The competence and purpose of the civil service is under scrutinyby Peter Riddell / October 17, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
Jeremy Heywood and Bob Kerslake have been in charge as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service for nearly two years now. A lot has been achieved, in cutting staff numbers, seeking to remedy weaknesses in the handling of major projects, procurement and commissioning, and in making the government more digitally advanced in its relations with the public.
But the overall picture is patchy. The Civil Service Reform Plan of June 2012 set some ambitious goals but, as Kerslake and the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said in their introduction to the One Year On report in July this year, “too little of what was set out to be delivered by this point has been fully executed… We were slow to mobilise.”
The Commons Public Administration Committee complained in September that “the lack of strategic vision for the future of the civil service means reform will continue to be confined to a number of disjointed initiatives, some of which may prove permanent, but most of which will either be temporary or will fail to be implemented altogether.” For all the success of the Olympics, there have been too many horror stories in which the civil service has been heavily involved, such as the awarding of the West Coast mainline franchise and the criticisms over universal credit. And there have been ministerial complaints about the competence of officials in, for instance, procurement and getting value for money, as well as about inertia, and, in some cases, obstruction.
Unsurprisingly, civil service morale is not good, both generally, given the tight squeeze on pay and job cuts, and particularly at the top. Permanent secretaries often, but not always, say “it’s fine in my department—I get on with my Secretary of State,” but go on to complain about what is happening elsewhere and of tensions with, and weaknesses in, the leadership at the centre—Number 10, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury.
So here are 10 questions for Kerslake and Heywood.