Commission cites need for ‘fundamental reform’ of Whitehall

Written by Jim Dunton on 6 November 2020 in News
News

Panel featuring former government chiefs opines that UK civil service is 'no longer world-class'

Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive/PA Images

A newly created panel that has the ear of Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has published a 35-page report setting out why it believes Whitehall is unfit for purpose and “in need of fundamental reform”.

The Commission for Smarter Government said there was “serious dysfunctionality” in the UK’s machinery of government and that it was “no-longer world class”, with outdated practices for managing people and skills among the areas in need of urgent reform.

Its What’s gone wrong with Whitehall? report also points to the government’s poor track record of preventing deaths from Covid-19 and longer-term “running policy sores”, such as the failure of successive administrations to reform social care as examples of the need for change.

Members include former Department for Education perm sec Lord Michael Bichard, former Home Office and Department for International Development perm sec Sir Suma Chakrabarti, former government lead non-executive director Sir Ian Cheshire and Herbert himself.  Also on the panel are Baroness Simone Finn, a former adviser on civil service reform to Lord Francis Maude; Baroness Camilla Cavendish, former head of the No.10 policy unit; and former HM Revenue and customs chief digital officer Jacky Wright.


Related content


Cabinet Office minister Gove referred directly to the commission in his Ditchley lecture in June, describing it as one of the sources of “ideas on transforming how we deliver” that ministers needed to listen to.

The lecture saw Gove set out a vision for reform that includes better use data science in designing policy and boosting skills in areas including digital.

The commission describes What’s gone wrong with Whitehall? as a discussion paper, rather than a manifesto for change, and cited Moodys' recent downgrading of the UK’s credit rating and the nation’s standing in the World Bank’s governance ratings as evidence of its claims.

The report concluded that while there are “many strengths in the UK system of government” the commission is “driven by an increasing concern that, against the background of national and global change and challenges, it is not world class”.  This is despite the UK civil service being named top of the Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government and the Institute for Government’s International Civil Service Effectiveness Index.

The commission said the next stage of government reform needs to be based on a big picture, tackling the main elements, including the challenge the centre of government faces in pulling the whole of government together to ensure that its priorities are delivered and more effective use of performance and financial data.

“The roles and performance of both politicians and the civil service, and the relationship between them, need to change,” it said. “Above all, the government needs to find a way to ensure that initial energy and commitment are maintained, plans are carried through, it learns from mistakes and improves, and recognises that change has to be continuous.” 

 

Share this page

Tags

Categories

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

PublicTechnology research: five things we learned about the future of digital government
22 April 2021

A recent study finds that the pandemic has boosted budgets – but legacy tech remains a big barrier to progress

Civil service chiefs vow ‘no return to normal’
25 March 2021

Memo from top brass preps officials for world in which government is more data-driven and less risk-averse

Unwrapping government’s £300m Amazon package
7 May 2021

Since a public sector-wide agreement with AWS was introduced six months ago, departments have signed contracts worth hundreds of millions with the cloud firm. PublicTechnology takes...

Related Sponsored Articles

Optimising the Benefits of Hybrid IT
7 April 2021

SolarWinds explains how public sector organisations can make the most of their hybrid IT investments - delivering services that are both innovative and reliable 

Avoid Infrastructure Paralysis: Six benefits of moving legacy Oracle workloads to the cloud
6 April 2021

There are many reasons to keep your Oracle workloads running on local servers. But there are even more reasons to move them to the cloud as part of a wider digital transition strategy. Six Degrees...

How are Government employees responding to the challenge of multi-agency collaboration in 2021?
10 March 2021

Seven years after the Home Office shared findings from its 'Multi-Agency Working and Information Sharing Project', Huddle asks - where are we today? 

Tackling vaccination misinformation with local government communications
9 March 2021

As misinformation about the coronavirus vaccine spreads, Granicus outlines key considerations for local government when delivering a successful vaccine communications campaign