Asked by CSW how much he plans to change civil service accountability in this Parliament he said “a lot,” adding that “there’s a lot already happening and much more that can happen”. This will be an ongoing process of reform, he continued, saying this won’t be “get it right and it’s done for all time”.
Maude was at the Institute for Government (IfG) announcing one step in his plan to tighten permanent secretaries’ accountability to ministers. “We will for the first time publish online their objectives,” he said. “These will be agreed in advance with ministers and the prime minister, and updated periodically.”
Change is necessary, he believes, because civil servants are deliberately delaying the implementation of government policies. “There are cases when permanent secretaries have blocked agreed government policy from going ahead or advised other officials not to implement ministerial decisions – that is unacceptable.”
Asked to name examples, he said “I could give you endless examples. But I’m actually not going to because you can’t do that without pinpointing individuals, and that would be invidious.” Maude added that he has given examples internally to senior civil servants and “there isn’t any dispute that this happens.”
FDA trade union general secretary Dave Penman told CSW that “if they were refusing to act on instructions... the way of dealing with it is not to denigrate the entire class of permanent secretaries.”
He added that “governments in the midterm doldrums look for reasons why their policies may be failing – there may be political issues to deal with – and they look for convenient scapegoats.”
Maude has commissioned a think tank to investigate the New Zealand model of accountability, where ministers have a contractual relationship with civil servants, who serve on fixed-term contracts with renewal subject to meeting their objectives.
Penman warned that this model would make civil servants likely to challenge policies and resources.
Meanwhile, IfG director Peter Riddell told CSW that any proposed changes will still have to go through formal policy making processes.
Read the full interview with Peter Riddell