Cabinet Office
Cabinet Office : Introduction | Management Unit | Organisation Chart
This information is being maintained for archive/historical purposes. 
It will not be updated.
Please see for details.
Previous pageContents page Next page

Guide to the Centre of Government


Part III: The Modernisation Agenda

The Government is determined to modernise the way the Civil Service works and public services are delivered. The modernisation agenda has a number of strands including:

Modernising Government;
Civil Service Reform;
Public Service Agreements.

Modernising Government

The Modernising Government White Paper was published in March 1999 and is available at It set out the basis for a long term change programme over the next ten years. It is based around commitments in five key areas:

Forward-looking policy making;
Responsive public services;
High quality public services;
Information Age Government; and
Valuing public service.

The heart of the programme is delivering better results, and more responsive and high quality public services that match what people need. There is a focus on users rather than organisational structures; and applying new technology to make government simpler and more accessible. It covers not just the Civil Service but the whole 5 million people working in the public sector, with a new drive on working together to deliver outcomes. The Minister for the Cabinet Office takes day to day responsibility for the programme and also chairs a Cabinet Committee, Misc 7. The Minister makes regular reports to the Prime Minister.

The White Paper was only the start. The real challenge is in ensuring effective implementation. A number of follow-up publications mark progress.

The Modernising Government Action Plan was published in July 1999 and is available at It sets out what the centre of government is doing to promote and drive forward the commitments in the White Paper. It is updated regularly on the Internet.

In December 1999, Sir Richard Wilson presented to the Prime Minister a programme for modernising the Civil Service based on the work of Groups within the Civil Service Management Committee. This is being taken forward with the Prime Ministerís endorsement. The details are set out in the next section of this guide. Each department has drawn up its own action plan for delivering Civil Service modernisation and Modernising Government more generally. These action plans were put together in March 2000.

Other key publications building on the White Paper are:

Professional Policy Making for the 21st Century - a report looking at good practice and the elements of a model of the policy process.
Wiring it Up - a PIU report on joining up government.
E-government. - an e-Government strategy, published in April 2000, sets out how public services will be developed to ensure that all are available online by 2005.

Modernising Government builds on the administrative reforms of the UK over the last 15 years. But there are some crucial differences. There is a change in focus from a managerial agenda to the userís agenda. The programme mobilises the whole resources of the public sector to work together across organisational boundaries to deliver real results on the ground, not just interim activity. It is based on a continuing drive for efficiency and effectiveness, but in a pragmatic rather than dogmatic way.

The programme involves listening to users, via the Peopleís Panel, and to front-line staff. There is an emphasis on using IT to improve access to Government services and to help people fit services to their lives, rather than vice versa.

The Modernising Government programme is overseen by a Project Board, chaired by the Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary, with members drawn from main delivery departments, local government, the TUC, CBI and academics. The Project Board identified six priorities for 1999-2000:

Roll-out of a complete framework for good policy-making and independent review of its implementation;
Establishment of effective business planning throughout the public sector, building on the 2000 Spending Review and the ensuing Public Service Agreements;
Review of the way that all public services are delivered, to bring about continuous improvement in quality and service standards and to ensure that services are responsive to the needs of the citizen;
Implementation of the development of a corporate IT strategy for e-government, including robust targets for the availability, use of and satisfaction with electronic services;
The programme to modernise the Civil Service;
A major programme to modernise management elsewhere in the public sector.

The first Annual Report on Modernising Government, citizens first, was published in September 2000.

Civil Service Reform

In 1999, Sir Richard Wilson, Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service, reported to the Prime Minister on the changes needed in the management of the Civil Service to ensure that the Governmentís programme is delivered effectively. This section sets out the key themes of the report.

The world in which the Civil Service operates is changing fast. Information technology, the media, electronic communications, Europe, modernisation of the constitution, public demand for higher quality services, and new Government priorities: all are changing and all require new ways of working. The Civil Service must similarly respond to them fast, always aiming for excellence, innovation and best value.

