John Manzoni: Civil servants must "own the how" of policy delivery

Civil service must avoid culture of “delegating up” and take ownership of policy delivery, says civil service chief John Manzoni

By Sarah Aston

09 Jul 2015

The civil service must encourage officials to take ownership of policy delivery if it is to avoid a culture of “delegating up”, John Manzoni has warned.

Speaking at an event organised by the FDA union and Civil Service World’s parent company Dods, the civil service chief executive told an audience of officials that departments must feel able to take a lead in delivering government policy.

“The civil service can, and should, and must own the ‘how’. They [the ministers] can decide the ‘what’, but you better own the 'how',” he said.

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He added: “When you’ve got a culture that is looking up, it is really easy to start delegating up. If you want to get stuff done, [its] always better to look forwards and down to get it done.”

Manzoni also stressed the importance of ensuring civil servants across Whitehall have the necessary delivery experience to build their confidence, something he said was not yet up to scratch.

“We are actually really really good at policy and strategy, and we are really really not so good at execution and delivery,” he said.

“What we don’t do for young people coming into the civil service is give them real experience in delivery. It’s about the ‘been there, done that’ experience, and from that experience comes a confidence that is very hard to find.”

Cabinet Office role

Elsewhere, Manzoni used his speech to hint at his agenda as the newly appointed permanent secretary for the Cabinet Office, a role he will take on alongside his chief executive duties when current Cabinet Office perm sec Richard Heaton moves to the Ministry of Justice later this month. 

Responding to a question about what his plans were for the department, Manzoni said that while he did not yet have a definitive vision, he wanted to focus on transforming the way the centre of government interacts with different departments.

“I’m not sure what to do with the Cabinet Office, except that I do know it needs to be open and transparent about how it’s interacting with government,” he said.

“We’ve evolved it – certainly in the functions – from what I call a 'band of terrorists' just stopping stuff into a functional model which says: ‘actually we are here to support the businesses.’

“Challenge of course, but support first. That’s an evolution that we’ve got to continue.”

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