Modernising Government

6. Public service:

We will value public service, not denigrate it

1. The Government is committed to public services and public servants. But, as we have said elsewhere in this White Paper, that does not mean an unchanging public service, a public service at any price. We have set out in chapter 4 how we will reward success, but not tolerate mediocrity. This means the public service must operate in a competitive and challenging environment. Public services and public servants must strive to be the best, and must make the best better still.

2. The Government has a particular responsibility as employer. We will value the public service and make sure that it is properly equipped to rise to the challenge and properly rewarded when it does well. We will create a civil service for the 21st century. We must build the capability to change, and ensure that we have the leadership to bring it about.

3. The Government has transformed the way it works with the public service trade unions. We recognise the contribution they can and do make to achieving shared goals. We will continue to work in partnership with them.

Identifying the problem

4. Public service has for too long been neglected, undervalued and denigrated. It has suffered from a perception that the private sector was always best and the public sector was always inefficient. The Government rejects these prejudices. But their legacy remains.

5. Despite that, public services have responded. The reforms of the last two decades in the civil service, for example, have done much to develop a more managerial culture. The quality of management has improved, there is a better focus on developing people to deliver improved performance and there is greater professionalism.

6. But the world is changing rapidly and the demands placed on public servants are changing too. There is a wealth of goodwill and ability to build on. And we must not jeopardise the public service values of impartiality, objectivity and integrity. But we need greater creativity, radical thinking and collaborative working. We must all, both the politicians elected by the people and the officials appointed to serve, move away from the risk-averse culture inherent in government. We need to reward results and to encourage the necessary skills.

What must change

7. The public service must be the agent of the changes identified throughout this White Paper. To do this it must have a culture of improvement, innovation and collaborative purpose. We will invest in public servants so that they have the skills and the opportunity to perform to the standards required. And we will remove unnecessary bureaucracy which prevents public servants from experimenting, innovating and delivering a better product.

8. If staff are to adopt new ways of working and a culture of continuous improvement, they must be rewarded for doing so. We must provide incentives for innovation, cross-cutting thinking, collaborative working and excellent service delivery. We must revise the core competencies for staff and appraisal systems to reflect the qualities we seek.

9. The Government must create an environment in which more of the brightest and best of each generation want to work in the public service. Public services must strike the right balance between identifying and bringing on internal talent and recruiting skills and experience from outside. Too much existing talent is wasted. Staff must not be denied the opportunity to demonstrate their potential and should be given sufficient responsibility at an early stage. We must identify the most talented early on, give them the opportunity to shine and promote the best much more quickly. We must also bring in new talent. Public services are, and will remain, for many people employers which provide a long-term career for those who want it and are able to meet the constantly changing demands. We want the civil service to reinforce its efforts to be more open and to recruit more experience, skills and ideas from outside. This must happen at all levels. We must be more flexible in bringing people in for short periods to provide specific skills for a particular policy area or project.

10. We must get more movement within the public service and with other sectors. There has been a long, and respectable, history of interchange between the civil service and other sectors. We must now change gear. We must do more to increase the number of secondments and involve people from other organisations in projects. We must review the current interchange targets and change them and provide new incentives and mechanisms to achieve them.

11. We must achieve greater diversity within the public service so that it can meet the varying needs within our diverse society.

Making a start

12. The Prime Minister set out seven challenges for the civil service at a conference in October 1998. In January 1999, he began a dialogue with public servants more generally at the Charter Mark Award ceremony on recruitment, retention and motivation.

Seven challenges for the civil service

  • Implementing constitutional reform in a way that preserves a unified civil service and ensures close working between the UK government and the devolved administrations.

  • Getting staff in all Departments to integrate the EU dimension into policy thinking.

  • Focusing work on public services so as to improve their quality, make them more innovative and responsive to users and ensure that they are delivered in an efficient and joined up way.

  • Creating a more innovative and less risk-averse culture in the civil service.

  • Improving collaborative working across organisational boundaries.

  • Managing the civil service so as to equip it to meet these challenges.

  • Thinking ahead strategically to future priorities.

A learning organisation: training and development

13. The public service must become a learning organisation. It needs to learn from its past successes and failures. It needs consistently to benchmark itself against the best, wherever that is found. Staff must be helped to learn new skills throughout their careers.

