Manzoni made civil service CE as ‘Two Years On’ report maps out future reforms

John Manzoni, the chief executive of the Major Projects Authority, has been named as the new chief executive of the civil service.

Mark Logic CSW roundtable 28 6 17 Photo: Paul Heartfield

By Matt Ross

02 Oct 2014

Recruited from BP eight months ago to take over at the MPA, Manzoni fulfils the government’s requirement that the new CE have substantial business experience at the highest levels, whilst avoiding the risks and delays of bringing in someone fresh from the business world. At a briefing yesterday, Cabinet Office Francis Maude noted that Manzoni has already passed the “tissue rejection test”.

“I’m under no illusions about the complexity of the role,” Manzoni commented – but he pointed to parallels with his work as CEO of BP Downstream and the Canadian energy firm Talisman.

“I’ve spent a lifetime in big, complex global organisations,” he said. “In particular, I’ve seen organisations go through transformations into functional structures – which is underneath a lot of this [civil service] reform plan. A lot of the statements that are being made in the civil service context are the same conversations that I’ve been having in a private sector context in these large organisations – so I’ve spent my life doing some of the things that are crying out to be done here.”

“The great achievement over the last few years of what’s been accomplished is to show a different way, to make the organisation ready,” he added, emphasising the need for changes to be sustainable, and to focus on creating “a civil service that has execution right at its heart.”

Meanwhile, the government has also published its progress update on civil service reform – the slightly delayed ‘two years on’ report. Setting out the current reform priorities, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood highlighted four key areas.

The first is “making digital a mainstream task of the civil service,” he said: as well as shifting services online, “the modern civil service needs to be digital all the way through, including the way we do policy”.

The second is “what I think is the Achilles heel of the civil service, which is our commercial and contract management capability.” Reviews of departments’ commercial operations are underway, he said.

Third, government is consulting civil servants on “what we mean by good leadership in the civil service,” he said. “We’re going to use that process to generate real buy-in to a modernised statement of civil service leadership, then we’re going to build our development programmes, our training programmes, our appraisal systems around that.”

To support the development of leadership skills across the top of government, the Cabinet Office has announced that “civil servants applying for permanent secretary posts will be expected – and after summer 2016 required – to have completed an appropriate business school leadership course”. And by next April, there will be a “presumption” that SCS appointments below perm sec level should be open to external candidates.

Finally, said Heywood, “diversity has been highlighted as one of our biggest issues, so that will be one of the top priorities that the Civil Service Board relentlessly focuses on.”

Asked why the ‘modern workplace’ wasn’t listed among these top priorities, Maude highlighted good progress on the property side but acknowledged that “the thing we haven’t got right yet is the technology.”

“The next phase is we have to have common platforms across government where the technology is much more inter-operable, and move away from these vast, self-contained IT contracts,” he said.

The civil service is eager for such changes, the minister commented: “As [director general of the civil service] Olly Robbins said at Civil Service Live in the summer, the further you get away from Whitehall and the deeper you go into the civil service, the more robust the demand for reform and change is. I think we’re going with the grain of what people want.”

The progress report also contains new reform plans in areas such as open policymaking, where it says the government’s ambition is to “make contestability the standard practice” – with every department establishing funds enabling ministers to commission research and policymaking work from non-government bodies – and “beginning the next steps to professionalise our policy-making with a qualifications framework.”

Using a ‘RAG ratings’ traffic-light system to rate its progress on reform, the Cabinet Office found that the situation had improved in most of the areas flagged as ‘red’ a year ago. However, it still rated two areas as red: better IT equipment for civil servants, where the report acknowledges that progress has been slow because “the cost of exiting legacy contracts means we have had to take hard decisions about the pace of change”; and the creation of a model for policy audits.

Although a new model for audits was promised a year ago, none have yet been delivered: this report promises that Cabinet Office, policymaking profession, and departmental figures will work together to ensure that “a number of policy audits are actually completed by Christmas.”

A government spokesperson confirmed that Olly Robbins remains the director general for the civil service, and said that a replacement for Manzoni at the MPA “will be announced in due course”.

For more on Manzoni’s appointment and the ‘two years on’ report see the October issue of CSW magazine, published 17 October.

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