The Government must continue to drive forward reform if it is to meet its own ambitions of modernising the way that government can work and deliver more for less.
Professionalising Whitehall argues that countless major government projects – such as 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.
Watch our event: Professionalising how the civil service works
Since 2013, 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: finance specialisms, for example, have played a strategic role in helping shape better decision making with more accurate costings.
This Institute for Government research, which was supported by Oracle, 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 four ways in which reforms have been held back: in the turnover of leadership, the constraints placed on civil service leaders, a lack of resources and the absence of stable funding.
The report notes how the leadership of some of the specialisms are better placed than others to accelerate and embed reforms and the Institute calls for four priorities in the Government’s reforms to accelerate the positive changes.
Julian McCrae, report co-author and Deputy Director of the Institute for Government, on why professionalsing Whitehall is so vital: