Headlines: June 21st, 2012

The Civil Service Reform White Paper aims to move the culture away from what is considered to be old-fashioned and outdated, towards a 21st century business culture. The model behind the White Paper is the lean and efficient modern corporation.

Of all the changes planned, downsizing from 500,000 to 380,000 is the most like to be achieved. The numbers provide clear targets and progress can be readily measured. This is not the case with the proposed culture changes.

The White Paper proposes that ministers will be given power to choose who runs their departments. But it is too soon to say how this will work in practice. Many factors will influence decisions on appointments, but it is unlikely that ministers will have complete freedom to choose their permanent secretary. The tenure of ministers is measured in months while that of permanent secretaries in years.

Performance of civil servants will be improved by placing the ten per cent of least well performing staff on probation. Failure to move on from the ten percent group would lead to dismissal. This is a practice used by many organisation in the private sector, where it does lead to some sackings. The problem with transplanting the practice is that the civil service culture is quite different. A great deal of management time is likely to be spent on the ten percenters, but as appraisals are very subjective events, the hidden agenda of moving the appraisee up the scale may distort the process.

Policy making is likely to change in the years ahead with the greater adoption of Community Budgets. The impact will be felt across Whitehall as the need for detailed guidance diminishes. Localism, combined with Community Budgets, will result in the detail of policy implementation being worked out locally. This will substantially reduce the workload at the centre, which will be confined to specifying policy frameworks. The proposal in the White Paper for some policy development to be outsourced to academics and subject experts should be viewed in the light of the changing policy role.

In announcing the White Paper Francis Maud, Cabinet Office Minister, said the proposals had the support of civil servants. This is a clear indication that the ‘Yes Minister’ culture portrayed in the acclaimed TV series is in tact so far.