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
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence