When is Whitehall not like a business? A response from PASC
The Civil Service today, unlike other private or public sector entities, must now meet the demand for four contrasting skill sets simultaneously. The well established skills of policy advice to Ministers, management of public services, and contracting, outsourcing and procurement must be practiced in conjunction with the new skills which arise from the demands of ‘Big Society’ initiative: to act as facilitator and enabler of community and non-governmental activity.
PASC is advocating that the Civil Service must master organisational complexity, not emulate the private sector. For this reason PASC highlights the need for outstanding leadership in order to meet contrasting stakeholder demands. This drives our concern about the importance of the role of the Head of the Civil Service. He must be able to drive far greater co-operation and team work within and across the delivery departments and particularly between the delivery departments and the heart of government. Civil Service top management must take a broader view in order to provide value for service and minimise organisational disaggregation. The business of Whitehall is to meet stakeholder demands in an integrated manner and to ensure the highest possible performance for service delivery.
In contrast, the vast majority of private sector organisations today focus on one criteria – cost management. Reducing costs to the exclusion of all else destroys value. PASC is in the business of enhancing value through encouraging public servants to exercise their leadership in innovative ways that makes a difference.
Relying on the traditional skills of working through a federation of segregated departments, each accountable to the Secretary of State, means that the Government’s agenda may be held back as a result of defending localised interests.
It is up to the senior leadership team to examine how to integrate their ways of working across the Civil Service in order to make that extra difference that no-one else can. They should be advising all ministers, not least the Prime Minister, of the indispensable importance of this, for without political leadership, any change initiative will become dissipated.
Bernard Jenkin is MP for Harwich and North Essex and currently chairs the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee.