Civil servants should take more ownership of policy – Casey

Whitehall should be prepared to take responsibility for delivering programmes, says Troubled Families chief Louise Casey

By Sarah.Aston

06 Mar 2015

Civil servants and ministers must be clearer over who is accountable for public policy, Louise Casey has said.

Speaking exclusively to CSW, the Troubled Families director general said that more officials should be willing to take responsibility for delivering policy, but for this to be successful, ministers must be clearer on accountability.

“I think it’s a debate we ought to be clear about within the civil service, about when we are responsible for something, and when a minister is responsible for something. That means if ministers override you, they have to take responsibility for that, they can’t hang an official out to dry if they have taken the responsibility for it.

“In the same way, officials can’t blame ministers when they are actually wanting to take total responsibility for a policy,” she said.

While officials should lead on delivering programmes, however, Casey said that civil servants must be careful not to undermine ministers, especially in the media.

“I’ve seen others czars that, in my view, haven’t quite clocked the way you have to be respectful of ministers’ positions, and respectful of the civil service code. You don’t find me having views on anything and everything, and I think that’s a really difficult line for people when it comes to the media,” she said.

“People elect prime ministers, it’s the prime minister’s target on troubled families, which I am executing to the best of my ability, and taking personal responsibility and accountability for that crusade.

“It is his goal and commitment, he’s the one that’s elected, I’m not, and the moment a civil servant forgets that, I think they are in a dangerous place.”

The debate on civil service accountability has been raised several times over the last couple of months.

Last month, PASC chair Bernard Jenkin asked the prime minister about tensions between officials seeking stronger leadership and ministers who claimed officials already have too much autonomy, while earlier this week, former cabinet secretary Lord Richard Wilson questioned the way committees treat officials.

Look out for our full interview with Louise Casey in the March issue of Civil Service World. To subscribe, click here

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