I’ve been working in central government, in various guises, for ten and a half years. It’s been quite a decade.
I don’t tend to talk or write much about what I do. But today, I’ve sat down and made myself go through that career. It’s entailed:
- 8 roles
- 8 departments
- 3 general elections
- 5 administrations
- Tens of millions of pounds of budget managed
- Delivery of over 40 digital projects/services
I’ve edited an multi-award winning staff magazine.
Developed and operated the first cross government online community using an open source platform.
I delivered same day payday loans iterations of G-cloud and the first Digital Outcomes and Specialist framework.
And helped to hire over a hundred digital experts.
Cakes were supplied to that crazy bunch up on the sixth floor setting up what became GDS.
Spotting the hidden talent that hides in forgotten corners of the civil service and given them a chance to shine.
Through it all, I’ve fought endless battles to make sure we do the right things for the right reasons.
The good times
I’ve been privileged to have experienced some amazing things during these ten years.
I’ve spent time seeing first hand what our criminal justice system is like. One of my abiding memories was spending time on the Thames with the river boat police. I’ve watched court proceedings; visited a young offenders institution; a category C prison; watched the CPS prosecute and spent time with front line staff who work with the victims of crime.
I’ve worked in Number 10 with real access to the centre of power – which never ceases to blow my tiny, American, farm-girl mind. I’ve even had the honour of being drooled on by the Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.
I’ve sat in the civil service box in the House of Lords, passing notes to the Lord speaking for the government whilst being dazzled by the autumn sun reflecting on that gilded ceiling.
I even got to exit the famous Downing Street gates in an official car with tourist clammering to see who was inside.
I’ve met hundreds of amazing civil servants across all the nations of the UK. Many of them are my closest friends to this day.
I thought that we’d won the fight between the old and the new after the creation of GDS. For a while we did. But then the civil service did what the civil service does and closed ranks.
Digital in central government is suffering in 2016.
The civil service has been through an unprecedented period of paralysis. We’ve had the year long run up to the general election in 2015, several long purdah periods, a spending review, another budget, the EU referendum, a change of administration and a long winded machinery of government change that’s still rumbling on without direction.
I’m seeing the slow dismantling of GDS and all it’s strived to change. I’m seeing a lack of appetite in departments for real, meaningful transformation. I’m seeing a lack of effective leadership right from the very top of the civil service.
There is a lack of vision, lack of ambition and lack of any sort of a plan anywhere. There is a lack of interest.
All of this has taken a deep toll on getting anything done.
There is also danger from many angles.
We’re ruled by a cadre of senior civil servants and politicians who don’t understand technology, still think it’s a gimmick and are more concerned with building empires than delivering good services to the people of the United Kingdom.
Many civil servants lack even basic skills. Things as fundamental as knowing how to type – let alone the more advanced things they need to know to work in the 21st century. This makes them resentful of “digital” and resistant to the change that it means.
I see very little being done to support civil servants, help through this period of change to the very way they work, let alone a widespread plan to upskill them.
Pay, reward and “performance management” structures are not fit for the 21st century and are not what truly motivates people. Creative thinking, innovation and new ways of doing things are not recognised or rewarded.
And while the civil service is in this period of retrenchment I can’t do any more of the exhausting fights to gain even an inch of ground.
And because of this, I find myself not caring anymore. I find it hard to motivate myself to turn up and do anything in this climate of disruption and uncertainty. I find myself angry more than I’m not.
I don’t want to burn out entirely. Some little part of me still cares and will always care about government. But it’s time for some self care.
It’s time, after a decade, for me to leave central government.
Thanks for helping making things better. Just because the weeds start to return, doesn’t mean that work on improving the garden was pointless.
Hello. I’m a CS working in a totally different area, feeling very similar feelings. I wish you every success in the future. Good luck!
Thanks for your lovely honesty & care in this post.
I reached this point working for part of DEFRA back in February and am now volunteering to help local digital & social startups in a small town. Leaving government is a start, not an end.
There are other ways of changing services.
Good luck with whatever you do next.
From a peer in France: best of luck in what you do next, and thank you so much for having inspired a new generation of people from the internets to join civil service.
Some things may be reversed, but we are quite a bunch to know what has been possible, and will demand it again at some point.
I’ve worked for DWP and two local governments.
Same story throughout. As soon as someone with initials before or after their name gets a whiff of control on digital services it gets clamped down, choked and eventually dies.
As the meme goes – it’s not your fault.