Ministers should face regular performance reviews in the same way employees do in every other profession, an influential think tank suggests today.
The recommendation that top members of government undergo full appraisals came as part of the Institute for Government’s report on ‘the challenge of being a minister’, which seeks to improve the effectiveness of new ministers in Whitehall.
More than 50 current and former ministers, civil servants and others who work with government were interviewed during the investigation.
It found most ministers get just over two years to prove themselves in the job before being moved on.
Many said the high turnover rate was damaging to ministerial effectiveness and that frequent reshuffles were “damaging the quality of government.”
The report also highlighted the sometimes fractious relationship between ministers and their officials.
Minister complained that too often submissions and draft correspondence was inadequate.
“Correspondence is not given the attention it deserves with slabs of stale prose which is not handled by sufficiently skilled individuals,” said one former minister.
“It is not just because of failures to spell and use grammar. Too many civil servants seem too concerned to flesh out
all the detail they know to pay attention to the impact of logic and narrative.”
Civil servants were also blamed for being “poor on briefing, on what lines to take, and on the drafting of speeches” which, they said were often “poor, undeliverable and have no narrative”.
But Civil servants had their criticisms of senior ministers too: “Often, it is not a team as a Secretary of State struggles with junior ministers seen as a fifth column,” said one.
One of the report’s authors, Peter Riddell said: “The UK is notable for virtually annual reshuffles. Excessive turnover can reduce a minister’s capacity to build up the expertise and experience required.”
The institute offered 12 other recommendations for how ministerial performance could be improved including bringing in more ministers with specialist knowledge by appointing them to the House of Lord, better preparation for shadow ministers to take office and a less ‘casual’ allocation of ministerial portfolios.
Today’s report was keen however to offer some encouragement for Ministers found to be conducting their jobs commendably. Ministers singled out as having been particularly effective include Peter Walker, David Blunkett, Nigel Lawson and Michael Heseltine.
“The challenge of being a minister” the report concluded is “you cannot mandate effective ministers, but it should be possible to change the norms to help them perform better. On their appointment, ministers are not instantly able to be on top of their jobs. It is a sign of strength, not weakness, for ministers to accept the need for formal advice, and to engage in development work before, and during, their periods in office”.
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