Streamlining of grades will be among reforms proposed after lengthy and at times heated debates across Whitehall
Rigid Whitehall hierarchies in which civil servants work at 13 different grades in some departments are to be broken down as part of a new push to modernise Britain’s government machinery.
Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, will outline the changes to MPs on Tuesday and will follow the example of Tesco, which has 10 grades between a shelf stacker and its chief executive.
The streamlining of grades is one of a series of ideas adopted by Maude and Sir Bob Kerslake, the new head of the civil service, for the civil service reform plan.
Maude and Kerslake have been involved in lengthy and at times heated debates across Whitehall as they seek to inject fresh practices from the private sector into the management of the civil service. There will be cuts, though Kerslake wrote on his blog last month that there were “absolutely no plans to cut the civil service by either 70 or 90%”.
The reforms will preserve the most important strength of the civil service, its impartiality, which has been described as Maude as “off limits”. But most other management practices have been open for negotiation as Maude tries to introduce what he calls a “tight loose” model.
Under the blueprint, individual civil servants will be given far greater responsibilities. This will mean, for example, that staff in branches of Jobcentre Plus will be expected to make their own decisions on how many interviews a jobseeker should attend.
Kerslake cites the example of John Lewis, where individual staff are empowered to decide whether to grant a customer a refund up to a certain amount. This is said to instil a better relationship with customers and make staff more effective because they appreciate being given greater responsibility.
On the “tight” side of the equation, there will be tough central control over IT projects, and stringent spending controls to ensure the civil service achieves savings by negotiating bulk purchaes of equipment from laptops to paper.
Civil servants at junior grades have complained that they were bypassed even if they proposed good ideas. One official, whose contribution will be highlighted in the plan, said: “A breakdown of the barriers between grades would help dramatically in both being able to work more openly and closer.”
One source said: “It will involve a culture change. Grades will be stripped away. Many civil servants have complained that they are not listened to because they are a junior grade.”
Maude is keen to change what one official described as absurd security checks in Whitehall in which civil servants are often treated as a member of the public if they visit a different department. There are examples of civil servants from the Ministry of Justice having to queue to 20 minutes to visit former colleagues working in their old department at the Home Office.
One civil servant said: “We waste so much time trying to get through security checks when entering our own civil service buildings, can’t we have one type of pass that gets us in to most places? I’m not talking about the special cases like MI6, but [other] departments.”
Maude said: “We are listening to the concerns of civil servants who are frustrated by red tape and layers of management. Like any well-run business, we are responding to these concerns ensuring stars can rise faster, the hard-working are rewarded, and under-performance is dealt with swiftly and fairly.”