The Minister and the Official: The Fulcrum of Whitehall Effectiveness Contents

4Functional Leadership

81.A key plank of the Civil Service reform agenda introduced by Lord Maude was the development of cross-departmental ways of working under the label of “Functional Leadership”.133 Instead of departments working independently, generic activities common to all of them—HR, procurement, digital, law and so forth, were to be incorporated into cross-government “Functions”, coordinated from the Centre. Unlike the Professions, which are based around skills, Functions focus on the corporate activities of departments. By coordinating these from the Centre, shared systems could be introduced, duplication and waste reduced, and efficiency and bestpractice promoted in the context of a continued decline in Civil Service numbers.134 Though bringing a small reversal in this decline in headcount, Brexit has been argued to have given further impetus to coordinating from the centre.135

Professions and Functions

82.In the previous chapter, we noted the various cross-departmental initiatives in professional development and workforce planning. But, while the Professions provide some cross-government coordination, they have not had the breadth of remit, level of integration or coherence to fulfil attempts to establish a strong corporate centre for the Civil Service.136 From 2013, these Professions were supplemented by the ten (subsequently rising to 12) Functions: structures providing corporate services to government departments in areas such as Digital, Legal, HR and Finance. In some cases, the Functions mirror the Professions—there is a Human Resource Profession as well as a Human Resource Function, for example. In these cases, the Head of Profession also leads the Function.137

Table 1: Functions



Human resources


Internal audit

Corporate finance



Project delivery



Fraud, error, debt and grants

Table 2: Professions


Corporate Finance Profession

Government Security Profession

Counter-fraud Standards and Profession

Government Science and Engineering Profession

Digital, Data and Technology Professions

Government Social Research Profession

Government Communication Service

Government Statistical Service Profession

Government Economic Service

Government Tax Profession

Government Finance Profession

Government Veterinary Profession

Government IT Profession

Human Resources Profession

Government Knowledge and Information Management Profession

Intelligence Analysis

Government Legal Service

Internal Audit Profession

Government Occupational Psychology Profession

Medical Profession

Government Operational Research Service

Operational Delivery Profession

Government Planning Inspectors

Policy Profession

Government Planning Profession

Procurement Profession

Government Property Profession

Project Delivery Profession

83.Some of the roles of the Functions overlap with those of the Professions. The Functions are, for example, expected to play a role in recruitment, the deployment of expertise, skills development, establishing and managing career paths across government, succession planning and establishing and enforcing common standards across departments.138 However, Functions were also introduced to facilitate the integration of corporate activity across government:

Greater integration of specialist functions across departments, with stronger professional leadership of those specialist functions, would make the Civil Service more resilient and the business of Government more efficient.139

With cross-government Functions, savings could be made through shared services, with duplication between departments reduced and economies of scale realised in areas used across government such as payroll, generic IT or procurement.140 Lord Maude also claimed that Functions would improve policy by ensuring delivery expertise is brought into policy design rather than treated as an afterthought.

One of the benefits of what I have described as the model of strong functional leadership is that the more technical people—the commercial, digital, IT, financial people—who are at the moment kept far too far from the decision-making process have a strong reporting line into the centre. When you have a Cabinet Committee deciding whether a particular project or programme should go ahead, you have Ministers at the centre—Treasury Ministers, No. 10, Cabinet Office—who will be getting robust advice from the functional leaders about the implementation implications of it.141

84.Since leaving office, Lord Maude has claimed that progress towards greater functional integration has stalled and even reversed. In his view, this was due to the vested interests that some people have in maintaining Whitehall’s federal structure. Coordinating activity across government, he suggested, encroaches on the “prized autonomy of Permanent Secretaries”, which reflects the departmental structure of Whitehall and the direct accountability of departmental secretaries of state and their Accounting Officers to Parliament.142

Whenever you introduce any centrally driven initiative in Government, you find that there is a real interest in all of the departmental baronies to make sure it fails.143

85.Progressing and integrating cross-government Functions has apparently proved harder than anticipated. Ambitious savings targets from shared services which were predicted have not been met.144 The NAO has found that attempts to centralise procurement under the Crown Commercial Service underestimated the complexity of joint buying across departments and had not provided value for money.145 Efforts at introducing centralised buying and shared services had variously suffered from overambitious targets, lack of a clear plan, inadequate data, weak governance and a lack of buy-in from departments. In some cases, they lacked all of these.146

86.In spite of these difficulties and Lord Maude’s accusations of backsliding, the Cabinet Office told us that Functions continue to progress. Sir Jeremy Heywood said that he shared Lord Maude’s enthusiasm for the development of Functions:

This is something where we strongly agreed with Francis Maude’s agenda […] The only difference between myself and Francis on this one is that I think he is being too pessimistic. We have made enormous strides in the last two years in building the functions and building the credibility of them, making sure they are led by excellent leaders who command authority across Whitehall.147

