Engagement and open dialogue
In the six weeks since I opened my Twitter account (@sirbobkerslake) and blog, I’ve been struck by the huge appetite for this type of engagement and the opportunities it offers for open dialogue compared to the more antiquated systems prevalent across much of Whitehall. My first steps into this world have been both rewarding and challenging – it’s great to be able to interact so immediately and personally with staff and the public, but this fast paced world is undoubtedly a challenge to the more traditional Whitehall approach to external engagement.
You may have seen reports in the media towards the end of last week and over the weekend on reform of the Civil Service. I saw first-hand the enormous value of Twitter in being able to quickly rebut damaging stories. I used Twitter to set out my firm belief – that the vast majority of civil servants work hard and do a good job.
Part of the media also reported plans to reduce drastically our numbers – in some reports by as much as 90% of the whole Civil Service. I made my position clear on Friday, and to restate it here, there are absolutely no plans to cut the civil service by either 70 or 90%. I am concerned about the impact that the recent media coverage may have had, and want to assure you that I am committed to delivering a Civil Service Reform Plan that builds on the enormous strengths of the Civil Service, but which also recognises the significant challenges we face.
A huge amount has happened over the last few weeks – including the public sector strikes last Thursday. I would like to thank the large number of frontline staff who worked so hard to make sure that as far as possible services to the public were maintained. On our borders for example, staff worked very long shifts to manage peak arrivals during the day and I understand that in northern France officials prevented 25 people attempting to evade our border controls and handed them over to French authorities.
The main reason for the strikes was concern over pension reforms. I understand this concern; however even with the current changes the Civil Service Pension Scheme will be comparable to most other wider public sector pension schemes, and is far better than pensions which are generally available in the private sector.
I also took part in a very enjoyable live Q&A session on Facebook with potential applicants to our Fast Stream Graduate Programme. I think the format worked well, and I will be looking to do this in the future with other groups of staff. You can read my views on how we should be embracing the use of social media in more detail here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/public-leaders-network/blog/2012/may/04/sir-bob-kerslake-social-media.
Following concerns raised after my last blog, I have asked my team to make sure that we remove blocks to Civil Servants being able to access social media as soon as possible – if we want a Civil Service that can respond to modern day challenges we need to modernise the way we works and be able to have a two-way conversation with the public through the channels they use.
I have continued to get out on Fridays to visit staff across the country – since my last post I have had excellent visits to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in Southampton and DVLA in Swansea. I also spoke at an event to celebrate the first group of operational delivery professionals completing our new diploma qualification. Most Civil Servants work in operational roles – 7 out of 10 staff – delivering crucial services like protecting our borders and running prisons. The energy in the room was palpable.
In other news, I am trying to find time to put in some training for the 3Km Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Challenge run that I will be running with Una O’Brien, Perm Sec at Department of Health, in aid of the Civil Service Benevolent Fund – I have set up a justgiving page and your support would be most welcome!
We have also just welcomed a new member into the Kerslake family – a new Labrador puppy
Henderson- a reference that people from Sheffield might get
I would like to finish by responding directly to a number of comments that followed my previous blog, and thanks to those in other countries who have told me they are watching our progress and thinking about how they can make best use of these channels to deliver value in their own countries:
@ Helen Hardy: Access to social media and supporting ICT: The Home Office and the Government Digital Service are leading on the implementation of Objective 3 of the ICT Strategy implementation and have reported on changes to Government ICT provision to ensure that access to social media in Departments is opened up where appropriate.
@LJM and Tim Webb- the Civil Service identity: I take your point on encouraging staff to consider themselves as being part of the wider Civil Service as key part of the reform agenda. Ensuring the service is collaborative and looks beyond Departmental affiliation will help drive better service delivery and efficiency.
@Dimitrios Gavrilakis: Re your point on the impact of the spending review on the Civil Service workforce, I hope that my comments above convince you that the reforms that we will shortly be announcing will make a positive change in the long term, and will allow Civil Servants to operate more effectively in the modern world.