Ministers are to get direct input into the annual appraisals of their permanent secretaries amid concerns that some civil servants are attempting to "pick and choose" which policies to implement, the Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, has said.
Mr Maude claimed there was frustration among some ministers that their policy proposals were not being taken seriously by senior officials. As a result, ministers are to be given greater powers to review the performance of their top Whitehall staff in an attempt to make them more compliant. Such appraisals can affect pay and bonuses.
Mr Maude's comments come just weeks after he announced that he was commissioning research from outside Whitehall to look at civil-service-accountability models in other countries, including the US, Australia and New Zealand. He is believed to favour increasing direct political input into senior civil-service appointments – to ensure that they are more accountable to the government of the day. Among the plans being looked at are putting the most senior civil servants on fixed-term contracts which would require them to tender their resignation when a new government is elected. It would then be up to incoming ministers whether to reappoint them.
Speaking to Civil Service World, Mr Maude said he wanted to ensure that senior officials could be discouraged from using the Coalition to ignore certain policies being promoted by their ministers. "Are there ministers frustrated that what they've decided doesn't always happen? Yes, absolutely. [Civil servants should not] pick and choose which bits of the government programme they want to implement."
Asked whether the new appraisal system would help to address the problem, Mr Maude said: "It will help. It's all about what the stimuli are."
Neither the move to involve ministers in appraisals nor the commissioning of research from outside Whitehall into how the civil service operates was included in the Government's recently published Civil Service Reform Plan.
Asked why such a significant change as ministerial involvement in appraisals had not been included, Mr Maude replied: "We'd assumed that this is what happened [in every department], and then it was discovered that it wasn't happening automatically so we felt that it should be incorporated."
He also hinted at further additions to the reform plan – a move likely to cause concern among officials. Other areas that could be looked at include the further slimming and reorganisation of Whitehall departments, drawing on a pilot currently being conducted in the Department for Education.
"We absolutely said from the outset that this is not a finished product; this is not the end of civil-service reform for all time," he said. "The idea that you achieve a state of perfection and then manage steady state is long gone."
Mr Maude has been encouraged to take a bolder line and given private encouragement by former Labour ministers who felt they faced resistance to any decision that ran counter to departmental thinking.Reuse content