Speech: Skills, Efficiency and Technology in the Civil Service

A speech from Minister for the Cabinet Office Jeremy Quin on Civil Service modernisation and reform

Minister Jeremy Quin delivering a speech on government reform.


[Political content removed]

I am proud of what the [Political content removed] Government has done, working with the Civil Service, to modernise public service and prouder still that there has been no let up on that process of continuous improvement. And we continue to deliver results.

We boast a modern, outward looking civil service, distant in every way from the characterisations of Yes Minister.

One can say that, whilst still having fond memories of the series.  I was saddened to read of the death last week of John Nettleton, who starred as the gloriously devious Cabinet Secretary, Sir Arnold, in Yes Minister.

Because of how much everything has changed in the last 12 years we can afford to smile at Sir Arnold’s retort when the Minister wished to deliver a speech on Reform.

He commented “Once you specify in advance what a project is supposed to achieve and who is responsible the whole system will fall apart.  We would end up with the whole squalid world of professional management…we already have to move them around every 2-3 years to stop this nonsense - any more transparency and we would be moving them once a fortnight.”

I will revisit Sir Arnold later.

We have made great strides but as the Fulton Report put it as long ago as 1968…

“We have found no instance where reform has pressed ahead too rapidly”.

The stiff wind of competition provides an impetus for the private sector to modernise or die; in Health or Education an ever more informed and aware public demand improvements.  Our Armed Forces through active combat, through allied exercises and through intense study of our adversaries are acutely aware of the pressure to change and meet an ever evolving threat.

The half a million colleagues that make up our Civil service are critical to our country and must be equally determined to deliver change.

They know that Modernisation is no end in itself.  It is about delivering to every part of our country and every family, and doing so better, more effectively and cheaper.

For the overall UK productivity challenge to be resolved the public sector must up its game.


We have two great advantages on which to draw in continuing this push for reform.

The first and most important is continuity. [Political content removed]

In 2015, I was fortunate to be elected to succeed Francis Maude as MP for Horsham.  Last year I again followed his footsteps in being appointed as Minister for the Cabinet Office.

I am delighted that my predecessors commissioned Francis Maude to report on Civil Service governance and accountability. I very much look forward to receiving it in due course.

But today is not intended to venture, yet, into those broader horizons.  But to focus on the modernisation agenda being driven through daily across Government.

Francis’s groundbreaking work between 2010 and 2015 created levers for continuous improvement.

This was a vital backdrop to the major step forward crystallised by Michael Gove as CDL in 2021.

The Declaration of Government Reform, jointly agreed by Permanent Secretaries and the cabinet, remains a consistent template for reform and one on which we are continuing to deliver.

I want to set out how the changes wrought since 2010 backed up by continuous attention to delivery, and innovation, are bearing fruit.

I said we have two great advantages. The first being a consistent [Political content removed] drive for modernisation.  The second is the people with whom I work throughout the civil service.

Unlike some of my predecessors I have first hand experience of working as a civil servant, between 2008-2009 I served on secondment in a Treasury battling under enormous pressure the huge dangers of the financial crash as the UK provided world-leading innovative solutions.

We have all seen first hand how the modern generation of civil servants can again rise to the challenge whether it was the swift introduction of furlough, protecting the jobs of nearly nine million Britons at its peak, or the delivery of the world’s first COVID vaccination programme.

There are brilliant people in our Civil Service but I know there are many, as can be the case in any organisation, that feel frustrated and stifled by bureaucracy.

Alongside the Cabinet Secretary, I shared with civil service colleagues at Civil service live in Cardiff last week that we need every colleague to be calling out waste and inefficiency, determined to end the frustrations I know many share.

They can do so by more specialisation, more access to outside voices and fresh ideas, staying longer in post, delivering certainty on what we are seeking to achieve and benefitting from crisp evaluation on whether we have, while embracing the digital future which will transform all our working lives.

That is what I want to touch on today.


In 2010 [Political content removed] the central government functions, including commercial, IT and digital, property, major projects, finance, and HR, did not exist.

The disciplines which underpin the commercial sector were at best segmented at worst viewed as otiose or counter-cultural.

