Cabinet Secretary Lecture: Wednesday 13 October 2021

I’m delighted to be right here with you all this night and I’m grateful to Newcastle University for internet hosting this lecture in partnership with the Strand Group.

You may be questioning why I’ve come to Newcastle to offer a lecture concerning the effectiveness of central authorities! I’m right here as a result of the conduct of central authorities shouldn’t be a rarefied matter for these of us that spend an excessive amount of time within the SW1 postcode – it’s a matter that impacts everybody, all over the place. In my view, the controversy is simply enhanced with the injection of views from past the hallowed halls of Westminster.

Earlier right now I had the pleasure of assembly college students and teachers within the historical past division – taking me proper again to my very own days as a PhD scholar. It’s been just a few years since I delivered a lecture to such a scholarly viewers, so deal with me kindly!

On a go to to Sheffield final week, I used to be requested a wonderful query.

What retains you awake at night time?

Of course there’s all the time one thing that retains sleep at bay – significantly throughout a pandemic and our present financial circumstances. But on this position, I discover myself asking the identical query time and again:

How are we going to keep away from the ‘Curse of the Missed Opportunity’?

Now if that doesn’t sound too alarming, it’s since you didn’t have Peter Hennessy as your PhD supervisor.

Peter, the legendary Whitehall historian – and nice buddy and mentor – has drummed into me and few others right here right now, all that he found in 50 years of observing the Civil Service.

Peter argues that ‘The Missed Opportunity’ is the quintessential authorities mistake – the error we make once we fail to carry on to the teachings we be taught as we go alongside.

Politicians and officers, Westminster and Whitehall, have recognised that the pandemic is an inflection level in our historical past.

So ‘How do we avoid the curse this time?’. We ought to take coronary heart from the successes of our response: these areas the place ministers and civil servants – even the nation – can take pleasure in a job nicely performed.

Of course; the speedy improvement and rollout of vaccines; the furlough scheme which has supported 11 million livelihoods; the swift growth of Universal Credit; the ‘Everyone In’ marketing campaign that noticed homeless folks given shelter.

Successes pulled off by various groups, working along with frequent function.

These achievements, and the half we performed in them, reveal one of the best that the Civil Service could be. Skilled, modern, formidable. More assured, extra spirited. Less danger averse – much less hostage to course of.

Working in partnership throughout organisations and in lockstep with the personal sector. We’ve proven we could be one of the best within the service of our nation.

Alongside this, we additionally must acknowledge our weaknesses – none of which is able to come as a shock to those that know the Civil Service.

Cumbersome processes and siloed working, slowing us down and hindering finest follow. Confusion at occasions about who was answerable for what.

Failing to work constantly nicely throughout nationwide and native authorities, and lacking the worth of experience on the bottom. Weaknesses in how we collect, deal with and current information. And our longstanding lack of specialist scientific and technical data.

We want to repair these weaknesses – and I do know we are able to – to assist spearhead a restoration from COVID and really ship levelling up.

For the sake of our nice nation – and the communities we serve – we need to transfer forward stronger.

To the folks of the United Kingdom – who’ve misplaced family members and had their lives upended – we owe the perfect of us – and I actually consider that is what civil servants up and down the nation need to give.

Since the trendy Civil Service was established, by means of nationwide triumphs and crises, there have been no areas of public life the place we’ve not been requested to serve.

That is our privilege – our honour – and our accountability. Peter identifies the period instantly after the Second World War as Whitehall’s biggest (*13*).

The Government had corralled the nation’s finest abilities for the struggle effort: scientists, engineers, mechanics, linguists, cryptographers – sure, even historians – whomever was mandatory.

After victory, we may have utilized their specialist expertise, their experience and data, to rebuild the nation.

Instead, they had been inspired to disperse. There was by no means a proper examination into how the state as a complete had carried out within the struggle.

Which meant nobody realised simply how a lot authorities had been boosted by this speedy infusion of exterior experience.

