UK civil service named world’s best – but scores low on digital

Report gives Whitehall above-average scores in every area except digital services

Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive/Press Association Images

A report crowning the UK civil service as the best in the world awarded the institution with above-average scores in 11 out of 12 metrics – with digital services being the only exception.

The International Civil Service Effectiveness (InCiSE) Index assessed 38 governments from around the work and ranked the UK top of the pile. New Zealand, Canada, Finland, and Australia completed the top five.

The report, which was jointly compiled by think tank the Institute for Government and Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, gave the UK civil service a higher-than-average score in 11 of the 12 indicators under consideration.

The country was rated as the best civil service in the world for regulation, and the third best in five other areas: policymaking; fiscal and financial management; tax administration; openness; and procurement. The UK also placed highly in the fields of human resource management, capabilities, and crisis and risk management, being ranked fifth, sixth, and seventh in these areas, respectively.

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Whitehall also achieved an above-average score for both integrity and inclusiveness, where it placed 13th and 14th.

Digital services – where the UK was rated only 27th out of 38 – is the standout. 

The report uses a system in which the top-performing country in each segment is given a score of 1, and everyone else is rated relative to that. 

In nine out of 12 categories, the UK achieved a score of at least 0.8. In the areas of inclusiveness and integrity, the UK was respectively scored at 0.712 and 0.68.

On digital services, the country was rated at just 0.507 – some way below the mean of 0.613.

Calum Miller, chief operating officer at the Blavatnik School of Government, told PublicTechnology: “This is about stimulating reflection: who is doing this well, relative to us, and how can we learn from them?  The civil service is an important but sometimes overlooked institution within any effective state or government. And the effectiveness of the civil service can have a huge impact on citizens’ lives.”

He added: “The first point to make is that [the digital ranking] sticks out because the UK did so strongly in other areas. I know that the score for the UK on digital services has triggered some reflection on what they can learn from other countries.”

Small gains
Estonia was rated as the top-performing civil service for digital services, ahead of second-placed Denmark, then Latvia, Austria, and Portugal. Norway, the Netherlands, Lithuania, Finland, and Spain completed the top 10.

The other 16 countries to place ahead of the UK are, in order: Sweden; Germany; Iceland; Mexico; Australia; Italy; Belgium; New Zealand; Israel; Korea; Canada; Japan; the US; France; Chile; and Ireland.

The 11 countries placed below the UK are Czechia; Turkey; Poland; Slovakia; Slovenia; Switzerland; Bulgaria; Greece; Hungary; Romania; and Croatia.

For its digital services analysis, the InCiSE report took as its sole data source the European Commission’s eGovernment Benchmark report. 

The Blavatnik and IfG study used 13 metrics to award each country a digital services score, covering the digital user experience, key enablers, and cross-border services proposition for services addressing five areas related to key “life events”: starting a new business; running a business; family life; finding and losing a job; and small claims procedures.

Three further life areas addressed in the EC report – owning and driving a car, moving house, and studying – were not covered by InCiSE as they are chiefly delivered local or regional government bodies rather than national ones.

Miller said that the UK government’s comparative size, complexity, and strong levels of departmental sovereignty can be a disadvantage in delivering joined-up digitisation.

“GDS is doing a lot of work at the centre of government. But some of those life events involve a variety of agencies; if you lose a job [for example] it might involve DWP, BEIS and HMRC,” he said. “In my view, it is no coincidence that the top three countries in digital services are all quite small. Smaller countries have less complex systems and processes.”

 Responding to the report, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The UK is widely regarded as a global leader in the digital transformation of Government. The findings of the InCiSE report contrast with the UN’s e-Government Development Index where the UK was ranked first in 2016 and fourth in the 2018 UN rankings, and the OECD Digital Government Survey where the UK was ranked first in 2016. Additionally, the UK ranks highly in the openness indicator in InCiSE, which measures performance on open data, transparency, freedom of information and open government.”


Sam Trendall

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