Civil Service Live 2014 was full of memorable moments, but the presence of some of the UK’s most important and influential civil servants was a definite highlight. The event gives civil servants rare access to talks from some of the biggest names in their field, such as Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude, sharing their insights into the future of civil service.
Maude offered up five principles government offices would need to embody to meet the challenges ahead:
- Openness. Great Britain is a world leader in transparency, said Maude. Government data is a huge asset that can help increase efficiency and improve services, but government offices must put this data to work to see the benefits.
- Tight control over common areas of spending. Government offices can achieve economies of scale and collaborate better by consolidating office spaces, said Maude. Civil servants must embrace new ways to working to fuel this transformation.
- Loose control over front-line operations. Government employees are too often an untapped asset. They have deep expertise in their specific roles that can help them find new efficiencies that might not occur to their bosses. Offices should adopt a light touch that empowers front-line workers to find new ways of working better.
- Digital first by default. Citizens already accomplish many of their daily tasks online. They need to be able to reach the government in the same way. Printing out a form and sending it in via post no longer qualifies as providing digital access to services, said Maude. He added that going digital shouldn’t mean outsourcing work. Government offices should invest in their current employees, rather than leaning on contractors. “Government workers are great at picking up new skills,” he said.
- A culture of innovation. Managers must make the distinction between being risk adverse and being surprise adverse, said Maude. Risk is an inevitable part of change. Managers must examine the evidence at hand and make decisions in a timely fashion, in full awareness of the risks and potential rewards. “If you’re not trying new things that don’t work — you’re not really trying new things. Try new things, stop if it doesn’t work and make sure the organisation learns from it,” he said.
Civil service reform is never over, said Maude. It is always a work in progress. Organisations are always either getting better or getting worse. If you think your office is staying the same, it’s actually in decline, he added.