Change in Government: the agenda for leadership - Public Administration Committee Contents


The Coalition Government has set a sizeable challenge for the Civil Service: to transfer power out of Whitehall and into communities and as a result fundamentally change the way it works. The objectives of the 'post-bureaucratic age' and the 'Big Society' policy agendas will require a more transparent and flexible Civil Service with a new role of commissioning public services from charities, social enterprises, mutuals and private companies. The challenge of this new role is compounded by the need to meet sizeable reductions in administrative budgets set out in the 2010 Spending Review.

We found that while the Government seeks to embrace change, they have failed to recognise the scale of reform required or to set out the change programme required to achieve this reform. There is a reluctance to produce what they see as the latest in a long line of reform initiatives in Whitehall. This antipathy to a plan for reform fails to take note of the critical factors for success in Civil Service reform initiatives and wider corporate change programmes: coordination from the centre and strong political leadership. As a result, key policies like the 'Big Society' agenda and decentralisation will fail.

We have recommended that the Government should produce a comprehensive change programme articulating clearly what it believes the Civil Service is for, how it must change and with a timetable of clear milestones. Such a change programme would enable real change in Whitehall and avoid the fate of previous unsuccessful reform initiatives.

In addition, this change programme must also include proposals for the Civil Service to retain and to develop the new skill sets required to meet the demands of the Big Society policy agenda, and to address long-running concerns about the decline in specialist expertise in Whitehall, the failure to innovate and to take risks, and the failure to work across departmental silos. Such a plan is required to combat inertia and deliver government policies where Ministers and departments may otherwise be unwilling or unable to drive change.

To reflect the changing role of the Civil Service, we have also recommended that the Government should consider the development of a new Haldane model of accountability which can sustain localism and decentralisation; or they must explain how the existing model remains relevant. The new realities of devolving power out of Whitehall to local government and elsewhere should be codified in the Civil Service governance structures.

Ministers seem to believe that change will just happen. It is essential that the Cabinet Office take leadership of the reforms and coordinate the efforts in individual departments and across Whitehall as a whole. The scale of the challenges faced by the Civil Service calls for the establishment of a world class centre of Government, headed by someone with the authority to insist on delivery across Whitehall.

The principal message of this report is that unless there is a comprehensive change programme, there will be little of the real change which was the watchword of David Cameron's manifesto for government, which the Coalition was formed to implement and which is critical to the success of the Government's wider public sector reform programme.

We will continue to scrutinise both the success of the work of the Cabinet Office in leading Civil Service reform and the performance of Whitehall itself through this Parliament and have identified six principles of good governance and change management to aid this process, summarised as leadership, performance, accountability, transparency, coherence and engagement.

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 22 September 2011