Commonwealth countries leading the world in civil service effectiveness

By on 29/04/2019
Commonwealth nations took the four leading slots in the index of civil service performance, with the UK coming out top (Image courtesy: Foreign & Commonwealth Office).

A global league table ranking the effectiveness of civil services in 38 countries has placed four Commonwealth nations – the UK, New Zealand, Canada and Australia – in the top five for the second time running.

The UK has the best all-round performing civil service, according to the index – up from fourth place in 2017, when Canada bagged the top spot. The top five countries were ranked in the following order: UK, New Zealand, Canada, Finland and Australia.

Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government and the Institute for Government published the International Civil Service Effectiveness Index (InCiSE) on Thursday. It’s the second version of the InCiSE index produced since it was first launched as a pilot in 2017.

The index is designed, its authors say, to “help countries determine how their central civil services are performing and learn from each other.”

Consistent performance

The UK civil service’s jump from fourth to first place this year is due in large part to its relatively high performance spread across each of the twelve indicators: capabilities; crisis and risk management; digital services; fiscal and financial management; HR management; inclusiveness; integrity; openness; policy making; procurement; regulation; and tax administration.

According to the report, which assesses performance against each indicator using a set of metrics, “The only [UK] indicator below average is digital services where metric scores vary widely.”

Estonia got the top spot for digital services, followed by Denmark and Latvia. Estonia’s tax administration score was also “noticeably ahead of other leading countries,” achieving “consistently high scores across all tax administration metrics, most notably those assessing the volume of online personal tax and VAT returns, and the extent to which services are user focused,” the report says.

Nordic countries cluster at the top

The USA was knocked out of the InCiSE top ten this year, dropping from 10th to 11th place. The US civil service performed very strongly on ‘capabilities’ and ‘crisis and risk management’, coming in second and fourth place respectively, but on policymaking metrics its “scores varied widely.” 

The Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) scored well, with all but Iceland in the top ten.

Bulgaria, Croatia, Iceland, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania were added to the index for the first time this year, taking the total number of benchmarked countries from 31 to 38.

Best practice & accountability

The Blavatnik School of Government hopes to extend the InCiSE index to include non-OECD and developing countries over time, and has recently completed two case studies focusing on Brazil and Nigeria “to assess the potential for InCiSE to be used in countries at different stages of economic development and with diverse political structures and traditions.”

The report says the index could be used as a performance improvement tool, enabling senior civil service leaders to learn from one another. It could also be used as an accountability tool “which allows citizens, government officials and politicians to find out how well their civil service is performing.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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