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Public sector managers reject policy outsourcing plans

Fewer than one in 10 senior public sector managers back Government plans to outsource more policy-making and strategic decision-making to other sectors, according to a new survey.

More than eight in 10 (81.6%) are against the move, announced as part of a package of civil service reforms by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude (pictured), according to the survey of more than 500 members of the Guardian Public Leaders Network.

The Government’s Contestable Policy Fund is designed to draw on ‘thinking, evidence and insight’ from beyond Whitehall, allowing ministers to bid for money to commission external organisations to provide policy advice. 

One of the first steps was to review the structures and operations of the equivalents to civil servants and special advisers in other countries – including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the USA, France and Sweden. Announcing this review in June, Maude said: “To meet the future challenges of our fast-changing world Britain’s Civil Service will need to continue to change and adapt, and that’s why we are determined to draw on new ideas.

“We are already implementing the reform plan we published two months ago but we are also developing new ideas to form our next steps. For the first time ever ministers are directly commissioning policy advice from outside Whitehall, moving towards our goal of opening up policy making.”

Head of the Civil Service, Sir Bob Kerslake, said: “Open policy making must become the default in Government – Whitehall does not have a monopoly on policy making expertise.”

A previous poll of over 1,000 civil servants by Civil Service World found similar scepticism, with only 8% backing the idea without reservation, and a widespread feeling that ministers would commission advice from think tanks and academics who shared their core political views.

In the new Guardian survey, 65.8% of respondees also rejected the idea of ministers having more responsibility for the hiring of senior civil servants, saying that politicising the selection process would undermine the impartiality and effectiveness of the civil service. Even those who were not completely against the idea said it should only be with tight restrictions, including to limit the practice of senior civil servants moving straight into the private sector with firms working in the same field.

The survey also showed than fewer than one in five public leaders think staff in their own organisation had the right skills and appetite to consider spinning out the services they offer as an employee mutual or co-operative.

More information on the survey can be found here.

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]

(Image of Francis Maude is Crown Copyright, used here under a Creative Commons licence. Some rights reserved by the Cabinet Office)


Alan Downey   06/11/2012 at 09:25

Opposition to open policy making is misguided. Civil servants have never had a monopoly on policy advice. Ministers have always got their ideas from a variety of sources. The National Health Service, the Right to Buy - two examples of policies that were developed by parties while in Opposition, not on the basis of advice from officials. The idea that Ministers should be discouraged or prevented from commissioning advice from people who share their political views is bizarre. Do we live in a democracy or what?

S Hobbs   06/11/2012 at 14:26

As an active consultant in the public sector arena it has come as no surprise that those who hold positions which would potentially be 'at risk' if the proposals go ahead are opposing the suggestion. However knowing how wasteful and management heavy the public sector arena is currently and how current 'change and efficiencies projects' are being targeted at the front line and back office general workers I feel a large cash-able saving can be realised by taking a more 'competitive' approach and that this will ultimately lead to greater future coherence in allowing for visible/accountable management of public sector departments as currently this is not the case and many departments are reported on in a favorable manner in an 'it's mine' approach.

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