Civil service cuts: DfT brings in £100k consultancy to help identify ‘options for digitisation’

Two-week ‘headcount efficiency review’ engagement aims to find possible cutbacks that could be achieved through use of technology
Credit: David Schwarzenberg/Pixabay

By Sam Trendall

01 Jul 2022

The Department for Transport has brought in a consultancy to advise on how use of automation and digital technology could deliver the efficiencies needed to meet ministers’ targets to reduce civil-service staff numbers.

Boris Johnson has set out a target of cutting government’s collective headcount by 91,000 in the next three years and it is understood that the secretaries of state for each department were asked to submit to the PM by the end of June plans that included modelled headcount reductions of 20%, 30% and 40%.

Recently released commercial information reveals that, on 14 June, the DfT entered into a short-term engagement with Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The deal, which covers the delivery of a headcount efficiency review, is worth £100,000 and was due to conclude yesterday – the deadline by which departments had been asked to submit their modelled reduction plans.

The text of the contract reveals that, throughout the month of June, a “small, dedicated team” of DfT officials have been tasked with delivering a project “to scope options to improve efficiency and reduce overall headcount across the group” in line with ministers’ targets.

“The DfT team will draw on expertise and experience from across the department to ensure a diverse range of views and encourage innovative solutions, both in the way the review is conducted, and in the final recommendations,” the document added.

This review comprises three workstreams, one of which addresses general “streamlining and simplification” across the DfT group, and another which is dedicated to exploring possible efficiencies at Great British Railways – the new public body slated to come into being next year and replace Network Rail.

The third workstream – which is examining “digitisation, digitilisation and delivery models” – is where BCG has been hired to support DfT officials, in order to ensure that the exercise “has sufficient momentum, objectivity, credibility and specialist skills on digital and service delivery models”.

The efficiency review programme will encompass two phases, the first of which is dedicated to the exploration of “high-level options” – a process that will be supported by the consultancy firm.

“This will include developing, challenging and agreeing the options to deliver radical savings through digitisation, automation, and organisational efficiency across the department’s group portfolio of responsibilities,” the contract said. 

The first objective will be to establish an “organisational baseline”, from which can be identified options for increased use of digital technology, automated processes, or other new delivery models that could enable efficiencies.

“This includes actions which could be taken in the shorter term plus longer-term innovation, technology and models for delivery,” the contract added.

Once this has been concluded, the DfT project team will work with Boston to complete “an evaluation and shortlist of options alongside costings [and] benefits and with an initial risk and opportunities assessment”. 

The contract said: “This will be presented to accountable senior leaders, including the SRO for the workstream who will sign the output off. A lessons-learned [exercise] and transfer of knowledge will also be required.”

Following the completion of this initial stage, the DfT is likely to produce a “detailed operating model”, ahead of moving into an ongoing “implementation phase”. The department indicated that it may conduct another procurement exercise to appoint a commercial partner to support this longer-term work.

Since plans were first announced to shrink the civil service back its pre-Brexit referendum staffing levels, ministers and senior officials have cited the importance of agencies increasingly relying on digital and automation technologies.

A memo sent to departments earlier this month by HM Treasury and Cabinet Office instructed HR and finance leaders to work with government’s Central Digital and Data Office to assess where digitisaiton projects could help support the job cuts programme.

Working at pace

Headquartered in the US city after which it is named, Boston Consulting Group employs 25,000 people worldwide and posted revenue of $11bn (£9.1bn) in the 2021 calendar year. The DfT contract indicated that the company, which has a UK head office in central London, was hired for its know-how in the fields of digital and data.

“[The company] will draw on the required skills and expertise usually working at pace in areas such as data analysis, project management, managing complexity, sustainable knowledge transfer, communication and collaborating,” the document said. 

The team delivering the review – including departmental officials, as well as BCG’s consultants – will “produce a number of outputs, generally in the form of written reports, visual presentations, and will be required to provide verbal briefings and attend meetings with other workstreams and the DfT senior management team”.

“[BCG] will be dealing with senior operational delivery teams on transformational projects and programmes which focus on automation and removal of paper-based processes,” the contract added. “In addition to this, they will [require] experience of advising on alternative delivery models for public-facing organisations that work with volume-based tasks and delivery.”

Procurement archives that BCG has previously won a number of six- and seven-figure deals to provide consultancy support to the DfT, as well as large contracts with the likes of the Ministry of Defence, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and NHS England – for which it is currently engaged in a 17-month deal to assist in delivering on recovery plans to deal with the backlog in elective care. The consulting outfit has also delivered multimillion-pound contracts to provide contractors to support the operation of the NHS Test and Trace programme.

About the author
Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology. He can be reached on sam.trendall@dodsgroup.com.

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