Last was given responsibility for leading cross-government HR in 2011, but at the time this was a part-time post, and he retained his role as head of HR at the Department for Work and Pensions.
He will now be able to “devote his time to strengthening the HR function,” head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake told CSW, and ensure that his cross-Whitehall functions operate “as well as possible”.
Kerslake added that Last is also leading a review into how the HR function can be further strengthened, explaining: “By that I mean: what do we see as the set of areas that we want to work on corporately across the civil service?” The results of this review are expected later this year or early next, he said.
The review, Kerslake explained, will look closely at ways of strengthening departmental HR leaders’ reporting lines to the corporate centre of goverrnment. Currently Last “manages a set of cross-Whitehall functions”, he said, but he’s “now working to build the right sort of reporting lines to departments; that’s part of strengthening the functional leadership.”
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, speaking to CSW at the Conservative conference last week, also emphasised the importance of strengthening cross-government leadership of certain key functions such as HR, finance and legal services.
He pointed to the work done to create a single Government Legal Service, with departmental lawyers employed centrally: “The Treasury solicitor is making great strides,” he said. However, he added that this model may not be appropriate in all of the professions which are to be centralised: “There will not be a single cookie-cutter model for each function,” he said. “There will be different answers in different cases.”
Maude added that recent press briefings against Kerslake were “very unhappy and not remotely helpful to anybody”, and that there should be no uncertainty about the government’s commitment to the Civil Service Reform Plan which Sir Bob has championed: “We’re very clear. We’ve set out what the plan is, and it’s [now] all about implementation.”
Maude explained that one of the reasons why reforms haven’t moved as fast as hoped is that it took too long to formulate proper implementation plans. Asked if there is anything he’d do differently if he had his time again, he said: “Probably moving more quickly to the implementation plans. I think we assumed more work had been done in developing what lay behind the ideas at the outset, and things like the capability plan took much longer to emerge than should have been the case. A lot of the work hadn’t been done”.
At a conference fringe event, Maude was asked how long he thinks reform of the civil service will take. He responded: “It’s never going to be finished. No organisation gets to the state where it’s fine.” But the civil service is now “much smaller, yet it’s not doing significantly less, so productivity has improved quite markedly,” he added. “Maintaining that will require constant vigilance.”
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