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


Conclusions and recommendations


Aims of Civil Service reform

1.  The need for frequent Civil Service reform programmes over the years can be attributed to failure to consider what the Civil Service is for, what it should do and what it can reasonably be expected to deliver. Government needs to articulate a clear view of what it wants from the Civil Service and how it intends to achieve it. This must be articulated with greater clarity in departmental business plans. The Civil Service should be more rigorous in demanding this clarity from Government. (Paragraph 21)

What do ministers want from the Civil Service?

2.  We welcome the steps taken by the Civil Service to develop and bring in IT specialists, though such initiatives in themselves will not address the more specific concerns about performance in this field raised with us by former ministers. The Civil Service must build up specialist expertise in outsourcing contract management and procurement. (Paragraph 25)

3.  Cross-departmental working remains a weakness for the Civil Service. We expect to consider the role of the Head of the Home Civil Service in this respect in the course of a future Inquiry. (Paragraph 30)

4.  We recommend that after any change of its Secretary of State, the Permanent Secretary of a Department should ideally remain in post for a minimum period of 12 months to maintain corporate memory and an in-depth knowledge of the workings of the Department. The Civil Service should also plan for much greater continuity among its senior contract and project managers. (Paragraph 32)

5.  The Civil Service inspires much admiration and loyalty from ministers, most of whom take full responsibility for the conduct of their departments rather than blaming officials for departmental failings. However, despite successive programmes of reform and some undoubted and successful change and modernisations of the Civil Service, Ministers remain dissatisfied with and disconnected from the outcomes. There is a wealth of evidence in Whitehall that, despite the attempts of Ministers and senior civil servants, departments lack expertise and specialist knowledge and the confidence to make decisions and implement them quickly. Departmental silos remain a constant concern, along with a risk-averse culture and bureaucratic inertia. The Civil Service 'establishment' remains complacent about this. (Paragraph 33)

6.  Ministers want, and the public interest demands, a more innovative and entrepreneurial Civil Service which fosters and retains expertise aligned to the policy or major project lifetime and can work across departmental boundaries to address cross-cutting issues. Numerous Civil Service reform initiatives have so far has failed to deliver these outcomes on a consistent basis. Our chief concern is that the latest efforts to reform Whitehall will fail unless these concerns are comprehensively addressed. (Paragraph 34)

Decentralisation and the Big Society

7.  Whitehall has traditionally performed three core roles: policy advice, the management of public services, and the supervision of public bodies. If the Civil Service is to connect with Ministers' ambitions for public service reform a fourth capability will need to be added to this trio: the ability to engage with groups from the voluntary and private sectors through the contracting and commissioning process. Every government department must focus on developing this fourth capability, and the Cabinet Office must ensure that this is embedded in the Civil Service change programme across government. (Paragraph 40)

Spending cuts

8.  Voluntary redundancy programmes are being carried out in some departments without a thorough assessment of required roles and functions. We recommend that the Cabinet Office monitors individual departmental change programmes to ensure that redundancy programmes are conducted in accordance with departments' requirements to retain and develop the key skills required to maintain the core commitments and long-term performance of each department. (Paragraph 49)

9.  The Civil Service has prided itself on reform through gradual change, building on past initiatives and adjusting to the priorities of each new government. We recognise that this is particularly challenging at a time of both an increase in requirements and a reduction in staff. We consider that incremental improvements of this sort will not be sufficient to meet the scale of change implied by both the decentralisation agenda and the structural impact of a reduction by one-third of the administration budget of Whitehall. This will require considerable structural organisational reform of the Civil Service. (Paragraph 50)

The need for a clear change programme

10.  The Open Public Services White Paper offers only the most minimal recognition that the decentralisation agenda inevitably has a consequential and fundamental impact on the Civil Service. It does not contain detail on the "aspects of Civil Service reform" promised by Ian Watmore in his evidence to us in March 2011. Moreover, its commitment to consult on the future shape of the policy, funding and regulatory functions in Whitehall suggests a lack of urgency in Government which is without a coherent change agenda or set of steps that would constitute a comprehensive plan. In short, the Government has not got a change programme: Ministers just want change to happen: but without a plan, change will be defeated by inertia. (Paragraph 61)

