Permanent secretaries’ accountability to be sharpened

Permanent secretaries’ objectives are likely to be expanded, with responsibility for cross-cutting government agendas – such as encouraging economic growth – included in their appraisal systems, cabinet secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood has said. Meanwhile, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude told CSW that permanent secretaries and ministers should be accountable to Parliament for the policies they helped to implement even when they have moved departments or retired.

By Joshua.Chambers

07 Mar 2012

Speaking about civil service reform at the Institute for Government (IfG) on Monday, Heywood said “we could certainly look into issues around personal accountability and make more public the objectives of permanent secretaries. Bob [Kerslake, the head of the civil service] and I have been talking about this, and we need to make more use of the permanent secretary objectives to drive cross-cutting aims across Whitehall.”

Asked by CSW how he wants to achieve this, he said: “Each year permanent secretaries have their objectives, which at the moment tend to be mainly focussed on their departmental objectives… We should take a look at them from a central perspective.”

Heywood said that the PM and DPM have both said that the government’s top priority this year is encouraging growth, so that could appear in the objectives. He wants to “make sure that each permanent secretary has not only departmental objectives but also more cross-cutting objectives: the objectives of government as a whole, and the efficiency and reform objectives at the corporate centre.” Kerslake added that “civil service reform plans should form part of the objectives as well.”

Meanwhile, Maude told CSW that the Public Accounts Committee is “absolutely right” to hold former permanent secretaries accountable for their decisions even after they’ve left their jobs: “People should be held accountable for what they do, and that’s a perfectly basic principle.”

Asked whether that should apply even after civil servants have retired, Maude said: “Yes, absolutely. And ministers too.”

Heywood commented that there needs to be an “open debate” on accountability because “ministers and their civil servants are inevitably going to become more personally accountable to Parliament.” However, he warned that making “civil servants more personally accountable to Parliament beyond the accounting officer role… seriously blurs the line between the executive and Parliament.”

The Institute for Government this week launched an open letter on the topic of civil service reform.


Fast Stream reforms outlined
Setting out his plans for Fast Stream reform, Maude told CSW that “there should be a trainee or induction course of two years, with a number of postings”. He said that the course would vary for individuals, but in general they should “have four postings in different parts of government, ideally with one outside London.” There would be no assumption that “when you’ve graduated through at the end of two years, you immediately get promoted,” he added. Maude also praised the work of HMRC chief Lin Homer for helping to reform the system.

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