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Civil Service must embrace innovation, says Cabinet Office minister

John Glen sets out plans for Civil Service reform, highlighting a focus on technology and innovation, as he plans to ‘crack the productivity puzzle’ in government

Cabinet Office minister John Glen has called on the Civil Service to make better use of technology as he outlines proposals for reform.

In a speech at the Institute for Government, Glen said he wants to modernise the Civil Service through innovation, streamlining and a smaller, skilled workforce.

Glen, who has only been in the role since November 2023, said the Civil Service needs to keep up with innovation in the private sector and improve productivity.

“I know how important it is that the Civil Service cracks its productivity puzzle because doing so will open the door to greater productivity across our entire public sector,” he said.

“We can only afford a Civil Service that embraces innovation, especially when we consider the challenges ahead.”

Glen said the government reform programme led by Michael Gove in 2021 had already made progress, but the Civil Service hasn’t achieved its potential yet.

“My vision is that every single civil servant is either actively delivering – or enabled by – digital technology in their day-to-day job, whether that’s eliminating bureaucracy or coming up with new ideas to support our citizens,” he said.

“Much of the focus is on how we in government use AI [artificial intelligence], but I am clear that is not an inevitable solution. AI will only work if it’s properly embedded, if it’s clear why and how we’re using it, and if civil servants get the right training and support to use it well. 

“My vision is that every single civil servant is either actively delivering – or enabled by – digital technology in their day-to-day job”
John Glen, Cabinet Office

“I’m pleased to say we are already taking exciting first steps to unlock the benefits of generative AI, ensuring that our AI teams are working with industry experts to solve some of the public sector’s most pressing problems.”

Glen highlighted that tech and AI won’t fix all issues, particularly unless the government simplifies its processes and weeds out consistently poor-performing staff.

The Cabinet Office minister wants to see a smaller, more skilled Civil Service where talent and hard work are rewarded. He said that not being able to pay as much as the private sector “can prevent the external talent that the Civil Service desperately needs”.

“Only one in five successful senior Civil Service recruits is external, and vacancy rates for crucial digital and data professionals are at 15%, which undermines our digital transformation ambitions,” he said.

“Which is why I am pleased that we are reviewing our pay framework for digital and data professionals, to ensure these roles can compete with similar roles in the private sector, especially those that will be at the forefront of AI delivery.

“My message to today’s tech leaders is this: yes, the Civil Service is doing everything it can to compete on pay – but no tech giant, no FTSE100 company, no unicorn anywhere will ever compete with the level of the work you will do in the Civil Service.”

Much of Glen’s plans were echoed in the review of the Civil Service by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude in November 2023.

Maude called for leadership improvements, changes to governance and efficiency improvements, including merging the Government Digital Service (GDS) and the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO), as keeping the two organisations separate caused accountability and governance to become fragmented.

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