PM signals more civil service reform as Michael Barber to lead delivery review

Rapid review to make delivery more “focused, effective and efficient”
Sir Michael Barber pictured at an Institute for Government event. Photo: Centre for Public Impact

The prime minister has appointed Sir Michael Barber to examine how departments can make the delivery of projects and programmes more “focused, effective and efficient”.

Boris Johnson told cabinet ministers about the appointment this week, while cabinet secretary Simon Case wrote to permanent secretaries and ministers saying the former No.10 Delivery Unit head would ensure the civil service was in the "very best shape to deliver" the government's goals.

"We have therefore asked Sir Michael Barber and a small team to conduct a rapid review of the arrangements for driving and monitoring delivery both at the centre of government and in departments, and to suggest to us how they could be strengthened."

Confirming the appointment, a No.10 spokesperson said Barber brought “unique experience that will complement the knowledge and experience of civil service senior leaders, and it is important that we draw on the best expertise for us to ensure that we are delivering effectively for the public”.

Barber has been chair of the Office for Students higher-education regulatory body since 2017, and will step down from the role this spring. He is also the founder and chair of Delivery Associates, an advisory group focused on reform and delivery in the public sector.

In recent years he has developed the Public Value Framework, a set of metrics being adopted by departments to monitor progress on their objectives and the delivery of projects. He previously led the No.10 Delivery Unit under then-prime minister Tony Blair.

He is understood to be beginning this latest review with an “open brief”, according to a BBC report.

The review comes as former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude continues a review of his former department.

Updating MPs on his progress so far, Maude said yesterday that reform was needed at the top of the civil service, calling for the dual civil service chief operating officer and Cabinet Office permanent secretary role to be split into two.

Barber's appointment appears to be a signal that the prime minister plans to continue to push for reforms to the civil service, despite the departure of his former chief political aide Dominic Cummings and the apparent end to the so-called "war on Whitehall" that led to several high-level departures last year.

The No.10 spokesperson said: “Concluding cabinet, the PM said that while government’s priority remains tackling Covid-19, it remains important to ensure that work continues to ensure that we build back better from the pandemic.

“As such, the PM informed cabinet that he and the cabinet secretary have asked Sir Michael Barber to conduct a rapid review of government delivery to ensure it remains focused, effective and efficient.”

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