Former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude could be asked to lead a review into how the civil service operates, according to the Financial Times.
The paper reports that two senior civil servants believe Maude – who presided over wide-ranging civil service reforms from 2010 to 2015 – is being lined up to carry out a review first promised in last June’s Declaration on Government Reform.
The declaration pledged to carry out two reviews, one on " civil service governance, including consideration of the appropriate roles for senior officials, non-executive directors and ministers” and a second looking at “models of accountability for decisions”.
The latter review would, according to the Declaration, draw on “international best practice and experiences during the pandemic”, as well as considering the “role and design of ministerial directions”.
The FT reports that these reviews have been delayed due to arguments over scope, with some ministers arguing that a review should look at whether political appointees could lead departments, according to a “well-placed Whitehall figure”.
Lord Maude, now a Conservative peer, drew the ire of some civil servants during his time as Cabinet Office minister for a sweeping reform programme aimed at improving Whitehall efficiency.
In 2013 he commissioned a report into civil service accountability and responsiveness, carried out by think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). The report called for changes to the way permanent secretaries , and also paved the way for the creation of controversial Extended Ministerial Offices.
This change allowed secretaries of state to create offices with hand-picked staff, bypassing normal recruitment rules, which government said would increase the amount of support available to ministers.
The proposal met opposition from then-Civil Service Commissioner Sir David Normington, who proposed a number of controls which would ensure that these direct appointments would not compromise the neutrality of the civil service.
Lines permitting the introduction of EMOs were included in an October 2015 update of the Ministerial Code but were removed in 2016, with the Institute for Government descibing the system as a "short-lived experiment" in government.
Maude also oversaw major changes to the way Whitehall runs digital services and buys in goods and services from the private sector. In 2020, he led a review into government's cross-cutting functions and spending controls, in which he called for functions to be given a stronger mandate and given greater authority to hold departments to account.
Friends of Maude told the FT he had not been asked to conduct the latest review into civil service accountability.
The government said the review into civil service governance and accountability would take place this year. “They will seek to learn from other countries, organisations outside the civil service, and from recent experiences in government. Further information on this activity will be provided in due course,” an official told the FT.