Home Office perm sec Mark Sedwill: department's HQ must become less "policy-heavy"

Home Office's top official tells CSW his ongoing review of the core department will see its headquarters "delayered" and its "management structures simplified" in a bid to better to support the frontline and learn from other departments

By matt.foster

15 Feb 2016

The Home Office must become less "policy-heavy" and more focused on supporting the frontline, the department's top official Mark Sedwill has said.

Last year's government-wide Spending Review ring-fenced a major area of Home Office spending, protecting central government funding for the police in real-terms. But the core department has been asked to deliver a cut of 30% to its day-to-day spending by the end of the decade.

As part of that process, Sedwill has been asked by home secretary Theresa May to review the role of the Home Office's Marsham Street headquarters, with the secretary of state saying she wants the department to become "slimmer" and "more flexible" at the top.

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In an exclusive interview with Civil Service Worldto be published in full later this week – Sedwill set out the thinking behind that review, and said he wanted to see a shift in the focus of the core Home Office.

"In my view, the role of the core department of state is the same as it was in the day we were founded in 1782,” he said. 

“It is to keep the citizens safe and the country secure – it’s as simple as that. And that’s also the mission of those quarter of a million people out there guarding the border, policing our streets, operating with people overseas to try and disrupt the threats coming into the UK, and dealing with the domestic security agencies.

"So the role of the core of the Home Office is to provide the leadership to that system and then to help deliver the capabilities that those people need in order to do their job in the modern world.

“Of course, there are policy priorities that reflect either the issues that government set out in the manifesto or new challenges and threats that arise […] But our fundamental job is about building those capabilities. That requires a different kind of headquarters to the traditional, very policy-heavy headquarters that a department like the Home Office has had.”

Sedwill told CSW he believed the core department needed to be "delayered", with "its management structures simplified" and individual leaders given the opportunity to take "more responsibility for delivering programmes of work".

"We need to import more agile project management disciplines, not just into technology projects, but into other work that we do," he added.

"We need to ensure that we are building capabilities once across our operations and then reusing them then as far as possible elsewhere, whether that’s done by the Home Office itself or the National Crime Agency or a police force, or the Border Force or wherever it may be."

The Home Office also needs to be able to recognise when expertise lies outside of the department, Sedwill told CSW, highlighting the new, government-wide counter-extremism strategy launched late last year to try and prevent citizens from becoming radicalised by Islamist and neo-nazi groups.

The strategy is led by a small new Counter-Extremism directorate at the Home Office, but it involves contributions from other Whitehall departments including Communities and Local Government, International Development, Education, and the Foreign Office.

Sedwill told CSW: “The work we’re doing on counter-extremism will succeed only by engaging that much wider community, not just working across government, but also by actually working at the local level in communities, with local government agencies and with partner organisations, and with community groups themselves."

He added: “We mustn’t allow the focus to just be Whitehall, the national media, the policy environment around Westminster. In fact, this is why I talk all the time about those quarter of a million public servants out there keeping their fellow citizens safe.

“Those people are out on the streets of every city in the United Kingdom day-in, day-out, dealing with the social issues, rooting out people who present a criminal threat or are seeking to indoctrinate people who are vulnerable, or prey on them. You can’t do that by being focused on Whitehall – you’ve got to do it by being focused on what’s happening on the streets, in people’s homes, in cyberspace, and bringing that back into the central policy process.”

Elsewhere in Sedwill's interview – which also features in February's print edition of CSW – the Home Office permanent secretary discusses the challenges the department faces in boosting staff morale; his decision to appoint a second perm sec to oversee the immigration directorates; and the findings of his review into the Home Office's troubled plans to reform the police funding formula.

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