To keep away from the curse of the (*13*) now, we should maintain on to the teachings we’ve discovered – good and dangerous.

You see, any debate about authorities, the Civil Service and their effectiveness ought to by no means be binary.

It is completely attainable to be a passionate defender of the position of the Civil Service, to recognise the exceptional dedication to our nation displayed by my colleagues.

To applaud these many issues performed nicely and, on the similar time, be decided to deal with our weaknesses.

My colleagues need to be revered personally and see their contribution valued; so most of the biggest advocates for reform are literally civil servants.

Some of the loudest voices for change are coming from inside. We know what frustrates us; what holds us again. We know what makes it tougher for us to do our jobs.

We know what we’ve to do. We should guarantee that within the subsequent 5 years we be taught the teachings of the pandemic and we seize the alternatives to financial institution our wins and repair our weaknesses.

So that collectively, we are able to get on with the job that the nation expects of us.

I’ve seen previously 18 months how prepared my colleagues are to tear up the previous methods of doing issues and take a look at one thing recent.

It has been exhilarating and exhausting. But our eyes should stay open to what we are able to obtain.

Ministers and civil servants are steadfast of their resolve to resume and rewire authorities.

Earlier this 12 months, we set out our imaginative and prescient in a Declaration on Reform, which mirrored the views of civil servants and ministers – and took within the critiques of exterior commentators.

The Prime Minister and I signed it off on behalf of ministers and everlasting secretaries, following a joint assembly of Cabinet.

Let me be clear: we’re solely within the foothills of those reforms and there’s way more to do.

Tonight, in the event you’ll permit, I’m going to discover our path of journey a bit extra. But first, I hope you’ll allow me – nonetheless a historian at coronary heart – to indulge my ardour for the previous.

A century-old custom dictates that I all the time sit to the Prime Minister’s proper at Cabinet, as his most senior adviser from the Civil Service.

The man who started this custom, as the primary ever Cabinet Secretary, was referred to as Maurice Hankey.

Although separated by 100 and 4 years, each of us took on the job within the midst of disaster.

Lieutenant Colonel Hankey was not a politician or a bureaucrat. He was not a diplomat, or perhaps a civil servant.

He was a Royal Marine with a background in naval intelligence and an instinctive understanding of learn how to grasp and resolve the knottiest organisational problem.

And his legacy to the nation is our enduring system of Cabinet Government.

Hankey’s preliminary intervention was underneath Asquith’s administration when authorities mechanisms had been in disarray.

Without an agenda or a Secretary, Cabinet conferences, discussions and selections went largely unrecorded.

And so follow-up motion was haphazard. It was no method to wage a struggle, not to mention win one.

As the nation reeled from the appalling losses on the Somme, Allied leaders convened in Paris, in November 1916.

Hankey accompanied the then War Secretary, Lloyd George, on the journey, which proved to be a turning level in British governance.

Lloyd George describes a stroll by means of the streets of Paris, throughout which Hankey – eager, I feel, to grab the chance – recommended {that a} small however highly effective War Committee be arrange for the day-to-day conduct of the struggle.

Lloyd George – by then shedding religion in Asquith’s management – noticed benefit within the plan, which he hoped would assist compensate for an unfocused Cabinet.

Within weeks after all, Lloyd George was Prime Minister and enacting Hankey’s plan was amongst his first acts.

While it didn’t resolve the whole lot, the partnership of Lloyd George and Hankey is recognised for energising the upper command of presidency.

It introduced focus, rigour and accountability. I hesitate to make use of that distinctly twenty first century epithet – ‘disruptor’ – of Maurice Hankey. But his very background and expertise allowed him to suppose and act in another way.

He was the sculptor who seems at a block of stone and sees it not as it’s, however because it may very well be. Lloyd George described Hankey as a minimum of the ‘Organiser of Victory’.

Now as I flip up on a Tuesday morning for weekly Cabinet, I generally discover myself pondering how very acquainted Hankey would nonetheless discover the rituals that fall to me.

