21 June 2012

In Britain the Cabinet Minister spent Monday afternoon giving evidence to the Public Affairs Select Committee, justifying the current number of special advisers, despite the Government’s declared policy to substantially reduce staff in support of Ministers. On Tuesday he announced plans to reform the civil service. It is to be smaller and smarter.

The Guardian was not impressed with the Minister’s statement; “ the whole thing was floated on a great flotilla of jargon…  the Minister, used enough jargon to stuff a dead grizzly but sounded more like a vicar in a new parish, listing plans for the coming months.”

The Minister’s proposal includes changing “a focus on process rather than on outcomes, a risk-averse culture, and rampant gradism”. He said the civil service had to be “smaller, pacier, flatter and more digital … transaction and operational”.  There was a need for “sharpening accountability”, “digital project management capabilities” and “delivery through the cadre of permanent secretaries”.

The plan is for a “delivery landscape”…“rigorous daily collective self-evaluation,” … “lean continuing improvement” and a “demanding methodology”.

The Guardian queries how this language will contribute to openness and transparency!

A series of “zero base” reviews of departments, starting with the Department for Education, will ask what work they should be doing and how many staff are needed to do that. Efficiencies will come from pooling of central services, devolving powers and responsibilities to local government and the private sector, abolishing grades to reduce hierarchies, and dismissing the worst performing 10%.

The Telegraph view is that the changes are insufficient. As the 80:20 rule applies in Whitehall, reducing the civil service could improve its work. “There should be no doubt of the importance of Whitehall reform and the size of the potential benefits of getting it right.” But it doubts that the Minister’s proposals will bring about the necessary change in culture.

As  Sir Humphrey once observed: “Real reductions in the size of the Service?! It’d be the end of civilisation as we know it!”