Centre for Management and Policy Studies

The new Centre for Management and Policy Studies, which will incorporate the Civil Service College, will:

  • be responsible for corporate civil service training and development.

  • ensure that the current and future leaders of the civil service are exposed to the latest ideas and thinking on management and leadership.

  • keep abreast of the latest developments in public governance and management, and act as a repository of best practice.

  • work closely with research and evaluation units in Departments to develop and strengthen policy evaluation capacity and co-ordinate evaluations of cross-cutting policies.

14. New institutions and arrangements have been developed to train leaders and staff in the public sector. The Local Government Association has set up the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency, and there will be an equivalent body in Wales; the civil service is setting up a new Centre for Management and Policy Studies, incorporating the Civil Service College; the Department for Education and Employment is setting up the new National College for School Leadership; and the Armed Forces now have a new Joint Services Command and Staff College. They have a vital role to play working jointly more than they have done in the past if staff are to be equipped to meet the challenges of delivering the agenda in this White Paper.

15. The civil service is committed to a target that all its organisations become accredited Investors in People by 2000. To date, 40% of civil servants work in such organisations. This is an important element of our commitment to lifelong learning. We must ensure that the civil service meets and exceeds the new National Learning Targets for qualifications.

16. All parts of the public sector have National Training Organisations apart from the civil service. We have applied to establish a Central Government National Training Organisation to develop and maintain a corporate strategy for training and development.

Motivating and involving staff

17. Those who have experience of implementing policies have much to contribute to policy making. This is both motivating for staff and valuable in formulating deliverable policies. We want staff at all levels to contribute to evaluating policies and services, and to put forward ideas about how they might be improved. Ministers have not been surprised to find during workshops and other discussions that front-line staff have many innovative ideas. But, through bureaucracy and an attachment to existing practices for their own sake, we have too often stifled initiative and have discouraged staff from putting ideas forward.

Images - Canterbury City Coucil Housing Department.

Hampshire County Coucil Basingstoke Information Centre.

The NHS National Taskforce on Staff Involvement: As part of its commitment to strengthen staff involvement in the NHS, the Government appointed a National Taskforce to look at successful approaches to involving front-line staff in shaping patterns of health care and to make recommendations for action. The 13-strong Taskforce was drawn from a wide cross-section of NHS staff. It includes two nurses, two doctors, a porter, a scientific officer, two managers and an NHS Trust chairman plus a national trade union officer, an academic and a senior manager from industry. It has consulted widely in the NHS and it has drawn on experience and best practice from both inside and outside the NHS. Its recommendations are now with Ministers and the government response will be published shortly.

18. We have made a start in dismantling these impediments to innovation in our action zones for health, education and employment.

Public sector pay

19. Pay is important to public servants just as it is to other people in society. Public servants must be rewarded fairly for the contribution they make. We must make sure that our approach to pay encourages more of the best people to join and stay.

20. This can be done in a number of ways:

  • Reforming outdated systems. Inflexible and inefficient practices in pay and conditions must be reformed so that pay can be tailored to the needs of the public service and provide suitable incentives for staff. This means challenging outdated assumptions about public sector pay for example the idea that 'fair pay' means everybody should get the same increase, or that pay and conditions must all be set nationally.

Modernisation of the NHS pay system: The Government published its proposals for modernising the NHS pay system in February 1999. We aim to create a pay system which:

  • enables staff to give their best for patients, working in new ways and breaking down traditional barriers.

  • pays fairly and equitably for work done, with career progression based on responsibility, competence and satisfactory performance.

  • simplifies and modernises conditions of service, with national core conditions and considerable local flexibility.

We are making progress on pay reform in various parts of the public sector. Our Green Paper on the teaching profession, Meeting the Challenge of Change, set out ambitious proposals for restructuring teachers' pay to improve standards in schools. The Department of Health's recent Agenda for Change in the NHS similarly proposed wide-ranging changes to pay designed to improve patient care. These include simplified national pay spines and greater flexibility for local managers to set pay and conditions according to local needs. Local government has reached an agreement on single status pay, paving the way for removing outdated divisions and demarcations between jobs and functions, which delivers local flexibility within a national framework. The Armed Forces will have a new pay system in 2000. And simplified pay and grading structures have been introduced across the civil service. We must build on these developments elsewhere.


