Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s senior adviser, amplified his reputation for beyond-the-box thinking last week with a rambling blog post that doubled as a recruitment advertisement.
According to his article, Cummings aims to make himself “largely redundant” within a year by bringing in various strains of fresh blood to No 10: “We want to hire an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds to work in Downing Street,” he writes. “Some as spads [special advisors] and perhaps some as officials.”
Different types of people are invited to apply via a private Gmail account – underscoring the idea that these new recruits are expected to fall outside the formalities of the Civil Service, at least as far as the hiring process goes.
Specifically, Cummings is seeking data scientists and software developers; policy experts; project managers; communication experts; junior researchers; plus “weirdos and misfits with odd skills”. That last category has unsurprisingly attracted a lot of media attention, but it’s the “project manager” role that has most relevance for the construction sector, given that Cummings goes on to outline how he thinks the new government should tackle major projects in future.
“It is obvious that improving government requires vast improvements in project management,” Cummings says. “The first project will be improving the people and skills already here.” Citing the successes of early mega projects from the development of the atom bomb to putting men on the moon, he notes that “more effective approaches” appear to have been abandoned in the subsequent search for efficiency.
Cummings’ missive follows other hints that the new Conservative government plans to use its large majority to refashion the functions of Whitehall, by bringing in new people, divvying up responsibilities differently among existing departments, creating new ministries and perhaps disbanding old ones. Changes of this sort, should they materialise, are bound to have a profound impact on those carrying out substantial work in the public sector.
Right-leaning think-tank Policy Exchange explored the potential for change in a document published late last month, entitled Whitehall Reimagined. “Public procurement and outsourcing have become a byword for high-profile government failures,” the document states. “From the bankruptcy of Carillion … to the ongoing problems with the escalating cost of High Speed 2, it is clear that there is something very wrong with the way that the machinery of government interacts with private commercial organisations.”
The think-tank makes a series of recommendations for government procurement post-Brexit, once it is “free of the bureaucratic and anti-commercial requirements” of the EU. It suggests that tendering should focus firmly on outcomes rather than processes, that the grounds for legally challenging contract awards should be curtailed, and that tender evaluation processes should include the impact on British jobs.
While the thinking set out by Policy Exchange may not reflect the reality within No 10, it chimes with the stall set out by Cummings. Anyone with an interest in bidding for government work should watch these developments carefully.
Dramatic change is in the air.