The Minister and the Official: The Fulcrum of Whitehall Effectiveness Contents


1.The role and effectiveness of the Civil Service is subject to constant scrutiny and debate. Throughout the past decade, this debate has been at times contentious. Many have questioned whether the permanent and impartial Civil Service we have today is capable of dealing with modern challenges, whether it is sufficiently accountable, and even whether it is in fact impartial. The Civil Service is being tested, along with all its other burdens and tasks, by the process of leaving the EU. A single report cannot do justice to this subject and the Civil Service has been the focus of several inquiries undertaken by PACAC and its predecessor Committees in previous Parliaments. Major reports on Civil Service skills in 2015 and on Civil Service reform in 2013 were published.1 We make no apology for returning to the subject of the Civil Service in this report.

2.In November 2016, our predecessor Committee launched a major new inquiry into the Work of the Civil Service with a view to considering in more detail the structure and organisation of the civil service, the attitudes and behaviours that determine Civil Service effectiveness in delivering government policy, Civil Service capability, and risks to Civil Service impartiality.2 This inquiry into the Work of the Civil Service was curtailed by the early General Election, and an interim report including our predecessor Committee’s preliminary findings was published on The Work of the Civil Service: Key Themes and Preliminary Findings on 2 May 2017.3 After the General Election, in September 2017, we launched a new inquiry, picking up on some of the same issues. This inquiry set out to consider questions relating to Civil Service capability (for example, “Does the Civil Service have the skills and leadership it requires?”, “Is training provision adequate?”, “Does it work across departments effectively?”, “How mindful is the Civil Service of its sustainability?”), and the relationship between ministers and officials (“Do they work well together?”, “Can officials deliver frank advice”, “Is the Civil Service at risk of politicisation?”).

3.We approached this inquiry with three key innovations. First, PACAC resolved to scrutinise the relationship between ministers and the Civil Service. This has usually been viewed as sensitive:4 it was explicitly excluded from the remit of the 1967 Fulton inquiry into reform of the Civil Service, for example.5 However, to conduct such scrutiny in public would have been fruitless. Second, therefore, PACAC commissioned Professor Andrew Kakabadse, of Henley Business School, of the University of Reading, to conduct confidential research and to produce a report to support our inquiry into the Work of the Civil Service. This research focussed on the relationship between ministers and civil servants in Whitehall. Professor Kakabadse conducted an extensive series of interviews with current and former secretaries of state, junior ministers, special political advisers (SpAds), permanent secretaries, directors general (DGs) and other civil servants, non-executive directors (NEDs) on departmental boards, chairmen/CEOs of arm’s length bodies, outsourcing contractors, and coaches and facilitators of civil servants. This would have been difficult to conduct without the active cooperation of ministers and officials, and the support of the Head of the Civil Service. So the third key innovation is the unprecedented cooperation and access we have been given by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and Civil Service Chief Executive, John Manzoni.6 We thank them for this. It has enabled us to conduct the most penetrating and intimate scrutiny of relationships within Whitehall, in a positive and collaborative fashion. We believe that this act of cooperation has prompted new thinking and learning across Whitehall as well as in PACAC.

4.Professor Kakabadse submitted his preliminary findings to our predecessor Committee,7 and his completed review as written evidence to this inquiry.8

5.This inquiry was launched on 20 September 2017. Over the course of the inquiry, we have held six evidence sessions and received 13 written submissions. A full list of those who gave oral and written evidence is included in annex A to this report. We would like to thank all of those who have contributed to the inquiry.

1 PASC Developing Civil Service Skills: A Unified Approach HC 112 4th Report of Session 2014–15 and Truth to Power: How Civil Service Reform Can Succeed HC 74 8th Report of Session 2013–14

2 PACAC The Work of the Civil Service: Key Themes and Preliminary Findings HC 253 15th Report of Session 2016–17 para.6

3 PACAC The Work of the Civil Service: Key Themes and Preliminary Findings HC 253 15th Report of Session 2016–17

4 E.g. A. Tiernan “The Dilemmas of Organisational Capacity” Policy and Society, Vol.34, No. 3–4, p.214; RAW Rhodes “So You Want to Reform the Civil Service” in K. Trewhitt et al (eds) How to Run A Country: A Collection of Essays Reform September 2014, p.107

5 In a statement to the House announcing the establishment of the Fulton Committee, Prime Minister Harold Wilson said that “the Government’s willingness to consider changes in the Civil Service does not imply any intention on their part to alter the basic relationship between ministers and civil servants. Civil servants, however eminent, remain the confidential advisers of ministers, who alone are answerable to Parliament for policy; and we do not envisage any change in this fundamental feature of our parliamentary system of democracy” (HC Deb 8 February 1966 c210).

6 CSE0014 (Professor Kakabadse), p.5

7 PACAC The Work of the Civil Service: Key Themes and Preliminary Findings HC253 15th Report of Session 2016–17, Annex 1

Published: 18 June 2018