So, farewell then – perhaps – to Francis Maude. The Cabinet Office minister, mastermind of the shrivelling state, Tory axeman in chief, and the man who said he had earned his salary on days when he had saved a hundred million pounds, is to step down as an MP at the next election.
Maude, who has been in the interesting position of reading many summaries of his work before he’s even left his post, told his constituency he was proud to have saved the taxpayer £14.3bn last year. He has had a huge influence in implementing an aggressive programme of cuts to public services. Whether his reforms have forced the civil service out of cosy complacency or have driven a coach and horses through a once finely-tuned machine of government is a matter of opinion. Maude has certainly presided over the biggest period of change and cuts to the civil service since the Second World War. Since 2010, the service has shrunk by a sixth, with 90,000 posts gone.
Maude says there is much to do to make Whitehall reform irreversible – an unpleasant boast, according to the Public and Commercial Services Union, or smart positioning, to indicate his readiness to serve as a peer in a future Conservative or coalition government. Maude himself has said it’s too early to get out the champagne. So what might be top of his to-do list if he is back in office after May?
Contracts and commercial skills
Almost the first thing Maude did as Cabinet Office minister was haul in the biggest companies delivering public services for a dressing down. They didn’t like it. But he was right to give them a warning. For too long, companies had had too easy a time when dealing with government.
To be fair, that was partly because of deficiencies in government’s ability to manage major contracts. One recent example is HMRC’s Aspire outsourcing contract, which has cost taxpayers £7.7 billion in the past 10 years. Too expensive, according to the National Audit Office – but paying over the odds was necessary because HMRC didn’t have the skills in-house to manage complex, long-term technology challenges.
Improving central government’s commercial, financial and project management skills has been one of Maude’s biggest aims. Much has been achieved, but more still needs to be done to improve its buying and procurement and project management skills.
Maude has brought in a procession of private sector expertise. First through the door was Ian Watmore, in June 2010, to head up Maude’s hand-picked central cadre, the Efficiency and Reform Group. Watmore was out again by September 2012, when former software boss Stephen Kelly took over. He was out by August 2014. Lord Browne, former boss of BP, came in as the lead non-executive director for government. He too has now gone.
One thing you can say about Maude: he hasn’t shied away from a fight.
Talent management has been a big theme of civil service reform since the reform plan was first published in 2012, but seems to have eluded Maude, unless criticising one’s own workforce has become part of accepted HR best practice. And Maude has never hesitated to castigate civil servants at all levels for blocking faster “progress” in his drive to cut their jobs, wages, pensions and services. Of course, being popular isn’t a prerequisite of good management and Maude has earned respect from some, though certainly not all, in his dealings with the civil service unions.
But Maude has made little contribution personally towards making the civil service less pale, male and stale. Look at the list above and add to it the most recent recruit, civil service chief executive John Manzoni. All are middle-aged, white men. And 2011 saw an exodus of talented senior women leaving the civil service. Despite some progress on tackling diversity in the civil service as a whole, only five of the 16 major Whitehall departments are headed by women.
Faster, cheaper, simpler, more open services
Maude claims to have made a virtue out of necessity, designing public services that are cheaper, simpler and faster. The Government Digital Service blew in like a hipster breath of fresh air, bringing with it unfamiliar concepts, like doing projects quickly and tweaking them fast. But after some quick early wins, progress has slowed. The government won’t quite reach its target of getting 25 significant services online by this March, and individual departments are now clawing back more control by building their own capabilities.
Maude has been ambitious and determined. He hasn’t been a privatiser per se. He is an ardent support of mutuals and employee-owned companies. His army of public sector entrepreneurs didn’t turn up, but more than 100 mutuals have been created to deliver public services.
One thing you can say about Maude: he hasn’t shied away from a fight. He’s taken on the unions, almost the whole of the civil service and a lot of very big companies. And he’s a moderniser: he was the first minister I saw delivering a speech from an iPad.