Ten of Civil Service World’s best scoops
‘NHS data loss doubles despite ICO warning’
2 June 2010
A CSW analysis of figures from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) showed that NHS data losses doubled between 2009 and 2010, despite a previous call by the Information Commissioner for the health service to tackle security breaches.
There were 140 data breaches between November 2007 and April 2009, prompting a written warning from the ICO to the permanent secretary of the Department of Health, Hugh Taylor.
However, there were then 167 data breaches during 2009-10, bringing the total number betwee November 2007 and May 2010 to 307. While the ICO identified an average of 7.7 NHS breaches per month between November 2007 and April 2009, the average rate nearly doubled to 13.9 over the next year.
‘National School of Government to be scrapped’
15 December 2010
Two years before the National School of Government (NSG) was closed, CSW obtained a draft government policy document stating that the NSG’s business model was “not sustainable” and arguing that the management of civil service training should be handled by a smaller unit within the Cabinet Office.
“Our plan is to centralise the design, provision and supply of generic training into a single function – Civil Service Learning – and to reduce considerably the number of staff within departments,” it said, envisaging the outsourcing of much of government training. This plan was subsequently put into action.
‘DWP insiders raise fears over IT systems’ role in benefits reform’
23 February 2011
A key figure with close links into the top of the Department for Work and Pensions told CSW of fears over the capacity of the department’s IT systems to handle the transition to a single Universal Credit, just a week after the welfare reforms were announced by work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Speaking in an interview, Gavin Poole, executive director of the Centre for Social Justice – the think tank, founded by Duncan Smith, which has played a key role in shaping the reforms – said: “Everybody’s aware the massive threat across welfare reform is: how do you get the IT to do this?”
He warned that government’s IT history was “a catalogue of catastrophes” and pointed to recent HMRC errors in assessing PAYE liabilities: “You’ve got to think about what we’re procuring, how we’re going to do it, and are we going to be an intelligent customer or are we going to blindly accept what these big companies tell us?” he said. “That’s a huge challenge for the government and for the civil service.” Concerns about the challenge of creating a Universal Credit IT system have been raised repeatedly over the past year.
‘Clegg lacks evidence for Whitehall ‘barrier’ jibe’
21 September 2011
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg last year attacked the civil service as a “barrier” that prevents infrastructure projects from being delivered on time – but CSW research into the three examples he cited as evidence revealed that in at least two cases, the delays were caused exclusively by problems in the private sector.
Clegg named the Wembley Stadium construction, improvements to the West Coast mainline, and the Jubilee Line upgrade. In fact, the Wembley Stadium and West Coast Mainline projects were largely managed within the private sector, while the Jubilee line work fell behind when the private contractor went bust.
‘Sir Gus defends civil service against criticisms over ‘pace’’
14 December 2011
In his exclusive pre-retirement interview last year, former cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell defended the civil service against the charge that it’s moving too slowly in implementing the coalition’s policies.
“There’s nobody in the civil service wants to slow things down unnecessarily, but it is our job at times to say: ‘Look, there’s a statutory requirement to do this or that. You have to do it in this way, via these lengthy consultations, and if you don’t you’ll be judicially reviewed, and in the end it will be slower’,” he said.
He also said that when ministers are frustrated by slow delivery, “quite often we get blamed [for delays] when in fact it’s because we are constrained by rules about the length of time for consultations, state aid, EU rules, and regulations that tie us down.”
‘Francis Maude locking horns with permanent secretaries over controversial Fast Stream reforms’
8 February 2012
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude was pushing for the Fast Stream graduate training programme to be halved in length to two years, CSW reported in February, adding the plans were being delayed by departments’ efforts to water down the plans.
In a letter dated 27 January obtained by CSW, the chair of the Fast Stream Forum – which represents fast streamers – outlined the state of discussions between Maude and a team of civil servants.
The civil servants were trying to find a “middle way between the fairly radical Fast Stream that Francis Maude would like to see, and what would work for government departments both in the medium and long term,” the letter said. However, Maude was “still intent on having a system in which fast streamers were not assigned to one department but instead had posts in a variety of departments”, says the letter. The reforms have now been implemented, with the Fast Stream scheme running to two years.
‘Permanent secretaries’ accountability to be sharpened’
7 March 2012
Earlier this month, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude announced that permanent secretaries’ objectives are to be published – but CSW reported the first signs of this policy back in March.
Our report of an event attended by Sir Jeremy Heywood and Sir Bob Kerslake reported that Heywood said: “We could certainly look into issues around personal accountability and make more public the objectives of permanent secretaries. Bob and I have been talking about this, and we need to make more use of the permanent secretary objectives to drive cross-cutting aims across Whitehall.”
Asked by CSW how he wanted to achieve this, he said: “Each year, permanent secretaries have their objectives, which at the moment tend to be mainly focussed on their departmental objectives… We should take a look at them from a central perspective.”
‘Mutualisation appeals to 16% of officials – but 69% opposed’
13 June 2012
Just 16 per cent of civil servants are interested in exploring the idea of launching a ‘mutual’ organisation, with 69 per cent dismissing the idea, a CSW survey found this year.
The online survey was completed by 1,395 civil servants. It found that the biggest attraction of mutualisation was “the opportunity to focus on public benefit rather than institutional interests.” The greatest deterrent was the belief that the public sector is the right place “to protect the best elements of your current organisation or team’s ethos, culture and attitudes.”
‘MI6 chief rejects torture claims but highlights US wrongdoing’
11 July 2012
While UK intelligence agencies have “never been involved” in torture, the United States “drifted into” that area, MI6 chief Sir John Sawers said earlier this year at Civil Service Live.
“There’s always a danger that, as a bunch of secret squirrels, you can get involved in something that takes you down a pathway where you end up in the wrong place,” he said. “The Americans have done that over their interrogation techniques after 9/11. They got so obsessed with getting a right answer that they drifted into an area that kind of amounted to torture.” The MI6 chief added: “We’ve never been there, we’ve never been involved in that.” The Telegraph splashed on our story, although in a very confused fashion.
‘Browne: permanent secretaries turnover ‘problematic’’
8 August 2012
Government’s lead non-executive director, Lord Browne, told CSW that he was concerned by the high turnover of permanent secretaries. His comments came after a string of high profile departures, and days before Dame Helen Ghosh decided to leave the Home Office.
“There’s a big turnover” in top officials, Browne warned, adding that “turnover which is not planned is always problematic. Every time people change, there is an increase in risk for a period of time because there’s not enough knowledge. People have to understand what they’re doing and, during the process of getting up to full speed, there’s always an increase in risk.”