John Manzoni: New Cabinet Office minister wants "collaborative" relationship with Whitehall

Written by Matt Foster on 14 May 2015 in News
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Civil service chief executive John Manzoni points to end of the "Francis Maude era" in his first speech to the FDA union

The new minister for the Cabinet Office wants to see a more "collaborative" relationship between departments and the centre of government, the chief executive of the civil service has said, as he signalled the end of the "Francis Maude era".

Former business minister Matt Hancock was unveiled as the successor to Maude on Monday following the Conservatives’ general election victory, with Oliver Letwin now taking “overall charge” of the department.

In a speech to the FDA union's annual conference today, civil service CEO John Manzoni said the last five years – in which Maude oversaw major efforts to sharpen the cross-departmental functions of the civil service and improve its ability to deal with private sector suppliers – had been about tackling Whitehall’s shortcomings.


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But he said the fresh team at the Cabinet Office now wanted to move to a new phase, with a focus on closer working between the Treasury and the Cabinet Office at the centre of government, as well as across departments.

"Our first step was to intervene and this was the Francis Maude era," Manzoni told union delegates. "There was an intervention in stopping all the bad stuff happening. But what we hadn’t figured out how to do was how to enable the good stuff to happen.

"And the good stuff happens when you put great people out in the departments. It doesn’t happen when you put great people in the centre.”

Manzoni said there was now a “a dawning recognition” that “the modus operandi of the last five years won’t get us where we want to be".

He said: “I know we can be more efficient; the question is how do we mobilise the organisation in getting there? And I think that there is a recognition, even at the political level, that collaboration needs to improve.

"I’ll give you a very real example. Matt Hancock, who is the new Francis Maude, is a quite deliberate appointment, because he used to be George Osborne’s [parliamentary] private secretary. And in my conversations with Matt he’s saying we need to draw the centre, the Treasury and Cabinet Office more collectively together, and it’s something I’ve been saying since I arrived. So I’m actually quite encouraged that we’re getting it and I think that that is a great sign of the future for how we work in a more collaborative way."

'Exhausted'

Manzoni’s speech to the FDA – a union representing more than 18,000 senior officials working across the civil service – marks the first time the CEO has addressed a trade union since he was appointed to the new post by David Cameron last year.

It came on the day the FDA launched a campaign calling on the new government to address the concerns of civil servants who it said had been left "undervalued, exhausted and unclear about the future of the services they deliver" after five years of austerity. A two-year pay freeze was imposed on public sector workers in 2010, with subsequent pay rises capped at a below-inflation 1%. As well as changes to terms, conditions and pensions, the civil service has also endured a 17% reduction in headcount since 2010.

Manzoni acknowledged that the civil service would "probably have to address some aspects" of pay to avoid "stretching" what he called the "psychological contract" between the state and its employees. But he warned against trying to "match the market" on remuneration.

"I’ll tell you why we don’t need to match the market: because the jobs [in the public sector] are more interesting, and they’re more satisfying and they’re more challenging," he said.

'Chicken and egg'

The chief executive also highlighted his view that the civil service needed to be "more permeable" so that people could leave the public sector for private sector posts, before returning with outside experience. But Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, questioned whether pay that failed to compete would make it harder to bring former civil servants who left back into the fold.

While Manzoni agreed that it was important to make sure pay was not seen as "a barrier" to choosing a career in the public sector, he stressed that Whitehall had to acknowledge the reality of the government's plans to cut spending.

"Do I believe that we have a completely sustainable system today? No. I think that there are certain particular skills that we are woefully short of in the public sector and we have to figure out how we can address that shortage of critical, specific skills in the public sector, and I believe there is a willingness to do that.

But he added: "It’s a bit of a chicken and egg because the fact is we are going to be living in a reducing fiscal envelope - welcome to the party."

Penman used his own address to warn the government that the civil service had to be seen as "more than simply another mechanism to reduce the deficit" over the coming parliament.

He told delegates: "If the civil service is being tasked with delivering 21st century public services with pre-war resources, then the government needs to demonstrate that valuing civil servants, ensuring that they have the right skills, paying them fairly, matching commitments to resources and genuinely engaging with them are the critical elements of the new deal that needs to be struck with civil servants."

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