The government has unveiled the first phase in a “continuous process” of civil service reform designed to reward talent, root out incompetence, improve efficiency and speed up policy implementation.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude described the newly launched civil service reform plan as “a set of actions which in themselves are not particularly radical, but when implemented together will amount to real change and make the civil service feel very different”.

The measures include:

  •  A new performance management strategy, earmarking the best 25 per cent of staff for fast-track promotion, while the bottom 10 per cent face probation and possible dismissal
  • Fewer pay grades to fast-track tal­ented staff
  • Clearer lines of accountability be­tween civil servants and ministers
  • An assumption in favour of shared services and ex­pertise across departments
  • More open policy­making, including more rigorous screening before implementation.

Maude, said the performance man­agement reforms were “a response to the concerns and frustrations of civil servants themselves (who) complain that performance management is not tough enough”.

“A smaller civil service will need to do more together and work more collaboratively and collectively. Talent management is key.”

He added: “There is not going to be an end to this; it will be a continuous process. We will be more focused and things will move faster. We will have enhanced capabilities and we hope the civil service will be more satisfying for people to work for.”

Head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake said the goal was to create a more uniform, open and accountable organisation equipped with up-to-date skills. He said: “This is a good plan that the civil service can and should get behind. It recognises the importance of the civil service to the country and it sets out a series of particular changes that will better equip the service to respond to the challenges we face.”

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood also backed the “practical, hard-headed plan”, which he said would end Whitehall’s “slavish adher­ence to grades”.

However, civil service unions claimed the plan ignored civil servants’ fears over pay, pensions and job secu­rity. Prospect general secretary Paul Noon said: “This is not a vision of a professional civil service.… It is management by diktat and another nail in the coffin of the public service ethos.”