John Manzoni took over from Sir Bob Kerslake last year as chief executive of the UK civil service. Following the general election 10 days ago, Matt Hancock takes over from Francis "JFDI" Maude as Cabinet Office minister. Mr Manzoni wants everyone to know that Mr Hancock wants Whitehall departments to collaborate.
Hardly controversial. Mr Manzoni is unlikely to have reported that Mr Hancock wants to see all-out war between Whitehall departments and the Devil take the hindmost:
Computer Weekly magazine: What does the end of the "Francis Maude era" mean for GDS?:
The new minister for the Cabinet Office wants to see a more "collaborative" relationship between departments and the centre of government, the chief executive of the civil service has said, as he signalled the end of the "Francis Maude era".
GDS should look after strategy? It's up to the departments to deliver? And outsourcers should be in charge of maintenance and support?
This surely increases the likelihood of the Government Digital Service (GDS) being slimmed down and much of its delivery responsibilities handed back to departments. I'd suggest this was always the eventual plan - GDS looks after strategy, departments look after delivery, and outsourcers are brought in once a service or system is into the support and maintenance phase.
Again – hardly controversial. Most people will regard these suggestions as anodyne and barely worth reporting. How else, most people may ask themselves, could the world be arranged?
|Tim O’Reilly said of the Government Digital Strategy:|
“This is the new bible
for anyone working in open government”
Photo by Paul Clarke
Does Mr Manzoni understand those words?
... in an analogue world policy dictates to delivery, but in a digital world delivery informs policy ...
Has Mr Hancock even heard them?
Battle-hardened after years of daily stand-ups cutting code at the very front-end of the revolutionary renew-your-vehicle-excise-duty application, the agile veterans' minds will turn to that other lesson, read on 16 October 2013 to the Code for America Summit when Mr Bracken explained not only that strategy is a waste of time but also that Whitehall is there to be routed round, not collaborated with, Routing round Whitehall. And local government too, UK local government – dating websites for no-brainers.
As recently as 20 October 2014, Mr Bracken revealed to the Institute for Government that "delivery to users, not policy, should be the organising principle of a reformed civil service" and that "traditional policy-making is largely broken", there is a "needless separation of policy and delivery", the two of them constitute a "false binary".
And yet still Hanzoni suggests that GDS should strategise while the departments of state deliver. GDS know that this segregation of duties is meaningless. If GDS were still beholden to such a primitive superstition, how could they have achieved their success with rural payments, Online farm payment system abandoned after 'performance problems'? How could GDS have concentrated so relentlessly on user needs, The system is fine. It's the users that don't work?
By all means let the outlying departments of state run their own projects – but only if they first acknowledge their fealty to GDS, HMRC digital team plights troth to wrong Liege. This is a simple matter of human resources management:
As to outsourcing, clearly it has its place. GDS know that. Issuing on-line IDs to every person and every organisation in the UK is a job for Experian and Verizon or, preferably, Google. But not Whitehall.
Last year, the UK's Cabinet Office asked an external management consultancy to examine staff morale and high turnover at the Government Digital Service. After interviewing more than 100 civil servants, its scathing confidential analysis described an organisation beset by low morale and run by a “cabal” management of old friends, who bypassed talent in favour of recruiting former associates – while Whitehall viewed GDS as “smug” and “arrogant”.
Otherwise, no. The organisation that has already conquered the front-end of the renew-your-vehicle-excise-duty application has no need for lumbering giant systems integrators. How hard can it be for GDS to write and maintain the computer systems needed by HMRC, for example, to collect the nation's tax revenue?
That article in Civil Service World is more controversial than it first appears. Hanzoni still hasn't grasped what Mr Maude did, that the UK's destiny is to become Estonia.