Civil service chiefs vow ‘no return to normal’

Written by Beckie Smith on 25 March 2021 in News

Memo from top brass preps officials for world in which government is more data-driven and less risk-averse

Credit: Ryan Guy/CC BY-SA 3.0

There will be no “return to normal” after the coronavirus pandemic, civil service chiefs have said, as they set out a vision for a government that is more efficient, more data-driven and more willing to take risks.

In a message to civil servants to mark one year since the first lockdown came into effect, cabinet secretary Simon Case and civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm said today marked a “moment to reflect”.

“The last twelve months have tested the resilience of the country and the civil service as rarely before. Many of us will be mourning lost relations or friends, or recovering from the virus ourselves, or will have had to support others through what has been a uniquely challenging time,” said the internal memo, seen by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World

After a difficult year of adapting to new ways of living and working – particularly for those who are vulnerable, are carers and for parents whose children’s schooling has been affected – the civil service bosses said they hoped officials “will feel pride in the spirit we have shown across the civil service – in the steadfast way we have coped with the many challenges of Covid-19 and our willingness to find ways to carry on, for the good of the communities we serve”.

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“We have pushed our technology to the maximum to stand up public services. We have built virtual teams to support and protect those who needed us the most. And even while we have further to go, there is now real hope,” Case and Chisholm said.

They said that as the vaccination programme rolls out and lockdown measures begin to lift, “our thoughts must turn now to helping get the country back on its feet”.

The civil service must become “even more creative, effective and efficient” in the way it delivers public services and helps rebuild the economy, they urged.

“Using data smarter; being prepared to take risks; seeking out additional skills; adopting new methods; harnessing fresh ideas from novel sources – these will be the focus for the civil service,” they wrote.

“The work of the civil service is never done: and our role in renewal and recovery is significant. We are not going back to normal; the government’s goal is to build back better, greener, fairer and stronger.”

Tackling 'gaps, overlaps and inconsistencies'
As Case and Chisholm delivered their memo to civil servants,  the Institute for Government think tank published 10 lessons government should take from the pandemic.

Like the civil service top brass, the IfG recommended the experience of adapting to new ways of working over the last year should spur government and civil service reforms to be more ambitious in future. It noted that in several government departments, more than 90% of staff were working from home by May 2020.


About the author

Beckie Smith is acting deputy editor of PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where a version of this story first appeared. She tweets as @Beckie__Smith.

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