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20.01.12

PASC warns against dividing roles

The decision to split up the roles of cabinet secretary and head of the civil service could weaken leadership, the House of Commons Public Administration Committee (PASC) has warned Government.

PASC suggests the two must have equal power and status, as well as equal access to the Prime Minister, attendance at Cabinet and the same authority to ‘speak truth unto power’ – which will be difficult.

Sir Gus O’Donnell, who stepped down at the end of 2011, had his dual role split up, with Sir Bob Kerslake becoming head of the civil service, and Sir Jeremy Heywood becoming cabinet secretary.

PASC chairman Bernard Jenkin MP said: “Civil servants are not merely servants of ministers. There must be no impression that the most senior civil servants are becoming political courtiers. They play a vital role in our national life.

“Nor is this the time to divide or dilute civil service leadership. The head of the civil service cannot be reduced to cutting ribbons at job centres on Friday afternoons.

“The top of the civil service must lead a comprehensive change programme to tackle the tens of billions wasted every year and to equip Whitehall with the skills to implement change and to manage resources, contracts and major projects much more effectively.

“It needs to tackle endemic barriers to cross departmental working, the risk averse culture that escalates costs, and the general lack of engagement of staff down the command chain.”

The key findings:

  • PASC doubts whether Sir Bob will be able to fulfil all the duties set out in his lengthy job description in the two days per week allocated to the post, while also acting as Permanent Secretary in a major department of state;
  • The Government should conduct a full of review these changes in July 2012 in the light of six months of experience, to consider whether a full-time Head of the Civil Service is required to provide the Civil Service with the necessary organisational leadership
  • The new Head of the Civil Service, Sir Bob Kerslake, must have the seniority and the ear of the Prime Minister in order to fulfil his role and parity of status with the Cabinet Secretary; he must attend Cabinet regularly on the same basis as the Cabinet Secretary;
  • PASC recommends a full time Head of the Civil Service who should also be Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office, overseeing a stronger centre of government able to implement change acrossWhitehall;
  • The risk is that divided reporting lines will lead to divided and weak leadership, and that an arrangement which relies too much on the personal chemistry between the two is inherently unstable;
  • PASC reiterates its recommendation hitherto rejected by the Government that the government’s change programme demands a stronger centre of government to drive change.

    Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

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