It was a quiet three months after the second anniversary of the 2012 Civil Service Reform plan passed in June. But suddenly in the last 10 days there has been a flurry of activity to excite the civil service reformer.
- In his valedictory speech at the IfG Sir Bob Kerslake reflected on the pleasures and frustrations of reform
- John Manzoni was appointed Chief Executive of the Civil Service
- And a two years on reform progress report was published that is clear, blunt, and ambitious.
'On one occasion he believed he had negotiated a compromise between civil servants from two departments concerning a programme related to both, only to have one tell him that his minister had rejected the arrangement. “It never was the minister,” he said, “but the bloody civil servant winding him up. It was so annoying you lost the will to live at some points in this process.”'Functional leadership is a key part of the new Chief Executive’s role, who will also act as an Accounting Officer, and in most cases the line manager for the eight existing professional functions. Manzoni's early comments suggest this gap in the report is a blip rather than a sign of timidity and backtracking in the face of the entrenched federalism of the Civil Service.
'I’ve spent a lifetime in big, complex global organisations... I’ve seen organisations go through transformations into functional structures – which is underneath a lot of this [civil service] reform plan... so I’ve spent my life doing some of the things that are crying out to be done here.'Effective corporate leadership of the civil service In our report Leading Change in the Civil Service we were gloomy about the state of corporate leadership:
There is not a shared view of the level of action required to reform the Civil Service. This sends out mixed messages and weakens the case for corporate leadership even among those most willing to lead beyond their own department.An urgent first task is to decide whether the reform agenda is about leading changes within the federal model or aiming to go beyond it – especially for reforms, such as shared services and corporate functions, which are already hitting the federal barriers. Differences of opinion need to be acknowledged and worked through, tested with others to find the right course so that they can be passed on to the next generation of leaders. Without this change, the trajectory of reform across the Civil Service will not improve sufficiently... There are strong words on this issue in the foreword to the two year on report from Maude and Heywood:
'There needs to be clear, collective Civil Service leadership, focused on performance and competence, and every bit as up for changing the Civil Service as are civil servants deeper in the organisation. This is the top priority for the incoming Chief Executive and Head of the Civil Service, working closely with Ministerial and official colleagues to achieve it.'But the actions behind these words are the least convincing part of the report. Their first solution is underwhelming: they will publish a statement setting out the leadership behaviours expected. While the other actions are generally valuable, the list is completely silent on what the Civil Service Board, and its most senior members - Heywood, Macpherson and Manzoni - will do differently to model the corporate leadership that the reforms demand. As the report puts it: 'culture changes embed most quickly when driven and role-modelled by senior leaders'. The Civil Service will take its lead from what their leaders do and what they are seen to reward. As the new leadership trio begin to work together would-be reformers will be watching closely.