Civil Service Live: Sir Gus O’Donnell Keynote

Live blogging from the last of the three day Civil Service Live event. We’re about to get started. Keep refreshing this page for updates.

09:35 The prerecorded message from PM Gordon Brown is played (same one from Tuesday). O’Donnell begins with note that PM is at G* and says this gives himthe capacity to be here.

09:38 O’Donnell talks about his history at state school and Warwick Uni and Oxford.  he readin economics, and his first choice career was to be a pro footballer – he had everything but talent.  But did get to Wenbley as a post-grad at Oxford.  Lesson is if you have an ambition, go for it, even if you have to go about it in an alternative manner.  After Oxford (1973-75) the best went on to become Uni academics, the average students went on to civil service and lowest went in to industry.  Bizarre attitude.  O’Donnell went on to academia and taught at Glasgow Uni.  He was given advice from his senior professor that his talent as an academic wasn’t going to make him in to the next John Maynard Keynes.  He was told to get out – this was good advice because he was more interested in real world problems, issues about growth in the east, and every day problems. Sometimes best advice is from people who understand that your skills lie elsewhere.  So he joined the civil service as an econometrician in the Treasury, even though he wanted to get in to the Development unit.

09:45 He was able to work in the Treasury in economics and to consider how to assist Development anyway.  After a while he was given the opportunity to become an official in the US Embassy.  He was ranked #4 for the role as he was considered too narrow as an econometrician.  But his skills were specific, and he was fortunate to be selected for his specialist skills.  He went to washington and saw things from a very different dimension.  He was made to think how the Treasury should change the way it operates.  he was able to see some tough sections of the US and was fascinated to see just how irrelevant the UK experience really was.  Eventually Nigel Lawson came out to Washington and asked him to be his principle private secretary.  Didn’t want to devote as many hours to PPS role. So he did a deal with the Press Officer to take his job while the press officer became the PPS.  He thought it would be a less demanding role in terms of hours.  It didn’t work that way.  What he learned was feedback was crucial to improvement.  As a press officer he was thrown in to the deep end.  Was very difficult but within 2 months Lawson had resigned.

09:51 Eventually John Major came in and after some time Major was made PM.  He then had a chance to tarvel with Major to Number 10 or to stay with the Chancellor.  He took the risk and went to Number 10.

09:53 O’Donnell said the Press Secretary role is addictive but it’s 24/7.  His family asked him to get out of the role.  In 1994 he went back to Washington and went on to the Board at the World Bank.  Learned a great dea.  Finally moved back to the Treasury and finally back to the Cabinet Office and became Cambinet Secretary recently.

09:55 In his role as Head of the Civil Service O’Donnell feels the challenges we face are phenomenal.  In terms of climate change, he’s trying to ensure that the ‘greeness’ of the technology they use as well as the travel used is maximised.  We also need to operate at an individual level to truly bring about change.  If you look at the projection on obesity, ageing and service responses (such as health services, drug treatment, etc) we have an enormous responsibility to plan ahead.  And in light of the financial crisis, we’re going to have to do more and more with less and less resources.  People are going to expect that the civil service are going to be accessible 24/7.  You can match the challenge but it will be harder than in the private sector.

10:00 This may be where Oxford got it right.  It’s harder to deliver services in the civil service than in the private sector, because it’s crucial to ensure that all citizerns have access to the interfaces for civil services.

10:02 In the next 5-10 years, civil service needs to innovate, to think differently and to share information so that these services can continue to be developed and accessible when and how citizens need them.

10:04 It’s important to consider the preventative opportunities – to prevent people from ending up in hospital, to prevent childhood obesity, to prevent climate change.  The civil service understands the diversity of the public thus better positioned to implement strategies that will promote useful outcomes and prevent negative outcomes.

10:07 Civil services values of honesty, objectivity, accuracy, impartiality hugely important to show that the civil service work for the elected government of the day.  need to be prepared for whomever is elected to work for that government. The thing O’Donnell likes about the civil service is the positive things that it can do for local and global improvement – reduction of global child poverty, saving the planet, making the UK a better place for our children.  Civil servants need to be objective but can be passionate and proud of the work they do.

This entry was posted in Civil Service Live, Events and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.