Preparing the agenda; the circulation of papers; the Prime Minister’s transient; the handwritten notes and the official minutes.

The human aspect: the chat within the margins of the conferences, ensuring the appropriate persons are sitting in the appropriate locations; assessing the worth of the contributions made.

Right right down to the place I sit – a place which has come to symbolise the distinctive interlocking and trusting relationship between politicians and officers that’s on the coronary heart of our system of presidency.

So now, again to the twenty first century: and the way is it, you may surprise, that the ideas of the paper-based Hankey mannequin have survived into the Digital Age?

The fast reply is that even within the period of ever-present social media and international monetary markets that by no means sleep, when it really works nicely Cabinet Government and the committee system nonetheless ship efficient authorities.

Within that system, coverage views and political issues are debated, and the info and proof interrogated.

That’s to not say the system doesn’t face fixed problem – after all it does.

There’s expertise: which is each an enabler and a taskmaster. When one thing occurs, everybody – Government, public, media – can hear about it at a lot the identical time.

Government can not rely on having prior data, resulting in a reactive slightly than a proactive place.

Also due to expertise, we are able to discover ourselves with an excessive amount of data, creating the ‘signal versus noise’ conundrum: How will we decide what is critical within the mass of data?

And this technique of presidency results in one other problem, which is extra cultural: the hazard that in every dialog or coverage debate, you go over each attainable danger issue – who would be the winner, the loser: what are the upsides/the downsides – till you attain the bottom frequent denominator place.

Which could be the enemy of radical options and reform.

So let me set out just a few of the issues we’re doing to deal with these challenges.

Some are essentially concerning the high of the pyramid of presidency: the relationships between Number 10, Cabinet Office and the Treasury with the remainder of authorities.

And some are concerning the broader base of presidency and the civil service, the overwhelming majority of the individuals who contribute to decision-making and repair supply.

Taken collectively, they’re the machine that takes selections and implements them. Every individual within the chain issues: who we’re, and the way we work extra successfully and effectively makes a distinction to the folks of the United Kingdom.

Better decision-making

So first: let me say a bit bit about how we’re adapting our method to top-level decision-making.

And how we borrowed an concept that originated with Hankey; one we additionally used to arrange for Brexit – specifically the creation of a layered method to Cabinet committees.

First to take technique selections after which to drive by means of actions and operational outcomes.

The precept on the coronary heart of this method is definitely quite simple:

Make certain you’ve the appropriate folks within the room for the appropriate dialogue – to succeed in probably the most pressing selections or take away probably the most essential limitations to real-world progress.

For our Brexit preparations, we ran two committees: XS, for Exit Strategy, and XO, for Exit Operations.

A core of 5 ministers attended the Strategy conferences: their focus was to set the high-level path and resolve strategic questions.

By distinction, the forged listing for the Operations conferences was a extra eclectic affair. It modified by the day, relying on which urgent supply downside was on the agenda and who was finest positioned to sort out it.

And in addition to having skilled officers on the desk subsequent to their ministers, we invited exterior companions to contribute their experience – together with the devolved administrations, enterprise leaders, native authorities and third sector organisations – all events with frontline expertise that might play an important operational position.

This was the mannequin we determined to reflect for the COVID response: COVID (Strategy) to deal with excessive degree technique selections; and COVID (Operations) to supervise operational supply.

Exactly the identical ideas utilized. And this mannequin of technique committees and operational committees is one which the Prime Minister has now determined to repeat throughout the waterfront of presidency enterprise.


The second space I need to cowl is how we organise and assess supply.

As you should have heard, the Prime Minister has made clear to us all that delivering on its guarantees is now the federal government’s Number One precedence.

