Left column


I was delighted once again to be a judge for the Civil Service Awards. The awards aim to showcase best practice across the civil service, including inspirational leaders, excellent use of evidence, effective transformation, great skills development, committed customer focus, straightforward communication, and clear, practical and collaborative approaches to driving growth. In this blog-post I […]


Award winners’ secrets

Posted on December 6, 2016 by

Civil Service Awards
I was delighted once again to be a judge for the Civil Service Awards. The awards aim to showcase best practice across the civil service, including inspirational leaders, excellent use of evidence, effective transformation, great skills development, committed customer focus, straightforward communication, and clear, practical and collaborative approaches to driving growth. In this blog-post I want to highlight some of winners and their successes.

With a huge weight of business taking place across the civil service, it is important to pause from time to time to recognise civil servants’ achievements. The civil service has many talented people within its ranks and it is important to celebrate its accomplishments. Crucially, such awards also help to shine a light on best practice and showcase the diverse work that the civil service does.

Each of the winners, across 17 categories, was very well deserved. Here are some winning projects that we consider particularly excellent and illustrative of some issues we often stress in our recommendations and good practice guides. Further details of the winners are on the Civil Service Awards website.

The Analysis and Use of Evidence Award

Winner: Public Health England’s National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, which won this award for its five-year transformation of the collection of cancer data into one of the most sophisticated services in the world. This service provides a single source of information, enabling multiple organisations, including NHS England, the Royal Colleges and NICE to make better decisions about preventing and treating cancer.

Why we liked it: Just about every NAO report mentions the importance of analysing and using evidence to inform decision-making, so we particularly applaud this example of creating one, country-wide ‘version of the truth’, which is used by multiple users. It provides information that can directly support service improvement – such as NICE’s use of the data to evaluate new cancer medications. We also particularly liked the fact that data is fed back to clinical teams to show comparative performance and outcomes, helping to spread good practice and understanding.

Some useful NAO resources:
This page links to our key performance measurement reports
Performance measurement: Good practice criteria and maturity model
Measuring performance delivered through others – a blog-post linking to several other reports
Welfare reform – lessons learned, including ‘Briefing: Lessons for major service transformation’

The Customer Service Award

Winner: The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman’s Fatal Incidents Investigations Team, which undertakes independent investigations of deaths in custody. It’s transformed its performance through radical changes in its structure and processes, focusing on performance and customer outcomes. In 2011 it was delivering only 14% of investigation reports on time, now it’s 100%, despite a 58% increase in the number of investigations and a decrease in resources.

Why we liked it: The transformation of this service was based on a thorough and structured approach to understanding where and how customers were being failed. It is a hugely challenging environment, with great customer sensitivities to take into account. We found this to be an impressive example of working to meet customers’ needs better and sharing learning with other stakeholders within the system.

The Supporting Growth Award

Science and innovationWinner: Department of Health’s Research Infrastructure and Growth Branch, Science Research and Evidence Directorate. Growing life science industry is a government priority and the team’s challenge was to drive culture change in the NHS research environment to support collaboration with the life sciences sector. The team created a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) infrastructure in the NHS, which is widely recognised as having transformed the attractiveness to industry of research in the NHS and is attracting international investment.

Why we liked it: This example highlights a number of the principles we believe sit behind successful projects. In creating the NIHR the team had a broad, but clear, objective to change culture in NHS research and drive collaboration. Their plan was very clear in scope and broken down into four practical actions to achieve change. And the impacts achieved were strong and impressive, including reducing the timing for research projects to start-up.

Some useful NAO resources:
With economic growth so important to much government work, we are increasingly focusing on this issue to help share lessons across government. This page links to our key reports on economic growth.
Local Enterprise Partnerships
BIS’s capital investment in science projects
Forthcoming: Research and development: funding and oversight across government

The Skills Award

Digital skillsWinner: Legal Aid Agency (LAA)’s Digital Capability Team, which has developed and implemented a digital capability plan that’s been instrumental in transforming the LAA to deliver a better service to legal aid providers and clients, and help LAA staff develop their career. More than 90% of legal aid applications are now received online and digital tools are used throughout the organisation.

Why we liked it: In our report on The digital skills gap in government: Survey findings (summarised in our blog-post Skills for digital transformation) we stressed the need for fundamental change, involving radical and flexible operating models, designed around users and data. It also stressed that this ‘digital transformation’ requires business change, as well as IT, technology and data skills. Our survey found a limited supply of digital skills in the private, as well as public and third sectors. We were therefore pleased to see this project’s focus on building skills. Their work has had a significant impact on the LAA’s operation and culture and produced tangible cost savings and reduced reliance on contractors.

