Exclusive: Officials back transparency & localism, oppose outsourcing

Civil servants support moves to increase the transparency of government and to devolve powers down to local government and communities, but are strongly opposed to outsourcing delivery to the private and voluntary sectors, an exclusive poll by CSW has found.

By Joshua.Chambers

16 May 2012

CSW polled 1,395 civil servants, setting out how “the government wants the civil service to change the ways it handles policymaking and service delivery.” It then asked for their views of the changes.

On “the move to use transparency and citizen choice at the local level to improve service quality, rather than relying on centralised targets and reporting systems”, 65 per cent of civil servants offered broad support, with 18 per cent saying “it’s a great idea and should work well” and 47 per cent saying “it’s a good idea but I have concerns about implementation”. Only 23 per cent were opposed, with 13 per cent neutral.

When asked about the “localism agenda, under which control over service delivery should shift from the central down to the local level”, 59 per cent were positive, while only 29 per cent were negative.

However, when asked about “the move to open up public service delivery to the private and voluntary sectors, rather than maintaining government as the default provider of public services”, only 31 per cent were positive while 63 per cent gave negative answers. A more detailed breakdown shows that 41 per cent of civil servants said “it’s a flawed idea and the risks may outweigh the benefits”, while 22 per cent said “it’s a poor idea and unlikely to work”.

Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, told CSW that “inevitably, people will worry about the impact of [outsourcing] on their own jobs and their own services, and that’s understandable as a concern. Equally, they might be wary about whether we can secure the quality of services that we want. I think the evidence is that, if you open things up to alternative ways of delivering, you can deliver different and better outcomes.”

The poll also showed problems in departmental capability that must be addressed if policy is to be effectively implemented. Civil servants were asked to name the three capabilities that “your organisation most need[s] to improve in order to better meet the challenges facing it”. The most popular response, chosen by 59 per cent, was “the recruitment and retention of appropriate staff, and better management of poorly-performing staff” (see news, p3). The second, chosen by 50 per cent, was “consultation with, and engagement of, the workforce in pursuing reforms”; and the third was “the conception and development of appropriate IT systems”, named by 41 per cent of civil servants.

Overall, a third of civil servants said key departmental capabilities are absent or under-developed.

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