Here, too, we’ve taken direct inspiration from the previous – albeit, the newer previous.
Michael Barber, the creator of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit, suggested us on the creation of an analogous set-up for this authorities. The new Unit is now working carefully with ministers and their departments on our post-pandemic priorities: Levelling Up; Net Zero; Education, Jobs and Skills; Health and Social Care; and, Crime and Justice.

In every of those areas, we’re defining the missions; understanding the targets and metrics; figuring out the gamers concerned in making issues occur; and, busting by means of limitations to progress.

The Prime Minister holds common stock-takes to evaluation all the above, with Secretaries of State and key officers.

These tried and examined approaches immediately join the Prime Minister and his ministers to the realities skilled by the individuals who use public companies each day.

Inconvenient truths are onerous to duck. Accountabilities are laid naked. A scarcity of progress is apparent to see.

And on the similar time, the collective spirit and want to beat obstacles is fostered.
Of course, we have to take these broad supply targets and switch them into particular person obligations.

Secretaries of State and their everlasting secretaries must be clear about what is predicted of them, what assets they should succeed and the like.

On appointment, Cabinet ministers obtain clear directions from the Prime Minister, setting out what he expects them to ship.

To accompany this, we’ve launched a extra rigorous appraisal system for everlasting secretaries, to align priorities and work by means of the precise challenges they face of their departments.

We meet a number of occasions a 12 months in periods which might be supported by information and proof. First to agree total goals throughout supply, management and administration of assets; then at mid-year, to take inventory. And lastly on the year-end, to evaluation efficiency.

The periods contain officers from the related division, from the Treasury, Cabinet Office and No10, in addition to the departmental lead non-executive director. Reports are then despatched again to the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister.

This method – the Delivery Unit, the stock-takes, the Mandates, the everlasting secretary value determinations – takes big quantities of effort and time to get proper. But that is the extent of effort that’s required to organise efficient supply.

Data assortment and expertise

The third space I need to contact on tonight is information.

We gained’t enhance decision-making if we don’t enhance our information assortment and evaluation. It is becoming to be right here this night, on the dwelling of the National Innovation Centre for Data, whose mission is to make sure that organisations up and down the nation are geared up to reap the advantages of the worldwide data-driven revolution.

In the context of the pandemic, we discovered some vital classes. We began off with officers emailing Excel spreadsheets forwards and backwards late at night time, to be become Powerpoint slides for ministers the next morning.

We didn’t know the place instances had been or how they had been spreading.

Within months, nevertheless, we had automated feeds and digital dashboards displaying aggregated tallies from the NHS and Public Health England of recent instances; hospitalisations; and mortality charges.

Thanks to the Office for National Statistics and its Infection Survey we had nice insights into the incidence of asymptomatic an infection; regional variations in prevalence, and the unfold throughout demographics.

Our coders and analysts checked out anonymised information sources to create a extra correct image of what was occurring within the nation, when it comes to well being, the financial system and public companies.

This extra refined use of information gave ministers confidence to take the mandatory, however onerous, selections wanted to sort out the virus.

And this ought to be the norm: modern use of information in policy-making.

Our new entities resembling 10DS, a knowledge science crew in Downing Street; the National Situation Centre; in addition to the Delivery Unit – are beginning to carry higher proof into coverage and supply discussions on the coronary heart of presidency.

And they’re working with departments to form their use of information and produce about system change – due to course the actually large information weapons sit in departments – not within the Centre.

Departments are the true catalysts of change by means of their use of information in designing and delivering higher public companies. It’s fairly the problem.

The downside is that every one too typically we don’t have the info we’d like in any respect. Or we don’t have the info the place we’d like it, once we want it. Or we don’t know learn how to interpret and show the info we’ve.

The upshot is frustration for decision-makers. Now – as everyone knows, whereas information itself is essential, it’s what we do with it that finally issues.

It is thru the applying of experience and specialist data that we determine alternatives, form coverage and refine its supply.

Our levelling up programme, for instance, shall be all of the extra sturdy, if information is collected and, crucially, used, with place on the coronary heart of the method. We must have higher analytical expertise.