In addition to these projects, I particularly commend Austin Treacy, an outstanding prison governor in the Northern Ireland Prison Service, who won the Inspirational Leadership Award. Austin’s leadership demonstrates an approach to innovative, collaboration, user-focus and staff encouragement that is an excellent example to all leaders.

Once again, I congratulate all the winners and those short-listed for these Awards and encourage everyone to take inspiration from them. So often we find that the secret to brilliant ideas and award-winning actions is the strong application of simple, but essential, approaches, such as those set out in our report: Managing business operations – what government needs to get right.

The NAO supports such Awards because we believe passionately in the value of sharing innovative ideas and good practice. We will continue to identify and share lessons ourselves, through our publications, blog-posts, events bringing together those working in the same field, and, where appropriate, by putting organisations in touch with others facing similar issues. If our work across the public sector could help you, please do not hesitate to contact us, or post a comment.
Amyas Morse

About the author: Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General. Amyas has been head of the NAO since 2009, before which he was a global partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers and Commercial Director at the Ministry of Defence. He has served on a range of cross-government Boards and Groups.


Share this article on social media:


3 responses to “Award winners’ secrets”

  1. @JagPatel3 says:

    If the Civil Service Awards showcase best practice in the Civil Service, then one has to also acknowledge that there some parts of this vast bureaucracy that is still deeply rooted in practices of the past.

    It has long been established as a fact that the lack of commercial skills in the Civil Service is hampering attempts to make central Government procurement more efficient – a point that the former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee highlighted time and again, during the last Parliament.

    With respect to the Ministry of Defence, one must add the woefully inadequate Project Management skills of its acquisition officials at MoD Abbey Wood, Bristol as a serious obstacle to value for money procurement.

    Because, instead of requiring Defence Contractors to scope a fully costed and priced Programme of Work in Microsoft Project to advance the developmental status of their starting-points for their Technical Solutions from their existing condition, to a point where they will satisfy the qualitative and quantitative requirements expressed in the technical specification, MoD is persisting with the tried-and-failed practice of asking for a plethora of Management Plans as a response to the invitation to tender – which has given Contractors a chance to stuff these plans full of:

    (a) Pretty pictures and diagrams.

    (b) Grossly exaggerated claims regarding the maturity of the starting-point for the Technical Solution.

    (c) Warm soothing words, false promises and hollow statements of intent skilfully crafted in such a way as to allow Contractors to rescind on work commitments later on, during the Contract performance phase.

    (d) Organisational charts with names of self-important people on overheads who will not be getting hands-on with the work to be done in the next phase.

    (e) An asking price quoted in the ITT response which bears no correlation to the work intended to be performed by the Contractor during the follow-on phase.

    (f) A non-existent or useless schedule.

    In addition, the widespread practice of digging out old ITTs from the archives, dusting them off, searching & replacing the project name and despatching them off to Contractors has resulted in the Principles of Natural Justice being routinely violated, because selection criteria essential to inform the decision on down-selection, phase-by-phase is omitted – leaving Bidders in the dark as to what evaluation criteria they will be measured against.

    Such is the stupid folly of the moment that this is what passes for best practice in Project Management in the 21st century, as practiced by MoD civil servants and Defence Contractors!

    It’s not so much a lack of skills in the Civil Service that is the problem, but a surplus of people with the wrong skills.

    But it is so easy to become fixated with talking about and analysing the problem which is a common habit. Accordingly, I propose a solution to this intractable problem. It can be found at paragraph 43 of this written submission published by the Defence Select Committee:


    @JagPatel3 on twitter

    • @JagPatel3 says:

      I should have made clear that the solution can be found on page 91 (paragraph 43 and those that follow) of the pdf file.

      • Jeremy Lonsdale says:

        Thanks for your comments again, Jag. Our report on the MOD’s Equipment Plan last year recommended that the department needed to give urgent attention to closing systemic and project-specific capability gaps within project teams, and that the success of the DE&S’s organisational transformation programme relied on removing capability gaps. We also commented on the importance of managed service providers transferring skills and capabilities to DE&S staff. We continue to see developing the appropriate skills as a key to effective DE&S performance and will track this as part of our follow-up work.
        Jeremy Lonsdale, Director, Ministry of Defence VFM audit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Right column

  • About the NAO blog

    Our experts share their views about issues and common challenges facing government, what public sector leaders should look out for and how organisations have addressed issues. Our posts draw together threads from across our reports, share secrets spilled in events and reveal our experts’ expectations for the future.

    We encourage comments that support the exchange of ideas for improvement, but ask that those posting are respectful of others.

  • Sign up for automatic feeds

    Sign up to receive email alerts:

    RSS IconSubscribe in an RSS Reader