Hodge backs Maude on perm sec accountability – and goes further

Permanent secretary appointment processes should result in ministers being given the right to choose their favourite candidate from a shortlist, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said last week – and Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, appeared to go still further in her response.

By Winnie.Agbonlahor

13 Jun 2013

Maude last year called for this change, but retreated when civil service commissioner Sir David Normington combined some lesser reforms to the recruitment process with fierce resistence to Maude’s idea. However, in a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank, Maude revived his call for shortlists.

“There have been modest changes in that direction made by the Civil Service Commission,” he said, “but we would like to go further. The selection panel [should] submit to the secretary of state a choice of candidates and leave the final choice to the secretary of state.”

His calls were backed by Hodge, who argued after Maude’s speech that cabinet ministers should “have the power to hire and fire” their permanent secretaries. Asked whether ministers should be able to both appoint permanent secretaries and to get rid of them, she replied: “I think the time has come when that has got to [be the case].”

The Institute for Government (IfG) has backed the reform, as has the government’s lead non-executive director Lord Browne.

Maude, who has repeatedly been quoted in the press expressing his frustration with the quality of the civil service, described it as “one of the great institutions of the British governmental scene”, but added that there is “a bias to inertia, against innovation”, and called for the creation of “the modern, 21st century civil service we need”.

Asked whether attacking the civil service will deepen tensions between ministers and civil servants, he said: “I don’t go on about how terrible [the civil service] is, but if things are not working well enough we need to be honest about it. Too often in the past there’s been an easy, lazy view of our system being the envy of the world.”

See also Dave Penman & Editorial


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