Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office
A Cameroon before David Cameron was even elected, Maude is the uber-moderniser described by one colleague as “the youngest 58-year-old in Whitehall”. Tie-less but tireless in his desire for reform, the Minister for the Cabinet Office is the man driving the open government and transparency agenda that the PM believes is crucial to achieving long-lasting change in the way public services are delivered.
Maude’s big change has been to oversee a move to a genuinely open-data government, with consumers, entrepreneurs and businesses given access to information that was previously the preserve of the civil service. The prize here is potentially huge, with the direct and indirect economic value of this government information estimated at a cool £16 billion a year. Procurement is becoming more competitive, while the public is benefiting from savvy firms using the wider data-sets in user-friendly ways. One company uses live train data to tell commuters when their train will be late through a smartphone app. Another uses council data to tell motorists where there are free parking spaces. Getting the NHS to publish survival rates for individual hospitals has already cut deaths, and later this year we’ll see new satisfaction tables from patients and staff drive up standards.
Maude’s much-vaunted ‘bonfire of the quangos’ has had a tougher time, with everyone from the Public Administration Select Committee to the National Audit Office criticising progress. Only 53 of the 199 quangos set for the chop have been phased out. However, Royal Assent for the 2011 Public Bodies Act has now been won, removing the legal obstacles that stopped so many public bodies from being wound up or merged, and providing fuel for Maude to throw on the conflagration. Maude is convinced that he can defy the doubters and deliver billions in savings.
Maude’s reach extends well beyond Whitehall. It is no surprise that he will be the guest of honour when the think tank Policy Exchange celebrates its 10th anniversary in March. He, more than many, helped this body become the powerhouse for Tory ideas on public service reform while in opposition. Many of these ideas – from elected police commissioners to immigration quotas – are now government policy. Maude is also going global: from April, the UK takes over the co-chairmanship of the Open Government Partnership, a worldwide body that seeks to export transparency to other governments.
Maude works closely with Steve Hilton and Rohan Silva, Downing Street’s Director of Strategy and his deputy. The pair are often seen as the Batman and Robin of Number 10’s blue sky thinking, and Maude frequently plays the role of Alfred the butler, offering wise counsel when needed. The Cabinet Office minister’s own double act with Danny Alexander is, of course, delivering a huge reform to public sector pensions – as well as big savings.
Mike Bracken, Executive
Director for Digital
Bracken’s is not a name many MPs, let alone voters, are familiar with. But if he gets his digital revolution right, he could have a more powerful impact on daily public lives than most ministers.
A former Director of Digital Development at the Guardian, Bracken was hired last July to a job that merged the previous posts of Chief Executive of Directgov and Director for Digital Engagement and Transparency. He is responsible for more than 100 staff and it is testimony to his importance that, even in these straitened times, he’s hiring new troops. He offered Cabinet Office vacancies for 28 new digital jobs last October, with salaries of up to £117k.
After years of Whitehall simply not 'getting' technology (and hence suffering a string of IT procurement disasters), Bracken must seem like a revolutionary to some civil servants. He is particularly fond of quoting this killer line: “You can now build working software in less time than it takes to have the meeting to describe it.” Sir Humphrey must be spinning in his analogue grave.
Dubbed the ‘Twitter czar’ by the media, one of Bracken’s main tasks has been to oversee the creation of a brand new gov.uk website that will provide a single domain for central government and deliver faster, clearer simpler services for consumers. The aim is to slash the £560 million spent on a plethora of government websites to under £200 million and possibly £100 million a year.
In keeping with the openness agenda, the development of the new website has mostly been undertaken in full public view with its beta version unveiled last month. Bracken delegated Tom Loosemore, formerly Ofcom's senior adviser for digital media, to head the development phase, and its iterative open approach means that change is happening quickly and at much lower cost that the glitch-filled, expensive and tardy IT projects of old. At present they’re rethinking just how to meet the 667 different ‘needs’ (the things most commonly searched for) of the public when they log on to Directgov, the site that gets 30 million visitors per month but is clunkingly dated at just eight years old.
The big wins will come later this year and next, when businesses as well as consumers see real differences. The potential savings to the taxpayer in moving from offline (often telephone) to online services for tasks such as renewing car tax discs are huge. Already, staff in Bracken’s Government Digital Service have laptops which (shock, horror) use Gmail and Google docs, rather than just departmental intranets – fostering cheaper, more collaborative working.
Bracken is a big believer that technology drives innovation only if it builds on human, social networking, and he devolves responsibility so that the best ideas can flourish. When he was at the Guardian, he gave a small team of developers just three days to come up with an iPad app. They did it in time for the iPad launch, were name-checked by Steve Jobs and garnered 320,000 new users – more than the paper’s circulation. Ministers hope he can work similar wonders for them.
Grant Shapps, Housing Minister
The first MP to sign up to Twitter, Shapps has always been an innovator, ever since he hit on the idea as a prospective parliamentary candidate that the way to his voters’ hearts was through their email inboxes. Shapps has built such a powerful database that he now has more than a third of his constituents’ email addresses. With pulling power like that, he’s become a one-man publishing house, and often ponders whether he should send a press release on local issues directly rather than going through his local newspaper. Of course, he will often do both.
As Shadow Housing Minister, and now Housing Minister proper, he has spent more than five years in his current field and has proved determinedly radical. His policy of scrapping affordable housing targets and instead letting local areas come up with their solutions was brave, but he’s convinced it will result in more builds. The New Homes Bonus incentivises town halls to build more flats and houses, and fund regeneration projects and even local charities.
Similarly, Shapps has persuaded the PM (with whom he is close) to let him identify surplus public land with enough capacity for 80,000 extra homes. By scrapping restrictions on the Right to Buy, the minister also hopes to give 100,000 more social tenants the chance to purchase their homes.
Shapps has made sure that the Localism Act, which received Royal Assent last year, is now delivering change, including letting council landlords keep the rent they collect, giving them 15% more to spend on maintaining homes (previously, councils would collect rents then wait to hear from Whitehall about what they could and couldn’t keep). Some of the most controversial changes, including ending the right to a lifelong council tenancy – a move to boost social mobility and help those on the waiting list – are among his most cherished ambitions.
The minister’s feel for technology hasn’t gone away either. He’s very keen on using the internet to make it easier for tenants to find like-for-like empty properties in other parts of the country, boosting flexibility in the job market. Still, maybe his time in Housing is nearly over. Never shy of shaking things up, Shapps is one to watch for the next major Cabinet reshuffle.