Friday visits are a crucial part of my commitments every week and something I really look forward to as I get a chance to get your thoughts first hand and also engage with the issues that affect you the most. Thank you for being so welcoming during these visits and very honest in your discussions. I want to meet as many of you in person as I can, and also continue these conversations via social media.
I recently visited the RAF HQ at High Wycombe, nestled in the Chiltern Hills. It was a fascinating visit and of personal interest as it used to be the Bomber Command HQ when my father served in the Air Force during the war. I met Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton and his top team, and was very impressed to see the working relationship between military and civilian staff there. Theirs is an interesting model of change. The RAF, like most parts of Government operations, is responding to the challenge of change due to reduction in budgets and the Strategic Defence Review.
During a Q&A session with civilian staff, the headline issues that came up matched those I’ve heard in other staff sessions: impact of change; opportunities to progress; and looking to me to stand up for the Civil Service. Please be in no doubt that these are areas we’re thinking about very actively as we turn the Civil Service Reform plan into action. One thing that struck me was how few young people there were on the civilian side. I think we can do more to create apprenticeships to bring more young people in.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had a series of breakfast meetings with Directors General across Whitehall, to get their thoughts on the Civil Service Reform plan. There’s a real appetite for getting engaged and positive support for the principles we’ve set out. We’ve had really fruitful, open discussions, and these will continue in the autumn.
I recently met the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, who was keen to discuss the review they’re doing into their own Civil Service, the issues they face and to get insights into how we’re approaching things. He clearly shared my own conviction that it’s vital to have very clear values for the Civil Service.
This brings me to the more recent media coverage implying that politicisation of the Civil Service is in the wings and will erode its impartiality. Let me be very clear: that’s simply not true! Looking at Civil Service models in other countries is a part of the reform plan; we simply want to see what we can learn from others and look out for stimulating ideas that will help Government in future to do what it does best — delivering essential public services that make a real difference to people’s lives.
The Prime Minister reaffirmed his own commitment to an impartial Civil Service when he told the House of Commons Liaison Committee: “The British Civil Service is impartial, professional, it has a public service ethos and is an institution we should be proud of.” I just want to reiterate to you that I believe we must continue to maintain and build our reputation for integrity and impartiality. The Civil Service Reform plan is the framework for us to do just that as we navigate a period of profound change for the Civil Service and seek to make it less hierarchical, quicker and leaner.
Andrew Campbell, who’s leading on the implementation of the plan, is bringing together a core team to see this through, and we’ll be filling some of the key positions in that team over the next few months. In the meantime, please do respond to this blog, email or tweet to me, and keep your feedback coming: I really value it.
There’s a perception that Government “shuts down” during the summer. Summer 2012 has, however, hardly been quiet! I know many of you are working extremely hard to deliver a safe and successful Games and are also planning ahead for key business over the autumn. My personal thanks to you for your commitment and hard work in keeping the wheels of Government in motion.
Last week I watched an advance preview of the Games opening ceremony as I went to see the technical rehearsal with my daughter. But I was still desperate to see the actual event on TV! Like many of you, I watched the opening ceremony in admiration and a sense of pride. It was a dazzling production. I think the Arctic Monkeys and the Olympic Rings certainly struck home with us Sheffielders… capped of course by our local heroine Jessica Ennis’s fantastic gold medal in the heptathlon last weekend.