The members of the Civil Service Management Board have committed the Civil Service to action on the basis of six key themes:

i. stronger leadership with a clear sense of purpose;

ii. better business planning from top to bottom;

iii. sharper performance management;

iv. a dramatic improvement in diversity;

v. a Service more open to people and ideas, which brings on talent; and

vi. a better deal for staff.

Each department will drive through action in these six areas, including some common measures. integrating this work with the other change programmes in hand to deliver the Governmentís objectives through their Public Service Agreements (PSAs) and the Modernising Government agenda on excellence in policy making, responsive and high quality public services and electronic government.

The goal is to create a more open, diverse and professional Civil Service in which people will put the publicís interests first; innovate, create and learn; take personal responsibility, work in partnership with others; and use new technology to deliver result of high quality and good value.

The result will be:

a tougher emphasis on results and outcomes, identifying the root causes of problems, particularly for cross-cutting policy areas;
better researched, more innovative solutions to problems; a wider range of experience, ideas and professionalism, both from inside and outside the Service;
a better European focus;
more creative and collaborative working, actively managing risk;
civil servants taking greater pride in what they do.

In doing all this, the aim is to build on the enduring core values of the Civil Service and continue, in support of successive administrations, to act with integrity, propriety and political impartiality, and to select on merit.

Stronger leadership with a clear sense of purpose

Studies of successful organisation show that strong leadership is essential to achieve change. The Civil Service needs leaders at all levels, but particularly at the top, who are actively committed to transforming their organisations, have a clear sense of direction, purpose and values, and inspire and motivate those they work with.

Better business planning

The Civil Service needs to ensure that Ministersí objectives are synchronised with departmentsí business plans in a coherent process to ensure that there is a common view of priorities. Joint Ministerial training with civil servants is also an important element.

Sharper performance management

At the moment Civil Service performance management systems send mixed messages. There is a widespread feeling that performance-related pay is not working as it should. The aim is to introduce performance management that underpins the change in culture; confronts poor performance; gives fair rewards for decent performances; rewards outstanding achievement by individuals and teams; and creates a climate in which people want to give of their best and strive for continuous improvement.

A dramatic improvement in diversity

The Civil Service is strongly committed to bringing a dramatic improvement in its record on diversity, and to raising diversity awareness. The Civil Service Management Board attaches great importance to developing policies to enable staff to achieve a better balance between their work and private lives.

A more open Civil Service which brings on talent

Civil Servants need exposure to wider thinking and new ideas, The Reform programme aims to target the areas with the greatest need for innovative thinking, broader horizons and different skills...The Programme is also about creating a Service which values people and develops them to their full potential, at all levels, gives them more challenging opportunities at all stages, and helps outstanding performers to progress rapidly.

A better deal for staff

Every Civil Service organisation is committed to offering staff new ways of working which reflect the vision and values of the Civil Service. The aim is to create organisations that are open to challenge from staff if these new ways of working are not delivered, and that regularly look for improvements in the deal they offer.

The full text of Sir Richard Wilsonís report to the Prime Minister and other documents on civil service reform can be seen on the Cabinet Office website:


Public Service Agreements

Public Service Agreements (PSAs) are at the heart of the relationship between the centre of Government and individual departments. They are the vehicle for the Governmentís ambition of modern, high-performing public services combining innovation and excellence.

The Government wants to ensure the effectiveness of the services the public receive. That is what makes a difference to the quality of peopleís lives. The way to do this is through Public Service Agreements (PSAs). These bring together essential information about departmentsí strategic plans.

PSAs were introduced in the 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review, which established spending plans for each department for the period 1999-2002. The first PSAs were published in the December 1998 White Paper Public Services for the Future: Modernisation, Reform, Accountability. PSAs for the period up to 2004 were agreed as part of the 2000 Spending Review, which was coordinated by the Treasury, and published in a White Paper in July 2000. Departments are responsible for monitoring progress against each element in their PSAs and publishing the results in their annual reports.

