Abstracts: May 23rd, 2007

This report from the Institute for Public Policy Research argues that the British civil service needs to drop its ‘we know best’ mentality and learn from countries like Canada, Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Singapore. It describes the Whitehall policy-making process as closed and insular, often conducted behind closed doors and without external expertise.It also claims that there is a gulf between those designing policy in Whitehall and those delivering it on the front-line. The civil service sees itself as a distinct and separate part of the public service. Policy is not evaluated on a systematic and ongoing basis. The mantra of ‘what matters is what works’ is undermined by the fact that the civil service often does not know what works.

It is also claimed that the civil service does not learn from experiences, be they either successes or failures. The ‘gene pool’ and skills base is too narrow and there is not enough interchange between the civil service and the wider public service. Whitehall’s strong baronial and departmental culture militates against effective joined-up government.

The report also says that the centuries-old British tradition of ‘Ministerial responsibility’, which holds that Ministers alone are accountable for everything that happens in their Departments, severely undermines the accountability of the civil service. Without stronger external accountability the civil service will continue to under perform.

The report is available from: www.ippr.org