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    Using our insight into EU Exit preparations to highlight learning for government

  • Posted on September 24, 2020 by

    Credit: iStock.com/Pliene

    Given the wide-reaching impact of membership of the EU, preparing for the UK’s departure from the EU represented a significant challenge to government, with considerable potential consequences for businesses and citizens.  

    Our programme of work on EU Exit

    Over the last four years, the NAO has carried out a substantial programme of work on various aspects of government’s EU Exit preparations. We have published 28 reports so far, which have provided a detailed picture of significant EU Exit projects and programmes in real time, looking from planning into implementation stages. Using these reports, we compared different approaches taken by departments and considered the common barriers or enablers for achieving outcomes. We also returned to the same issues over time – for example, in our suite of reports on the border – to provide a point-in-time assessment of progress and risks, and to understand how and why things had changed.

    Our work highlighted the large amount of new activity departments were undertaking. This included developing understanding in new areas such as the Department for Health and Social Care’s work on supply chains; getting involved in new markets such as the Department for Transport’s procurement of freight capacity; or setting up new structures such as the cross-government Border Delivery Group. We recognised that new ways of working were necessary for government to meet the challenges it faced, and risks could be better managed if actively considered and planned for.

    Insights from government’s EU Exit preparations

    Our latest report Learning for government from EU Exit preparations brings together our insights from how government has tackled the challenge of preparing for EU Exit to date. We draw on our reports to highlight areas of good practice, such as the initial work the Department for Exiting the European Union asked departments to do to identify all the areas where EU Exit would have an impact. This provided a solid basis for assessing the scale of the challenge across government as a whole and across individual departments, and for identifying where an issue required a coordinated response across government. We also highlight areas where government’s approach could have been improved, such as in the slow move from policy to addressing implementation challenges, and the lack of timely and clear communication from the centre to departments.

    We saw that government had taken action to understand what was not working and to take steps to improve. The insights we set out are intended to help government identify and implement improvements on existing work at a faster pace.

    These fall into four broad areas that encompass important aspects of any government programme.

    Planning

    • Plan for all possible scenarios, with robust contingency plans.
    • Identify the scale, nature and complexity of the task at the outset.
    • Recognise the opportunities and increased risks from working at speed or in new ways.

    Oversight

    • Develop clear structures for oversight and decision-making.
    • Draw on expertise in implementation early on, to expose delivery risks.

    Collaboration

    • Develop effective structures to facilitate cross-government working.
    • Establish a culture of clear and timely communication across departments.
    • Engage early with key stakeholders, and understand their role in delivering the outcome.

    Financial management

    • Encourage strong financial management, for informed decision-making and accountability.

    Why our insights are important now

    While at the time EU Exit was a challenge with little historical precedent, the insights we have gathered continue to have relevance. Preparations for the end of the transition period in December 2020 are ongoing (we will be reporting on these in the near future), and the impact of the UK’s Exit from the EU will continue to be felt on the work of government as it plans the future policy direction of areas such as immigration, agriculture, consumer protection and the environment.

    Government is now also responding to the demands of a global pandemic which similarly requires a fast-paced response, innovative policy solutions, coordinated action across government and effective, external transparency and communication. And, as we highlighted in our five-year strategy, there are significant challenges for government ahead such as the transition to a net zero carbon economy, how demographic changes will continue to drive higher demand for public services, and how technological innovation will continue to reshape whole industries and public service delivery.

    Back in 2017, we raised the need for government to prioritise what it could manage from its existing business-as-usual work alongside the demands of EU Exit. The government of today is no less busy, and the Civil Service itself is undergoing reform, with a new Cabinet Secretary and a new Chief Operating Officer at the helm. It is more important than ever that government learns from its recent experiences to ensure that it is as well-placed as it can be to manage the scale and complexity of the many challenges it faces.

    Authors: Leena Mathew and Sarah Pearcey

    Leena has responsibility for the NAO’s work on EU Exit and the border, and Sarah has led many EU Exit reports. They both worked on the NAO’s report on the learning government can draw from its EU Exit preparations.

