Tory grandee Francis Maude gets second run at civil service reform

Ex-Cabinet Office minister and Conservative peer brought in to lead Cabinet Office review

Conservative grandee Francis Maude has been drafted in to review the Cabinet Office in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Financial Times reports that the former Cabinet Office minister – who pushed for major reforms to the civil service during his time in David Cameron’s government – has been asked to review the central department’s performance and relationship with the rest of Whitehall.

The Cabinet Office's performance during the coronavirus pandemic has angered some government insiders, with one Whitehall official telling the FT  it “simply collapsed when faced with the enormity of coronavirus”.

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.

Some of his key innovations, including a controversial system for ranking the performance of officials and plans to beef up the external support available to ministers, were pared back after he left office.

But he oversaw major changes to the way Whitehall runs digital services and buys in goods and services from the private sector.

According to the FT, current Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has asked the Tory veteran to review the efficiency of the department, as well as its work on project management, reining in departmental spending, property management and human resources.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said: “Lord Maude is conducting a short review on how to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of government functions and spending.”

The peer is not expected to be paid for his role, and he is expected to work alongside Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm. 

The move is the latest sign that wide-ranging changes to the structure of Whitehall are planned in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s most senior adviser and a longstanding critic of the civil service, has reportedly vowed a “hard rain is coming”, while the prime minister last month argued that parts of government had “seemed to respond so sluggishly” to the crisis.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster is acting editor of CSW's sister publication PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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