Key elements of a reform plan

11.  The Government has embarked on a course of reform which has fundamental implications for the future of the Civil Service, but the Government's approach lacks leadership. The Minister rejected the need for a central reform plan, preferring "doing stuff" instead. We have no faith in such an approach. All the evidence makes clear that a coordinated change programme, including what a clear set of objectives will look like, is necessary to achieve the Government's objectives for the Civil Service. The Government's change agenda will fail without such a plan. We recommend that, as part of the consultation exercise it has promised about the future role of Whitehall, 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. (Paragraph 64)

12.  Successful reforms have key factors in common. We recommend that the Government should set out how it is sharing good practice from previous transformation programmes, in Whitehall and beyond, and ensuring that such lessons are applied. (Paragraph 65)

Principles for good governance and change management

13.  This Inquiry has helped us to identify six main principles of good governance and change management, summarised as leadership, performance, accountability transparency, coherence, and engagement. We will draw on these principles as the basis for our scrutiny work of the Civil Service during the course of this Parliament. (Paragraph 72)

Leadership

14.  It is not clear to us how the introduction of lead non-executive directors and changes to the role of departmental boards will affect the management arrangements in departments. We intend to conduct an inquiry into this question. We recommend that the Government conduct an evaluation of how these changes have improved the management of departments, with particular regard to the supervisory and advisory aspects of their remit, and to what extent, if any, the new boards have affected the accountability relationship between the Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary. In setting out the transformation programmes going on throughout departments, the Government should also set out each board's role in it and whether such programmes are consistent across departments and in keeping with good practice. (Paragraph 77)

15.  We agree that the leadership for a transformation programme has to come from the top of each department, particularly in such challenging circumstances. However, we are concerned that it has not proved possible to recruit a Director General to drive reform from the centre of Whitehall. This may suggest a lack of commitment to fundamental restructuring at senior official level. (Paragraph 81)

Performance

16.   To achieve the aims of decentralisation and the Big Society, the Civil Service will be required to undertake very different roles, necessitating skills in contracts and commissioning, procurement and market design. The Government's approach to addressing the skills shortage and ensuring that Whitehall is equipped for the new reality it faces falls short of what is urgently required. We hear that spending reductions are leading to the loss of key skills required for change in Whitehall. In the light of the closure of the National School for Government, we recommend that the Government swiftly sets out how these new skills will be retained and developed. (Paragraph 89)

Accountability

17.  The convention of ministerial accountability and the Whitehall departmental structures derived from the Haldane Report at the beginning of the last century have, on the whole, stood the test of time. However, in light of the radical devolution of power and functions proposed by the Government, it is timely to consider the development of a new Haldane model to codify the changing accountabilities and organisation of Government. We invite the Government in their response to this report to explain how they will take forward this work or how the existing model remains relevant in these changed circumstances. (Paragraph 93)

Transparency

18.  We welcome the Government's commitment to open government through greater transparency and we share the belief that this will lead to better, more accountable government. However, while transparency is necessary it is not sufficient. We look to the Government to explain how the public in general, and the 'user community' of statistics in particular will be empowered to use newly published information. 'Data dumping' does not on its own constitute transparency and good governance. We recommend that the UK Statistics Authority should take a proactive role in ensuring that data released is intelligible, objectively interpreted and in a readily accessible format. (Paragraph 97)

Coherence

19.  There is a clear danger of uncoordinated change programmes within departments and across government. 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. (Paragraph 101)

Engagement

20.  Making organisational structures work requires the highest level of engagement amongst the top managers of the Civil Service. If the UK is to have a world class government, we consider that a world class centre for the operation of government is required, fully engaged with each delivery department and providing value that uniquely addresses the challenges that they face. This ought to deliver a shared clarity on purpose and contribution, rather than limiting individuals to their specific job titles and responsibilities. This engagement requires the establishment of a change programme involving the top management of all departments, including the centre of Government, which will identify the barriers to progress. (Paragraph 106)

21.  For Whitehall to change to achieve the Government's objectives, civil servants of all grades must be engaged with the process of reform. Attempts to empower lower levels of management without engagement will fail. This is the means by which human potential will be maximised: but, in all but one department, there is little compelling evidence to suggest that all are wholly engaged at present. The Government should continue to use opportunities such as the Civil Service staff survey to gauge support for their reforms among staff, and act on the findings, to ensure that good change management practice is replicated across Whitehall.    (Paragraph 107)

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Prepared 22 September 2011