In a report published today the Commons Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) says that unless the government can rapidly develop and implement a comprehensive plan for cross-departmental reform in Whitehall, the Government's wider ambitions for public service reform, the Big Society, localism and decentralisation will fail.
The analysis and recommendations in the committee’s report, "Change in Government: the agenda for leadership", highlight the lack of specialist expertise and other key skills, institutional inertia and complacency which they say have justified the Prime Minister's complaint about "the enemies of enterprise" within Whitehall.
The traditional model of Civil Service reform through gradual change is not sufficient for circumstances where the Government proposes rapid decentralisation and a structural reduction of one-third in departmental budgets. The committee have found that considerable structural organisational reform of the Civil Service is required and that Ministers, together with senior civil servants, need to be more proactive in driving change.
Programme for change
Above all, they recommend that the Government must formulate a coherent programme for change across Whitehall, and that the Cabinet Office should take on a much stronger coordinating role and should provide much more vigorous leadership to ensure that every department of state is leading and implementing change effectively.
They call for a "world-class centre of Government . . . headed by someone with the authority to insist on delivery across the Civil Service." The Government "should produce a comprehensive change programme articulating clearly what it believes the Civil Service is for, how it must change and with a timetable of clear milestones."
The committee have set out six principles of good governance and change management against which Civil Service reform should be managed over the course of this Parliament. They will be monitoring Civil Service leadership, performance, accountability, transparency, coherence and engagement as reform programmes are implemented.
Bernard Jenkin MP, Chair of the Committee said:
"We support the objectives of reform of the Civil Service;- transferring power from Whitehall into communities;- but Ministers seem to think change will just happen.
Change needs to be driven from the centre of government and driven by the top management in every department, and lower levels of management must be fully engaged in the objectives and implementation of change. This only appears to be happening in very few departments. There is no machinery to ensure lessons are being learned across Whitehall and that corrective is action taken in weaker departments.
There is a culture in the Civil Service which makes change very difficult. Civil Service reform is something Ministers talk about, but which most civil servants feel does not affect them. They keep their heads down until the latest reform has passed over, and then carry on as before. With the challenges of cuts and downsizing on top of the reforms, that is simply not an option this time."