  • Recruiting and retaining staff. Public sector employers must be allowed to recruit, retain and motivate staff with the right skills to do the job. Many parts of the public sector have no difficulty attracting and keeping staff, but there are some areas which do, such as the teaching and nursing professions. The Government is tackling these, both in the pay awards we made earlier this year and through pay reform. We are revising pay scales and introducing new grades advanced skills teachers and nurse consultants so that more skilled people can stay in the front line. There may be other areas where we need to pay more to recruit and retain the right staff. These must be carefully identified and clearly targeted.

  • Making best use of non-pay incentives. Non-pay incentives are often just as important in staff recruitment and motivation as pay. Such incentives may take many forms: better training and development opportunities, good career prospects, opportunities for career breaks, improved working environment, flexible working, family-friendly working practices, recognition in the form of national awards and honours or local workplace schemes. We need to ensure that these are used effectively to attract and reward staff.

  • Rewarding results and performance. A person's pay should reflect their output, results and performance. This means the best performers both individuals and teams and those who contribute most, should be best rewarded. We should challenge systems which give automatic pay increases to poor or inefficient performers. This is why the teaching Green Papers have proposed new performance management arrangements for teachers, movement along pay scales linked to performance, and a new performance threshold giving access to higher pay in cases of high and sustained levels of achievement.

21. The Government is reviewing the way delegated pay and grading systems operate in the civil service. It is clear that performance management is not effective enough. The links between pay and objectives are not always clear. We must use our pay systems and performance pay in particular in creative ways to provide effective incentives to achieve sustained high quality performance and to encourage innovation and team-working.


22. The public service has a strong tradition of fairness. It is committed to achieving equality of opportunity. But we must accelerate progress on diversity if this country is to get the public service it needs for the new millennium.

23. The public service must be a part of, and not apart from, the society it serves. It should reflect the full diversity of society. At present it does not. Women, people from ethnic minority groups and people with disabilities are seriously under-represented in the more senior parts of the public service.

24. Addressing this is a top priority. The Government wants a public service which values the differences that people bring to it. It must not only reflect the full diversity of society but also be strengthened by that diversity.

25. We have recently launched, with the civil service trade unions, a Joint Charter to address under-representation of ethnic minorities at senior levels. We are also setting targets for women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities in the senior civil service. And we are requiring Departments to set targets at levels below this.

Targets for 2004/05

  • 35% of the senior civil service (the most senior 3,000 civil servants) will be women. In 1998 the figure was 17.8%.

  • Women will fill 25% of the top 600 posts. (What happens at the very top of the civil service is critical for the tone it sets the rest). In 1998, the figure was 12.7%.

  • 3.2% of the senior civil service will be from ethnic minority backgrounds. In 1998, the figure was 1.6%.

  • An equivalent target for the senior civil service for people with disabilities will be set later in the year.

26. The Government is determined to address the current inequalities in all public services. We must ensure that all public servants and all those we would like to come and work in the public service are treated fairly. They must believe that, irrespective of their backgrounds, they will have a full opportunity to contribute, thrive and progress on the basis of what they bring, the potential they show, and most importantly, what they achieve.

27. Tackling under-representation alone is not enough. A truly effective diverse organisation is one in which the differences individuals bring are valued and used. Currently, we tend to minimise differences and to expect everyone to fit into established ways of working. We should not expect them to. We should be flexible to allow everyone to make the best contribution they can. This has to be reflected in our ways of working, our personnel practices, the way managers manage.

28. There has to be a change of culture. This needs to be led from the top and driven throughout the organisation. The Home Office, the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise are conducting pilot exercises into how to change culture in this way. We will ensure that the lessons are applied throughout the civil service.

Family-friendly employer

29. The consultation paper on the family Supporting Families included our proposals to work closely with employers and other organisations on an awareness and promotional campaign on family-friendly employment practices. The Government itself is determined to be a family-friendly employer. The civil service has a good record, but we can do still better.

Public appointments

30. More than 100,000 people participate in public life through service on the boards of NHS Trusts and advisory and executive bodies. Thousands more act as school governors, magistrates and in a range of other local roles. Involvement in public bodies provides accountability, a wider range of expertise, and allows individuals themselves to play an important and constructive part in local communities. All public appointments should be made on merit.

31. The Government will improve access to public appointments. We are committed to ensuring that public appointments are open to a wide field of candidates so we can draw on the widest possible range of expertise and backgrounds. Potential candidates must be given the opportunity to register an interest and to apply for any vacancies.

