Capability has been a continuous focus in attempts to reform the Civil Service, identified by a series of landmark inquiries dating back to the Fulton Committee in the 1960s and beyond. The 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan includes a substantial strand of work aimed at “building capability by strengthening skills, deploying talent and improving organisational performance” – objectives that many governments have pursued but none can claim to have fulfilled. Building upon this, in April 2013, the Cabinet Office published Meeting the challenge of change: a capabilities plan for the Civil Service setting out clear priorities for which capabilities need to be improved and how they will go about it.

Bringing together our previous work and an extensive review of the history and official literature, the Institute has published a discussion paper on Civil Service capabilities.

This paper sets out four lessons from past reforms and outlines three underlying tensions that must be recognised and managed as part of a corporate agenda to improve capability across the Civil Service. We welcome comments or responses to this work as we develop our plans for further research in this area.

Looking at the changes currently underway in the Civil Service, we have used the lessons and tensions identified in the discussion paper to respond to the Capabilities Plan. We conclude that a number of key lessons have been taken on board, but there are some major tensions that will have to be confronted. 

Project contacts

Daniel Thornton
Programme Director