Improving the capability of the Civil Service is a huge challenge. An overview of the last 50 years of change to the way the Civil Service works shows that particular issues have been persistent, many rooted in the fundamental structure of UK government.

This discussion paper examines some of the issues and challenges around making the Civil Service more capable as a whole. The result is a tour of the landscape that offers tentative suggestions for how to approach this enduring set of issues.

The paper sets out four lessons from the past about where to focus attention and how to maximise the return from corporate investment. It also outlines three underlying tensions which – if not managed effectively – can frustrate corporate action.