Since then the embedding of the functions led universally by highly driven, effective individuals with outside experience has replaced one off jolts to the system, with ongoing rigour.

I am pleased to announce that a total of £4.4 billion savings were delivered by the central government functions in the financial year 2021/22.  These are split between  audited cashable (£3.4 billion) and non-cashable (£1 billion).  The Cabinet Office has now published this on GOV.UK.

This wasn’t a one-off event. In the year prior to that, the central government Function Teams also delivered £3.4 billion worth of audited savings. This means around £8bn of cashable and non-cashable savings were delivered in the last 2 years.  We have achieved this by thinking differently and driving success.

The components of these savings vary year in year out – this year for example over £1 billion of savings were delivered by identifying and correcting fraudulently claimed Universal Credit (UC).  This is an area post our establishment of the Public Sector Fraud Authority which is likely to grow further.

I am delighted that to take this work further the Treasury are releasing today a Government Efficiency Framework, ensuring consistent reporting of efficiencies across the whole of Government and reporting processes to track delivery and drive continuous improvement.

Another step along the remorseless but critical path of delivering improved productivity across the civil service.

Our modernisation work is not limited to the services delivered by central government.

UK’s public bodies which play a vital role in delivery but whose independence of action can risk them becoming divorced from a culture of continuing improvement are subject to reviews and improvement.

To date, 71 of the initial 125 public body reviews have been launched covering over 90% of ALB expenditure.

Most of the largest ALBs will be reviewed in the next 18 months, benefitting from experienced teams and the active support of ALB boards:  completed reviews have recommended actions to improve governance, capability and use of resources to deliver the best possible value for the taxpayer.


As a Government we provide services. We spend, across the Public Sector, £300bn annually on procurement, and we deliver enhancements to our national infrastructure.

After a substantial effort we are now within weeks of the Procurement Bill clearing both houses.  In a rare example of Government adopting the refreshing motto of “Keep it Simple Stupid” it cuts down the 350 different procurement regulations founded on EU Procurement, to create one simple rulebook.

It will help set the framework of an ever more outcomes-based approach to procurement so that we can buy goods and services: don’t tell the market exactly how to build a bridge, engage with them on how we can best cross the water.  You may be amazed by what you discover.


On which subject we know that better infrastructure delivers better productivity.

Over the last two years the government’s major projects portfolio has doubled in size to oversee nearly 250 programmes, with a whole life cost of nearly £800bn.

Bringing more projects into the central portfolio has created better central oversight and investment, enabling more transparency and closer scrutiny. 89% of those projects now have a green or amber delivery confidence, up from 64% in 2020.

So, this rigorous focus on efficiency, on improving procurement and better project management is delivering the foundation to improve our productivity and enhance our public services.

When Francis introduced the functions it amounted to a revolutionary step - the Victorian departmental silo model being complimented by a lattice of cross-departmental experts with which most in the commercial sector will be familiar.  12 years on they continue to flourish, they continue to deliver and the GEF will make their job easier and their results even more transparent.


Functions delivering is but one aspect of the Declaration to which we as ministers and civil servants are committed.

To continue the process of reform we need to be open to the views and experiences of those outside the public sector who recognise the extraordinary opportunities it provides and want to add their talents to the many we employ.

We need to ensure that they are supported in a modern workplace environment making the most of the myriad opportunities of data and AI.

And we need to help them to focus their time and their energy on what works.

First on People.

For too long, policy making and the leadership of the Civil Service has been too London-centric.  That’s why we committed to relocating 22,000 Civil Service roles out of London by 2030.

This year we have crossed a major milestone having relocated over 12,000 roles outside of London and the South East…

That is more than half of our total commitment in just the first three years of the programme and more than 75% of our ambition to relocate 15,000 roles by 2025.

We’re also well on our way to the target of 50% UK based SCS outside London, with 30% now based outside the capital.

We’ve launched multiple departmental second headquarters including Cabinet Office’s second headquarters in Glasgow.  The Cabinet Office is not alone in looking to Scotland - nearly 20% of the roles moved out of London have been relocated to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with additional government hubs in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

We have also launched a major policy campus in Sheffield, creating the largest centre of policy making outside London.

