MPs call for inquiry into 'systemic failings' in the Civil Service

A series of failures in recent years have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds

A group of the most powerful MPs in Parliament will demand a root and branch review into “systemic failings” in the Civil Service that have led to a string of debacles.

In a highly unusual intervention, the chairs of every Commons select committee have endorsed a report calling for ministers to establish a parliamentary commission into the Civil Service.

They said that they were “unconvinced” the Government’s current reform plan was based any “strategic consideration” of the future of the Civil Service and criticised David Cameron for not having “a coherent analysis of why things go wrong”.

They recommended that the inquiry – which would take evidence from ministers, officials and outside experts – should run along similar lines to the Banking Commission. They added it should make recommendations for reform in time for the next election.

The report by the Liaison Committee, which is made up of all the select committee chairs, cites a series of Civil Service failures in recent years that have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds. These include the collapse of the West Coast main line franchising, a failure to roll out universal credit on time and on budget, overcharging by private sector   companies such as G4S and Serco and systemic problems at the former Borders Agency.

The report claims the Civil Service has a bias to inertia, does not learn from failure and has a deficit of commercial and contracting skills.

The Government is currently implementing its own Civil Service reform plan which would place permanent secretaries on fixed-term contracts, beef up ministerial private offices and ensure officials stayed in key roles for longer.

But Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee which first called for the commission, said he feared that these plans would come to nothing.

“The problem is that the senior Civil Service intends to outlast this reform plan,” he said. “A parliamentary commission would have cross-party support and provide a mandate for reform that could not be ignored.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “Many of the concerns raised here are addressed in our Civil Service reform plan.”

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