Institute for Government slates ‘weak corporate leadership’

The civil service is suffering from “weak corporate leadership” which is undermining its efforts to achieve cross-departmental savings or plan efficiency work beyond 2015, according to a report published today by the Institute for Government (IfG).

By Joshua.Chambers

26 Mar 2014

Cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake, and HMT perm sec Sir Nick Macpherson

The report says that “despite repeated emphasis on building stronger corporate leadership by the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, this remains a key weakness”.

It adds that strong corporate leadership is vital because the civil service “urgently needs reform ahead of 2015 but the current trajectory is not promising, with progress patchy and fragmented.”

Without reform, the think tank warns, “maintaining productive relations between ministers and civil servants will get even tougher as decisions become more politically painful,” and civil service morale will be “sorely tested.” It also warns that some savings will be reversed, and that “further savings are likely to be more difficult to find.”

The Treasury must start taking a much stronger role in reform, the think tank says, but “there is no signal from the Treasury currently that anything significant is going to change ahead of 2015 or that there is space for planning ahead and thinking differently about how to offer up the best options for whoever comes into government.”

Report co-author Jonathan Pearson told CSW: “The Treasury can galvanise or block parts of civil service reform. If [departments] continue to do things from within silos, they’re not going to make progress”.

Permanent secretaries should improve their collective leadership, the report says: “Most senior leaders do not see being part of an active corporate leadership team – that acts as a steward of the civil service for successive governments – as a crucial part of their responsibilities.”

Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, said: “There’s no coordinating narrative for the civil service to lock into; I totally agree with that.” He added: “It’s quite harsh when it says there is a lack of effective corporate leadership, but that is something that ministers and officials have got to address together.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We need a civil service that delivers the best for Britain. That’s why ministers and officials have agreed a joint programme of reform, largely supported by the IfG.

“Since the last general election, the civil service has shrunk by 16%, while maintaining or improving public services.

“But like all organisations, the civil service must continue to improve – that’s why we continue to drive forward digital transformation, a step-change in commercial and project management skills, and enhanced functional leadership.”

See also: CSWs feature on the IfG report

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