The Week

The Week 9 February 2024

Joe Hill
Policy Director

This week in Westminster, speculation about a Labour U-turn on the ‘Green Prosperity Plan’ came to pass, with the announcement that the widely-discussed £28 billion pledge would be watered down to £4.7 billion. But behind the main stage of politics, there's lots going on.

We launched our new research programme, 'Reimagining the Local State', led by our very own Simon Kaye. He blogged about our ambitions to understand what has failed in local government, the challenges of the future, and what an ambitious government should do next to devolve power in England.

This comes off the back of our ‘Devolve by Default’ paper, published in January, which argued Whitehall is trying to do too much from the centre, and everyone stands to benefit from a system with much more local accountability and decision making. One of the challenges with that model is building capacity locally, something which the County Councils Network highlighted this week in their report on workforce capacity — since 2012 the number of employees in England’s councils has reduced by over half a million, a decline of 31.5%. To support this programme, we have also announced our advisory group of prominent sector leaders — a veritable brain trust of insight.

Back in central government, the Public Accounts Committee continued their inquiry into the state of the Civil Service workforce, with evidence from Alex Chisholm and other leaders from the civil service’s People function. They speak to many themes which came out in our ‘Civil unrest’ paper last year, particularly around the challenges with managing poor performance.

On the good, we heard: significant progress in reducing the time it takes government to recruit people, particularly getting back to a place where UK Security Vetting can meet their service-level agreements — something the sector has been very sceptical could ever be delivered. The bad: confirmation that the plan for the civil service to deliver headcount reductions is still in development, and the target is to reach them “after the next SR period”, making it a problem for the next government. And the ugly: it isn’t clear that any progress has been made to understand why several departments are not tracking data on what happens to their poor performers, highlighted by the NAO in a report from November.

What we've been reading…

Our read of the week is from The Times Health Commission, which published their report with ten recommendations to save the NHS. Followers of the subject will recognise some familiar policies, such as the recommendation to implement patient passports via the NHS app, and expanding the sugar tax and other public health policies to reduce obesity. But many will welcome newer ideas, such as using High-Intensity Theatres to clear waiting lists in hospitals. Our Head of Health, Rosie Beacon, blogged about her view, particularly on the proposal for digital health passports and the practicalities of implementing it.

We also recommend reading Helen MacNamara’s interview with The Times on the culture in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, previewed in her evidence to the Covid Inquiry last year.