How we interpret, use, show and talk information are important components of the mission.

We must put rocket-boosters underneath our plans to equip our personal folks with these expertise, or plug the hole by bringing them in from exterior.

Our folks

Of course, our persons are on the coronary heart of the federal government machine. So, this brings me to the fourth matter this night: coaching and expertise.

Our workforce wants technical competence, alongside particular person confidence and curiosity, supported by the mandatory zest and aptitude in our management that stimulates inventive pondering and modern concepts.

And so the brand new Curriculum and Campus for Government Skills, launched in January this 12 months, was an vital milestone – a signifier of the long-term change for which we’re planning.

It units out the technical expertise, coaching, data and networks that civil servants – in addition to ministers and advisers – must do their jobs higher.

Because for all of the funding we’ve hitherto put into coaching, our specialist and generalist data stays patchy.

The Curriculum and Campus recognises that efficient authorities wants collective effort and management, and that the gravitational pull of top of the range coaching will entice and retain premium expertise – one thing as related for our new apprentices as our senior leaders.

Even so, our inner expertise alone can not present all of the options. While we wish our folks to select up beneficial expertise by means of personal sector secondments, we additionally need to usher in exterior experience to bolster our ranks.

We need it to be pure for individuals who have constructed a profession in enterprise, business, academia or the third sector to serve, even for a comparatively transient time – simply as will probably be as beneficial for these presently in public service to expertise life in one other organisation.

That is why a brand new secondments unit has been established within the Cabinet Office to extend the two-way visitors at a senior degree; for the long-term nationwide good.

All performed, after all, inside a transparent and rigorous propriety framework.

Partnerships aren’t nearly secondments, after all. We nonetheless want to speak extra; work extra; throughout completely different layers of presidency – relationships with native authorities are all of the extra vital now for invigorating communities.

It is my nice privilege to be constructing on the vastly energetic efforts of my predecessors, who had been additionally centered on getting the appropriate folks, working in the appropriate locations, spurred on by the appropriate incentives.

If I look again now to once I first joined the Civil Service, the obtained knowledge was that it was good at coverage and poor at supply.

Over the course of my profession, I consider this has been inverted.

And we noticed this throughout the pandemic within the feats of our colleagues working in what we name Operational Delivery.

Their ardour for making a distinction to the nation, communities and their fellow residents was unleashed in an exquisite approach – completely enabled by information, experience, expertise – however impressed, I do know, by the timeless worth of taking pleasure in public service.

At the identical time, the pandemic revealed that the efficient coverage official of right now should be an knowledgeable orchestrator: a part of a multidisciplinary crew that brings the appropriate expertise – be they in finance, information evaluation, science and engineering and extra – to bear on any problem.

And my focus in all that is underpinned by ensuring that the Civil Service as a complete displays the nation we serve.

In different phrases, ensuring that we’re valuing within the Civil Service – alongside gender and ethnic range; and folks with all forms of disabilities – a profound dedication to range of thought.

And we obtain this by using a broad vary of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, so avoiding an echo chamber of like-minded folks speaking to themselves about topics on which they’re inherently more likely to agree.

We have pledged to maneuver 22,000 roles, and half of our senior Civil Service, out of London by 2030.

Some of the roles are heading as much as the north-east: Darlington is dwelling to the Treasury’s new campus. The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has not too long ago opened a brand new workplace in Wolverhampton; and the Cabinet Office has a second HQ in Glasgow.

We shall be recruiting from the communities the place the selections made by our folks could have probably the most fast influence.

And we can even be opening a community of hubs throughout the nation to offer folks extra locations to work from.

They’ll permit somebody in Manchester to advise a minister in London or Glasgow – not any want to maneuver lock, inventory and barrel to the south-east to have a profitable Civil Service profession.

Like everybody within the nation, civil servants have needed to adapt to monumental modifications in a brief house of time.

Over the final 18 months the state has decided who folks can see, when and the place.

