COMMONS

Can the Civil Service cope with Brexit?

20 September 2017

Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee examines the ability of a reduced-size Civil Service to implement Brexit forms.

Work of the Civil Service inquiry

The new Inquiry is a continuation of the last parliament's unfinished inquiry, 'The Work of the Civil Service'. That Inquiry had to be concluded with an interim report as a result of the snap election.

How do Ministers and civil servants work together?

The new inquiry will focus more closely on how Ministers and civil servants work together. This reflects research based on extensive interviews with serving and former ministers, SpAds and Civil Servants  conducted for PACAC over the past year. PACAC will also focus on the present context, which is the Civil Service’s capability and capacity to cope with leaving the EU.

Chair of the Committee, Bernard Jenkin MP, says,

"If we can just get far more people to talk about these things, then the civil servants themselves will be half way there to putting these things right. 

We can be very proud of Whitehall as a whole, and of our civil and diplomatic services, but the challenges of Brexit are helping to expose where understandings are weak and where relationships are strained. 

A common purpose, trust and understanding, as well as technical expertise and experience, are so crucial for the Civil Service to perform efficiently and effectively.

Both the capability of the Civil Service as a whole, and the individual relationships between Ministers and officials, will impact on this effectiveness and the ability of the Civil Service to meet its present and future challenges."

Submit your views 

The Committee invites written submissions on the following questions:

Civil Service capability

  • Does the Civil Service have the skills and capabilities that it needs to be fully effective?
  • How can the Civil Service ensure that it cultivates effective leadership?
  • To what extent does the culture of the Civil Service promote performance oriented behaviour and cross-government working?
  • How effectively does the Government ensure that the desired outcomes of contracts are successfully delivered?
  • How adequate are the various Civil Service academies (e.g. defence, leadership, and digital) for providing civil servants with the necessary skills and development?
  • How does the Civil Service Leadership Academy fill the gaps that were left by the closure of the National School for Government and where do gaps remain? What role could be played by a new National School for Public Service?

Implications of leaving the EU on Civil Service capacity

  • How is the Civil Service ensuring that it has sufficient capacity to deliver the UK’s exit from the EU whilst continuing to deliver public services effectively and plan for the future outside the EU?
  • How robust are the Civil Service’s processes for anticipating and adapting to potential future demands on it as a result of the leaving the EU?
  • What ‘fracture points’ and tensions in the structure of the Civil Service are exposed by the pressures arising from leaving the EU?

The relationship between Ministers and officials

  • Have the more senior levels of the Civil Service become more politicised in recent years? If so, what caused this? In what ways has the decision to leave the EU affected this?
  • How should Ministers and civil servants be held accountable to Parliament? Are the current accountability arrangements, based on the Haldane doctrine, still appropriate?
  • How can the political and institutional leadership of Whitehall work together more effectively?
  • Do civil servants present Ministers with sufficient constructive challenge? How is such challenge received by Ministers?
  • How effective are Departmental Boards as a means of bringing together Ministers and officials to provide strategic leadership to a Department?
  • How does the relationship between the Minister and the Permanent Secretary impact on the engagement of civil servants at all levels with the work of the Department? How could this be improved?
  • How sufficient is the support given to officials and Ministers transitioning into new appointments?
  • In what ways can Special Advisers contribute to an effective Civil Service? In what ways can they act as barriers to effectiveness? How adequate is the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers?
  • How should Ministers carry out their stewardship role in relation to the Civil Service? Who should be driving the reform agenda?
  • How could new Ministers and aspiring Ministers be supported in understanding the workings of the Civil Service?

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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