Headlines: April 11th, 2001

A cross party group of MPs claim that attempts to bring the Civil Service into the 21st century are failing. They urge the setting up of a royal commission to produce a comprehensive strategy for change. The MPs claim that the old fashioned culture personified by Sir Humphrey in the television comedy Yes, Minister, maintains its stranglehold on Whitehall. The Civil Service is highly skilled in the process of government, which includes providing top class advice and memos of the highest quality. It is not good at delivering policies.The MPs claim that civil servants have not responded to their changing roles which now include policy delivery as well as advice. They want civil servants to be better informed about their roles in assisting ministers. They also call for urgent action to get clear descriptions of the skills required to respond to the changing situation.

There is also a claim for widespread changes in the makeup of the civil service. They welcome the targets to increase the proportion of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people, but are skeptical that the proportion of women in senior positions can be increased to 25% by 2005. This view is based on the fact that few women occupy the middle ranks of the Civil Service.

Responding to the criticisms, the Cabinet Office asserted that the Civil Service is committed to reform. It also claims that it is on course to achieve targets that will change the make-up of the Civil Service.

This criticism by the cross party House of Commons committee follows the recent disturbing findings of the Cabinet Office’s Performance and Innovation Unit on leadership in the public sector. The Unit’s report concluded that across the public sector, leadership is moving towards crisis and prompt action is needed stop the drift. The analysis of the problem offered by the P and I Unit researchers is similar to that of the MPs – a slowness to respond to the changing world.