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Francis Maude MP: Fixed-tenure Permanent Secretaries - and much more. Our next steps in civil service reform.

Francis Maude MP is Minister for the Cabinet Office and MP for Horsham

Maude SmilingIt is over a year since Sir Bob Kerslake and I published the Civil Service Reform Plan. The plan was never our last word on reform. But it did include a series of practical actions which if they were implemented would begin to transform the Civil Service. Yet 12 months on, too little has changed. There have been some successes – our work to modernise terms and conditions is well underway, and we are preparing to move a first wave of twenty five public services online.

At its best, Britain’s Civil Service is excellent. We are rightly proud of much that it does: the 2012 Games were an outstanding success watched by the whole world; our security services work night and day to protect us; and my officials in the Cabinet Office have overturned decades of Whitehall secrecy with our transparency agenda, and through efficiency reforms driven savings worth £10 billion last year alone.

Despite these successes, though, it’s hard to find anyone who would argue to preserve the status quo in aspic. Our reform plan was agreed between Ministers and senior officials, and much was based on the suggestions of civil servants themselves. To win the global race Britain needs an exceptional Twenty-First Century Civil Service. Nothing less will suffice.

Change is already underway. The Civil Service is already 15 per cent smaller than at the time of the last election. It’s the smallest it has been since the Second World War. But with fewer staff, it’s doing more. This jump in productivity contrasts with the period from 1997 to 2010, when public sector productivity flat-lined.

Support for our reforms is widespread. We have received backing from across the political spectrum as well as from think tanks and analysts. Our plans are welcomed by civil servants themselves. They are, after all, the ones who are frustrated by an organisation where too often the whole can be less than the sum of its parts. Civil servants should have better working conditions, the public deserve better public services, ministers need top class policy advice and support, and taxpayers must get best value for their money.

Reforming the Civil Service is no small task. And the difficulties we have experienced illustrate the challenges of reform within a federated departmental structure. They also highlight a Catch 22, whereby the very things you want to change make change harder to effect, however hard you try.

It is vital that we accelerate the programme we launched one year ago. This should ensure that we have a Civil Service fit for the future: faster, flatter, focused on outcomes not process, more accountable for delivery, more capable, more commercial, more digital, more effective in delivering projects and managing performance, more open, with modern terms and conditions, smaller and more unified.

There is always a temptation to put a positive spin on progress. But that would be disingenuous, and would run counter to the Civil Service values of honesty and integrity. Two months ago, we published a ground breaking report which gave objective traffic light ratings to each of the Government’s major projects. It was a tough moment, but it was the right thing to do.

Transparency, self-criticism and openness are difficult territory for both Ministers and civil servants. But we need to stay outside of the comfort zone. The assessment of our reform programme pulls no punches. That is in not a criticism of the thousands of civil servants dedicated to public service and to supporting the Government of the day. If anything, it is a criticism of their leaders, ministers and senior officials. So our progress report will highlight our successes as well as making clear where we will be redoubling our efforts.

We are also announcing a few additional steps. These changes will further strengthen accountability and ensure ministers have the support they need to deliver policies. Our reforms build on the impressive report of the Institute for Public Policy Research. The IPPR examined Civil Services abroad and made recommendations for adoption here. Their proposals tally with many of those from the Institute for Government. Conservatives, including the 2020 group, have also pressed for reforms in this direction. None of these new proposals require legislation or affect the fundamental Civil Service values which are enshrined in law.

Our changes include:

  • Allowing ministers to establish Extended Ministerial Offices (EMOs). The officials and special advisers in these offices can be personally appointed by the minister to whom they will be accountable. These offices will include career Civil Servants working alongside other officials, brought in from outside on fixed-term appointments to provide - for example - policy advice, as well as special advisers.
  • Moving Permanent Secretaries on to fixed-tenure appointments. This will sharpen accountability and make a reality of an announcement that the then Prime Minister Tony Blair made back in 2004.
  • Introducing cross-Whitehall functional leadership. These heads of function (such as HR and procurement) will help drive greater savings and strengthen the corporate culture.
  • Strengthening the accountability of Civil Servants to Parliament. We are reviewing the Osmotherly rules and will announce our changes in due course.

Taken together, our reforms and these further steps are sensible, incremental changes that will help the Civil Service to evolve. Back in 2010, I returned to Government as a strong supporter of the existing system. I do not believe that anything we are proposing would give Northcote or Trevelyan cause for concern. And I am certain that if these reforms are introduced our Civil Service will be a more attractive place to work, and will better serve Ministers, taxpayers and the public.


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