Headlines: February 25th, 2004

Prime Minister Tony Blair has set out a blue print for a transformed Civil Service capable of serving governments of any colour in the era of globalisation. His vision is an organization that can successfully implement change, rather than, as sometimes in the past, act as a shock absorber seeking to maintain the status quo.Outlining the features of the new culture Tony Blair contrasted the approach of the Civil Service and the Armed Forces in the Foot and Mounth crisis. The intervention of the armed forces was critical because they didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer; they used rules as a means to an end, not an end in themselves; and as the situation changed, they changed. He stressed that the Civil Service is not like the Armed Forces, but this style of leadership is widely successful because it requires leadership at every level, with people willing to take responsibility for a challenge and able to inspire others.

There will be a move to smaller strategic centers. The Department of Health was quoted as an example. It plans to cut its headquarters by 38 per cent by becoming focused on strategic leadership rather than micro-management. A recent leak of the Gershon Review predicted that 80,000 posts will be cut. There will be a focus on professional and technical skills. In future the key roles in finance, IT and human resources will be filled by people with a demonstrable professional track record in tackling major organisational change, whether inside or outside the Service. In addition more senior posts will be filled by people from outside the Civil Service and rules will be changed to make it easier for civil servants to move into the private sector and back again.

There will be more emphisis on performance management. People with the most potential will move onto the new High Potential Development Scheme, and then if they continue to perform, rapidly into senior positions. There are also higher rewards for those who achieve the most. Conversely those who, relative to their peers, are in the lowest 20% of comparative performance will have to address the causes of poorer performance and will be moved out if they can’t meet the demands of the job. In future all senior Civil Service jobs will be four-year placements, with no presumption of permanence in post.

The reforms will also involve moving away from the dominance of permanent departments and structures towards more project working, more teams collaborating across departmental boundaries and more shared budgets. A less departmental Civil Service will demand fresh thinking about the capacity of the centre of the Civil Service which will need to become much better able to manage people across departmental boundaries and to match people to the posts where their skills are most needed.

Head of the Civil Service, Sir Andrew Turnbull will report to the Prime Minister in one year on the progress of the reforms.

Mark Serwotka general secretary of the largest Civil Service union, the Public and Commercial Services Union said: “We recognise the need for the Civil Service to adapt the challenges of the twenty first century, but reform should not just be an excuse to slash and burn jobs and further outsource and privatise functions. The Civil Service is not a private company and should remain a public service, publicly run. We fear the prime Minister’s speech will do little to boost the morale of the thousands of low paid civil servants delivering frontline services, who now face growing uncertainty.”