Coffee House

Francis Maude strikes conciliatory note in stand-off over senior civil servants

20 December 2012

Francis Maude’s latest plan to get the civil service working more effectively sounds very sensible: so sensible, in fact, that it’s a wonder it has taken so long. The problem is that he currently can’t be as sensible as he’d hoped when it comes to appointing senior civil servants.

The headline announcement is that the government has published the personal objectives of 15 permanent secretaries, along with those for Sir Bob Kerslake and Sir Jeremy Heywood. The worst performing 10 per cent of those civil servants will be identified and put into a programme of performance management. Ministers will also have more involvement in assessing their permanent secretaries’ performance. All very sensible.


There’s some interesting detail in the individual plans that’s worth looking at. Jeremy Heywood’s objectives for 2012/13 are rather oblique, with plenty of aims such as ‘good collaborative working across departments’ and ‘strong relationships with ministers’. His only milestones are: publish the Civil Service Reform Plan, early successful implementation of the contestable policy fund, successful implementation of the policy on shared services, introducing a policy course to the civil service. He is also expected to deal ‘rigorously with poor performers’ among the permanent secretaries. The great shame is that the reports on whether the civil servants have actually met those objectives won’t be published, but for those who keep an eagle eye on these plans, it will be quite obvious when things are starting to slip.

One of the areas where Maude hasn’t been able to be quite so rigorous, though, is the appointments process for those permanent secretaries. I asked him about his stand-off with the Civil Service Commission, which has rejected his plan to allow a minister to interview and choose from a selection of pre-vetted candidates. Would he consider legislating to make this possible against the wishes of the Commission? Maude replied:

‘We hope that won’t be necessary: the legislation has only been in place for 2 years or so. It was 150 years in preparation and finally made it to the statute books 150 years after the Northcote Report. What I have said to the CSC is that that absolutely we will take on board its guidance and test how it works.’

This is a conciliatory note for the time being, but that test will come soon, with two vacancies for permanent secretaries in Whitehall needing to be filled. If the Secretaries of State at the Home Office and Energy and Climate Change departments feel unhappy with their most senior civil servant, and if the relationship ends up being a dysfunctional one, Maude may feel it is necessary to push much harder on this.

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  • John Lea

    Why doesn’t he just invite them all round for a drink? With the number of second homes he has, it shouldn’t be a problem accommodating them all.

  • itdoesntaddup

    Maude is fiddling with just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t see a PUS for Davey being anyone other than an iceberg melter though. Not exactly a test of the theory.

  • TomTom

    If you look at how “diversitY2 relaxed ecucational attainments in HMRC entry for example and in other Departnents in Whitehall you cannot be surprised that standards are so low. Just look at the churn in the Treasury prior to Northern Rock and how junior the supervisors were with zero experience.

  • anyfool

    When you compare the Civil Service to Third World admins they tend to look like the imagined Rolls Royce of Civil Services but they have never been this way in a long time.

    The Civil Service like all parts of local and national government have become the dumping ground for equal outcomes regardless of merit or capability which leaves you with a politically correct but incompetent and ineffective mess.

    The best thing any government can do for this country is correct this disaster that they through the years have allowed and caused to happen.

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