The publication of PSAs represents a fundamental change in the accountability of Government to Parliament and the public. Too often in the past it has been hard to identify the effects of increased public expenditure. Lack of hard information has made it difficult for the public to make sure services are measuring up to what they want and need. PSAs show the public what they can expect to get for their money.

PSAs include commitments by the responsible Ministers to those who are affected by the public services. Whilst PSAs are set for each department, they are agreed by the Government as a whole. There are also some PSAs for a number of cross-cutting policy areas, where several departments are involved.

What is in each PSA

Every PSA includes:

aims and objectives;
performance targets;
efficiency/value for money targets.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the 2000 Spending Review was to determine how best departments' programmes can contribute to the achievement of the Government's objectives, in particular:

opportunity for everyone to fulfil their potential through education and employment;
a fair and inclusive society in which communities are healthy and secure; and
higher productivity, sustainable economic growth and effective co-operation with our European and international partners.

Departments have defined their aims and objectives in this context.

Performance targets

Each PSA sets out the key performance targets, which will contribute to achieving its aims and objectives. It also explains how these contribute to the Governmentís overall strategy. The targets form the heart of the PSA. They are, therefore, wherever possible SMART ie specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed. If they are not, departments commit themselves, wherever possible, to make them so. They should be focussed on outcome rather than output, eg a good health target would be to lower the death rate from killer diseases, rather than more nurses.

Value for money

The Governmentís aim of delivering efficient and modern public services means the public sector has to make sure effective results are obtained from available resources. So PSAs include specific value for money (vfm) targets across the range of public services for which each department is responsible, with measures of individual key outputs. 

Service Delivery Agreements (SDAs)

These are detailed operational plans for each individual service for which departments are responsible, to complement high level performance targets, ie the "how" which shows how the "what" will be delivered.

Monitoring PSA targets

Monitoring delivery of PSAs is the vital next step in the process of making the PSA process work. A Cabinet Committee chaired by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (PSX) is in charge. There are four separate strands, which are coordinated by the Treasuryís GEP team:

setting up and running a database from which to give quarterly monitoring reports to PSX on overall progress;
twice-yearly discussions between PSX or the Chief Secretary and the relevant Secretary of State to look at key targets;
separate monitoring of targets and issues that appear across Departmental PSAs;
reporting annually to the public on progress.

How PSAs contribute to joined up Government

The PSA process is used to make departments jointly responsible for delivering some key policy objectives. The 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review resulted in three cross-cutting PSAs: for the Criminal Justice System, Action against Illegal Drugs and the Sure Start programme of childcare. The 2000 Spending Review took this idea much further, with fifteen cross-cutting studies of issues that span departmental boundaries.

PSAs also reflect the results of other forms of interdepartmental working. For example, the Treasury has established a Public Services Productivity Panel, which brings together people with high level experience of the public sector and the outside perspective of the private sector. Each panel member is assigned to detailed projects, supported by departmental and Treasury staff, and in some cases their own company staff.

Departmental plans for better service delivery - and consequent commitments in their PSAs and SDAs - also reflect the results of various Cabinet Office initiatives. Cross-cutting work in the Performance and Innovation Unit, the Social Exclusion Unit, the Womenís Unit and the UK Anti-Drugs Co-Ordination Unit can all be expected to feed through into policy making and resource planning in the departments affected. The Modernising Government and Civil Service Reform programmes are also highly relevant in this context. The Cabinet Office pushes the policy agenda forwards and departments incorporate the results in their PSAs and SDAs.

There is more about PSAs on the Treasury Government Secure Internet (GSI) website: (only accessible by Government departments on the GSI network)  and on their Internet site 

Further detail on parts of No 10 Downing Street, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury - including those usually known by name rather than initials - can be found in Part II of this guide.

Previous page
Contents pageNext page