PASC 03-04 PN. 19

Session 03-04

Press Notice No.19


PASC-the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee-today launches an inquiry into the effectiveness of the Civil Service. The Committee is to ask whether today’s civil servants have the right skills to deliver public services, and whether wider use of new technology, relocation outside London and more devolution to local bodies will help strengthen the performance of the service.

In an “issues and questions” paper published today, the Committee seeks views on Civil Service careers, asking whether “the job for life” should become a thing of the past and whether it should be easier for people from the private sector to join the service. Plans to increase the diversity of the government workforce and proposals to improve the quality of the Service’s management will also come under scrutiny.

Commenting today, Committee Chairman Dr Tony Wright MP said:

“There is much talk about the quality of public services, but too little attention has been paid to the quality of the people who manage and help deliver them. While parties apparently compete to take the axe to civil service numbers, and major reviews such as those of Gershon and Lyons lead to plans for radical restructuring, it is easy to forget the basic need for civil servants to have the right skills and be led in the right way.

“This new inquiry fits well with the rest of PASC’s scrutiny programme. We have already examined targets and started a look at the place of choice in public services. Now we want to turn the spotlight on the skills and organisation of the Civil Service. Our work on a draft Civil Service Bill has prompted an encouraging focus on the need to bolster, with Parliament’s close involvement, the vital Service principles of political neutrality and objectivity. But it is absolutely vital that civil servants have the capacity and support to do the job effectively.

“Government ministers and senior officials constantly stress the need for civil servants to be more flexible in their jobs and to acquire more finely honed specialist skills. We would like to assess whether government plans in this area are well thought-out, and whether there is a danger that such reforms might undermine the long-standing strengths of the Civil Service.”

Please find the Committee's Issues and Questions paper attached below.


For further information please telephone Philip Aylett, Clerk of the Committee on 020 7219 3498

Tony Wright may be contacted for press inquiries on 020 7219 5583

Publications and evidence, including uncorrected evidence, is also available on the Internet at

For information regarding forthcoming meetings including venues and times please call the House of Commons Committee Information Line on 020 7219 2033 (updated daily).





PASC-the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee-is inquiring into the effectiveness of the Civil Service. PASC has this year published a draft Civil Service Bill, which seeks to ensure that the Service's principles of impartiality and neutrality are secured by Parliament. However, it believes that the professional standards of the Service, its skills and capacity to deliver what is required, demand equal attention. Ministers have made many proposals for reform which have been intended to make the Service more effective, and the last five years have seen a succession of Government reports, reviews and policy statements on the issue.  This paper seeks views on some of the main questions which have emerged.


Sir Richard Wilson's proposals 1999

The proposals of the then Head of the Home Civil Service, Sir Richard Wilson, for modernising the Civil Service were published in December 1999. The report set out how the Civil Service intended to take forward the commitment in the Modernising Government White Paper to "create a Civil Service for the 21st Century". Sir Richard said that Permanent Secretaries had committed themselves to action on the basis of six key themes: stronger leadership with a clear sense of purpose; better business planning from top to bottom; sharper performance management; a dramatic improvement in diversity; a Service more open to people and ideas, which brings on talent, and a better deal for staff.

Sir Andrew Turnbull on the future of the Service, 2002

The current Head of the Home Civil Service, Sir Andrew Turnbull, set out his own thoughts on the future for the Service when he took up his post in 2002. He said that "accelerating change in the Civil Service will be my priority over the next three years". He told civil servants that he wished to take further the changes initiated by Sir Richard, including closer working with Ministers and a major restructuring of the Cabinet Office, "creating  teams with clear remits who will work together to support you to deliver your change programmes in departments and agencies" and full exploitation of new technology "so that our customers quickly receive what they want from us".

Sir Andrew continued that he was placing "a high priority on improving the way we manage and develop people. I would like everyone to continually strive to reach their potential and to have incentives and opportunities to acquire key skills for delivery, such as project management".

In February 2004, Sir Andrew suggested that greater career mobility and effective partnerships across sectors (along with a smaller and better-focussed centre of government) would help to strengthen the delivery capacity of the Civil Service. He made it clear that this meant that civil servants would have very different careers in the future: "We are talking about a more flexible, but more effective and professional career pattern.  No one any more expects a right to a job for life, just because they successfully negotiated an entry process when they were twenty two.  What matters is performance in a changing world".

