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IFG - The Government must professionalise Whitehall to meet the complex challenges it now faces

The Government must accelerate ambitious reforms that will modernise the way government works, argues a new report by the Institute for Government. With the challenge of Brexit and growing pressures on public services, it is more important than ever that these reforms succeed.

The Professionalising Whitehall report says that countless major government projects – like Universal Credit, the InterCity West Coast franchise competition or the electronic tagging of offenders - failed because key activities, from contract management to the design of digital services, were not performed properly.

In each of these cases, departments either lacked the specialist skills that they needed or failed to make effective use of what they did have. To successfully deliver on major projects, government departments need people with specific skills sets and experience.

Since 2013, ministers and civil service leaders have stepped up efforts to professionalise key government activities such as policymaking, financial management, commercial procurement and contract management into new cross-departmental specialisms. And there have been important successes: the civil service has, for example, been better able to rapidly move people across departments in response to the urgent needs of Brexit.

The Institute for Government report provides a stocktake of where these reforms have got to. While the civil service has made significant progress, particularly around talent management, the report identifies ways in which reforms have been held back. The report also notes how the leadership of some of the specialisms are better placed than others to accelerate and embed reforms.

The Institute for Government sets out four priorities to accelerate the positive changes. The leadership of the civil service still needs to:

  • Better integrate specialists into departmental decision making;
  • Enable people from all specialisms to reach top leadership positions in the civil service;
  • Bring together the separate reform plans of the specialisms so they can be better coordinated; and
  • Introduce more stable funding.

Report author and Deputy Director of the Institute for Government Julian McCrae said “The Government cannot afford more mistakes on such important reforms. There are huge pressures on the public sector, which will only increase as the UK leaves the European Union.

“Our report highlights a number of key obstacles facing all specialisms which civil service leaders have to address. Senior decision makers in government departments need to understand, demand and make better use of the professional support and services offered by specialists” he added.

For more information, please contact rhys.williams@instituteforgovernment.org.uk / 07825 021 538.

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