Macpherson: Whitehall must sharpen corporate memory

Treasury permanent secretary Nick Macpherson has called on government departments to improve their institutional memory.

By Civil Service World

12 Jul 2013

Speaking at Civil Service Live, Macpherson said “Whitehall is really bad at embedding knowledge,” and challenged all departments as they find ways to reduce spending to “make damn sure that somebody, somewhere, is ensuring that what you’re learning now is embedded in the system.” But he acknowledged this is “very easy to talk about; very difficult to do”. He also highlighted the particular problems of the Treasury, whose high turnover means that “endless reinventing of wheels is very likely”.

Richard Douglas, head of the government finance profession and finance director at the health department, recalled one pitfall of the cost-saving drives of the 1980s and 1990s.

In those years, he said, civil servants “never thought beyond the year-end”, and “scratched about” for savings which eventually led to a decay of systems and infrastructure.


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