Ministers should be given annual performance appraisals, says former head of civil service

 

Ministers should be given annual performance appraisals to see how well they are doing their jobs, a former head of the civil service said today.

Ex-Cabinet Secretary Lord O'Donnell acknowledged that ministers would be "nervous" about the appraisals - featuring written judgments on their effectiveness from civil servants, whips and fellow ministers - becoming public knowledge through Freedom of Information requests.

But he said that regular feedback would improve the standard of governance and give prime ministers a better idea of which members of their team are falling short, and which are "going off on their own" with a private agenda that does not chime with the government's strategic objectives.

"In the world of freedom of information, people would say 'Oh yes, let's see what so-and-so's views on X are"' he said. "In the political world, people would be very nervous about have appraisals out there in public."

But he said that appraisals were a normal part of the modern workplace and would be "positive" for politics too.

"Obviously, you are in a media environment where people would love to have these things," he told the Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. "But sometimes you just have to go through with it."

Lord O'Donnell, who served as Cabinet Secretary from 2005-11, also suggested that MPs - including members of the opposition - should be given training in how to be a minister, so they know what to do when they are appointed.

Elder statesmen, including retired prime ministers and secretaries of state, could take part in courses to give them tips on skills they will need as a minister, such as leadership, strategy and team-building, he said.

After the kind of shift in power seen in elections like 1997 or 2010, a new administration may include virtually no-one with experience of office, said Lord O'Donnell, adding: "If you were to take a company and take out the whole leadership and put people in who had never actually had that sort of job ever before, you would expect the company to go broke."

And he said: "At the moment, ministers are stuck with reading a couple of books."

Lord O'Donnell revealed that he pleaded with David Cameron before he became Prime Minister to allow ministers to stay in post for longer, after the "hypermobility" of the Blair and Brown years when Cabinets were regularly reshuffled.

Mr Cameron has "delivered" on that as PM, in part because the constraints of coalition Government mean he does not have a free hand in picking his team, he said.

Some ministers who "probably would have been sacked" by previous PMs have kept their jobs in the Cameron administration, said Lord O'Donnell, adding that this has been "very beneficial" for the performance of the Government as a whole.

Secretaries of state should keep their jobs for a full Parliament and junior ministers for at least two years, so they are not moved on before really getting to grips with their brief, he told the committee, which is investigating Cabinet reshuffles.

"As a basic principle, it's a very good idea to have a longer tenure for ministers in post, particularly for secretaries of state," said Lord O'Donnell.

"I mentioned this to David Cameron when we had one of our discussions when he was leader of the opposition. He said 'What can I do for you?' and I said 'Keep ministers in place for longer. That would be my number one ask.' He has delivered on that. That's partly, I think, because he agrees it's a sensible thing to do and partly because coalition has an impact on that."

Lord O'Donnell was critical of Mr Cameron's tendency of allowing ministers - like Kenneth Clarke or Baroness Warsi - to carry on attending Cabinet after being demoted from top-ranking jobs, describing it as "not an ideal situation".

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?