Features: August 8th, 2003

The Balance of Power – Enabling Delivery and Reform of Public Services

By Sir Andrew Turnbull, Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service.

Reproduced by permission of the Centre for Management and Policy Studies.

Two things are evident about public services in the UK – the need to change what services we deliver and the need to change how we deliver them. The question about ‘who’ delivers them is more open to debate.

What is also clear is that the improvements to the capacity and capability of the Civil Service over a number of years haven’t been enough. Valuable gains have been made in making the Service more open to talent and more diverse in leadership, but the big ‘win’, in terms of customer satisfaction, is still to be achieved. That is now the strategic goal of our delivery and reform agenda – to transform public services and ensure that we deliver customer-centred services. Time is short. Increased resources are now going into public services, and reform is part of the deal.

Amplifier for change

How we do it will require both a different attitude and a range of new skills. The Civil Service has to transform itself into a successful deliverer and act as an amplifier for change throughout the wider public sector. Together we have to address the enormous inequality in the accessibility, performance and quality of public services.

The strategy is based on the Prime Minister’s four key principles:

  • high national standards with clear accountability
  • devolved decision-making to the frontline
  • greater flexibility in how, when and what services are delivered, including greater staff flexibility and the use of incentives.
  • more consumer choice – where appropriate, alternative providers should be offered.

Combined, these principles will produce more personalised and efficient services. But we must strike a balance between centralised control and de-centralised decision-making in order to achieve this.

Strengthening capability

Targets are essential for setting priorities and standards, and should be seen as a positive force for new thinking and innovation. The current targets take us to 2004 and they will remain our number one priority. They give a very clear steer about what we are trying to achieve and the new ways of working needed to deliver them.

As well as raising our ability to deliver targets, we must also strengthen the wider capability of Departments. To assist this, Departments have been creating Performance Partnerships. These are, essentially, a strengthening of the change programmes already in place and are intended to give an objective view about whether each significant delivery Department has the right tools to deliver its Public Service Agreement targets. Ten Departments have been agreeing with central partners (the Cabinet Office, No. 10 and the Treasury) and delivery partners across the wider public, private and voluntary sectors as to what more needs to be done to ensure that they have the right leadership, the right strategic focus, the right engagement of delivery stakeholders and the right management of delivery. The Partnerships will clarify internal priorities for change and priorities in terms of major projects and top delivery issues in addition to PSAs.

I am placing a high priority on the way we are managing and developing people so we get the right people in the right places quickly, develop them to their full potential and manage performance rigorously.

Technology has the potential to make a huge impact on the services we provide to the public. We must exploit this to the full so that our customers can quickly receive what they want from us. And we must make it easy for people to contact us and give us the information we need. We must raise or acquire key skills such as project management.

There is no doubt that project and programme commissioning and management has been a weakness. Our response must be to make it a strength – it must become a core competence of the Service. CMPS has developed an extensive portfolio of training and development in programme and project management and has collaborated with the Office of Government Commerce in the Successful Skills Delivery Programme.

The OGC Gateway Process, for example, examines projects at critical points in their development to provide assurance that they can progress successfully to the next stage. It is designed to be applied to projects that procure services, construction or property, IT-enabled business change projects and procurements utilising framework contracts, and is based on well-proven techniques that lead to more effective delivery of benefits together with more predictable costs and outcomes.

For more about reform…http://www.civil-service.gov.uk/reform