Headlines: September 21st, 2012

Policy making, the core activity at the heart of government, has now entered the market place with the award of a contract for policy advice to the thinktank Institute for Public Policy Research.

The award of the contract to IPPR signals the end of the monopoly of Whitehall on policy development and the start of a new era with a virtual level playing field between the public and private sectors.

IPPR will carry out a review into how other civil services work, with a particular focus on accountability systems. The review findings on civil service models in other countries will provide the Minister with policy advice to inform thinking on future reform.

They will analyse the operation and accountability structures of civil services including those of Australia, Singapore, the United States, France and Sweden. IPPR will also consider the balance between permanent officials and administrations in which appointments are made by ministers. The review will specifically examine the New Zealand model of civil service accountability, where there is a contractual relationship between ministers, who set clear outcomes, and heads of departments, who are accountable for delivering them.

Outsourcing policy advice has many advantages, such as a fresh approach and a wider view, but it is fraught with risk. Although the evidence assembled should be free of political bias, this may not apply to the way in which it is presented. It is significant that the first contract has been awarded to a left of centre thinktank to avoid any suggestion that politics will colour the advice offered.

The Cabinet Office has created a centrally-resourced match fund worth up to £1 million per year to enable departments to bid for money to put this new approach into practice. The arrangement will run for three years and there will be an interim evaluation after a year.