Comment Blog 18 June, 2024

Delivering manifestos, manifesting delivery

Joe Hill
Policy Director


We spent last week analysing the Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem manifestos for their strengths and weaknesses. The election coverage continues to debate whether they are ambitious, affordable or reforming enough, but there is one word which isn’t getting nearly enough airtime: deliverability.

Government’s appetite for new policy announcements has always exceeded its ability to deliver them – the next government will be no different. And Whitehall often struggles to deliver at pace and scale. Today, we published a new paper focused on exactly this question. ‘A manifesto for delivery: 14 ideas for a better Whitehall’ provides new Ministers with a roadmap to get Whitehall delivering their priorities. It builds on insights from a series of five senior-level roundtables, run over the last year, in partnership with Newton Europe.

When I worked in the civil service, internal reform was always the last thing on the agenda, the ‘we can pick it up another time’ item. There are good reasons for that – politicians want to show the public they are focused on their priorities, not fiddling with bureaucracy. But when the same delivery issues occur repeatedly, they cannot be fixed without addressing the underlying causes.

Of the many ideas in the Manifesto, my favourite is the second – building new institutions like the No 10 Delivery Unit, which can operate across siloes in government and quickly get feedback on whether outcomes are being delivered.

Whitehall often lets perfect be the enemy of good, and doesn’t create new teams like these until it’s designed a comprehensive operating model for the future of government. But I’m sceptical that there will ever be a ‘perfect’ operating model for Whitehall – times change, and so do priorities, and a system which is quicker at setting up and standing down teams will respond much better to that change than one which promises a big reorganisation at a distant point in the future.

We could grow the economy, improve public services and tackle the climate crisis if we focused more on underlying factors like this. And there are many others: improving cognitive diversity, closer links with the private sector, and better evaluation of projects are all great ways to improve the functioning of the state. Give it a read!