Exclusive: Outsourced policy study set to favour New Zealand model

The think tank contracted by the Cabinet Office to provide external policy advice on the future of civil service accountability has published research setting out its conclusions on the topic, CSW can reveal.

Colin Marrs

By Joshua.Chambers

19 Sep 2012

It was announced yesterday that the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has won the tender to provide outsourced policy advice on the question of civil service accountability. This is the first piece of policymaking to be outsourced, following the launch of a match-fund in June’s Civil Service Reform Plan.

IPPR will be paid £50,000 for a two-month study analysing civil service accountability in Australia, Singapore, the United States, France and Sweden. It has also been specifically asked to focus on the model in New Zealand.

However, the IPPR has already conducted research into international civil service accountability, looking at the models in the United States and New Zealand. It concluded that New Zealand’s accountability system should be adopted in the UK – with civil servants held accountable for departmental operations and appointed for fixed lengths of time, renewable subject to contract.

The 2006 research paper, called ‘Whitehall’s Black Box’, was led by Guy Lodge, an IPPR associate director. Lodge will also be leading the new review, and wrote an online article earlier this year repeating his belief that civil servants should be held publicly accountable for all departmental operations, with ministers only held accountable for policy, strategy and resource decisions.

At a press briefing on Monday, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude admitted that he was aware of the IPPR’s previous work. “Obviously, they’ve looked at all of this before, so they have a certain amount of this work – I guess – on the stocks already,” he said.

Dr Ben Yong of University College London’s Constitution Unit wrote a blog post last week explaining that his think tank decided not to bid for the work because “the terms of reference suggest that Maude already knows what he wants, but that he needs an ‘external’ consultant to somehow legitimise it.”

He added that that there are “real issues of impartiality and neutrality” in the outsourcing model, in particular because “the external consultant is expected to meet regularly with the minister [Francis Maude] so that he can discuss progress and ‘provide direction’ for the project.”

Yong’s concerns match those of civil servants. Asked in a CSW poll early this month if they have any worries about the outsourcing of policymaking, nearly half of all civil servants replied that “ministers may seek to commission policy advice from think tanks or academics known to share their political views, leading to unchallenged bias in the policymaking process.”

The Cabinet Office said that it had received expressions of interest from 20 organisations, and that two were shortlisted. It was unwilling to confirm whether more than two organisations had actually bid.

Asked whether the study is a foregone conclusion, Lodge said: “No. It is an opportunity for us to build on our previous work on civil service reform, take a fresh look at best practice from around the world, and apply this comparative research to debates on civil service reform that are taking place in the UK today.”

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