Management info & leadership skills top depts’ list of concerns

Leadership of change and management information are the top cross-government priorities for improving capabilities, the government’s 11 published departmental improvement plans (DIPs) reveal.

Civil Service World has examined the 11 DIPs published over the past year, identifying the areas where each department is seeking improvements. Leadership of change, and the gathering and use of information about departmental operations, are cited in all 11 plans as areas for improvement. Digital delivery and employee engagement were also prominent among the areas where greater capabilities are required, both mentioned by 10 departments.

Among the areas mentioned for improving capabilities, diversity was the one that gathered least attention: it was cited by just two departments. The second least common area was commercial and procurement operations, highlighted in six reports.

DIPs replaced capability reviews last June as the system used by departments to examine corporate strengths and weaknesses and set out planned improvements.

The Ministry of Defence’s plan describes management information as “an area that we haven’t made the progress we would have liked in the last year” – particularly in rationalising its information. Meanwhile, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ DIP highlights leadership of change and “vision” as problem areas, adding that “increasing engagement and maintaining motivation… will be key to future success”. It also notes that Defra will reform its corporate services by consolidating its estates, procurement and ICT services into a new grouping. The Department of Health’s plan says that it “needs to become more open and less bureaucratic so that its civil servants can get things done efficiently and effectively with clear accountability”.

The Institute for Government (IfG) said in a report published last month that DIPs have failed to build on the legacy of capability reviews, and the lack of continuity may weaken departmental engagement. Peter Thomas, senior fellow at the IfG, told CSW that there is “very little continuity” from DIPs to capability reviews, and that this is “one of the classic characteristics of unsuccessful reform”.

The best DIPs, said Thomas, are better than capability reviews. “I thought HMRC’s was excellent: you could see it had very clear leadership and sponsorship from the lead non-executive, was very focussed on customers – using challenging feedback and data on the customer experience – and said what they’re going to do”.

However, Thomas added that some other plans look as though they have been produced by staff “ticking off an action”. In the Cabinet Office’s DIP, he said, “it’s hard to see what really is a problem [in the department]. Where’s the connection to previous capability reviews, and specific data from the staff survey?” This plan, he said, is “largely bland and self-congratulatory”; and Thomas noted that the DIP process involves less external scrutiny and scoring than did capability reviews.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “This is the framework for a more detailed and longer range plan later this year.”


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