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Whitehall reform isn’t just about ministers versus civil servants, but also ministers versus backbenchers

By Peter Hoskin
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I know, I know – I’ve talked about Whitehall reform once today, which is already unhealthy. But there is actually cause to raise the subject again. The Commons’ Public Administration Select Committee, chaired by the Tories’ own Bernard Jenkin, has today released a report on the matter, which is far from kind about what has been achieved. You can read the whole thing here, but this Times article (£) captures the tenor of it. Some of the words in that report include: “doomed”, “devastating”, “failings”, etc, etc.

In the interests of keeping this post short, though, I’ll concentrate on one of the report’s recommendations: that a parliamentary commission be established to conduct an inquiry into the Civil Service. This is something that Mr Jenkin has suggested before, and you might think that there’s plenty of cross-party ministerial support for it. After all, who in Government hasn’t been frustrated by the Civil Service and by the stuttering attempts to reform it? Who wouldn’t like a bit of parliamentary cover for change?

But, in truth, it’s not like that. As I’ve pointed out before, Francis Maude appears to be set against the idea of a commission – particularly one so soon – for the reason that something needs to happen now, and that’s what the Government’s policies are for. The key line came in a speech that he delivered in June. “In 1968 the Fulton Commission made numerous recommendations,” he said, “but can anyone remember anything actually changing?”  

And it isn’t just Maude: members of the last Government, including  Andrew Adonis, have spoken out against any commission. If Bernard Jenkin wants his way, he’ll have to overcome a fair swell of disagreement.


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