24 March 2013

The Civil Service Department advised the UK Parliament last week that it would be arrogant to assume there is nothing that it can learn from abroad.

The Commons Select Committee on Public Administration has published the submission by the Civil Service on the Future of the Civil Service.  This relates to the Civil Service Reform Plan developed by the Head of the Civil Service and the Public Administration Committee’s examination of the purpose and outcomes sought from change.

The Department answered each of the nine questions framed by the Select Committee.

  • Why does the Civil Service need reform?
  • Does the Government’s Civil Service Reform Plan reflect the right approach to the Civil Service?
  • How can corporate governance in the Civil Service be improved?
  • To what extent does the Civil Service Reform Plan affect the fundamental principles upon which the Civil Service has operated since the Northcote-Trevelyan report?
  • If policy-making is to be opened up to external organisations, what is the distinctive role of the Civil Service in the modern world?
  • Can, or should, employment terms and conditions in the Civil Service ever be comparable with those for posts of similar seniority and responsibility in the private sector?
  • How effective is the senior leadership of the Civil Service, and how does it compare to previous periods?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the current federalised system of Whitehall Departments?
  • Does the long-term future of the Civil Service require more comprehensive and deeper consideration and, if so, how should this be done?

The responses are informative but seem to reflect a number of public statements made by the Cabinet Office Minister, suggesting perhaps that the submission is a format for indicating the Civil Service Department’s concurrence with its Minister’s views.

The submission refers to a need for the Civil Service to work differently, to be faster, smaller, more open and less bureaucratic. The proposal is for continuous improvement with an annual plan on progress towards improving capability, sharpening accountability, and strengthening professionalism. Governance is to be improved with greater use of non executive directors and better management information systems. The core values will be unaltered but the cautious and slow moving Civil Service culture needs to  change.  The need is for innovation and to focus on outcomes not process.  The development of high-quality, creative policy is to be incentivised and made more contestable. The Civil Service should develop the employment packages of a good modern employer and end conditions that may be open to public criticism. Pay rates were already attractive in the marketplace.  A greater sense of corporate leadership needs to be encouraged, with a more unified service, moving from siloed departments to improve responsiveness to cross cutting challenges such as youth employment and fraud, error and debt.