Maude: Kerslake ‘should have worked exclusively as head of civil service’

Maude, questioned on proposal to create a dedicated “head of the civil service” role, says previous attempt was "watered-down version of his plan"
The late Sir Bob Kerslake. Photo: PA/Alamy

By Jim Dunton

25 Jan 2024

Sir Bob Kerslake should have been a full-time head of civil service rather than splitting the role with responsibilities as a permanent secretary in the Department for Communities and Local Government, Lord Francis Maude has told MPs.

Speaking at a Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee hearing earlier this week Maude was asked about his proposal to create a dedicated “head of the civil service” role with a mandate from the prime minister to “drive through an agreed programme of civil service reforms and improvement, supported by a single civil service board”.

The proposal is one of a series of suggestions made by Maude in his 2023 review of civil service accountability and reform, which was published in November.

PACAC member David Jones asked Maude why he thought the model would be successful when splitting the head of the civil service role from the duties of cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood in 2011 was not regarded as having worked out well.

Maude said the appointment of Sir Bob Kerslake as head of the civil service in addition to his role as permanent secretary at the then-DCLG had been a watered-down version of his plan. He said Kerslake, who died last July, had categorically not been able to devote his full energies to being head of the civil service.

“The argument was that without being a departmental permanent secretary he would lack the authority,” Maude said. “I wish I’d challenged that more. I did encourage him to become full-time, but he was very reluctant.

“I think if he had been a full-time head of the civil service, with his background outside central government as an effective local government chief executive of a big local authority, and he had been given very clear authority, delegated from the prime minister to drive these kinds of changes, I think it could have worked. No guarantee that it would have worked, but it was not set up right and that’s very much on me.”

Maude said that at the time, when he was Cabinet Office minister, he had not fully recognised some of the obstacles to effecting change within government.

“Because there was so much going on, I hadn’t got my head around the lack of formal delegation of the power to manage, which is an extraordinary lack in our system,” he told MPs.

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