"Appalling" civil servants are promoted out of jobs that they're failing in as part of a culture that "protects inadequacy", government ministers have said in anonymous interviews.
The think-tank Reform interviewed 45 ministers, shadow ministers, special advisers and officials after the Government's Civil Service Reform Plan was launched last year.
Their responses paint a bleak picture of ministers unmotivated to run their departments efficiently and civil servants failing to be held accountable when things go wrong.
It called for Cabinet ministers to be given the power formally to appoint their most senior civil servants to help end a culture of amateurism in Whitehall.
One Coalition minister told Reform that no one seemed interested in how well they running their department.
“At the end of the first year I wrote a report on myself, of all the things that I had done, and gave it to the Chief Whip. I wasn’t convinced anyone took any notice so I didn’t bother doing it again,” they said.
Another added: “Often neither Ministers or civil servants are actually accountable for programmes which they’re delivering. And therefore if you have impunity, if you’re never going to get punished or held to account, and suffer the consequences for lousy decision or you’re never going to be praised for good decisions, it is only human nature that your motivation will suffer.”
A special advisor said that senior civil servants were shuffled around to other jobs if they had failed in their current post.
“There are some extremely good people and there are some appalling people, and of course everyone knows who they are. The fundamental truth is to get rid of a bad person you promote them out of a job. I have literally seen that happen...get promoted to an area that we don’t care about.”
Even some civil servants appeared to agree. One said: “Right now there is no consequence of the performance management system. We collect reams of information, we just don’t do anything with it.”
Reform’s report said called for the selection process for the most senior civil servants to be formally opened up so ministers can chose their department's top official, with both expected to remain in post for the duration of the parliament.
The report also suggests cutting the number of staff but paying those who remain more and changing rules so they do not regularly switch jobs.
Jobs should also be advertised externally so expertise can be brought into the system and the best staff should be able to enjoy rapid promotion, it added.
Andrew Haldenby, Director of Reform, said: “The Government has belatedly realised that reform of Whitehall is not an optional extra.
“David Cameron can harness a coalition of support in all three major parties and in the Civil Service itself.
”He needs to care much more about the performance of his Ministers and specifically their ability to drive the Whitehall machine.“