Filling the Harley-shaped holes


It was announced yesterday that government’s Chief Information Officer (CIO), Joe Harley, is leaving at the end of the financial year. This is something of a shock, because Harley has been heralded as the man who will transform government’s IT fortunes. It’s also quite concerning because his own department, DWP, has a very large IT system that needs to be in place by 2013, and Harley will leave before the system is fully developed.

People come and go, but Harley’s departure highlights a structural problem, namely, the appointment of one official to do two (or more) roles. Harley is chief information officer for government and for DWP. This approach has also been mirrored in HR, with Chris Last performing the job for government and again for DWP. And the new head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, is also permanent secretary of DCLG.

Indeed, when cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell announced his departure, it took three people to replace him. Many experts have suggested that splitting the role is a problem, but isn’t it more concerning that some senior officials have so many responsibilities that their position can actually be split into a number of full-time jobs? If someone has so many responsibilities, how can they all be pursued with the time and effort they deserve?

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude is looking at what the future civil service will do. It would be wise for him to consider how many roles one official can be expected to have.

First published on the Civil Service Live Network