Gus attacks outsourcing of policy advice

Ministers commissioning policy advice directly from external bodies is “dangerous, because it risks giving the job to a body that is not objective,” former cabinet secretary Lord O’Donnell has said.

By Suzannah.Brecknell

16 May 2014

Speaking on the topic of ethics in the civil service at an event hosted by Queen Mary University’s Mile End Group earlier this month, Lord O’Donnell (pictured) said: “I’m very happy for civil servants to synthesise lots of advice, to commission lots of advice from others, but actually getting [other groups] directly to provide the advice to ministers worries me quite a lot because quite often these groups come at it with a particular agenda.”

In 2012, the government set up the Contestable Policy Fund, allowing ministers to commission advice from external bodies. Cabinet Office guidance says this supports projects which “draw directly on...external experts; and achieve a potentially broader and more radical range of options than ministers would receive internally.” Ten projects were set up through the fund in the year after its creation.

O’Donnell also said that civil servants have a duty to advise ministers on the effects of different policy options on wealth distribution, saying “the growth in inequality makes this one of the most important issues of this century.”

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