Speaking on Monday during a panel discussion at the Institute for Government, Jon Thompson, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence, said that the civil service needs more “people who can think really clearly about outcomes and what we’re really trying to achieve.”
Thompson’s view was echoed by Antonia Romeo, director-general of criminal justice at the Ministry of Justice, who said one of the biggest gaps in civil service capability is around “policy design with delivery in mind”. She added that “there is something about being able to iterate between the policy in design, and how it’s going to embed – and then testing it all the time”.
In reply to a question from CSW about the biggest gaps in civil service capability, she said: “The simple answer would be: commercial, digital, programme management, change management. They’re the top four.” But it’s not just about bringing in those skills, she added: “We don’t just want great people thinking up great policies, and people who can design markets or build markets. We need people who can bring those things together.”
Thompson also pointed to Whitehall’s weakness in contract management, noting that the civil service often “puts a huge amount of effort into letting a contract”, only to slacken off “because you think that’s done”. In reality, he warned, “the delivery is actually more important than the deal”.
He called for better flows of information about how contracts are being delivered on the ground.