Dear PPMA friends

We hope all of you have had a wonderful Christmas break and we wish all of you a happy, health and exciting 2020. This week, our President Karen sets out her thoughts in part 1 of a 2 part post on the start of a new decade.

May we live in interesting times – Part 1 …..

When writing my New Year blog I usually have to hand an ‘official’ reading list (one that I am happy to reference) and an unofficial list which I never share. My official list includes expert outlooks for the coming year, advice on intention setting, key HR trends, last year’s experiences and learnings etc.

My unofficial list includes my horoscopes for the coming year (I’m an Aries btw) and Liverpool’s match fixture list. The fixture list is especially important this year as the Kloppmeister and the redmen are on a roll. #YNWA and all that.

However, the original blog plan has been overturned by Dominic Cummings thoughts on a Civil Service reset and a presumed hot war with Iran. The former merits commentary, the latter hope, respect and care for all those civil servants who are going to be engaged in working with government ministers to shape our response to this.

 The roaring 2020’s – a consequential decade…….?

The start of a new decade always offers a different perspective than just a yearly review. Looking backing over a ten-year period gives us room to draw informed conclusions about longer term trends that you rarely get when you are reviewing 12 months.

I’m hazarding a guess that our review of the 20’s from 2029 will be profound. We will be assessing the impact of a decade which will see the UK leave the EU and set out a new future. That new future is likely to see the EU and other global institutions change too.

This new future will likely have fundamental consequences for our democratic institutions, global and national trade policy, the make-up of the UK, our place in the world and the way in which we collaborate with new and current partners.

We will be assessing whether our efforts to address the impact of climate change have been successful; we will likely be using technology in ways that we even our most informed brain power now can barely conceive. We will undoubtedly have had to meaningfully address issues of privacy on social media, governance and transparency. God willing we will not fight a world war.

My own view is that some of the most important topics we will have had to tackle are as follows:

  • Inequality – of resources and opportunity
  • Countering the isolationism of ideology
  • Democratic deficits and the scourge of ideological purity
  • Reconciling facts and fake news.

I hope we will be shown to have been up to the task. There will be many factors influencing those but if we cannot agree common facts, critically think, look at another’s perspective, weigh evidence etc then we may well be starting 2030 in an even more precarious world.

Confession – I read The Sun and a whole range of other opinions….

This is not an easy admission for a Scouser, although in my defence I never pay money for the paper. Why do I read the Sun and why is it relevant to an HR & OD professional you might ask?

Well firstly I don’t just read the Sun. I read a number of articles across the Telegraph, Guardian, Daily Beast, MSNBC, Politico, HR trade mags, Daily Mail, Tortoise News, journal articles and so on, on a daily basis. I don’t sleep enough clearly.

But the reason I do that is because as a professional and as a citizen I know I need to keep open to other viewpoints. If I don’t read and investigate beyond crass headlines, my own capability to maintain a sense of balance, critically think, understand the other and make informed decisions will be substantially reduced. And of course, I need to read other fields to see how they impact on my profession.

In any event I just think being informed is the right thing to do. But it is especially important being in the PPMA President role. Because words have consequences and free speech isn’t actually free.

A changing Civil Service…….

And this brings me to Dominic Cummings and Rachel Wolf and what role they might deserve in shaping the future of public services. If I had a million for each Government that promised fundamental Civil Service reform by the way, I would be living it up in the Bahamas.

The Cummings article has obviously caused controversy and it’s worth examining whether it’s justifiable or not. And whether we should be outraged in the first place.

There is no question that we see failings across public service organisations and there is much room to improve and grow. We cannot and must not deny that. For UK plc’s long term future, it’s absolutely imperative that we have a strong, vibrant, proactive, high performing public sector workforce.

But articles over the last few days have yet again promoted a view that Civil Servants are woefully resistant to, fearful of and hardwired to avoid accountability, public sector reform, preparing for the future and so on. The notion that public servants seem not to understand how to recognise problems, develop innovative solutions, implement them, improve services and the lives of they people they serve is shatteringly ignorant.

In her article of January 2nd Rachel Wolf tells us that Dominic has researched his ideas on public sector reform for over 20 years. I honestly do think that this depth and breadth of research is profoundly creditable. It indicates a passion for/interest in and a capacity for dedicated research and thinking that is an important contributor for reform – whether we agree with what is said or not.

I’m not sure whether Rachel is inferring that Dominic’s 20-year dedication is unique. Inadvertently she may be. This reminds me though that there are plenty of other instances of people dedicating their lives to subjects that interest and excite them. For example, I have spent the last 20 years thinking passionately about how Liverpool FC can return to its former glory, but I acknowledge that my views may only be of interest to me.

I am being facetious obviously. But it illustrates a key point. Yet again assumptions are made about a Civil Service that for many of us working in it will feel utterly devoid of the experience that comes from actually working within the institutions delivering the broad scope of services that over 5 million people are involved in; awareness of the intellectual qualifications that an enormous part of this community has; and the basic understanding of the complexity of the sector as a whole.

There is no question that ideas from outside the service are profoundly important and an essential part in ensuring we develop inclusive policy. I was once an outsider as were many other Civil Servants. All views need to be welcomed.

However, as we all know there is an enormous difference between coming up with smart radical ideas and having the capability to actually implement them effectively in complex organisations whose primary stakeholders are actually each and every person who can be bothered to vote.

Weirdos and misfits…….

I’ve read Dominic’s blogs several times. You can read it here. There is much in it that has made me swear all day but there is much in it to wrap your arms around and engage with.

The stuff I wholeheartedly agree with:

  • There are many brilliant people in the civil service and politics
  • But there are also some profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions (disappointingly there seems to be a lack of recognition that politicians and SPAD’s have a role to play)
  • Dealing with these deep problems is supported by many great officials, particularly younger ones (– that’s a stretch for me), though of course there will naturally be many fears — some reasonable, most unreasonable
  • We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university
  • I will use this blog to throw out ideas
  • If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news

There is a breadth of thinking in the blog that is really interesting, whether you agree or not. But not agreeing with someone must not be a barrier to being open minded about what they are saying. The exception to that should be if someone is quoting discredited research or just making stuff up.

However, there is also a lot to challenge and I’ll be looking at that in part 2 of this blog which we will be posting on Monday 6th January. In the meantime, have a fabulous weekend.