Government services must keep pace with tech, says departing civil service chief

Written by Suzannah Brecknell on 16 April 2020 in News

John Manzoni’s farewell message to Whitehall stresses the need for continued improvement

Credit: Paul Heartfield

Government must keep up with the pace of technological change or risk failing to meet citizens’ expectations, departing Whitehall chief Sir John Manzoni has warned.

In a parting email message sent last week and seen by PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, the former businessman (pictured above) said he would be vacating the role of civil service chief executive and Cabinet Office permanent secretary “in a few days”, but would “stay on for a time to provide support through this difficult period”.

But, long after he is gone, the need to continuously improve government services will remain.

“So long as there is technological change, citizens’ expectations will continue to increase, and we must find faster, easier, cheaper ways of meeting them,” he said. “And we must continue to transform our own organisation also, especially if we are to realise our diversity and inclusion ambitions – particularly in the senior echelons. But as someone who spent the majority of their career outside the civil service, I must tell you there is so much already to be proud of."

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One of the most significant changes overseen by Manzoni during his time as Whitehall CEO was the implementation of the functional model that was rolled out five years ago. The establishment and centralised management of 12 cross-government functions, including property, commercial, and analysis, has “formed an indelible bond between policy and delivery”, according to Manzoni. 

He added that government’s recruitment, training and assessment of staff have also been changed, “so that we ensure the right diversity of skills and experience to complement the policy expertise inherent to our organisation”. 

This has allowed the civil service to build a pipeline of talent which will see people from commercial, digital, data and technology, and project management Fast Streams reach the senior civil service in a few years.

“Together, these changes will have a profound and lasting impact on the civil service,” Manzoni said, though he added that some challenges remain.

“We still do 30% too much. And perhaps that is the nature of government. But, as I depart, I am confident that we have engineered a structure and a workforce that will allow the civil service to better advise ministers on exactly how we do it,” he said.

Elsewhere in his farewell missive, Manzoni praised the “calibre, dedication and professionalism” of civil servants in the Cabinet Office and across government.

He wished his successor Alex Chisholm, who is moving to the Cabinet Office from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy “every success in his new roles and with the next phase of reform and modernisation”.

“He will benefit, as I have, from working with a brilliant civil service,” Manzoni added.


About the author

Suzannah Brecknell is editor of PublicTechnology sister publication Civil Service World, where this story first appeared. She tweets as @SuzannahCSW.

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