The Civil Service needs to become more skilled, less bureaucratic and more unified. This section sets out how we will respond to priorities by taking a corporate, unified approach across government and breaking out of departmental silos.


Leaders at every level of the Civil Service are responsible for delivering this plan:

  • The Head of the Civil Service will lead the delivery of this plan, working with Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Profession across government to ensure that all leaders have the tools and development that they need to lead and manage change.
  • Permanent Secretaries will commit to building capability throughout the Civil Service, not just in their departments; and will work together to identify, manage and deploy talented people, from all backgrounds, to build the next generation of Civil Service leaders.
  • Heads of Profession will play a stronger role in building capabilities across all areas of the Civil Service, including policy making and operational delivery.
  • All Senior Civil Servants (Directors General, Directors and Deputy Directors) will own this agenda and support individuals to take responsibility for their own development.
  • Every manager will take the time to support their staff to build their individual skills and competencies.

Taking each of the four priorities in turn:

Leading and managing change

Leaders at all levels are role models, leading change and communicating effectively with staff.Change will always be part of the day job. Leaders must be equipped with the tools that they need to be able to deliver substantive reductions in public spending and help their teams to embrace new and more efficient ways of working.

The skills to lead and manage change are needed at all levels of the Civil Service. The People Survey shows that civil servants’ perception of whether change is successfully managed is influenced by our immediate managers and most visible leaders. However, in the 2012 survey, fewer than one third said that change was well managed and this score was above 50% in only five of the 97 organisations covered by the survey.

To support our leaders, we have introduced a single set of tools and support that is available to all civil servants, including:

  • an organisational development and design team who can help leaders with practical guidance and support on delivering organisational change;
  • a continuous improvement team in the Cabinet Office who can help teams to use techniques such as Lean to improve service delivery; and
  • through Civil Service Learning, a new suite of learning and development opportunities to equip staff at all levels to lead and manage change.

We need to get better at identifying, developing and managing the talented people who are tomorrow’s leaders of the Civil Service. To achieve this, we will adopt a corporate approach to identifying, assessing and sharing our top talent across all departments. The new corporate talent strategy will be published in summer 2013.

We will make significant investments in our top talent through learning and development programmes, including offering learning with private and third sector colleagues. We will ensure that they have the skills and competencies to lead significant programmes of change.

Building organisational capability across specialist functions

A more unified approach to building capabilities across the Civil Service will enable us to share expertise across departmental boundaries more effectively and develop world-leading centres of excellence in some key specialist areas.

Commercial skills and behaviours

The Government spends £45 billion each year on a range of goods and services. Obtaining better value requires us all to demonstrate sound financial and commercial understanding. This is much more than simply improving our procurement skills. All civil servants must better understand what we need to buy: how to plan and engage with the market to obtain most choice and innovation; how to procure and contract intelligently; and how to manage the delivery of goods or services so that our expectations are met. In addition, we need to always act as a single, unified customer – i.e. as the Crown.

All civil servants involved in policy development and delivery need to be more commercially astute – not just those who are deemed to be procurement specialists. In addition, we need to develop and link up commercial specialists from the various professions including procurement, finance, legal and project delivery in order to provide a world-class commercial capability.

Specialist commercial capabilities are scarce and therefore we need to ensure that we are organised to make best use of them. They need to be deployed in a more coherent and corporate manner across the Civil Service, and particularly in our dealings with specific markets or suppliers. Sharing of commercial information across departments, acting as the Crown, is an important part of creating a much improved commercial capability.

Value is obtained during all three phases of commercial engagement: pre-procurement, procurement and post-contract. Today we tend to overly focus on the procurement phase. All civil servants involved in policy development and delivery will need to do the following:

  • Pre-procurement: Develop better skills to specify needs confidently, clearly and concisely, while not being overly prescriptive, in advance of commencing a formal procurement. This will allow for meaningful, planned and competitive engagement with the whole market.
  • Procurement: Understand the underlying economics and contracting aspects of suppliers’ tenders including pricing techniques, margins and open book arrangements, as well as basic contracting terms such as contract changes, intellectual property rights and termination. Knowing how to negotiate a good deal, applying commercial judgement is as important as understanding the procurement process.
  • Post-contract: Understand and apply commercial techniques to ensure that suppliers deliver to meet our (contractual) expectations in order to maintain best value, and be able to negotiate with suppliers when they do not deliver, including competently and confidently handling disputes.

