“Civil servants should feel immensely proud of their achievements” – a perspective from the National Audit Office

As the Civil Service Awards shortlist is announced, judge Gareth Davies, the head of the National Audit Office, shares his reflections on what made these nominations stand out from the crowd

Credit: Baldo Sciacca

By Gareth Davies

10 Oct 2019

The Civil Service Awards is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the achievements of the civil service.  

As Head of the National Audit Office (NAO) I see the talent and expertise civil servants demonstrate every day and I’m delighted to be judging this year. 

The role of the NAO is to scrutinise public spending and, although that requires us to be critical of the work of the civil service on occasion, we’re also in a unique position to recognise the very best it has to offer and to see the exceptional work delivered by high performing individuals and teams.    

To give an example, our recent reports into the UK’s withdrawal from the EU have highlighted the sheer amount of work that has gone into preparedness with civil servants working tirelessly across government, often under significant political uncertainty.  

With the final shortlisted nominees announced today I would like to share my reflections on some of the award categories.

Collaboration award 

Collaboration that crosses the boundaries between sectors, administrations and layers of government is a real challenge for public services and something the NAO is focused on helping to improve. 

Our work has highlighted the importance of collaboration in ensuring value for money as well as responding effectively to complex emerging issues.  

When reviewing the nominations for this category I was impressed to see what can be achieved when opportunities to collaborate are identified and taken advantage of.  The nominees for this category were successful because they: kept the public at the centre of everything they did; built effective working relationships with those they collaborated with; and were open and responsive to new ways of working. 

What also struck me when reviewing other award categories was how often collaboration was identified as a success factor in nominations – proving its importance in driving improvement.  

Policy and use of evidence award 

Policy makers are operating in a time of uncompromising political uncertainty and have continued to develop policy and provide robust analysis during very challenging circumstances.  

This must be supported by sufficient high-quality data, and our recent report on the ‘Challenges of using data across government’ identified how fundamental the effective use of data is to the overall success of schemes, and the consequences if not used well.  

I was impressed by the range of skills employed by the nominees in this category, such as being able to build relationships with key stakeholders on contentious and divisive topics.  Policy development can require emotional intelligence as well as analytical skills.  

Project delivery excellence award 

Last year’s winner of this award, Monarch Repatriation Operation Team, managed the repatriation of more than 100,000 people after the collapse of Monarch Airways in 2017 and their work influenced the recent Thomas Cook repatriation effort.  

Today delivering ambitious projects in response to controversial and contentious issues has become commonplace.  

These projects have real impact on people’s lives - providing solutions in times of crisis, developing novel systems through periods of change and supporting business as usual service delivery in uncertain times. 

At the NAO we lead a large portfolio of work which looks at the delivery of major projects across government.  Successful projects are most often ones that: are clear about what is conceivable and managing expectations;  exploit new systems, approaches and deliverables; have great leadership; and use a range of methodologies. 

Public service award 

This category puts outstanding service delivery front and centre.  

At the NAO we’re interested in how government delivers excellent services to the public while ensuring value for money and demonstrating continuous improvement. Operating in such a complex and changing environment creates a challenge for delivering services that are fit for purpose.  

Nominees in this category have made real improvements in service delivery by demonstrating:  

Versatility, excellent customer service, innovation; and using regular evaluation to encourage continuous improvement.  

Resilience and rapid response award 

The nominees in this category are high performing teams operating in extremely difficult situations.  How these teams behave and respond to an emerging crisis can be a matter of life or death.  

The dedication and professionalism these teams show when responding to such serious circumstances is a testament to their resilience, capabilities and camaraderie.  

Nominees in this category must be recognised for their compassion, ability to work well under immense pressure and the capacity put the citizen first.  

At the NAO we know the intelligence, ability and resilience the civil service has to offer - that’s why we are pleased to support the Civil Service Awards.  

Civil servants work tirelessly to improve the lives of citizens in an increasingly difficult environment and should feel immensely proud of their achievements.  I look forward to recognising these at the awards ceremony in November. 


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