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

1  Introduction

1.  The Coalition Government has embarked upon the most ambitious reform of Whitehall since the Second World War. The Prime Minister has promised to "turn government on its head; taking power away from Whitehall and putting it into the hands of people and communities"[1] re-empowering local government and communities as part of the 'Big Society', increasing transparency and openness with government information and the development of a much more direct relationship between service providers and service users for which modern technology can provide (the 'post-bureaucratic age'). Alongside the hard reality of the cost pressures on government departments,[2] this amounts to an unprecedented revolution in the affairs of government.  The Public Administration Select Committee supports in principle many of the objectives pursued by the Government in this reform, such as the empowering of citizens and greater transparency of data.

2.  To implement change, the nature of government and the Civil Service themselves must change, yet there is little to suggest so far that many ministers and senior civil servants have in fact begun to appreciate the scale of change in Whitehall that is required, or the political and organisational challenges which this represents. It has been widely reported that the Prime Minister's Director of Strategy, and others at senior levels in the Government, have been exasperated by this lack of progress and are apparently appalled by the 'custom and practice' of Whitehall and by the deadweight of inherited policy, not least by the overbearing constraints imposed by the vast body of EU law and regulation and by the direct application of the Human Rights Act.[3] The Prime Minister himself appeared to vent his frustration when he referred to "the enemies of enterprise" within government.[4]

3.  The principal message of this report is that unless there is a comprehensive change programme for government, there will be little of the real change which was the watchword of David Cameron's manifesto for government,[5] which the Coalition was formed to implement and which is critical to the success of the Government's wider public sector reform programme.[6]

4.  It is in this context that we sought evidence on the scale and nature of Civil Service reform which may be necessary and asked how such reform should be best managed to ensure success in achieving the Government's wider public sector reform. Based on this evidence, this report explores whether there is a comprehensive change programme yet in place across government.

5.  To aid our future scrutiny of any change process, in our call for evidence we also posited a possible set of principles or elements which could form a framework within which we could examine the effectiveness of the Civil Service. This report proposes six principles of good governance and change management which the Government should adopt to underpin the change programme as the only sure means of delivering the change the Government has promised. 

6.  This Inquiry builds on our Report on UK National Strategy earlier in this session which found that there was a deficit of strategic thinking at the heart of government.[7] This Report also builds on the work of our predecessor Committee who set out five requirements for Good Government: good people; good process, good accountability; good performance and good standards.[8]  

7.  Over the course of this Inquiry we received 30 memoranda, 16 of which were from Departmental Permanent Secretaries. We also held three evidence sessions where we heard from the Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (the Minister), Sir Gus O'Donnell, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service, three former Cabinet Secretaries and three serving Permanent Secretaries, in addition to representatives of think tanks and the academic world. We also held a number of private meetings with former and present ministers, and a workshop with representatives of the National Audit Office, the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Institute for Government and a number of academics to discuss developing principles of good governance and change management. We would like to thank all those who contributed to the Inquiry and our specialist advisers on this Inquiry, Dr Catherine Haddon and Dr Jon Davis.[9] We also appointed a third specialist adviser, Professor Andrew Kakabadse, towards the end of this Inquiry (and subsequent to the evidence he provided to us), to carry out an analysis of Whitehall departmental change programmes. This work was published as our Eleventh Report of this session, Good Governance and Civil Service Reform: 'End of Term' report on Whitehall plans for structural reform, and has informed the conclusions and recommendations of this report.[10] 14 of the Departmental Permanent Secretary letters were published and analysed in that report. Two departments (the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for International Development) produced their responses some three months after the original deadline. We strongly deprecate the delay in providing these memoranda. These replies and accompanying analyses by Professor Kakabadse are at Appendix 2 and should be read in conjunction with our earlier report.

1   "Prime Minister's speech at Civil Service Live", Number 10 Downing Street, 8th July 2010, Back

2   HM Treasury, Spending Review 2010, Cm 7942, October 2010, p. 9 Back

3   "Abolish jobcentres, scrap maternity leave, suspend consumer rights - Cameron's strategy chief peddles a radical agenda", The Financial Times, 28 July 2011, p 1, "Thinking the unthinkable", The Independent, 29 July 2011, p 4, 5 Back

4   "David Cameron: Building a Better Future", The Conservative Party, 6 March 2011, Back

5   The Conservative Party, Invitation to join the Government of Britain: The Conservative Manifesto 2010, (London; 2010), p iii Back

6   HM Government, The Coalition: Our Programme for Government, May 2010, pp 7-8 Back

7   Public Administration Select Committee, First Report of Session 2010-2012, Who does UK National Strategy?, HC 435 Back

8   Public Administration Select Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2008-2009, Good Government, HC 97-I, para 10 Back

9   Dr Catherine Haddon and Dr Jon Davis were appointed as Specialist Advisers to the Committee for this inquiry on 23 November 2010. Professor Andrew Kakabadse was appointed as a Specialist Adviser to the Committee for this inquiry on 7 June 2011. Back

10   Public Administration Select Committee, Eleventh Report of Session 2010-12, Good Governance and Civil Service Reform: 'End of Term' report on Whitehall plans for structural reform, HC 901 Back

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Prepared 22 September 2011