Much has been written about the much-vaunted reforms being proposed for Government departments across Whitehall with some high expectations. The Governing party may be new and fresh in numeric terms but is led by experienced operators when it comes to understanding how Whitehall works.
Manifestos come and go, but Government departments are often working on a longer timeline than the political cycle. During an extraordinary period of turbulence in British politics, it has uncovered the need for more flexibility in delivering pledges made by political parties of all colours.
Civil servants have admirably managed a set of scenarios which would have been deemed fanciful before 2016. EU exit dominated meetings and resource across Whitehall for the best part of four years, whilst officials in parallel tried to deliver on ministerial priorities. Add in the regular possibility of a Government collapse means that this new political cycle will bring breathing space for planning that has strong foundations, with reform being a natural consequence.
In my time as a special adviser to three Governments – before, during and after Brexit – highly capable officials would crave clarity and a clear sense of direction from ministers. For many in the civil service, this will be the first time they will serve under a Government with such a clear majority. They can now digest the Conservative Party manifesto with gusto and put plans in place to deliver the pledges made to voters over the next five years.
Dominic Cummings has used his experience inside and outside of Government to understand that a laser focus and constant vigilance is what is needed to deliver on priority projects. He knows how wasteful it is to get caught up in the day to day noise of SW1. In addition to the manifesto, a whole new swathe of Conservative MPs will do well to identify one or two key policies and stick to them.
These policies will then be considered by ministers and put into a plan for delivery across the whole of the United Kingdom – and not just seats that turned blue in recent weeks. Major infrastructure does not recognise constituency boundaries, so officials can think big and pull incredibly powerful levers to deliver projects that will transform communities and address the productivity challenge.
Cummings will be aware that Labour ministers in the early days of the 1997 landslide victory could have delivered more tangible projects with such a large majority. The ministers, advisers and officials working through the past three years will never forget the sheer inertia that a Government with no majority had to endure.
Many in the civil service will quietly nod with approval as to the absolute clarity that Cummings has brought to the political machine in just a matter of months. The relative simplicity of the new political world will be welcomed. Most of the effective reforms will happen naturally and largely unnoticed – less a big bang, but Whitehall will reshape itself to deliver for a Government that will be playing close attention to output.
2020 will outline the possibilities for the Government in this five-year Parliament and for Her Majesty’s opposition. British politics could be less dramatic this year, but it will define what comes next. The Hill+Knowlton Strategies Public Affairs team will be keeping a watching brief. H+K is experienced in the navigation of legislation, regulation and the direction of travel for this new political period. Our global team of experts can tailor a programme of activity designed to support you and your business.