Slowly but surely, the silos are coming coming down in Whitehall

It’s been a long time coming, but it seems like the tide is finally changing among government departments. For years, critics have been complaining to no avail about the siloed nature of the civil service and its impact on delivering digital services to citizens.

The government’s transformation strategy, published earlier this year promised a revolution by overhauling te civil service through  a series of measures such joining up back-office functions and  improving IT. However, the question remained: did civil servants want this too?

Some are already beginning to lead the way and beginning to collaborate- at least within their own departments. The Home Office decided last year to bring together its Digital (HOD) and Technology (HOT) units to broaden skills, create a standardised design approach, and integrate data across its activities. The move, CIO Sarah Wilkinson said, has meant the department now has more resources to apply to projects, and it doesn’t have two books of work for each project.

This week, both the Ministry of Justice (MoJ and the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) followed suit in a similar manner, by bringing their agencies’ IT teams together as one.

MoJ CIO Tom Read tweeted on Monday, welcoming digital and tech colleagues from MoJ agencies such as HM Prison & Probation Service, Office of the Public Guardian, CICA and the Legal Aid Agency to the department’s digital team.

Perhaps more interestingly though, on the same day, the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) IT team joined Defra’s digital team.

A Defra spokesperson told me this was a strategic move as part of the departments UnITy project, joining up back office functions such as IT across the Defra group.

“By joining up our back office functions, we’re reducing duplication, saving money and delivering more efficient services for everyone,” the spokesperson said.

The move is significant for several reasons, but mainly due to the, at times, “bad blood” between the RPA and Defra (as well as the rather fragile relationship with GDS), but also because this may signal a shift in the siloed ways of working in government. Whether this is a conscious decision across government, and we’ll see more of this soon is unknown, but it’s refreshing to see something finally beginning to change.

As I said before, the government’s transformation strategy is indeed an ambitious document, but the proof will always be in the pudding, and it seems we’re finally seeing some action.

Is this the first wave in a tsunami of change? Possibly not, but these incremental changes to culture across the civil service is what will make or break the success of the strategy.