With the Johnson era coming to a close, the civil service’s leaders need to find their voices, assert how best to run the institution, set a clear purpose and learn – and be seen to learn – from the nadir of 'partygate'. Failure to do so could tip a battered and bruised institution into crisis and lead to a loss of capacity in what the state can deliver.
This report recognises the civil service’s vital role, but warns that it has been weakened by high-profile policy and operational failures, like the Kabul evacuation and pandemic contingency plans, and damaged by the 'partygate' fallout. This comes alongside strained relations with a government at times seeking to scapegoat civil servants and wrongly confusing honest advice with disloyalty. The demise of that government will not remove all these concerns overnight.
With officials having to respond to Boris Johnson’s anarchic approach to governing and some ministers uninterested in getting the best out of civil servants, the paper calls on Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, to grip the civil service reform agenda – and be clear, which involves speaking on the record, about the risks of incoherent government plans for arbitrary headcount targets and crude tactics to shame workers back into the office.