PM calls on civil service to ‘tell it like it is’ at Civil Service Awards

Prime minister David Cameron has called on civil servants to “talk truth to power and tell it like it is” in order to improve policy.

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By Winnie.Agbonlahor

28 Nov 2013

Opening this year’s Civil Service Awards, held at Lancaster House last Thursday, Cameron thanked an audience of 300 civil servants “for all the work [they do] with very tight budgets”.

He also encouraged the crowd to celebrate “the way that civil servants stand up to and talk truth to power for ministers and tell it like it is”, adding that “policy is better when it’s challenged and there is proper debate”.

He added: “That is really important. Don’t stop doing it.”

The PM praised the UK civil service for its impartiality, quality and professionalism. These, he added, put Britain ahead in the “great global race”.

Cameron presented the Growth Award to the GREAT Britain campaign: a cross-departmental project to promote Britain abroad.

Other winners include the 2050 Team, which won the Analysis and Use of Evidence Award. Its members include officials from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), the Cabinet Office, and the  Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The team was recognised for the 2050 Calculator: an open source online tool helping ministers, policymakers and the public understand how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The tool was created by DECC and promoted abroad by the FCO. Foreign Office permanent secretary Simon Fraser told CSW that he believes the team won by “using an evidence base in creating a new policy”, and added: “In particular from the Foreign Office angle, selling that policy to the Chinese [was] a major international breakthrough.”

Cabinet Office perm sec Richard Heaton told CSW he is “delighted and chuffed” at his department’s success: the Cabinet Office also won the Innovative Delivery Award, together with HM Revenue and Customs.

To win, the two departments collaborated to create interventions bringing in £210m of tax revenue in the last financial year.

Heaton said: “There is a spirit in the Cabinet Office – and the civil service generally – at times of austerity, that inventiveness and innovation will get permission. It’s [about] licensing people to do brilliant things in a different way.”

Brave ideas were also the basis of DWP civil servant Alanah Donnell’s success, who scooped the individual professional of the year award, which was presented by Lord Brown.

Donnell, head of strategic engagement and partnership, introduced new ways of communicating aspects of the welfare reform act, including weekly youtube videos, social media campaigns, face-to-face meetings between ministers and stakeholders.

“I wouldn’t have got this award if it hadn’t been for my amazing team,” she told CSW. “I am very lucky to work under the leadership and direction of people who aren’t afraid to take a risk and give me the freedom to be creative.”

Last week’s evening was also attended by Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, who presented the policy award to the Department for Education’s adoption team.

The area of adoption, Heywood said, is a “brilliant area of policy, [and] one [historically] neglected by governments of all parties”.

Another award was handed out by head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, who awarded the Head of the Civil Service Award to the State Pension Reform Team.

The team works across government to reform the £80bn a year state pension system and “dealt with a really important and long term issue and produced a really impressive white paper”, Kerslake said.

Click here for a full list of winners.

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