Civil servants can rise to challenges but many feel they’re being stifled by bureaucracy - Jeremy Quin
We boast a modern, outward looking civil service, distant in every way from the characterisations of Yes Minister.
We have made great strides but as the Fulton Report put it as long ago as 1968…“We have found no instance where reform has pressed ahead too rapidly”.
The stiff wind of competition provides an impetus for the private sector to modernise or die; in Health or Education an ever more informed and aware public demand improvements. Our Armed Forces through active combat, through allied exercises and through intense study of our adversaries are acutely aware of the pressure to change and meet an ever evolving threat.
The half a million colleagues that make up our Civil Service are critical to our country and must be equally determined to deliver change.
They know that modernisation is no end in itself. It is about delivering to every part of our country and every family, and doing so better, more effectively and cheaper.
For the overall UK productivity challenge to be resolved the public sector must up its game. We have two great advantages on which to draw in continuing this push for reform. The first and most important is continuity.
In 2015, I was fortunate to be elected to succeed Francis Maude as MP for Horsham. Last year I again followed in his footsteps in being appointed as Minister for the Cabinet Office.
I am delighted that my predecessors commissioned Francis Maude to report on Civil Service governance and accountability. I very much look forward to receiving it in due course.
Francis’s groundbreaking work between 2010 and 2015 created levers for continuous improvement.
This was a vital backdrop to the major step forward crystallised by Michael Gove as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in 2021.
The Declaration of Government Reform, jointly agreed by Permanent Secretaries and the Cabinet, remains a consistent template for reform and one on which we are continuing to deliver. I said we have two great advantages. The first being a consistent drive for modernisation. The second is the people with whom I work with throughout the civil service.
Unlike some of my predecessors I have first hand experience of working as a civil servant, between 2008-2009 I served on secondment in a Treasury battling under enormous pressure the huge dangers of the financial crash as the UK provided world-leading innovative solutions.
We have all seen first hand how the modern generation of civil servants can again rise to the challenge whether it was the swift introduction of furlough, protecting the jobs of nearly nine million Britons at its peak, or the delivery of the world’s first Covid vaccination programme.
There are brilliant people in our Civil Service but I know there are many, as can be the case in any organisation, that feel frustrated and stifled by bureaucracy.
We need every colleague to be calling out waste and inefficiency, determined to end the frustrations I know many share.
An abridged version of a speech from the Minister for the Cabinet Office Jeremy Quin.