Truth to power: how Civil Service reform can succeed - Public Administration Committee Contents


6  Conclusion

176. The Government, like many of its predecessors, is committed to reforming the Civil Service. It has not, however, learnt the key lesson from past failed attempts at reform. The Minister for the Cabinet Office has admitted that the failings in the Civil Service which need reform are also the key obstacles to that reform of the Civil Service. This internal resistance to reform was not addressed by past reform programmes, which either chose not to, or were prevented from, looking at the Civil Service in a strategic manner, and considering the issue of accountability—which emerged as the central theme in our evidence.

177. In line with previous reform programmes, the Civil Service Reform Plan and the One Year On update paper do not look strategically at the challenges facing the Civil Service of the future. These challenges will be more fluid and complex than those of the present, and will require the Civil Service to operate in a more open and engaged manner. Furthermore, "speaking truth to power" may be a more complex concept if power has diffused out of nation states: civil servants are already confronting ministers with the need to consider the question of whose truth to whose power, in respect of international law and, more immediately, in respect of our EU and ECHR treaty obligations.

178. We have recommended the establishment of a Parliamentary Commission into the Civil Service. The aim of this Commission should be to ensure that the Civil Service has the values, philosophy and structure capable of constant regeneration in the face of a faster pace of change. The importance of this review to the future working of government in this country means that it is fitting for the Treasury to fund this work, in the same manner as the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards.

179. We do not call for a Parliamentary Commission into the Civil Service to obstruct or slow the Government's current reforms. In fact we support many of these reforms. We believe, however, that a long-term look at the Civil Service will enable these reforms to be implemented and embedded in a more effective and strategic Civil Service to serve both the current and future Governments. We believe it would be unwise and an example of short-term thinking to reject a strategic consideration of the Civil Service, when it can and should exist alongside the implementation of urgent reforms. We do not believe that the Government's reform plans can be successful without this deeper analysis taking place. Without a Parliamentary Commission, ministers may find that in the next Parliament it will become ever harder to get those things done that must be done if our country is to survive and prosper.


 
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Prepared 6 September 2013