32. The Government is committed in principle to equal representation of women and men in public appointments, and pro rata representation of members of ethnic minority groups, on the basis of merit. Last year, according to the independent Commissioner for Public Appointments, women made up 39% of ministerial public appointments and members of ethnic minority groups 7.1%.

Future action

33. To drive forward its vision of how the public service should be equipped for the future, the Government will:

  • take forward the debate started by the Prime Minister into how we can equip the public service for the 21st century. The debate must continue to address our approach to public sector pay and conditions of service - how we can best provide flexibility for employers to match pay to the needs of the organisation and to recruit the staff they need, linking pay to outcomes and achievement, rewarding excellence, eliminating inefficiencies, and combining these practices with a creative approach to financial and non-pay incentives.

  • publish each year departmental action plans setting out how our commitment in principle to equal representation of women and men in public appointments, and pro rata representation of members of ethnic minority groups, will be delivered in practice.

34. The Government will also drive forward its commitment to involving and motivating staff by setting up 'Learning Labs' at local level as well as nationally. Public servants often know how to overcome problems and inefficiencies, but are held back by red tape and established procedure. Our new scheme will encourage the public sector to test new ways of working by suspending rules that stifle innovation. It will encourage public servants to take risks which, if successful, will make a difference. It will also ensure that successful innovations can be spread around the public service.

35. The Government will take action to strengthen its capacity at the centre to identify and bring into public appointments people of talent and experience.

36. The Government will take the following steps to develop a civil service for the 21st century:

  • We will bring more people into the civil service from outside. We will hold more open recruitment competitions for people at various career stages. We will make greater use of short-term contracts. We will increase secondments to and from the rest of the public sector, the voluntary sector and the private sector.

  • We will make sure that the commitments to mobility between Departments are delivered. We will identify and remove the barriers to mobility and Departments will be required to set targets, not just for the senior sivil service, as now, but also for staff at more junior levels.

  • We will review our recruitment criteria to reflect current and future needs more closely. We will make it easier for people who want to join the civil service to find out about opportunities and to apply for them.

  • We will create opportunities for able, younger staff to be promoted to senior positions more quickly. We will seek to increase participation in existing staff development schemes such as the in-service Fast Stream Development Programme and departmental schemes for under-represented groups. We will develop a new scheme for those who show the most potential for early promotion. This will offer both training and experience in a range of jobs across the service and in the wider public sector and outside government.

  • We will ensure that personnel systems provide incentives for innovation, collaborative working and excellent service delivery.

  • We will make performance pay systems effective both as a reward for high-quality delivery and as an incentive to change behaviour. We will foster innovation and continuous improvement of services in the public sector by rewarding staff who suggest ideas that lead to savings or better services. Government Departments and agencies will introduce schemes which reward staff with a sliding scale percentage of any savings or improvements made as a result of their suggestions.

  • We will create positive incentives for success at organisational level too. So we will look for new ways of rewarding organisation performance and success-sharing, for example by using team bonuses or by linking pay, bonuses or other rewards to the achievement of performance or efficiency improvements.

  • We will set targets to eliminate the under-representation of groups such as women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities and change the culture so as to tackle inequality.

  • We will train staff in new ways of working and equip them with the skills to meet changing demands.

37. The Government will publish a substantial progress report in the autumn on modernising the civil service.

38. If staff at all levels across the public service are to work more closely together, we must ensure that their institutions facilitate greater interchange, closer co-operation on delivery and joint learning. We will achieve this in two ways:

  • The institutions and arrangements for training staff, e.g. the Local Government Improvement and Development Agency, the Centre for Management and Policy Studies and the National College for School Leadership, must work together to share best practice across all the public sector and to learn from each other.

  • We will set up, before the summer, a Public Sector Employment Forum bringing together key players from the NHS, education, local government, the civil service and other public sector bodies to exchange experience and work together on issues like career management, identifying potential, performance management, joint training, joint graduate development and joint activity in the recruitment market.

39. We will continue to work closely with the public sector trade unions to achieve our shared goals of committed, fair, efficient and effective public services.

40. All this requires strong leadership from the top and from all public service managers. In the civil service we will ensure that Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Department have personal objectives, on which their performance will be assessed, for taking forward the Government's modernisation agenda and ensuring delivery of the Government's key targets.


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Prepared 30 March 1999