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17.06.13

Whitehall reform blueprint urges more political control of civil service

The Prime Minister should appoint departmental permanent secretaries, not just have the power of veto over their hiring, a new report by the IPPR recommends.

They could be chosen from a list prepared by the Civil Service Commission, which regulates recruitment and promotes the values of the civil service, it suggests, while it also recommends fixed terms for permanent secretaries, renewable based on performance.

The report, commissioned by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, suggests that ministers could get larger ‘extended offices’ made up of a mix of political advisors and non-partisan outside experts as well as career civil servants. This would be similar to the situation in Australia and Canada, which have far more political appointments in Government.

The Financial Times reported the IPPR as saying that it was “perfectly possible to have a more responsive and ‘personalised’ system without compromising the independence of the civil service”.

The head of the civil service should be a full-time post and be responsible for line-managing and holding permanent secretaries accountable for their performance, the report added. Senior officials responsible for the delivery of government programmes should be directly accountable to relevant departmental select committees.

Civil servants should second officials to opposition parties ahead of the elections, the report adds. Maude has welcomed the report, which is likely to influence civil service reform.

The former home office minister, Nick Herbert, said: “This report itself shows the benefits of reform – going outside the civil service for policy advice has produced suggestions for more effective government that simply wouldn't have come from within.

“These ideas are a welcome step forward but we need to go further to create proper accountability and bring in external expertise. The risk isn't politicisation – it's today's suboptimal administration that doesn't answer to anyone.”

Margaret Hodge MP, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, backed the report’s findings and said: “The IPPR report is significant because it shows how it is possible to strengthen the accountability of senior civil servants to ministers and to Parliament without politicising Whitehall. These are sensible measures that should command cross-party support.”

It also won backing from the Institute for Government think tank.

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

Image c. Benjamin Nolan

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