“There are two proposals that I’ve signed off on the subject of policymaking coming from the outside,” he said. “We’re one of the first departments to go with the initiative – trying to get different parties to contribute and make policy which the department then has to take seriously and think about.”
Last year’s Civil Service Reform Plan set out the government’s intention to “pilot contestable policy making by establishing a centrally-held match fund which can be used by ministers to commission external policy development”. DECC has now secured money from the Cabinet Office-run fund to commission the first of these proposals: work “to inform policy around barriers to consent in the Green Deal – the coalition’s flagship energy efficiency initiative,” a spokesperson said.
Lovegrove argued that the fund will enable his department to access the advanced skills and expertise required to strengthen DECC policies. “Are we likely to have all the wisdom about consumer behaviour which is going to be very, very important to us with things like the Green Deal, smart meters and so on, within a Whitehall department? No, we’re not,” he said. “We need to draw in expertise from a very broad range of different places – and if this is one way of being able to do that, then it’s something we should engage with.”
DECC’s move shows its “commitment to reforming the way the civil service works, and brings in expertise from industry to formulate policy on one of the department’s flagship initiatives,” he added.
The department is currently commissioning the research work, and hopes to announce a winner soon. “When a Green Deal plan for energy efficiency improvements is agreed, the applicant requires consent from all relevant parties for installation,” the spokesperson explained. “So if the applicant rents their property, they must get the property owner’s consent for the installation and the charge to the electricity meter. DECC’s Green Deal team proposes to use the fund to explore policy options to resolve any Green Deal ‘consent barriers’ in the rental and leasehold sector to maximise availability of the initiative.”
The first department to access the Contestable Policy Fund was the Cabinet Office itself, which last September commissioned the IPPR think tank to examine models of civil service accountability around the world. Last week, cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood told the Public Administration Select Committee that he still hasn’t seen that research, which was originally expected by autumn 2012.
Read our interview with Stephen Lovegrove here