It’s been a pretty difficult few days for the Civil Service. As you will no doubt have seen in the news, yesterday the Transport Secretary cancelled the competition to run trains on the West Coast Main Line after significant technical flaws were discovered in the way the franchise process was conducted. That these errors were made and overseen by civil servants is a sobering thought.
The Permanent Secretary for the Department for Transport, Philip Rutman, has taken firm and decisive action to not only address this issue but, importantly,to learn the lessons so this doesn’t happen again. Two external reviews are taking place with immediate effect, the first to establish what went wrong and the lessons learned, and the second to review the wider Department for Transport rail franchise programme.
I wanted to use the blog today to address the issues over the last 24 hours, but also to make clear that, whilst we must acknowledge and accept responsibility for the errors that civil servants made in this process, it is by no means representative of the Civil Service as a whole.
Just as we must not tolerate poor performance, wherever it occurs, so we should acknowledge the huge number of highly skilled, talented and dedicated civil servants who are delivering high quality public services every day. The role of the civil servant is changing though. Gone are the days of the “Whitehall Mandarin” and “Sir Humphrey”. Now 90% of civil servants work outside Whitehall, and the civil service is expected to procure, commission and even blog, as well as advise.
The Civil Service Reform plan sets out how we’ll deliver these sought after skills, and ensure staff are equipped with the delivery experience they require to run major government programmes, operations and departments. From programme and project management, to capabilities in digital communication, we as civil servants are looking at the skills we have, the skills we need and filling the gaps for the long term.
I am a relative newcomer to the civil service, but immensely proud to be a civil servant. The outstanding work civil servants did across the country to help deliver a spectacular Olympics and Paralympics is just one example of what we are capable of achieving. This week, I had the privilege of judging the Head of Civil Service Award for next month’s Civil Service Awards. The competition was extremely fierce and the winner will be announced at the ceremony next month. Whilst it’s important that when things go wrong we address them and learn from the mistakes, it is just as important that we recognise the great work civil servants do day in day out.