Headlines: December 3rd, 2001

The First Division Association, the body representing UK’s most senior civil and public servants, has delivered a stinging attack on Government handling of reform, on its re-organisation of Government departments, and perhaps most painfully, on its handling of public private sector partnerships (PPPs).The FDA outlined its string of grievances with current policies and changes in evidence to the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, which is holding an enquiry into public service reform

On reform, it says that implementation is too piecemeal across departments, it also says there is a confusing plethora of units driving reform at the centre. It points in particular to the Delivery Unit in No. 10 headed by Michael Barber, and the Office of Public Service Reform, part of the Cabinet Office and headed by Wendy Thompson. It seeks clarity on the role of this latter unit, and a wider review of the roles of No. 10, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office.

There is criticism of the ‘haste’ with which MAFF became DEFRA, and of re-organisation affecting the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the Home Office, immediately after the election. It says there was no clear political need for these changes not to have discussed in the run-up to the election, and that such rushed changes affected these departments’ ability to deliver effectively.

On the increasing number of public sector projects delivered with private sector cash, the evidence to the select committee suggests serious problems being stored up for the future.

It claims that any project requiring long term funding is now pointed towards a PPP regardless of long term consequences: ‘Some of the worst decisions in Government appear to be made where a PPP is seen as the preferred option for guaranteeing funding beyond a spending review period. There is a real danger that in a few years’ time departmental budgets will be heavily committed to projects that do not offer particularly good value for money but the terms of which cannot be varied.’

It also says that when such projects pass from public to private sector, the same requirements of accountability, equality and diversity should transfer too.

Finally, it says that civil servants are increasingly finding their role involves selling and ‘championing’ policies, increasingly blurring the traditional role of the civil servant. The FDA believes this warrants a review of the terms of the Civil Service Code.

The FDA’s full evidence to the Public Administration Committee is available on its website at www.fda.org.uk