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英国首相布莱尔98系列演讲之Civil Service conference - 13 October

2006-05-26 15:16

  First, thank you.

  Thank you for the extraordinary way in which the civil service played its role in the transition from a Conservative to a Labour Government in May last year. After 18 years of one party in power, you managed to make a smooth, almost seamless handover to a new government in just 24 hours. It was in the best tradition of a professional, non-partisan service and in the best traditions of our democracy. It was something any Prime Minister would be proud of, particularly when we look at the way transitions happen in other countries.

  This is a government that values public service. For too long public servants in the United Kingdom have been undermined and undervalued. What made you become civil servants is what made me go into politics - a chance to serve, to make a difference. It is not just a job, it is a vocation and this country relies on that ethic of service - in the NHS, in our schools and in the civil service.

  We inherited a workforce that is often frustrated and demoralised. Our aim is to revalue public service and rekindle the enthusiasm that made people like you become public servants in the first place.

  Let me also make it clear that we have no intention of politicising the civil service. A neutral civil service is one of the great assets of our political system and we will not put it at risk. I and my colleagues can look after the politics. That is what we are paid for. We set the general aims and priorities. It is your job to respond with high quality advice and excellent public services.

  The British civil service is a priceless asset. But that is not to say that everything is perfect and the civil service is exempt from our programme of change. Things could and must be done better.

  The civil service is good at preparing legislation and managing policy. It is perhaps less good at focusing on outcomes or ensuring effective implementation.

  Many parts of the civil service culture are still too hierarchical and inward looking. It needs to become more open, and responsibility needs to be devolved.

  Like British business, it is too short-termist. We need to encourage a longer term approach to decision-making - and that applies to Ministers too.

  Above all, the civil service is too risk averse. We need to encourage innovation. There need to be more incentives for trying out new ways of doing things.

  Reinventing government to remedy these failures is a key part of our constitutional reform agenda. Like other constitutional reforms, it will be difficult. But it is crucial if we are to modernise our country.

  Aims of Government

  Modernisation is our fundamental aim. We want a modern Britain; a Britain that is strong and fair. Modernisation for a purpose.

  You will have heard me talk about the third way. Let me explain what I mean by it. It is not the dogma of the old left, concentrating on means rather than ends. Nor is it the laissez faire of the New Right. Unlike the Old Left, we want a market economy. But unlike the New Right, we do not want a market society. Renewed social democracy.

  Big government is dead. The days of tax and spend are gone. Much of the deregulation and privatisation that took place in the 1980s was necessary. But everything cannot be left to the market. We believe there is a role for active government. But it is a modern government that does things in different ways. Look at some of the things we have already achieved with your help.

  In transport, public/private partnership to allow the modernisation of the Tube using private money and expertise, without selling if off. Or in science where, in partnership with the Wellcome Foundation, we have launched a ??1 billion programme to transform the science base.

  In welfare reform where the New Deal is a radically different approach, giving responsibility to Employment Service staff to draw up individually tailored action plans for the young and long-term employed.

  In education, a willingness to experiment with Education Action Zones where we can try out new ways of tackling problems, even involving private companies where appropriate.

  Challenge for the civil service

  I said in my Conference speech two weeks' ago that next year would be the year of challenge - for business, for teachers, for police officers. It will also be a year of challenge for the civil service. Let me set out the challenges in seven areas.

  First, constitutional reform. A major achievement of our first 18 months has been passing a great raft of constitutional legislation. Even so, we are only at the beginning of the story. Less than a year from now devolution in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will be a reality. We will all of us - Ministers and officials, in central Government and in the devolved administrations - be working in a new constitutional framework.

  I attach great importance to preserving a unified Civil Service working for all three administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Westminster. We do not want anybody who works in the Welsh Office or the Scottish Office to feel that they are being cut adrift from the Civil Service. I also attach great importance to establishing efficient machinery for close working between the UK Government and the devolved administrations.

  There are further constitutional changes down the road. Implementation of the new Human Rights Bill. Freedom of Information. Local government reform. All will require extensive training and preparation, and lead to changes in culture and in the way the Civil Service works.

  Second, Europe. The EU is a living community. It does not create its policies merely by taking papers from the Commission and discussing them at meetings. Ideas are born, discussed, take shape in endless negotiations across the Community, bilaterally as well as in Brussels. Anyone who thinks that it is enough to turn up with their briefcase and argue a rational case against a directive is in for a shock. That must be clear to everyone by now.

  This Government is positive about Europe. I want every Department to be close to our partners in Europe. I want you and your staff to know your opposite numbers in other member states and to stay in touch with them in the formulation of policies. The formation of a new Government in Germany is a good moment for us to forge close links with our partners. I hope you will take advantage of it.

  Third, improving services. Public services should be first rate services. People are not interested in whether something falls within the responsibility of this department or that department, of central government or local government. For the public what matters is what is achieved. They are less concerned with the processes of government.