The benefits of this to levelling up, to VFM and to strengthening our Union are important, obvious and are rightly regularly praised.

I want however to be selfish - I see the benefits in simple terms - the opportunity it provides to recruit brilliant civil servants - many of whom I have met in Scotland and Wales, the North and South West into our teams.

I believe we will find further scope to enhance Places for Growth - including by focussing on our Arms Length bodies.

But we need to do more beyond PfG to broaden our base of talent.

Above all we need to be an employer that welcomes new blood at every stage of someone’s career.

Just 1 in 5 new entrants to the Senior Civil Service are currently external. I want to ensure that every potential recruit who wants to bring their expertise to bear in the public interest can feel able to apply to do so.  And I want us to be able to harness that talent where we know it will add value.

That’s why last year we cemented a much stronger requirement for all Senior Civil Service roles to be advertised externally, a move recommended by Policy Exchange.

It’s no longer possible to hold an internal recruitment competition for a senior civil servant role without explicit Ministerial approval.

Whilst this change is already making a difference, we can and should do more.

It is not enough simply to advertise a job externally..

Currently, the ‘street to seat’ recruitment process can take as long as 80 days, if not longer and that’s before vetting…

If we are fishing in a competitive pool for talent, trying to persuade those with much to give to turn their back on other opportunities and follow the rewarding path of public service, we need to get real about how we perform as recruiters.

We must ensure that every aspect of civil service recruitment, from how we advertise, to how we recognise external expertise, to how we select and onboard recruits, supports good candidates.

So, we are asking departments and professions to trial alternative recruitment approaches.

They will experiment with running recruitment campaigns with simplified job adverts, ridding them of Whitehall speak…

And they will speed up recruitment, with a focus on cutting the bureaucracy that puts off or times out brilliant candidates…

And to help speed up onboarding,  we are improving our vetting system. UK Security Vetting are recruiting new staff and improving processes and systems to bring KPIs up to the levels we need to see. We are determined to deliver a radical overhaul of policy, process and systems.


Growing our talent pool is great but our civil servants need the tools to finish the job.  A revolution is underway in digital and AI and our civil servants must be part of it: taxpayers will, rightly, demand the same ease of access to services and support that will become second nature in the private sector.

We need to be better at utilising the digital talent we already have within the Civil Service and in stressing its importance.

This September, our government-wide initiative ‘One Big Thing’ will be launched:. The focus for 2023 is data-upskilling.  It will engage every single civil servant - that’s half a million training days on data this autumn. This shows our determination to build knowledge and deliver.

Over the next two years we are rolling out two new digital platforms to enable us to understand, develop and utilise the skills of our workforce and help staff move more easily between departments.

The Government Skills Campus will provide a single platform across Government with better access to the learning civil servants need. It will use skills data to intelligently drive the right content to learners and provide the skills data needed to inform workforce planning.

Another new platform will then enable all civil servants to move from one department to another - at pace and without friction. Not only will this save money - approximately £100m over the next 5 years - it means it will be easier to move the people with the right skills and experience to the right roles in government.  Placing colleagues in more satisfying roles and gleaning the benefits of targeted experience.

Digital and data innovations like these are the defining tools of the 21st Century but they can only be effective when senior leaders understand them.  I am delighted that we are on track to exceed our ambition for 50% of Fast Stream hires for 2023 to have a STEM subject background.  But we cannot wait decades as they progress….

Through the Digital Excellence Programme we will be equipping government leaders with these skills, starting with 3,000 senior leaders this year.

We can offer digital technicians the most extraordinary opportunities to put their talents to the test in delivering solutions which matter to people day in day out.  I know how competitive that talent pool is but what better way to invest in your staff than to give them the opportunity of taking on some of the most fascinating challenges.

To enhance our secondment programme we are developing a specific Digital Secondments pilot with our digital team in the Central Digital and Data Office.

I know that there are people from the best tech firms in the country who believe in public service…

Who want to help with the biggest challenges facing society today…

So we will create a pathway for them to join the civil service through a secondment and empower them to drive real tangible change….


We must attract and retain the best in digital talent so that we can harness the power of digital, data and technology in order to deliver most efficiently and effectively for the public.

