Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A radical recipe for civil service reform

While the media obsesses about perceived transgressions in the allowances of MPs, they spectacularly miss the point about why our political system doesn't work as it should. Sure, we need a simple transparent system of remunerating MPs.

But far more important is establishing proper accountability for the civil service, which is shielded from responsibility for any faults by the idea that minsters are to blame for every problem no matter how little they knew or were told about it. It is why delivery is so poor, yet other countries have moved beyond it with good results.

This is why Greg Rosen's excellent new report for Reform today is so important. It sets out with admirable clarity some of the changes that could introduce real dynamism to the civil service including:
  • Ending the doctrine of ministerial responsibility. The idea that Ministers are responsible for every action of their department shields officials from taking personal responsibility for their actions. Ministers should be responsible solely for the strategic direction of policy and its communications.

  • Implementing democratic accountability for civil servants. The UK has one of the most unaccountable Civil Service systems in the world. Democratically elected politicians should have the power to appoint senior civil servants, with greater scrutiny of appointments, on the Australian model.

  • Abolishing grades and recruiting openly. Because the current recruitment system is centralised and based on fixed “grades” for different jobs, it is a barrier to the best people being recruited to do the jobs that are needed. Discrimination of “internal” over “external” candidates should be abolished and line managers should lead recruitment of their teams.

  • Embracing localism. Local government can be more clearly accountable for performance in many areas of policy.

It is a bracing and vital read for any minister - or would-be minister - who wants to make a real difference in government.

No comments: