Commenting on the debate surrounding reform of the civil service, Alan Downey, head of public sector at KPMG, says:
“Where ‘Yes, Minister’ was once the phrase of choice we are now hearing discord, with both sides resorting to public criticism of the other. It may have been an option once, but it is now no longer possible to paper over the cracks as the latest spat between ministers and mandarins confirms that their relationship is at an all-time low.
“There are some specific reasons for the latest breakdown: for example, it is clear that a 30 percent reduction in the number of senior civil servants has cut deep into Whitehall’s capacity, capability and morale. Yet, the problems underlying the recent outbreak of verbal hostilities have been brewing for many years. The last government’s relationship with Whitehall followed a similar pattern: after a honeymoon period ministers began to complain about obstructive behaviour and the difficulty of getting their policy intentions translated into practice.
“The civil service may argue against tinkering with a constitutional relationship that dates back 160 years. But this is not change for its own sake and the arguments for breaking with the past are growing stronger by the day. There are certainly big issues to be addressed: the independence and neutrality of the civil service; the role of political advisers; whether civil servants should be held publicly account for delivering results; ministerial involvement in the appointment of mandarins and the management of their performance.
“In looking for a solution, the government would be well advised to cast the net widely. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has already taken the unprecedented step of commissioning advice from outside the civil service – from the IPPR think-tank – to establish whether other countries have solutions that we should adopt in the UK. There may also be lessons to be learned in the world of business, where it is common for chief executives to be appointed on fixed-term contracts and held personally accountable for achieving the results promised in their business plans.
“Whatever the answer, it is increasingly clear that doing nothing is not an option. We need a robust and open debate about the options, and then we need to move quickly to implement the changes that will restore trust between politicians and civil servants.”
Mike Petrook, KPMG Press Office
020 7311 5271 (t), 07917 384 576 (m) or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors:
KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, is a subsidiary of KPMG Europe LLP and operates from 22 offices across the UK with over 12,000 partners and staff. The UK firm recorded a turnover of £1.8 billion in the year ended September 2012. KPMG is a global network of professional firms providing Audit, Tax, and Advisory services. We operate in 156 countries and have 152,000 professionals working in member firms around the world. The independent member firms of the KPMG network are affiliated with KPMG International Cooperative ("KPMG International"), a Swiss entity. KPMG International provides no client services.