Large chunks of our excessive streets had been compelled to shut with the taxpayer choosing up the wage invoice.

I don’t consider any of us may have imagined these types of interventions earlier than the pandemic.

It is difficult to consider that they might have garnered public and parliamentary help.

And but due to the nation’s compassion, and its want to guard the NHS and save lives, folks have accepted these extraordinary coverage injunctions that ministers and civil servants have discovered themselves having to design and legislate for at pace.

Now, as we head in direction of a brand new regular, transitioning from pandemic to endemic, we’ll see a shift from the extremely protecting and directive state that has developed to a extra enabling or facilitative state.

The problem for the Civil Service – returning to Peter’s Curse of the Missed Opportunity – is, as ever: learn how to equip ourselves for what’s forward?

Now – college students of historical past will know that we generally tend to arrange for the final struggle.

But the modifications that I’ve spoken about tonight, and the measures in our Reform Declaration, will assist us carry out higher each within the here-and-now and in addition put together ourselves for the long run challenges, recognized and unknown.

On their very own, after all, neither the give attention to information science, the injection of exterior experience, the extra funding in our leaders or clearer accountabilities – none of those would be the miracle particular person part that permits us to be higher ready for the long run. And after all there are different issues I haven’t touched on this night that are equally vital – for example, how we reward folks and help their careers.

But taken collectively, they do make it extra possible that in a complete vary of future eventualities higher selections are made that may have a direct, swift and optimistic influence. And enhance folks’s lives and the nation in consequence.

Through the pandemic we’ve needed to adapt – there was no selection however to alter. That impetus for change has not receded.

We should take into consideration how finest to form the Civil Service for future generations. And, if we need to protect this organisation that many cherish, we have to embrace change, not shrink from it.

Rise up from the defensive crouch that we’ve assumed round reform too typically previously and as a substitute stand tall.

We should do that for a similar cause {that a} FTSE100 firm critiques and renews its mannequin to spice up its efficiency. If it doesn’t, it dangers the wrath of its shareholders and prospects.

The Civil Service likewise can not take its place without any consideration.

The relationships we’ve with the general public and politicians are based on belief and our fame – constructed over many many years – for delivering public companies and supporting ministers with honesty, integrity and objectivity.

Trust in us is vested within the neutral recommendation we provide; and within the reality we converse unto energy. We jeopardise this at our peril, for reputations could be misplaced simpler and sooner than ever they’re gained.

And whereas our place is one among nice privilege, it’s not granted in perpetuity.

Rather, ours is a job that we have to earn anew with each era of civil servants, or danger our most vital prospects – the folks of this nation and their elected representatives – wanting once more on the companies we provide and questioning if they’re getting worth for cash, and whether or not we’re too typically insulated from the value of failure.

And so we should be trustworthy with ourselves. The Civil Service has given its all throughout the course of the pandemic, but should now summon its energy for an additional nice push as we rebuild and reshape the nation.

I understand how a lot folks in authorities care about their mission.

I really feel lucky that the preliminary steps that I’ve spoken about tonight, and the opposite mandatory modifications we’ll see throughout the Civil Service, are being pushed by colleagues who care as deeply as I do about public service.

And I’ve seen for myself over the previous 18 months such creativeness and onerous work;

Such versatility and a willingness to dig in, and to dig deep.

The Civil Service has lengthy been the engine room of presidency, with out which little or nothing would get performed.

We have to maneuver with the occasions, And develop into extra agile and responsive with higher educated folks.

We do must be clear-eyed about what has to alter. Honest about what has not gone nicely.
And then it’ll stay in our reward to determine learn how to meet the challenges forward.

We can not foresee precisely what is going to occur sooner or later – however we are able to make ourselves extra resilient to the influence of future occasions.

And we are able to do that by cultivating a very trendy Civil Service – with the folks, the efficiency and the partnerships – that may permit us to adapt, evolve and embrace change as an ally.

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