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  • Local government in 2019: a pivotal year

  • Posted on February 13, 2019 by

    Street sign pointing to range of local government services2019 will be a pivotal year for local government in England. Numerous difficult and open-ended questions need rapid resolution, at a time when government focus and capacity is directed elsewhere. Drawing on a number of our recent reports, here I explore some of the challenges facing the sector, from budget cuts and growing social care demands, to local service funding reforms and new risks from local government commercialisation. more… Local government in 2019: a pivotal year

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  • Risks, resources and government-supplier relationships

  • Posted on July 17, 2018 by

    Image of people rolling boulder up hillHundreds of major change programmes, increasing demands on and expectations of public services, productivity challenges – and the massive task of leaving the EU. In the face of such demands on skills and capacity, Sir Amyas Morse, Comptroller & Auditor General, spoke recently to the Whitehall and Industry Group (WIG) about why the public sector needs private and third sector skills, experience and capacity more than ever. The NAO Blog summarises Sir Amyas’s talk about some of the current key priorities and what is needed to make the relationship mutually successful and in the best interests of people and public services. more… Risks, resources and government-supplier relationships

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    8 Comments

  • Cross-government collaboration: lessons from R&D

  • Posted on February 16, 2018 by

    Photo of scientists working togetherLife-saving drugs, step-changes in energy efficiency, robots and amazing new materials that can transform our lives – these, and many scientific advances, are all the result of research and development (R&D). The UK funds £31.6 billion of R&D a year, and its success depends frequently on collaboration between a wide range of government departments, and with research councils, university bodies, businesses, charities and international organisations. As we look at the fascinating world of R&D, we can also learn much for all types of cross-government collaboration and coordination. more… Cross-government collaboration: lessons from R&D

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  • Growth through devolution: A New Year’s outlook

  • Posted on January 12, 2018 by

    Images of the 6 mayoral cities shown on the cover of the election toolkit for combined authorities to useA third of people living in England outside London live in one of England’s nine combined authorities, six being cities with directly elected mayors. Some commentators have expressed disappointment that the recent Secretary of State’s Annual Report on Devolution 2016-17 confirmed that there were no further devolution agreements in 2016-17. With combined authorities intended to be a key driver of local growth, should people, both in these regions and especially in areas without a combined authority, be clamouring for more action on devolution, or should we wait for clarity about the UK’s exit from the EU? What it will take for combined authorities to succeed in their aims? And do elected mayors have the potential to become significant figures on the national political stage? more… Growth through devolution: A New Year’s outlook

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  • EU exit: tough decisions and prioritisation needed

  • Posted on November 30, 2017 by

    Man faced with many projects to choose from“In light of the UK’s plans to leave the EU, the government should now prioritise the interests of the nation above those of Whitehall departments” said Sir Amyas Morse, Comptroller and Auditor General, speaking at the 23 November central government conference for members of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA). Public Finance Magazine subsequently published an article by Sir Amyas, Deal with Brexit first, and has kindly allowed us to re-publish it here. more… EU exit: tough decisions and prioritisation needed

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  • Stretching civil servants’ capability

  • Posted on July 20, 2017 by

    Civil service stretchedThe civil service is under pressure, as we found in our recent report Capability in the Civil Service. It has lost one in four civil servants since 2006 – with no reduction in workload, there’s a growing number of major projects to implement, greater public demand for services, new technologies – bringing both opportunities and threats, new ways of delivering public services, and action needed to leave the European Union. How can public sector organisations get or develop the people and skills they need? The first thing is: prioritise; it simply must do less. more… Stretching civil servants’ capability

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  • A flexible, engaged approach to efficient public services

  • Posted on March 6, 2017 by

    Amyas MorseI was privileged to speak to The Strand Group at King’s College London in early February on some of the elements needed for government to successfully implement major change programmes in complex, interconnected systems. The examples on which I focused were local, adult social care and NHS services in light of devolution, fiscal restraint and Brexit. After my talk, I was asked many interesting questions, some of which I would like to explore in more detail in this post. [See here for the video and transcript.] more… A flexible, engaged approach to efficient public services

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  • The glue to managing change

  • Posted on October 4, 2016 by

    Change mgt“Change is the law of life”, as John F Kennedy said. The big question at present is, what changes will Brexit bring? What will it mean for government departments? For local authorities? For people using services? For businesses? For the way government works? Amidst all the unknowns, one certainty is that we need a civil service able to manage major change effectively – not only new change relating to Brexit, but all the existing transformation of public services. Drawing on the extensive experience of our Operations and Process Management Community of Practice we explore key lessons for managing change effectively. more… The glue to managing change

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  • The next 150 years

  • Posted on June 30, 2016 by

    Annual ReportI am honoured to be the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) in post on the 150th anniversary of the role. Indeed, I was also here in 2014 for the 700th anniversary of the first (documented) Auditor of the Exchequer. Since then, our country has fought a Civil War over the role of Parliament, including its powers to raise revenue and authorise expenditure, although Parliamentary control and scrutiny of public spending has mostly been weak through the centuries. Somewhat more recently, the country has voted for a historic decision to leave the European Union, which will usher in major changes for government, needing careful planning, implementation and evaluation. more… The next 150 years

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