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Civil Service Reform

Cabinet Office – in the House of Commons on 22nd January 2020.

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Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper Labour, West Lancashire

What plans the Government have to reform the civil service.

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

This new Government are committed to delivering on Brexit and seizing on the exciting opportunities presented by our new manifesto, but in order to do this we need to build on the successful reforms of the civil service since 2010, going further and faster to ensure that it has the new skills, such as in data analytics, better training, greater accountability and the right pay and incentives to transform the United Kingdom.

Photo of Rosie Cooper Rosie Cooper Labour, West Lancashire

The Institute for Government estimates that the number of civil servants based in London is growing, with two thirds now working in the capital. How does the Minister reconcile that with the Prime Minister’s statements about moving Whitehall Departments to the north of England and making Government more relevant to people in the north, for example my constituents in West Lancashire?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Lady raises a very important point about the need to move Government activity out of London. That is why, for example, we have created a default whereby when new agencies are created, they must be located outside London and the south-east. I know that the Prime Minister is determined to go further and faster with that agenda.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

I welcome the manifesto commitment to offer guaranteed interviews for veterans—people for whom public service is so hugely important—in the public sector. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will be taking that forward with real energy as they consider wider reform?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

As ever, my hon. Friend raises an important point. People who have served in our armed forces can also make an enormous contribution to wider life, including in the civil service. That is why I am determined that we deliver on that manifesto commitment, and I have already instructed officials to make that happen.

Photo of Jon Trickett Jon Trickett Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Lord President of the Council

Thank you, Mr Speaker. This is the first time I have asked a question with you in the Chair, so congratulations.

The Government are right to press forward with looking carefully at how we can modernise the civil service, whose independence and professionalism, as I am sure we all agree, are essential to good governance. On current trends, it looks as though the Government are going to spend £50 million in this Parliament on political appointees. Is that a wise decision? Three of them earn as much as the Prime Minister, more or less, and one of them thinks it is okay to advertise on his blog for “weirdos and misfits” to apply for the civil service. Meanwhile, 40% of professional civil servants in the Department for Exiting the European Union have left in the last year—it is a shambles.

As Minister for the civil service, will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance now that he will protect civil service professional standards, even though that may mean that from time to time he comes into conflict with politically inspired chaos from No.10 Downing Street?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Gentleman has raised a large number of points. First of all, I can of course reassure him that the independence and integrity of the civil service will be upheld. I notice that he has taken an interest in Dom Cummings’ blog; he is very welcome to register his interest in applying for such a role. However, the point that the hon. Gentleman was making is important: if we are to have a good civil service for the 21st century, it is essential that we harness all the talents of this nation. That includes, for example, people with data analytics skills and a diversity of talent.

Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

I know that my right hon. Friend agrees with me that this is a Government for the entire UK—one of Scotland’s two Governments, in fact. In the spirit of civil service reform, what thought has he given to moving more civil service jobs out of London—to the north-east of Scotland, for example?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

As ever, my hon. Friend raises an important point, and I look forward to joining him this Friday in the north-east of Scotland. I am sure that we will discuss exactly those sorts of opportunities. Recently, I saw a large new hub being created in Edinburgh so that we can bring together Government services for Scotland in one place.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

Every Government should get the civil service that they deserve, and this oddball bunch of hard Brexiteers are possibly entitled to their army of weirdos and misfits. Given that Dominic Cummings practically runs this Government, let us celebrate this Government of all the wackos!

It is also rumoured that the Minister’s right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is to be made de facto Deputy Prime Minister. How does he fit into this talent pool agenda? Is he entirely sure that he has the approval of Mr Cummings?

Photo of Oliver Dowden Oliver Dowden Paymaster General (HM Treasury), Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

I can think of no one whom I would rather work alongside in delivering reform of the civil service than my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who has done so much to reform education and justice. I am sure that he will help do exactly the same in relation to the civil service.