So this is what it takes: Whitehall infighting prompts honest report about civil service reform failures

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude: "It would not be honest to pretend all our reforms were on track."
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude: "It would not be honest to pretend all our reforms were on track."
Alex Stevenson By

Frustrated coalition ministers are escalating their war with civil service mandarins today, with an unusually honest report admitting its failures over the last 12 months.

Conservative and Liberal Democrats in Whitehall are stepping up their attack on the capital's Sir Humphreys with a series of moves strengthening ministerial authority over the Whitehall machine.

Their one-year-on report on the civil service reform plan has been unusually honest about the areas where change is not taking place - in a bid to embarrass civil servants into getting on with the reforms.

"It would not be honest to pretend all our reforms were on track," Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said.


"That's why we think it's right to publish this candid assessment which gives praise where it's due and calls for more effort where it's needed."

Maude has previously complained about the "obstructionist" Whitehall machine, triggering a bitter struggle between ministers and the public officials tasked with implementing their policies.

Of the 19 actions outlined in the civil service reform plan one year ago, today's report card states that just seven have seen the reform plan "delivered and/or on track to implement".

Four areas - establishing a plan to fill skill gaps in the civil service, increasing secondments with the private sector, 'creating a modern workplace' and sharing expert services across government - are judged to be "significantly delayed" or "significantly off track".

Today's update unveils a new set of moves ministers are using to strengthen their authority in Whitehall.

"Government is increasing in complexity and speed, and public expectations continue to rise," Maude explained.

"We will give ministers more support by allowing them to appoint extended ministerial offices, to challenge established thinking and carry priorities from development through to delivery."

A recent report from the IPPR think-tank cited in today's report showed that ministers in the UK have less direct support than their equivalents in other countries with similar systems of government.

The Cabinet Office is using this as an excuse to give ministers the power to appoint civil servants, special advisers and external policy experts as part of their expanded personal offices.

Civil servants' power, by contrast, will be curbed. Permanent secretaries will be appointed for fixed terms of five years and will become directly accountable to parliament for delivering major projects - while being obliged to make efficiency savings of £1 billion from the sharing and leadership of professional corporate services.

The latest moves to strengthen ministerial offices within the government will be supported by both parties in government, as deputy prime minister Nick Clegg's office was initially understaffed after the formation of the coalition.

But the Institute for Government think-tank, which had called for extra civil service assistance for Clegg, voiced a note of caution today.

"An expanded private office headed by a politically appointed chief of staff risks becoming an alternative power base within the department and could disengage the minister from their department," director Peter Riddell said.

He said more clarity was needed about the size of the extended ministerial offices, including the number of special advisers, and who will head them.

Comments

Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.