‘Every day you do extraordinary things’: John Manzoni sends parting message to colleagues

Outgoing Cabinet Office perm sec and civil service chief executive urges colleagues to “preserve and promote what is unique” about the "incredible" civil service while pursuing constant improvement


By Suzannah.Brecknell

14 Apr 2020

Sir John Manzoni has praised the “calibre, dedication and professionalism” of civil servants in the Cabinet Office and across government in a parting message urging colleagues to focus on continued improvement of government services.

In an email sent last week and seen by CSW, the former businessman said he would be vacating the role of civil service chief executive and Cabinet Office permanent secretary “in a few days” but would “stay on for a time to provide support through this difficult period”.

Speaking of the Cabinet Office team, he said: “It has been a privilege to work alongside so many talented colleagues at every level of the organisation…Every day you do extraordinary things to improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of your fellow citizens. And at times of crisis you step up, without fanfare, for no greater reason than that it is the right thing to do. Never has that been truer than now.

“So, while the change must be constant, I hope that we will always preserve and promote what is unique about this incredible organisation and its people.”

Manzoni joined government in February 2014 as head of the Major Projects Authority, becoming civil service chief exec later that year. He said that at least some of the critical observations he made about government on his arrival in 2014 were no longer true.

The nature and role of the centre of government has been transformed, he said “creating cross-cutting functional structures that have formed an indelible bond between policy and delivery.”

Recruitment, training and assessment of staff have also been changed, Manzoni added “so that we ensure the right diversity of skills and experience to complement the policy expertise inherent to our organisation”, and build a pipeline of talent which will see people from commercial, DDAT and project management Fast Streams reach the senior civil service in a few years.

“Together, these changes will have a profound and lasting impact on the civil service,” he said, though he added that some challenges remain.

“We still do 30% too much. And perhaps that is the nature of government. But as I depart I am confident that we have engineered a structure and a workforce that will allow the civil service to better advise ministers on exactly how we do it,” he said.

The need to continuously improve government services will remain, he said: "So long as there is technological change, citizens’ expectations will continue to increase and we must find faster, easier, cheaper ways of meeting them. And we must continue to transform our own organisation also, especially if we are to realise our diversity and inclusion ambitions – particularly in the senior echelons. 

"But as someone who spent the majority of their career outside the civil service, I must tell you there is so much already to be proud of."

Manzoni wished his successor Alex Chisholm, who is moving to the Cabinet Office from the business department “every success in his new roles and with the next phase of reform and modernisation. He will benefit, as I have, from working with a brilliant civil service.”

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