Top officials’ criticism of UK cabinet secretary and PM mounts; US management office asks public to help government answer ‘toughest questions’: management & workforce news in brief

By on 22/09/2022 | Updated on 22/09/2022
UK prime minister Liz Truss sits at a desk.
Photo Simon Dawson / No 10 Downing Street via Flickr

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Criticism of UK PM and cabinet secretary mounts over sacking of Treasury chief

More former top officials have weighed in on the row over new prime minister Liz Truss’s decision to sack Treasury permanent secretary Tom Scholar, with one former head of department calling for the cabinet secretary to resign if he cannot “speak truth unto power”.

Truss and chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng dismissed Scholar on their first day in office on 6 September, after Truss vowed to overturn what she saw as “Treasury orthodoxy”.

The move to oust Scholar, who had been the Treasury’s top civil servant since 2016, sent shockwaves throughout the civil service and continues to draw ire in an unprecedented display of public criticism of a minister or cabinet secretary from former top officials.

In the last week, those to have lent their voices to the clamour condemning the decision include former cabinet secretary and Treasury chief Lord Turnbull and ex-Department for Work and Pensions permanent secretary Sir Leigh Lewis.

Lewis accused cabinet secretary Simon Case of failing to stand up for the impartial, merit-based nature of the civil service in allowing Scholar’s dismissal.

“His job, indeed his first responsibility and duty, is to stand up for the integrity of a politically neutral civil service willing to speak truth unto power,” he wrote in a letter to The Times.

“He needs also to stand up for the fundamental importance of senior civil servants being appointed on merit, not least in the appointment of Scholar’s successor. I hope he has the courage and conviction to do so. If not, he needs to make way for someone who has.”

Meanwhile, Turnbull accused Truss of using an attack on the Treasury to distract from “rubbish” political leadership of the economy over the past decade and said it was “completely unconvincing” to blame officials for sluggish growth when ministers had avoided unpopular reforms that would have boosted the country’s financial standing. He denied a Treasury orthodoxy existed and said it was wrong of ministers to claim the department focused on balancing the books over promoting growth. “It does both,” he said.  

Turnball and Lewis join Sir David Normington, the former Home Office permanent secretary – who also served as the first civil service commissioner and commissioner for public appointments – former Cabinet secretaries Lord Robin Butler and Lord Richard Wilson and former Treasury head Lord Nick Macpherson in their condemnation of either Truss, Case or both.

Normington said by firing Scholar “the prime minister and chancellor have sent a clear message to the civil service that they are not interested in impartial advice and intend to surround themselves with ‘yes’ men and women” and added that it was “disappointing that the cabinet secretary… has once again failed to stand up for the values of the civil service”.

Wilson said “to summarily dismiss a key top official, judged by most people to be outstanding, at this moment is destabilising”, that would affect morale and that there had already been a “distressing loss of talent over the last decade”.

And Macpherson said the sacking “made no sense”. Describing Scholar as the “best civil servant of his generation”, he said “his experience would have been invaluable in the coming months as government policy places massive upward pressure on the cost of funding”.

It had been reported that Case would leave his role as cabinet secretary when Truss became prime minister, but he has so far remained in post.

Read more: UK cabinet secretary accused of ‘failing to stand up for the values of the civil service’ as PM removes Treasury chief

US federal management office looks to tackle government’s ‘toughest questions’ through new learning agenda

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has released a ‘learning agenda’ which it describes as a “first-of-its-kind effort to address critical learning gaps that exist across government”.

The agenda, which aligns with Joe Biden’s President’s Management Agenda (PMA), also aims to “encourage research within, beyond, and in partnership with government”, bridge silos between agencies and “catalyse innovation”.

The learning agenda comprises three questions designed to support the PMA’s priorities – which include strengthening the federal workforce; delivering improved customer experience; and funding vital services in the wake of COVID-19 – and have been devised with input from the public and research organisations following the release of the OMB’s draft agenda late last year.

The three main questions that emerged from feedback are: How can the federal government strengthen and empower its workforce, so it can best serve the American people? How can the federal government deliver programmes and services effectively and build trust? And how can the federal government advance equity and support underserved communities?

Read more: Biden’s management agenda prioritises federal employee engagement

There are a number of sub-questions in each section, focusing on issues such as recruitment of diverse teams; improving the retention, engagement, inclusion and wellbeing of federal employees; reducing administrative burdens in programmes and services; and enhancing equity through the design, delivery and evaluation of federal services.

OMB deputy director Jason Miller said the PMA highlights “the importance of coming together — across agencies, states, communities, and sectors — to build an equitable, effective, and accountable government that delivers results for all. No one entity can alone solve the problems our nation faces, but together we can help address critical questions about the management of the federal government to help improve how federal agencies operate, perform, and deliver to the American people”.

He added that the role of researchers, students, industry experts, community groups and others is critical. “Let’s work together to answer some of the toughest and most pressing questions facing the government,” he said.

Read more: US agencies tasked with annual diversity reporting in new Biden order

Australian state department wins award for remote working strategy

Transport for NSW, the department managing transport operations and infrastructure in the east Australian state of New South Wales, has been recognised for the working arrangements it implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The department said it was “thrilled” to have been named winner in the Best Remote Work Strategy category at the Australian HR Awards 2022. Judging criteria for the category was based on “innovation, employee engagement, productivity and results”.

Read more: A tricky synthesis: how can public sector management master a hybrid work model?

“From the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve been rethinking how we work to make the experience great for our people. Together, we shaped our hybrid work strategy, testing and exploring new ways of working to create a hybrid approach,” the department wrote in a LinkedIn post congratulating its Ways of Working team.

“The way we work today provides more flexibility and choice in where and when work takes place, to support a better work-life balance while continuing to achieve the best outcomes for the people of NSW.”

Other state and federal government agencies to have been recognised in this year’s awards include the National Disability Insurance agency, which was excellence awardee in the Best Reward & Recognition Program category; the NSW Department of Communities & Justice, which was recognised for its excellence in workforce health and wellbeing; and Australia Post, which was recognised in three categories including Best Use of Technology.

Read more: Australian Public Service Commission updates remote working guidance amid COVID case spike

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

One Comment

  1. Lee Jones says:

    Why should anyone be surprised that Simon Case has failed to stand up for impartiality? He himself is another political appointee whose role is to add to the echo chamber this government and the shameful shower of individuals which preceded them. Their moves to compromise the impartiality and professionalism of the civil service (and indeed all public workers) are quite clear to see, and the outcomes are poor for the country, benefitting only the conservative party and their supporters.

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