Peter Hoskin

The Tories prime their shake-up of the civil service

The Tories prime their shake-up of the civil service
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One of the quickest wins that the next government could achieve is to change the power and accountability arrangements of Whitehall.  At the moment, there's a convoluted system in place where its difficult to apportion blame when a government department screws up.  Sure, a minister may take the media flak if, say, a department loses a data disk.  But the people in charge of the day-to-day running of a department tend to escape any substantive judgement on their performance.  As James Kirkup points out in the Telegraph today, "no permanent secretary has been formally dismissed for more than 70 years."  That's hardly a set-up to incite much more than complacency and atrophy.

It's encouraging, then, that the Tories are preparing to end this permanancy of civil servants.  As Kirkup goes on to report:

"Francis Maude, the shadow Cabinet Office minister overseeing the Tories preparations for power, wants to end the 'job for life' culture at the top of the civil service and make officials directly accountable for the performance of their departments.

The most senior officials would be moved to fixed-term contracts. Their performance would be also reviewed by ministers working with new 'non executive directors' brought into Whitehall from the private sector." Expect to hear the Tories mooting more ideas for shaking up the civil service between now and the next election.  The success of an Age of Austerity agenda will rest largely on government being done differently.