‘Policy mandarins don’t get that engaged in reform’ – Francis Maude

Written by Jim Dunton on 20 November 2019 in News
News

In an interview with the Civil Service World podcast, the former Cabinet Office minister discusses frustrations of attempts to push through digital and procurement transformation

Credit: Paul Heartfield

Francis Maude has recounted his frustrations with pushing through Whitehall reform in an interview with the Civil Service World Podcast in which top-level resistance to change is a recurring theme.

Maude – now Lord Maude of Horsham – was minister for the Cabinet Office from 2010 to 2015 as part of the coalition government, during which time he oversaw the creation of the Government Digital Service and sought to make big savings by renegotiating contracts with some of Whitehall’s biggest tech suppliers.

In his interview with the podcast recently launched by PublicTechnology sister publication CSW, Maude (pictured above) said that while the civil service excelled in crises –  particularly in the national security field – there were “well-known reasons” why operational reform programmes failed to achieve their original goals.

“There is political push-back; politicians haven’t got that quite right,” he said. “There is vested-interest resistance, active resistance, there’s system inertia – which every organisation suffers from, but a public service maybe more, because there are fewer imperatives behind it. But the fourth element, which is often ignored, is the sheer lack of technical expertise in the things that don’t get that much attention – delivery, implementation, execution.”


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Maude listed technical skills in financial management, procurement, IT and digital – and running property and major projects effectively – and blamed a lack of top-level buy-in for change programmes as a fundamental block.

“We started to address these issues,” he said of the coalition government. “But if you don’t have world-class capability in government to enable the big programmes and projects to be implemented effectively then it’s much harder to deal with the political push-back, much harder to rebut the vested-interest resistance and much harder to overcome the inertia. That’s actually the foundation layer of how governments need to get better.”

Maude added: “The reality is that these horizontal, cross-cutting functions, which are at the heart of many of the reforms that we sought to push through get far too little attention from politicians. Even politicians who come from business, when they come into politics and government, they kind of think that they want to do policy – not the sort of things they were doing in business.

“For far too many mandarins, policy-oriented mandarins, this is below-the-salt territory where they don’t get that engaged. That’s why a lot of things don’t go nearly as well as they should.”

Maude said there was no shortage of entrepreneurial skill in the public sector, but believed it was often used to “circumvent bureaucratic constraints” rather than to create new things.

 

Listen to the full interview – and subscribe for all previous and upcoming episodes of the Civil Service World podcast – on Apple Podcasts, Soundcloud, and Spotify

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