Public Administration CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Cabinet Office (CSR 9)

The Government welcomes the continued interest of the Public Administration Select Committee in Civil Service Reform.

The British Civil Service has real strengths. It exists to implement the policies of the government of the day, whatever its political complexion. Its permanence and political impartiality enables exceptionally rapid transitions between governments. The majority of civil servants are dedicated and hard-working, with a deep-seated public service ethos.

But we do need change. The public wants change and civil servants themselves want change. Staff Surveys show civil servants want better performance management, more active development of careers, and stronger leadership of change. Many civil servants are themselves frustrated by a culture that can seem slow-moving and hierarchical; and where exceptional performance is too rarely recognised and underperformance not rigorously addressed.

The public wants services to be delivered better. The challenge of tackling what was among the largest budget deficits in the developed world means that, although the economy is now healing, those improvements must be delivered at lower cost. That means the drive for greater efficiency must be relentless and productivity must continue to improve. For too long, public sector productivity was at best static while in the private services sector it improved by nearly a third.

In June the Government published a Civil Service Reform plan, developed jointly by Ministers and Permanent Secretaries. The Plan set out a series of specific and practical actions which will tackle long-standing weaknesses, build on existing strengths, and address the frustrations of civil servants. The Government has been clear that the Reform Plan outlines its first steps in an on-going programme of reform.

The Civil Service has begun to implement the actions from the plan but there is still a long way to go to embed lasting change. If the actions are implemented, the Civil Service of the future will be smaller, flatter, faster, more unified, more digital, more accountable for delivery, more capable, better managed, and—ultimately—more enjoyable to work for.

Although there is much about the British Civil Service of which we are rightly proud it would be arrogant to assume that there’s nothing we could learn from other countries. That’s why I commissioned the IPPR to review the structure and operation of governments including those of Australia, Singapore, the United States, France and Sweden—and the balance between impartial bureaucracies and administrations appointed by democratically accountable Ministers. IPPR will specifically consider the New Zealand model of Civil Service accountability where there is a contractual relationship between Ministers, who set clear outcomes, and Heads of Departments, who are accountable for delivering them. I have asked the IPPR to come up with specific recommendations that could be applied to the British Civil Service.

Change will not be an easy process. We have only recently appointed a Director-General for Civil Service Reform. She is now assembling a new team to drive implementation of the actions in the Plan. Meanwhile the Major Projects Authority has assessed the reform plans and progress to date. Their recommendations and analysis will be carefully studied by the team.

I attach a copy of the Civil Service Reform plan and will be happy to appear before your Committee to update you on any aspect of the reform programme.

November 2012

Prepared 5th September 2013