned.

Progress on the Declaration on Government reform is “behind schedule” and more could have been done in the last 10 months to meet its goals, the Institute for Government has said in a report today. Launched in June 2021 by then-Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, the Declaration included 30 commitments to be completed by the end of 2021.

These included keeping pace with the growing need for digital and technology expertise; relocating civil servants outside London; improving the diversity of the civil service; increasing the use of data in decision-making; and delivery of the planned single online log-in system for all government services.

However, only eight of those “actions” were completed by April this year, according to the IfG. The think tank has praised the level of ambition in the reform plan but said progress has been slow and has called for the government to refresh the declaration to stop it from becoming “the latest in a succession of reform efforts that identify the same big problems but do not resolve them”.


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Jordan Urban, an IfG researcher who wrote the report, said: “The Declaration on Government Reform contains a good level of ambition, even if it is vague in places. But there is a gap between the government’s goals and the plans in place to get there. Progress on the 30 specific commitments in the declaration’s annex has been slower than hoped. Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, said last year that he is worried about the civil service missing its opportunity to reform in the aftermath of the pandemic. He is right. A new set of ambitious and targeted actions is needed to reinvigorate the reform effort.”

The declaration set out to fix some of the biggest issues with how government works, such as blurred accountability between civil servants and ministers, rapid turnover of staff leading to reduced expertise among officials and low levels of recruitment from outside government.

But the IfG said the government is at risk of repeating a cycle of the last 50 years where the same ideas are repeatedly identified and plans for reform declared – only for ministers and officials lose interest and the most difficult changes are not implemented. This has led to the civil service being less effective in supporting governments and hampered its legitimacy, according to the think tank.

The IfG found that eight of the 30 actions have thus far been completed:

  • A new central digital and data office has been created
  • Establishing an evaluation task force and a No.10 delivery unit
  • Expanding the government major projects portfolio
  • Setting up the government major contracts portfolio
  • Holding an extraordinary cabinet meeting at least once a year
  • Publishing a diversity and inclusion strategy
  • Implementing outcome delivery plans for all departments 
  • Updating the senior civil service performance management framework

With more than two-thirds of the goals incomplete, the IfG said the government should now set out a new set of “more ambitious, tightly focused and mutually reinforcing” actions focusing on improving accountability, reducing staff turnover, increasing outside recruitment and creating a smarter centre of government.

 

About the author

Tevye Markson is a reporter at PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @TevyeMarkson.

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