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Publication of first Capability Reviews steps up Civil Service reform

19 July 2006

The Civil Service has today published the first four Capability Reviews for the Home Office and Departments for Constitutional Affairs, Education and Skills, and Work and Pensions, along with a summary paper on key themes emerging from them.

Capability Reviews were launched for all major Government departments by the Cabinet Secretary in October 2005. As the Prime Minister notes in his foreword, they are the Civil Service's side of the public service reform bargain. Delivering public services in the future will require better professional skills and increased flexibility to meet the needs of a diverse population with higher expectations of public services, and respond to profound global and domestic challenges.

The reviews are based on robust, evidence based assessments of Departments' capabilities to meet these significant future challenges. Experts from outside the civil service have been part of each review team. Each report includes a formal, published assessment of departmental capability in ten key areas. As part of each report, the Permanent Secretary of each department has outlined what action they intend to take as a result. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said:

‘This Government's vision and plans for reforming public services are entering a critical phase. Users of services need to be given more control over them. This shift is happening at a time when the rapid growth in public spending, which the Government introduced to tackle a generation of underinvestment, is beginning to slow. The challenge now is to maintain our progress through creating a self–sustaining system reflecting the demands of the user, not the views of the producers.

‘These capability reviews mark a very significant development in the public service reform programme. I very much welcome them and the radical changes each Department has outlined in response.’

Sir Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, commented:

‘The publication of the first Capability Reviews is a hugely important development for the Civil Service. For the first time, honest, transparent assessments of Departments' capabilities to meet future challenges have been published, with clear plans for each department on what they will do in response and how they will be held to account for it.’

Key plans emerging from the review are:

– strengthening the centre of departments by re–focussing the central headquarters on policy and strategy, managing performance at a strategic level rather than micro–managing, and building up the right skills, as well as by strengthening governance through more effective use of non–executive directors;
– looking closely at what models of delivery work, for example with the plans announced by the Home Office on new structures for the immigration service and a more effective system for managing police performance;
– all four departments have set out plans to strengthen the way in which they use the experiences of those they serve in a timely way to inform the way they make policy and deliver services in the future. The Department for Education and Skills, for example, will, for the first time, formally and comprehensively take the views of learners, parents and teachers about what the department is doing and report this directly to the departmental board;
– each department has set out plans to strengthen further the professional skills within the department. The trend of opening up jobs to the best external talent must and will continue. That is why nearly half of all senior civil servants have had experience working in the private sector, and nearly half of all senior civil service jobs are now opened up to external competition.

Notes to editors

  1. The Capability Reviews and the summary report, The Findings of the First Four Reviews are available at
  2. For queries concerning the Capability Review process and the government's public service reform programme please contact Kasia Reardon in the Cabinet Office Press office on 0207 276 1196.
  3. For queries concerning individual department reports please contact the relevant Department Press Office:
    DCA. Charles Kesaru. 0207 210 1473
    DfES. Tim Watkinson. 0207 925 5975
    Home Office. Andy McGuffie. 0207 035 3856
    DWP. Susan Givens. 0207 238 0752
  4. Sir Gus O'Donnell announced the Capability Review programme at the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) in October 2005.
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