When the Civil Service Reform Plan was published in June 2012, the Institute for Government welcomed it as a promising plan with some bold ideas and the potential to achieve improvements. We said, however, that its success would depend on the consistency, coherence and energy with which it was implemented.

One year on from the initial plan, the Cabinet Office has offered a frank self-assessment, highlighting patchy progress so far. The Institute takes this self-assessment as the starting point for its own analysis of reform. Combined with insights from our work across Whitehall and other research that we have conducted, we argue in this report that as things stand the corporate reform agenda is not harnessing and building upon the huge change underway in departments.

Familiar barriers to centrally-driven change are frustrating efforts: government remains deeply federal in its nature, which feeds through into the culture and behaviour of civil servants. This must be confronted by a strong coalition of leaders willing to drive corporate reforms. To do this, there has to be a greater willingness to set out what a future Civil Service will look like and how it will operate, providing officials with a sense of direction and common purpose.