The Prime Minister on Civil Service Reform, February 2004

Also speaking in February 2004, the Prime Minister outlined his view of future shape of the Civil Service and the wider public services. He laid particular stress on the importance of providing services that people need and expect:

"Consumer expectations of Government services as well as others are rising remorselessly. People no longer take what is given them and are grateful. They want services that are responsive to their needs and wishes. Long gone are rigid demarcations between public, private and voluntary sectors, at least in the public's mind. They are happy to see and often require partnership between the three. They see the revolutionary effect of IT and want it applied across the public sector too. And above all else, the majority today are taxpayers. Government money is their money. They expect a return.

Mr Blair set out the special challenges that, he believed, were faced by the Civil Service:

"The principal challenge is to shift focus from policy advice to delivery. Delivery means outcomes. It means project management. It means adapting to new situations and altering rules and practice accordingly. It means working not in traditional departmental silos. It means working naturally with partners outside of Government. It's not that many individual civil servants aren't capable of this. It is that doing it requires a change of operation and of culture that goes to the core of the Civil Service".

He then listed seven practical "keys to transformation of the Civil Service":

· a smaller, strategic centre;

· a Civil Service with professional and specialist skills;

· a Civil Service open to the public, private and voluntary sector and encouraging interchange among them;

· more rapid promotion within the Civil Service and an end to tenure for senior posts;

· a Civil Service equipped to lead, with proven leadership in management and project delivery;

· a more strategic and innovative approach to policy;

· government organised around problems, not problems around Government".

The Gershon Review of Public Sector Efficiency

The Government Review of Public Sector Efficiency, conducted in 2003 and 2004 by Sir Peter Gershon, centred on the objective of "releasing major resources out of activities which can be undertaken more efficiently into front line services that meet the public's highest priorities".  The report, "Releasing resources to the front line", published in July 2004, set out "auditable and transparent efficiency gains of over £20 billion in 2007-08 across the public sector" which have been "identified and agreed". According to Sir Peter, over sixty percent of the savings are "directly cash releasing". The Gershon proposals would also "result in a gross reduction of over 84,000 posts in the Civil Service and military personnel in administrative and support roles".     

Relocation: the Lyons Review

The Independent Review of Public Sector Relocation, led by Sir Michael Lyons, produced its report in March 2004. It concluded that "the pattern of government needs to be reshaped" and that "national public sector activity is concentrated around London to an extent that is inconsistent with Government objectives".  

Sir Michael called on departments to move quickly to implement their relocation plans, and for there to be a strongly enforced presumption against London and the South East for new activities and many other functions. London headquarters should be radically slimmed down and there should be improved coordination between departments in relocating activities. During the review process, some 20,000 jobs were identified as capable of being moved out of London and the South East.  Sir Michael summed up his recommendations by saying that  "I believe that a new pattern of government service will contribute significantly to Government's policies for the reform of public services, improving regional growth, national competitiveness and devolution.  Government needs to take firm action to recast the pattern of its business in a way that better meets the needs of the nation in the new century".


One of the Government's stated aims is to increase the diversity of the Civil Service. This is partly to ensure that it properly reflects society, in order to deliver services that meet the needs of the whole population. Sir Andrew Turnbull expanded on this when he announced the appointment of Waqar Azmi as the key diversity adviser to the Civil service in August 2004:

"Increasing diversity across the Civil Service is crucial to us. An open and diverse Civil Service enables us to achieve excellence in policy development and service delivery. Waqar Azmi's appointment will enhance our efforts to create a Civil Service that is truly representative of the society we serve, including at the senior levels".


PASC would like to receive responses to any or all of the questions in this paper. Although some of the questions could theoretically be answered by a simple yes or no, the Committee would especially value extended memoranda with background evidence where appropriate. Some respondents may wish to concentrate on those issues in which they have a special interest, rather than necessarily answering all the questions.

Memoranda will usually be treated as evidence to the Committee and may be published as part of a final Report. Memoranda submitted to the Committee should be kept confidential unless and until published by the Committee. If you object to your memorandum being made public in a volume of evidence and on the internet, please make this clear when it is submitted.

Memoranda should be submitted by 17 December 2004 as hard copy on A4 paper, but please send an electronic version also, by email to, or on computer disk in Rich Text Format, ASCII, WordPerfect 8 or Word. Hard copies should be sent to Philip Aylett, Clerk, Public Administration Select Committee, Committee Office, First Floor, Committee Office, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA.

The Committee is holding oral evidence sessions in the autumn and winter of 2004-05.


The Role and Function of the Civil Service

The Committee seeks views on the future role and function of the Civil Service, and on the relationship between the Service and other parts of the public sector.

1. What are the most important current functions of the Civil Service?

2. Should any of these functions  be altered or removed, and if so, what should be the main Civil Service roles in future?

3. What should be the relationship between the Civil Service and other public services?

4. Would it be appropriate to have just one public service, comprising the Civil Service and staff of local government, the NHS and other bodies responsible for service delivery?

5. Would the establishment of a single public service help to eliminate some of strains in the relationship between central and local government?

6. Despite five years of devolution, the Assembly Government in Wales and the Scottish Executive are both still served by members of the unified UK Civil Service. Is this appropriate?   

Civil Service Skills

The Committee is examining whether civil servants possess the skills they require to serve Ministers and the public.

7. Does the Civil Service have the right skills to help governments deliver public services?

8. How does the performance of the Civil Service compare with that of its equivalents in other countries? Who or what is mainly to blame for the recent problems in government IT, procurement and project management?  

Civil Service careers: the end of a 'job for life'?

The Government has proposed major changes to the  pattern of Civil Service careers, with less job security and greater encouragement to move between different parts of the public sector and between the private and public sectors. The rules concerning the employment of former civil servants, which have an impact on such moves, are currently under review by Sir Patrick Brown, former Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport. There have been suggestions that such rules act as a deterrent to interchange between the sectors, thus depriving the Civil Service of some of the skills it needs.

9. Many civil servants enter the Service in their teens or early twenties and expect to stay until they retire at 60.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of giving civil servants such tenure?

10. Will the idea of 'career anchors', allowing civil servants greater movement between private, voluntary and public sectors during their careers, be effective in enhancing skills? What effect might such a policy have on the structure and culture of the Civil Service?

11. Are the current rules regulating the business activities of civil servants too restrictive? Is there concrete evidence that the rules are deterring highly able people from joining the Service?

Politics and the Civil Service

There has been considerable debate about the alleged politicisation of the Civil Service. At the moment almost all civil servants are required to be politically neutral and prepared to serve governments of any persuasion. It has recently been suggested (by Ed Straw in a Demos pamphlet) that Ministers should be allowed to appoint senior officials. The Committee seeks views on these issues.

12. Is there a danger that the Civil Service would be politicised if its structure and culture were to be radically altered?

13. Should Ministers have the opportunity of appointing a significant number of senior civil servants in their departments?

The Civil Service as an employer

The Committee would like to hear views on whether the Civil Service is good at managing and developing its staff. This includes issues such as the quality of management and the effectiveness of training.  

14. Does the Civil Service manage its staff effectively?

15. Could the Civil Service do more to attract talented people to work for it?

16. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Civil Service training and development?  How might it be improved?

17. Will the recent introduction of Personal Improvement Plans for Senior Civil Servants who are placed in the bottom 20 percent of performers help to address the problem of poor performance?

The Gershon and Lyons Reviews

18. Are the 'Gershon' Review recommendations for strengthening the "frontline" and reducing staff likely to improve services? What are their possible disadvantages? 

19. Do you agree with Sir Michael Lyons that reform of the public services will be furthered by relocating civil service posts out of London and the south east? What might be the disadvantages?

20. What is your view of Sir Michael's statement that a new pattern of government services, as proposed in his report, will improve regional growth and national competitiveness? 


21. The Civil Service is gradually becoming more diverse. Is the pace of change in diversity fast enough, and are the right measures in place to achieve improvements?

22. How can the Service ensure that its greater diversity really leads to more effective public services? 

Public Administration Select Committee

October 2004