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Select committee chairs jointly urge civil service inquiry

A parliamentary commission should be launched into the civil service, the chairs of every Commons select committee have urged.

The Liaison Committee found “significant evidence” that the civil service is not equipped to support consistent contract management, and tends to be driven by short-term pressures rather than long-term value for money.

The MPs said they were “unconvinced” that the government’s reform plan is based on a strategic consideration of the future of the civil service.

A commission was first recommended by the public accounts select committee in September, and the liaison committee agreed that it was “a matter of urgency”, calling for the commission to report before the end of parliament.

Committee chair Sir Alan Beith MP said: “Public service contracts with the private sector need to deliver good quality services and value-for-money for the taxpayer. Select Committees scrutinising the work of departments across Government have found that, on too many occasions, the Civil Service has failed to design effective contracts or to monitor contracts adequately.

“This report has collated this evidence and demonstrated that there are systemic failings in Civil Service contract management. We have raised specific concerns about the paucity of commercial skills, and officials feeling unable to speak truth to power.

“The Liaison Committee therefore supports the establishment of a Parliamentary Commission on the Civil Service to examine the capacity, skills and operation of Government departments. The contracts issue demonstrates how significantly the role of the Civil Service has changed since the Northcote-Trevelyan Report set out the principles on which it should operate.

“We believe that a coherent analysis of the state of the Civil Service, and the requirements placed upon it, would help to improve governance across Whitehall, and help to eliminate the contract-management failures seen in recent years.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Many of the concerns raised here are addressed in our Civil Service reform plan.”

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