87.John Manzoni said that the effective way in which the Civil Service was able to respond to the collapse of Carillion, one the largest suppliers of outsourced government services, was evidence of the effectiveness of the cross-departmental Commercial Function. He said that development of the Function had enabled government to take a cross-departmental response to Carillion’s collapse in a way that would not have been possible before the Function had been established.148

In this case, had we had this situation a couple of years ago, I think the outcome would have been significantly different and probably significantly worse for the public sector than it is today149

88.Rather than backsliding, Sir Jeremy Heywood has said that strong cross-departmental Functions needed to “bed down”.150 The Minister also suggested that more gradual steps towards functional integration were being taken. He said that the Government had rejected the “Big Bang” approach on the grounds that it had not delivered adequate services.151 To date, it seems, departments have found the centralised services burdensome and ineffective and the process alienating.152 Certainly, the Cabinet Office’s commitment to the development of Functions appears to be strong, and we note further progress such as the recent establishment of the Government Property Agency and the prospect of the development of Function-level plans, but we note the experience with attempts to introduce shared service to date suggests that this bedding down period might be beneficial.


89.In his written evidence, Andrew Greenaway was sceptical about whether Functions really could break down departmental silos and ensure effective cross-departmental working.153 In particular, he noted that traditional accountability lines run through departments, incentivising officials to focus on departmental priorities at the expense of cross-departmental ones. His submission emphasised the need for better cross-government working but he was dubious about its implementation.154 In a similar vein, Julian McCrae, supportive of the Functional agenda, highlighted the absence of strong lines of accountability for Functions, without which progress could be faltering. John Manzoni was reluctant to formalise the accountability structures surrounding Functions which would, in his view, risk interfering with departments’ primary responsibility and become “horribly complicated”.155

90.However, how the Functions are held accountable for their performance is unclear. This is an important question which will have a significant bearing on costs, coherence and efficiency across Whitehall. Mr Manzoni suggested that no changes to the current structures are required. However, the IfG has said that, without changes, there is “no mechanism to resolve tensions between these cross-cutting responsibilities for capability and permanent secretaries’ departmental responsibilities for delivering outcomes”.156

91.There is a balance to be struck between the potential gains from common processes and practices across government and the need for departments to be able to tailor these to their own needs. However, it should not be viewed as a zero-sum game, with progress on the cross departmental Functions automatically viewed as a diminution of departmental authority. This is not about strategic coordination of policy across departments but about effective cross-departmental administration. The role of Functions should be to assist departments to deliver the Government’s policies more effectively. For their part, departments need to be properly incentivised to work effectively with Functions.

92.The development of cross-government structures does create difficulties for existing accountability mechanisms centred around departments. We understand the Government’s concern that creating accountability structures for Functions risks impinging on departmental pre-eminence. We are also mindful of the need to avoid adding layers of bureaucracy. However, without some form of accountability, we are concerned that there is a risk that Functional priorities diverge from the departments that they are supposed to be supporting.

93.We recommend that the cross departmental Functions develop statements setting out their principles of collaboration with the departments. This should include agreements on sharing of data and the mechanisms by which they agree deliverables with their departments. There should also be a general statement about how a conflict between a cross department Function and a government department should be resolved. These should be agreed by the Civil Service Board, and reflected in the response to this report.

133 E.g. S. Neville Maude to announce far-reaching reform of Civil Service Financial Times 9 July 2013

135 C. Talbot and C. Talbot “Is Brexit leading to the recentralisation of Whitehall?” Civil Service World 20 March 2018

139 Civil Service Civil Service Reform Plan Progress Report 2014 para 7.1

140 NAO Integration Across Government HC 1041 Session 2012–13

141 Q236

142 Q223

143 Q229

144 See NAO Shared Services Centres HC16 Session 2016–17 paras 2.1.-2.5

145 NAO Crown Commercial Service HC 786 Session 2016–17

146 NAO Crown Commercial Service HC 786 Session 2016–17 p.19

147 Q511

148 Q512

149 Q376

150 J. Bowie and M. Foster “Sir Jeremy Heywood interview: the head of the UK Civil Service on a “very intense” few months” Civil Service World 30 January 2017

151 Q608

152 See NAO Shared Services Centres HC16 Session 2016–17 paras 2.1.-2.5; NAO Crown Commercial Service HC 786 Session 2016–17

153 CSE0010, paras 28–32

154 See also A. Greenaway “Shared services: A strategy to finally appease overburdened civil servants – or another embarrassing failure?” Civil Service World 3 April 2018

155 Q512

156 B. Guerin et al Accountability in modern government: what are the issues? Institute for Government 2018, p.20

Published: 18 June 2018