General Election 2015: The Civil Service World guide

As the country goes to the polls, here's CSW's full guide to what the 2015 election will mean for the civil service

By Civil Service World

06 May 2015

The parties' plans for Whitehall

We picked apart both the Labour and Conservative manifestos to assess their likely impact on the civil service. Mark Rowe predicted that a Conservative-led government would see Whitehall putting into action an "extremely long 'to-do' list of political policies" while "continuing to adjust to the Tory philosophy of how it must operate". Colin Marrs looked at the Labour manifesto, concluding that while the party looked set to implement departmental budget cuts more slowly than under Conservative plans, its plans for further spending reductions would still be "significant and painful" for the civil service. Separately, Labour committed itself to diversity targets and quotas in the civil service's Fast Stream graduate programme, in a bid to improve black and minority ethnic representation in Whitehall.

Beyond the two main parties, the Liberal Democrats set out a series of 'red lines' for possible coalition talks, including increased education spending and a 'stability budget' within 50 days of the election. Leader Nick Clegg also pledged an above-inflation payrise for the public sector from 2019 if his party holds the balance of power. The SNP made the case for an end to austerity, with their manifesto pledging to raise departmental spending by 0.5% a year.

In an exclusive interview, CSW editor Jess Bowie spoke to Conservative minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude on his five years in the job. Maude –​ who is standing down as an MP at the election but has hinted at the possibility of continuing the job from the House of Lords – told us that he would like to see "much more organised, and methodological, systematic" follow-up of ministerial decisions within Whitehall. “One of the things we have to do in the future is have collective decisions framed in a much more hard-edged way, so that there is a decision properly formulated and then promulgated with proper executive force," he said

The Cabinet Office minister also told us he believed the performance management system used to assess civil servants could "probably" go further, moving from a system where managers categorise set proportions of staff as performing well, acceptably and poorly to one where employees are individually ranked best to worst.

Our deputy editor Matt Foster also spoke to key Ed Miliband adviser Lord Falconer about Labour's plans for Whitehall. Falconer, who has led the party's preparations for government, told us Labour is not looking to impose a major reorganisation of the departments, saying such changes could result in "internal civil service wars". But he called for a stronger role for Downing Street, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office in driving policies through departments and monitoring progress. “In some cases targets will be appropriate,” he said. That call for a shake-up of the centre was also echoed by Nesta's Geoff Mulgan & Stian Westlake in an exclusive blog for CSW.

On whether the party would make a major break with Maude's civil service reform agenda, Falconer told us he believed "very many" of the changes of the last five years were "very worthwhile and should be promoted", but accused the current administration of seeking to “blame the civil service” for thwarted policies.

Getting ready for coalition or minority government

With the polls pointing to another hung parliament as the most likely outcome of Thursday's vote, we explored the implications for Whitehall of coalition and minority rule. Peter Hennessy spoke to former cabinet secretary Gus (now Lord) O'Donnell, who oversaw the 2010 talks between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. O'Donnell predicted a longer deal-making process this time around, adding: "People need to be ready for that... It’s the kind of thing that would be regarded as entirely routine throughout most of Europe.” Liberal Democrat former defence minister Nick Harvey also shared his lessons for how the smaller party in a coalition deal could be more effective, and argued that a junior partner should have "a minister and spad in every department" this time around.

Peter Riddell, director of the Institute for Government, agreed that this round of post-election talks would probably take more time. In a column for CSW, he said minority government would present the civil service with "a wholly different set of challenges", with the focus shifting to the Commons and ministers "seeking all the time to secure a majority for their measures". His IfG colleague Akash Paun said he believed a minority government may be "less perilous than it first appears" with "plenty" of successful international examples of such an arrangement.

Given the possibility of protracted talks to find a new governmentCSW also looked at some of the myths around the caretaker administrations. With Labour already accusing David Cameron of seeking to "squat" in Downing Street after polling day – a charge also laid against his predecessor Gordon Brown –​ we spoke to constitutional experts about the grey areas around caretaker government and heard calls for much clearer rules to ensure new administrations aren't formed with undue haste.

Stay tuned to Civil Service World this week for live coverage of the 2015 election result and fall-out. Click here to sign up for our daily email bulletin, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest updates


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