  Across the world a revolution is underway to refocus government on outcomes: cutting crime, cutting unemployment, improving health, improving education. We are already part of that revolution. Few people noticed the radicalism of the CSR in this area - three year deals, letting departments keep savings, public service agreements to focus on outcomes. We are therefore all focusing as never before on implementation and reviewing performance.

  But I believe there is still further to go - for example, one of the successes of the CSR was the three departments involved in criminal justice pledging to work together on a shared strategy. We found out during the CSR that the structures for accounting to Parliament militated against this. And I found out last week how novel it was even to think of getting permanent secretaries to appear together in front of the Public Accounts Committee. Perhaps we will have succeeded once that's the norm rather than the exception.

  Fourth, innovation. We say to business that it must be innovative. That we are entering a knowledge economy. The same applies to government. Too often there is a fear of risk and change and experiment. Of course, we need to use public resources carefully. But if we are to raise our game then a lot of the talent there is in the civil service and public services more generally needs to be tapped into. It is why pilots, pathfinders and testing out policies are vital. That's why we created the Invest to Save Budget as part of the CSR to encourage innovative ways of working.

  Fifth, joined-up government. I used the phrase last year when launching the Social Exclusion Unit because I believe this is one of the greatest challenges. We owe it to citizens to focus on what needs to be done, not on protecting our turf. More and more that will require working across boundaries. Better health depends on decent housing, clean air, local sports facilities. Reducing crime depends on helping families, on giving young people something constructive to do in their spare time.

  Joint approaches are mushrooming around Whitehall - the SEU; Sure Start; the New Deal for Communities; the work of Keith Hellawell and the drugs unit.

  We must now learn which approach is suited to which problems of co-operation. Local loyalties of course can be a great asset. Departmental cultures can sustain standards and motivate those who deliver services. But we must keep sight of what we want to achieve - joined up policy making for joined up services.

  Sixth, personnel management. All of these challenges reduce to one management challenge: people. In some respects, our personnel function is brilliant - it picks and nurtures able people. A lot of effort has gone into improving Civil Service training. But my impression is that we need to do a lot more. We need no less than a new vision for how the Civil Service will work in the 21st century.

  For example, we need to question the traditional view of a Civil Service career. Recruitment out of university for work through to retirement is clearly no longer valid as a single universal model. The Civil Service will offer a range of careers, with continuous retraining. Some will develop as policy analysts. Many will specialise in service delivery. Others will develop specialisms such as IT, press or finance. But all must understand the worlds in which others work, and their needs, and wherever possible gain experience of those worlds. While a clear majority of the future leadership will be grown within the service we must also be ready to infuse new blood at all levels. For those developed internally, there will be greater emphasis on spells of secondment to widen experience.

  We need to think also about the structures in which we make people work. Often they frustrate more than they enable. New approaches may mean more project teams, less hierarchy, more use of IT to communicate within Whitehall, with local government, with EU partners.

  Finally, the future. For the last 18 months our focus - your focus - has been on the manifesto. And it will continue to be so. I am determined that when we go back to the electorate at the end of this Parliament we should be able to say to them that we have delivered on all our promises. It is my top priority, and it should be yours too. But I do not want to find, a year or two from now, that we are losing momentum and coming to rest as our pledges work through the system. Time in power is precious. We want to use every minute of it well.

  Now is the moment when we should be moving on to develop our policies. We should be thinking ahead to the next steps, the next priorities, the new measures which will follow through in the last years of this Parliament to meet the Government's long-term goals.

  To do this, we need to think about how we form policy. The British Civil Service is renowned for the quality of its advice. But in a world of ever faster change, we need continually to review and modernise how we perform that core function. Precisely because this Government believes in public service, we will be more demanding, less tolerant of the average.

  There's already a lot going on, such as Richard Wilson's review of the Centre. I hope very much that the new Centre for Management and Policy Studies will open government up to new thinking from the wider world, including other parts of the public sector and other countries. The new Performance and Innovation Unit will help tackle cross-cutting problems that have defeated this and previous governments. I know Richard will be talking about these and other parts of his review later on.

  But most of this new thinking will take place in departments, linked to the Centre by my Policy Unit.

  So at all levels, we need to ask ourselves searching questions about policy making. Do we devote enough time to developing new policies? Do we know enough about how other countries are tackling the same problems that we are trying to deal with? Do we think long-term enough, strategically enough? Do Ministers always act in a way to get the best out of the Civil Service machine? Do we still too often fall back on primary legislation and state action over partnership and self-regulation? Can we respond to failures by learning from mistakes rather than looking for someone to blame?

  I look forward to seeing this debate develop.

  Conclusion

  I hope very much that when civil servants look back on the early days of this Government they will judge that this was a good and exciting period for the Civil Service. It should be. You have a Government which understands and values the role of civil servants, which welcomes and invites your support and contribution on an impartial, professional basis; which has confidence in your ability to do your job.

  You also have a government which sets itself, and you, an ambitious but attainable agenda. Our success depends on you. I've outlined today the challenges which governments and civil servants around the world face. I don't believe that any other government is better served than we are by the British Civil Service. My specific challenge to you over the next year, and through the Better Government White Paper, is to think radically about ensuring that is still true in ten years time.

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