This report focuses on how the Civil Service should work with the two coalition parties in year five of the coalition as each develops its policy plans for the next parliament. It considers the challenges likely to arise in the final year, based on evidence of how the Coalition has functioned to date, and suggests how these can be tackled.
While the parties will increasingly focus on the 2015 general election, they must also continue to work together in government. A central challenge is therefore to ensure that the Coalition retains its ability to take necessary decisions and to govern up until polling day, and also that each side has enough space and support to conduct its own forward policy thinking. It is also crucial to ensure that civil servants are preserved from being drawn into party-political activity and that they are guided on how to respond to pressure from their ministers in this tricky period. In addition, the final year of this parliament will see the opening of formal channels of communication between the Civil Service and the Opposition. The report considers how these interactions should work this time around, drawing on lessons from previous pre-election periods and taking into account the context of coalition.
Based on interviews with senior civil servants and others across Whitehall, and an international comparative study, the report argues that there is a need for clarity on the rules of the game in final year. Without this, there is a risk of variation in practice, tension between the coalition partners, and confusion among officials as to how to respond to requests from either side.
The report sets out a number of recommendations for the final year, including that government should create separate and confidential channels through which each of the coalition parties can access civil service support to develop their policy plans for the next term. We further argue that this system should run in parallel with pre-election contact with the Opposition (the subject of a separate Institute for Government report), and that over the longer term, consideration should be given to a more integrated system of policy support for all parties in the pre-election period.
The report is the final publication of the Institute for Government’s nine-month research project on the challenges facing Whitehall and the parties in year five of the Coalition.