Gus O'Donnell to kick off PACAC's civil service inquiry

Written by Civil Service World on 31 October 2016 in News

Former cabinet secretary to be grilled on civil service reform next week

Former cabinet secretary Gus O'Donnell will face questions on the future of the civil service next week, as a new parliamentary inquiry into the organisation gets underway.

The Public Administration and Consitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) has been gathering written evidence over the summer for its latest look at the work of the civil service.

During the last parliament, PASC's predecessor committee expressed doubts about the Civil Service Reform Plan launched in 2012, saying the series of initiatives driven by the centre of government were "too modest and piecemeal" and were unlikely to lead "to the kind of transformational change that many believe that the civil service needs".

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Instead, PASC called for the establishment of a wide-ranging parliamentary commission into the civil service, looking into areas including training, skills, pay, the relationship between the centre of government and departments, and the impact of devolution on the traditional civil service model.

Ministers ultimately rejected PASC's recommendation, however, prompting the successor committee to launch a fresh inquiry this year.

Lord O'Donnell, who served as cabinet secretary from 2005 to 2011, and oversaw the transition from the Labour to coalition administrations, is to appear as the first witness in the oral evidence sessions which get underway next week. O'Donnell has decades of Whitehall experience and has also served as the top official at the Treasury.

PACAC's chair Bernard Jenkin gave a flavour of the committee's lines of questioning when he launched the new inquiry at the Institute for Government (IfG) earlier this month.

While Jenkin said reforms launched by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude had seen "great progress in areas such as IT andthe digitisation of public services" and achieved "some very substantial savings by centralising procurement and rationalising the Whitehall estate", he said the former Cabinet Office minister's reform plan had failed to amount to a "comprehensive corporate change programme" and called its approach "managerial, rather than strategic".

Maude's approach had, he said, also "failed to address" questions of people and leadership, and had had continued a "command-and-control" style of trying to achieve change in the civil service. 

Writing after Jenkin's intervention, Julian McCrae – the IfG's deputy director – said the PACAC chair's speech had been "different from most political speeches about the civil service".

"Normally a politician gives you a strong diagnosis – usually that everything is going to hell in a handcart – followed by a confident assertion that a particular set of specific changes will put everything right," said McCrae 

"But this is not Bernard’s approach. His core theme is that the civil service, like any large and complex institution, is bound together by the relationships of those working within it. If you want to improve how the organisation works, you need to concentrate on strengthening these relationships." 

Correction: An earlier version of this story, based on an update to PACAC's website, reported that Maude was also set to appear next week. A committee spokesperson subsequently contacted CSW to say that this information had been posted in error

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MarkC (not verified)

Submitted on 31 October, 2016 - 14:02
Will Maude take his old chum Mr Green along with him?

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