Exclusive: Kerslake backs Civil Service change management in wake of sacking

15 July 2014 -


Ousted Whitehall mandarin tells Insights that reforms are in progress, as shock departure is announced amid hectic government reshuffle

Matt Packer

Sacked Civil Service chief Sir Bob Kerslake has rejected notions of stagnant officialdom in the wake of shock revelations that he will step down in the autumn. Speaking to Insights, Kerslake praised his colleagues and stressed that change management is indeed underway within his profession.

“I have enjoyed immensely the role of leading the Civil Service,” he told us, “and I have particularly enjoyed working in partnership with [Cabinet secretary] Sir Jeremy Heywood. It has been a privilege to work with civil servants who are so committed to what they do.

“Just as a final comment, I’d like to say that contrary to some perceptions, civil servants are working to bring changes to the management of their departments – and are doing so as we speak.”

The announcement of Kerslake’s departure has followed numerous press reports of fractious relations with key government figures – most significantly Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who has been accused of briefing against civil servants in the press.

Tensions over Kerslake’s leadership escalated last week when a progress report on Civil Service reforms showed that only seven out of 18 targets set last year had been met.

In a statement accompanying the report, Maude said: “At its best the Civil Service is world class – but Britain is in a global race and only an exceptional Civil Service will suffice. The One Year On report shows we have made progress in some areas. We have improved the delivery of major projects and we are starting to put more services online. But in other areas progress has been too slow. There’s a Catch 22 whereby the very things we want to change make change harder to effect.”

Kerslake, however, defended his officials. “In the past year,” he said, “we’ve introduced a new competency framework for all civil servants, together with rigorous new standards for performance management. Our Capabilities Plan will increase our digital and commercial skills and will help improve project management and leadership of change.”

Heywood will succeed Kerslake in the handover. It has also been revealed that the Civil Service will introduce the new post of chief executive, who will report in to Heywood and carry out his directives.

Meanwhile, Telegraph political commentator Peter Oborne has described the timing of the move to sack Kerslake during a Cabinet reshuffle as “troubling”, arguing that it “sends out the message that his departure is political”.

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