Our groundbreaking Roadmap for Digital and Data, encompasses 21 ambitious commitments to be achieved by 2025.

Among these commitments, we have pledged to elevate 50 of the government’s top services to a “Great” standard and we are introducing One Login, a vital new system that will allow citizens to access all central Government services effortlessly using a single account.

We need to ensure that GOV.UK, with over 1m visits a day and over 29bn page views since 2012 provides a service equal what we would expect to see in the public service.

That’s why we’ve established a team to lead on digital service transformation across government. This team identified the opportunities, blockers and support to improve services.

That’s also why 32 organisations in government have adopted the same pay framework to drive recruitment and retention of digital professionals, saving taxpayer money by reducing reliance on contractors and managed services.

Recent months have seen huge developments in Artificial Intelligence technology, presenting, if developed appropriately, clear opportunities for government. Our ambition is to use AI confidently and responsibly, where it matters most, to improve public services and boost productivity.

Our central team of digital and technology experts is creating a practical framework to put this technology to work across the civil service, solving problems of privacy, ethics and security, and bringing insights and best practice from industry.

I am excited to announce that following last year’s pilot the incubator for Automation and Innovation, known as i.AI, will become a permanent civil service team focussed on some of our most important and intractable challenges.

And right at the heart of government, the Number 10 Innovation Fellowships program is bringing in AI experts from industry and academia to help solve problems in public service delivery using AI and automation.

We are already creating a Data Marketplace to break down barriers to sharing data inside government. But we also know the potential for government data to drive value and innovation in the economy. Therefore, as recommended by the Vallance review, our ambition is to make the marketplace available to third parties outside government, such as businesses and researchers.  By 2025 our aim is to do just that.

We will launch and scale a cross government digital apprenticeship programme to support recruitment and development of 500 new DDaT professionals this financial year.


It’s an old adage that the only mistake you can make is by not learning from it…

That is why since the Declaration on Government Reform we established the Evaluation Task Force to improve Government programme evaluation:   to better inform decisions on whether programmes should be continued, expanded, modified or stopped.

I learned, to my exasperation as Minister for Defence procurement, that while I was desperately securing cash to back brilliant innovative ideas, without rigorous Ministerial testing others could quietly languish long after it became apparent they weren’t fit for purpose.

In innovation a failure is when the project is allowed to continue when all hope is lost - fail fast, reinvest.

The same must be true of policy.

We need evaluation baked in from the outset in everything we do.

Yes this can identify where policy, whisper it not, doesn’t deliver. It can happen.  Where it does, let’s act not hide.  A productive public sector is not one which is too shy to accept that not everything works.  In the commercial world it’s known, recognised, embraced.  We need to lose our hang ups.

But we can and must learn from our successes

The DLUHC supporting families evaluation showed not only the impact of the policy in reducing adult and juvenile custodial sentences, but was robust enough to know that for every pound we spent on the programme, it delivered £2.28 of economic benefits and £1.52 of financial benefits.

The Task Force has provided advice on 211 evaluations across government, covering £115bn of spending.

On the basis that only idiots learn from their own mistakes, the wise from other peoples’….

I am delighted to announce that the Evaluation Task Force is launching the Evaluation Registry, which will provide, for the first time, a single online focus for evaluations across government.

The Evaluation Registry has been built from the ground-up to be best-in-class in driving evidence based policy making. When it launches, it will be one of the biggest stores of information on social policy evaluations in the world, containing over 2000 evaluations from the outset.

It will be available to all government departments this year and in the future supported by funds worth over £50m for evaluations to generate new evidence in critical areas of policy making.


So let’s get back to our fictional Sir Arnold.

Were he to return to our screens today he would I hope be disquieted by the notion that a new recruit may start their career, progress their career and end their career as a Permanent Secretary without necessarily ever working within 10 miles of Peter Jones.

What’s more, talent is not only arriving directly into the upper echelons of the SCS, it’s being actively pursued and welcomed.

We are embracing the opportunities of digital and AI and what that will mean for making us more efficient and improving the services we deliver.

Cabinet Office
Modernisation and Reform
The Rt Hon Jeremy Quin MP