Institute broadly supportive of PASC recommendations

The Institute for Government has welcomed the central thrust of a PASC report on reforming Whitehall. A number of the Institute's ideas have been adopted by the committee including the need for a strong, coherent vision for transforming the civil service. However, the IfG rejects the notion of a centrally driven reform programme, arguing instead for departmental leadership.

The Institute contributed extensively to today's report, entitled Change in Government: the agenda for leadership, specifically observing that:

  • There is a need for a strategic plan for civil service reform (a blueprint) that expresses a clear vision of what the civil service of the future will look like. 
  • This is all the more pressing now because of the ambitious and unprecedented programme of change being undertaken by the coalition - the combination of big spending cuts, public service reform and decentralised government. 
  • Some of the work is already underway and there have been rapid and dramatic reductions in civil service headcount. But cutting staff will not be enough in itself. 
  • Politicians cannot do this alone. They need the civil service to help them deliver the change, with both the civil service and the executive working together to ensure that what emerges is fit-for-purpose. 

Commenting on today's report, the Institute's Director of Research, Julian McCrae who gave evidence to PASC said:

"Those seeking to implement bold and unprecedented changes in policy and governance may over-look the significance of the civil service in delivering their radical agenda. But to do so would be risky. Without considering how Whitehall will service decentralised government and reformed public services the coalition's bold ambitions are unlikely to succeed."

Despite broad support for today's report, the Institute warns against over-centralising change programmes. Julian McCrae adds:

"In the Whitehall's federated system, departments themselves must own and drive their change programmes. There is a collective role for ministers and the leadership of the civil service to make sure that these programmes hold together within a tangible blueprint. But it would be a mistake to go beyond this, and try to control everything from the centre."