In addition, we should be able to meet and deal confidently with senior representatives from large suppliers, understanding their personal, professional and corporate drivers.

We have established the Procurement Reform programme with the simple goal of improving commercial capability across government.

We have established five guiding principles (STACK), indicating that we will build our commercial capability to restack the commercial balance in our dealings with suppliers:

  • Specialist capabilities are required across the wider Civil Service as well as by a group of commercial experts. Commercial expertise is broader than what we refer to today as ‘procurement’.
  • Time should be spent where we can maximise value. In a regulated procurement environment this applies as much, if not more, before a formal procurement starts as well as after a contract has been signed.
  • Attitude, or judgement, is as important as process and so we need all our dealings to be about knowing what represents great value and achieving it.
  • Crown is what we must always act as, and be treated as a single customer.
  • Knowledge is key and we must seek, share and use it to our commercial advantage.

We will apply all of the above in a way which maintains the existing departmental Accounting Officer responsibilities.

We already have some centres of commercial expertise in the Civil Service, such as the Commercial Relationships team and Government Procurement Service in the Cabinet Office, the Shareholder Executive in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Infrastructure UK in HM Treasury. However, we need to go further to enhance our corporate commercial capabilities.

In practice, all of the above will mean:

  • We will move to a system which buys common goods and services once on behalf of the whole of government, and not in individual departments. To support this, the Government Procurement Service will be enhanced to provide an end-to-end purchasing service for departments by the end of 2013. Departments will transition spend on common goods and services to these new arrangements within the same timeframe.
  • We will create the Complex Transactions Team – a new unit within the Cabinet Office comprised of commercial specialists to assist departments in buying and managing the commercial delivery of complex ICT services. We will recruit staff to this new team largely from the private sector, though also from fast streamers and, where appropriate, departments. Recruitment will commence in summer 2013.
  • Commercial or Procurement Directors in departments will have a strengthened reporting line established to the Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) in the Cabinet Office by May 2013. The CPO will have influence over setting yearly objectives, assessing performance against those objectives, the recruitment of all senior departmental commercial posts, and setting the remuneration of such senior commercial personnel.
  • We will develop a programme by summer 2013, in partnership with Civil Service Learning, to improve commercial skills, aimed at all civil servants who may influence what goods or services we buy, how we buy them, who we buy them from and how we manage their delivery. This will start with the Senior Civil Service and will build on the already established Commissioning Academy (which is for senior commissioners and those designing policies to be delivered through commissioning) and emulate the Major Projects Leadership Academy model. The Commissioning Academy will continue to be rolled out to participants from the Civil Service and the wider public sector so that people can learn from each other, with the first cohorts starting from April 2013 and making available over 1,500 places during the next three years.
  • We will better connect the Fast Stream with the commercial agenda. In particular, we will actively seek to assign a small number of fast streamers to the Cabinet Office commercial team, as well as amending the Fast Stream offer to provide the opportunity to have a secondment to the private sector specifically to develop commercial skills.
  • We will establish a central database of commercial specialists, starting with procurement professionals by summer 2013, and extend this to other related professions across government, recording each person’s experience and skills. Departments will need to populate this database and ensure that records are kept up to date.
  • In May 2013, the Civil Service Talent Team will launch a central programme of interchange with private sector organisations to build commercial exposure and awareness, bringing more people with these skills into the Civil Service.

Delivering successful projects and programmes

Today, the Government has 185 significant projects with a combined value of £414 billion. We must implement this broad range of complex programmes, delivering the intended outcomes – right first time and to budget.

The Civil Service has seen extraordinary successes in delivering complex projects, such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2012. But we need to raise standards to the level of the best. In practice, only one third of our significant programmes are delivered on time and to budget. Where we fail to do this, we let the Government and the public down. Failure to deliver wastes taxpayers’ money and delays improvements to public services. The need to improve project delivery capability in government was highlighted by Lord Browne’s recent review of the Major Projects Authority, in which he recommended a strengthening of their role.

The Major Projects Authority was created in 2011 as a centre of project delivery expertise to:

  • improve the delivery of major government projects; and
  • build project delivery capability across government.

Our aim, through the Major Projects Authority, is to build a new cadre of world-class project leaders and incentivise them to work on the most important projects. However, we will buy in resources where necessary in order to get the right skills and experience for particular projects.

  • We have created the Major Projects Leadership Academy (MPLA), with Oxford Saïd Business School, to train world-class project leaders. The aim is for 350 senior leaders who are responsible for the Government’s highest priority projects to have commenced training by the end of 2014.
  • 25% of the MPLA syllabus is focused on building commercial awareness so that graduates have the ability to work effectively with private sector partners.
  • We will introduce a new offer for leaders of major projects designed to attract the right people to the right posts and manage succession planning.
  • We will support and expand the Civil Service Project Leaders Network, established in March 2012. This network provides peer support and best practice sharing across the project community.
  • The Major Projects Authority will create a shared pool of project specialists who can be deployed on priority projects, moving across departmental boundaries.
  • We will increase collaboration between the Major Projects Authority, HM Treasury, Infrastructure UK and departmental centres of project expertise to assure and support the delivery of our most complex projects.

Later in 2013, the HM Treasury publication Managing Public Money will be refreshed to include new guidance on Accounting Officer responsibilities for assessing significant programmes and initiatives.

Redesigning services and delivering them digitally

Some 82% of adults in the UK are online and are increasingly using digital technology in all aspects of their daily lives. However, only slightly more than 50% have used government services or information online. User-centred online services should be the norm and people expect high quality services which are simple, fast and secure. Redesigning services to these standards enables us to meet users’ needs more effectively and save taxpayers’ money.

We established the Government Digital Service in December 2011 to lead the shift to digital by default and improve the delivery of services to the public. In November 2012 we published theGovernment Digital Strategy which sets out how we will do this. Its 14 actions include:

  • requiring major transactional departments to identify ‘exemplar’ services for transformational redesign by March 2015, with the intention of building sustainable digital skills, knowledge and experience which will enable them to move on to redesign all their remaining significant transactional services by the end of the next Spending Review period;
  • establishing a Digital by Default Service Standard that all redesigned services must meet from April 2014, supported by a comprehensive Service Design Manual outlining the processes, skills and tools that are needed to achieve success; and
  • identifying areas of work where the Government Digital Service will bring its specialist knowledge to bear to assist in developing skills and awareness across government, such as sessions for Senior Civil Servants on the potential for digital to improve service delivery and policy formulation; and for departmental procurement leads to help them to commission services for new digital projects from a wider range of bidders, including small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The Government Digital Service has a specialist service transformation team which works with departments to support selected transformation projects. The team offers specialist technical skills and advice on business analysis, proposition assessment and product and proposition management, as well as design and analytics.

In the shorter term, in order to meet our needs for specialist skills rapidly, we will have to buy in the skills that we need by developing specialist recruitment processes so that individuals with digital skills can be recruited quickly to work on transformational projects. The Government Digital Service is setting up a recruitment hub to help departments to do this.

For the long term, our aim is to build our capability across and within departments. As part of the new corporate approach to talent management we are exploring opportunities for placements which give people the chance to acquire skills in digital service redesign as part of the Apprenticeship, Fast Stream and Future Leaders schemes.

Improving our core capabilities through greater professionalism

Every civil servant needs the right combination of professionalism, expert skills and subject matter expertise. The 24 professions across the Civil Service set out below are central to achieving this balance.

The professions are already actively involved in capability building across government, for example through working with Civil Service Learning to develop their curriculum and high quality learning and development interventions.

Over the last decade we have had some major successes in professional skills development, such as in finance, communications and human resources.

Heads of Profession will be accountable for building the organisational capabilities that we need for their specialism and for helping people to build their individual capabilities. They will:

  • facilitate the entry of skilled people at all levels into the organisation;
  • identify development opportunities by working with Civil Service Learning to develop a curriculum to build professional expertise, including thinking through how to integrate content relating to the four priority areas;
  • offer career paths to attract and retain talented people and specialist expertise;
  • develop models for deploying people and resources across departments to share the specialist skills that departments need; and
  • identify and develop talent to provide strong succession pipelines.

To support the Heads of Profession in this role, in September 2013 we will introduce a new Civil Service Professions Council. The council will be a co-ordinating body, bringing the professions together to work as a coherent force and maximise their overall contribution to capability building.

For the three largest professions (operational delivery, policy delivery and project delivery) which include the majority of civil servants, the Heads of Profession are undertaking reviews of their role and effectiveness in driving up capability. We will have the outcomes of these reviews by November 2013.

The Civil Service professions

Communications and marketing Internal audit Planning Schools inspection
Corporate finance Knowledge and information management Policy delivery Science and engineering
Economics Legal Procurement Social research
Finance Medical Project delivery Statistics
Human resources Operational delivery Property asset management Tax
Information technology Operational research Psychology Veterinarian

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