Digital delivery and mutualisation key to civil service reform plan

Digital delivery and a move to mutualised services will be essential parts of Whitehall's Civil Service Reform Plan.

Digital delivery and a move to mutualised services will be essential for the civil service to weather cuts that will see it shrink to its lowest size since the Second World War, according to Whitehall's Civil Service Reform Plan (CSRP).

The report estimated that by 2015 the Civil Service will be around 23% smaller than it was in March 2010, operating with around 380,000 staff – the lowest in nearly 70 years. The report said no targets for further reductions would be made, but the organisation must embrace the principle of a smaller and more strategic Civil Service that delivers services differently.

Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the Civil Service, said: “The changes set out in this document will start to deliver on our vision of the future Civil Service. We will be a more open and flexible organisation. We will be more focused, we will do fewer things, but we will do them better.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said the plan was concerned with enabling the civil service to embrace the digital age. “It means central government wherever possible must become a digital organisation,” he said.

The Cabinet Office will examine further opportunities during this Parliament to use alternative public service delivery models, with a preference for those with a strong mutual element, said the report.

“[The] the old binary choice between monolithic in-house provision and full scale privatisation has been replaced by a number of new ways of delivering services - joint ventures, employee-owned mutuals and entering into new partnerships with the private sector. Many public services can be delivered online, and they should be. Digital by default needs to become a reality, not just a buzz phrase,” it said.

By the end of 2012 departments will be expected to publish plans for making services digital by default.

The Government Digital Service will also publish an interim Cross-Government Digital Strategy in autumn 2012, with an implementation plan due in December.

But the CSRP said digital skills are lacking in an organisation committed to becoming digital by default: “We know that currently too many central government services offer a poor user experience which leads to low rates of successful completion.”

With more services being commissioned from outside, the Civil Service needs staff with commissioning and contracting skills. Project management capabilities also need a serious upgrade. These capabilities need to be developed across the service, which has become too siloed, said the report.

In autumn the Cabinet Office will produce a five-year capability plan to identify areas of skills shortage.

The CSRP also outlined the government’s intention to release plans for seven shared services hubs by October 2012 in a move it hopes will save £600m.

While limited progress has been made in this area over the last decade, it said a clear programme has been drawn up to deliver this for transactional services, which it said must be delivered at pace over the next two years.

A paper setting out the detailed plan will be published in a few weeks.

Improvements in IT will be a key enabler in creating a “less burdensome environment for staff,” it said.

“Many civil servants feel frustrated by slow, restrictive and outdated corporate systems,” said the report.

In 2012/13, steps will to be taken to upgrade IT systems across departments to support flexible working methods; update IT equipment; modernise IT contracting to include a far wider range of devices; and ensure security classifications of equipment matches the risks involved. 

“A risk-aware culture will be fostered across government that understands the threats faced and what 'good enough' ICT security looks like,” it said.

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