31 May 2012

The November 2011 paper to Cabinet on Better Public Services flagged a possibility that the State Services Commissioner could be designated with a responsibility as Head of the State Services. That report also identified that advisory boards may become a feature of some Departments.

On 25 January 2012 Cabinet agreed that the State Services Commissioner should be the acting Head of the State Services until statutory amendments formalising that position could be enacted. These developments have gained traction. 

The State Services Commission statement of intent published following the Budget last week drops an expression, without any explanation, about chief executives working with Boards, and a DomPost article featuring the State Services Commissioner this week refers to his title as Head of the State Services (although there has been no sign of the validating legislation.)

 There is an irony in all of this. The UK Civil Service, which has had advisory boards in Departments for several years has still to standardise their use – should they support the chief executive or the Minister? And more dramatically, the creation of the role of Head of the Civil Service in Britain and the establishment of co leaders produces potential for confusion.

With the retirement of Lord O’Donnell as the Head the Civil Service responsibilities in Britain have been split. There is now a Cabinet Secretary,  Head of the Cabinet Office  ( the permanent secretary)  and Head of the Civil Service – well there was. Earlier this month the Head of the Cabinet Office resigned. The new arrangements may have seemed unworkable to him.

The remaining two, the Cabinet Secretary and the Head of the Civil Service appear to have found a way to work through the complication. The Guardian reports that these two travel in the same car to work – presumably demonstrating their commitment to efficiency and effectiveness.  But rather than portraying the mandarins of state utilising the time as champions of good government, the Guardian creates the image of the two as Noddy and Big Ears.