Project managers to be directly accountable to Parliament

Civil service project leaders – ‘Senior Responsible Owners’ (SROs) – are to be held directly accountable to parliamentary select committees, Sir Bob Kerslake announced today.

By Joshua.Chambers

10 Jul 2013

The head of the civil service told an audience at the Institute for Government that reforms will be introduced “to allow SROs for projects to report directly into select committees.”

SROs’ line managers will continue to be civil servants – but currently, secretaries of state control access to SROs and decide what evidence they may give to select committees. Kerslake suggested that, later this year, select committees would have the power to summon SROs directly.

The head of the civil service was discussing the launch of the Civil Service Reform Plan: One Year On report, which sets out progress on existing reforms and also proposes new measures.

The report sets out new measures to put permanent secretaries on a fixed-tenure of five years. When asked by CSW whether this means that existing permanent secretaries will have to renegotiate their contracts, Sir Bob said: “Those who are on existing contracts will stay on those contracts. This only applies to new permanent secretaries and to permanent secretaries who get promoted into a bigger job.”

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude added that “they’ll have the opportunity to move onto a fixed tenure if they want to,” and Kerslake said: “Yes, but we won’t be forcing people to renegotiate contracts.”

A recent report from the IPPR on civil service accountability, commissioned by the Cabinet Office, suggested four year tenures “so that terms in post don’t coincide with the electoral cycle (now fixed every 5 years) to avoid claims of politicisation,” but the government has opted for five year tenures.

The civil service reform update sets out progress on existing reforms using a traffic light scale. Of the 18 measures, seven are rated green, eight are rated amber and four are rated red.

Actions rated green include introducing a new employment offer for staff, and increasing commercial and operational experience amongst permanent secretaries. Measures rated red include shared services and increasing secondments with the private sector.

The plan also sets out new measures to allow ministers to increase the size of their private offices, mainly by appointing policy advisers on short-term civil service contracts.

At the IfG, former first civil service commissioner, Dame Janet Paraskeva, asked Maude: “Why haven’t you gone for a political team? It always seemed to me that the strength of special advisers freed up civil servants to remain objective and independent, because then the special advisers could put a political overlay on what the objective advice was in relation to the policy of the day. If you’ve got an extended private office, which is two thirds appointed politically but not accountable politically, that to me muddles it and I wonder why you haven’t made a complete break?”

Maude responded: “When I talk about ministers being able to make an appointment personally, that doesn’t mean it’s a political appointment. Ministers do actually choose their private secretaries; that doesn’t make it a political appointment. And most of what you want done in your office isn’t political.”

See also: Maude set to announce move to extend ministerial offices

CSW will publish more on Civil Service Reform tomorrow. Check back at, or sign up for our daily email briefings.

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