Opinion: The civil service must showcase its strengths

We were both honoured to attend and be part of the Civil Service Awards last month. From Stranraer to Bournemouth, the outstanding work of civil servants was celebrated – whether they’d delivered roads or the Olympics, run prisons or Jobcentres. In one evening we recognised the very best of the civil service and left in no doubt that we lead some of the most talented professionals.

By Civil Service World

05 Dec 2012

Throughout the country, civil servants are delivering policies and services that are important and improving the lives of millions of people. 2013 will be no different. Whether you’re working on existing agendas such as the need to get people into work and reform of the health service, or on emerging policies like the impending vote on Scottish independence, there is no doubt that the work you do is challenging, but it matters and makes a difference to people up and down the country.

Like everyone though, we are being asked to do more, with less. As the country faces substantial economic and fiscal challenges – arguably the biggest for the civil service since World War II – it is only right that we support the national effort to deliver sustainable economic growth. Throughout history, the civil service has reviewed the way it works in light of emerging challenges – from the industrialisation which inspired Northcote and Trevelyan, to the Great War which led us to Haldane. Today our task is clear: to reduce our costs and drive up the standard of service we deliver by taking a fundamental look at the organisation to ensure it is the strongest it can be.

The 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan depends on our championing new ways of working, learning from our mistakes and celebrating our successes so that we become the best civil service we can be. We can only do this by working more effectively across departments and organisations to deliver services to the public, just like the Warm House Discount Scheme team who won the Collaboration Award. By working together DECC and DWP, along with major energy suppliers, have provided 700,000 discounts on fuel – worth £84m – to elderly people living in fuel poverty.

Civil servants can and should learn from each other, but we can also learn from those beyond the civil service, in business, academia or the charitable sector. We celebrated officials in DfID who worked closely with the private sector to develop treatments and preventative medicine for animal diseases. This project, which wouldn’t have been possible without that joint working, means that the number of animals dying every year from preventable or treatable diseases can be substantially reduced – supporting over half a billion people worldwide who rely on those animals for food, security and transportation.

It is our ambition that all civil servants have the opportunity and skills to work collaboratively, whether with each other or with outside partners. This should be the norm. Through the reform plan, we will also be delivering a more skilled workforce. We celebrated awards in leadership, change management and programme and project management, but we know more can be done to support people in developing these skills so that next year we can give the judges an even harder job in deciding on one winner.

The Civil Service Awards are a brilliant way for us to champion the very best of the civil service, but they should only be the beginning of our celebration. As we deliver reform we need to learn from each other and share in each other’s success. When we get it right, as we frequently do each day across the country, please celebrate and shout about what you’ve achieved.

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