16 December 2010

The UK Cabinet Office has announced the appointment of leaders from across the private and public sectors as Non-Executive Board Members (NEBMs) to Whitehall Boards.  These boards are a novel variation on the traditional civil service model of heads of departments being responsible to their portfolio Minister.   The British Government considers that the use of departmental  boards enables agencies to operate in a more business-like manner.

The appointees are experienced in improving performance across a wide range of industries. The Cabinet Office has indicated that “they will play a key role in shaking up governance across Whitehall and ensuring the right strategic leadership is in place so departments can meet the Government’s challenging reform programme.”

In New Zealand, Ministers often set up advisory committees to provide subject matter expertise, but replicating the new British arrangements may constrain the ability of a departmental chief executive to give effect to State Sector Act responsibilities to their Minister.

The UK Civil Service was established formally by statute earlier this year, despite its existence for more than 150 years.  The arrangement for non executive boards was not considered during the lengthy parliamentary development of the legislation.  In a paper published in November, Professors Richards and Smith (University of Sheffield) explore the recalibrating of government in Britain, and the move from a hybrid of the Westminster model to the “Big Society”.