The UK Select Committee on Public Administration continues to do useful work – in identifying important questions to probe about the operation of government; and attracting witnesses from all sectors of society (including academia, Ministers and senior officials) to explore the issues with the Committee’s members. A few months it produced a report about government IT projects with the great subtitle - "recipe for rip-off". It is currently exploring the capacity of the civil service to deal with the Coalition government’s ambitious plans for "turning the model government upside down” – through contracting even more of public services to social enterprises. Its initial report Change in Government - the agenda for leadership came out last month and is tough not so much on the civil service as the government itself -
The Government has embarked on a course of reform which has fundamental implications for the future of the Civil Service, but the Government's approach lacks leadership. The Minister rejected the need for a central reform plan, preferring "doing stuff" instead. We have no faith in such an approach. All the evidence makes clear that a coordinated change programme, including what a clear set of objectives will look like, is necessary to achieve the Government's objectives for the Civil Service. The Government's change agenda will fail without such a plan. We recommend that, as part of the consultation exercise it has promised about the future role of Whitehall, the Government should produce a comprehensive change programme articulating clearly what it believes the Civil Service is for, how it must change and with a timetable of clear milestones.And this in one of the OECD’s “best governed countries” – according to a 2008 World Bank assessment. What chance, then, for the sort of cooperation between policy-makers, senior officials and academics in transition countries called for by the various analysts I quoted yesterday?
In short, the Government has not got a change programme: Ministers just want change to happen: but without a plan, change will be defeated by inertia.
The report goes on to set out what it would expect to find in a reform plan -
62. We consider that a number of key factors for success specifically relevant to large-scale Civil Service reform are vital to the success of change programmes in Whitehall:.Useful stuff!
a) Clear objectives: there must be a clear understanding of both what the Civil Service is being transformed from and to, as well as the nature of the change process itself. This requires both a coherent idea of the ultimate outcome, but also how clarity on how to ensure coordination of the reform programme and how to communicate that throughout the process.
b) Scope: The appropriate scope for the reforms must be established at the outset; with focused terms of reference, but also wide enough to be able to explore all necessary issues.
c) Senior buy-in: A political belief that reform is needed must be matched by the same belief within the Civil Service and ministers, and both should be clear on their roles in delivering it. Sustained political support and engagement from all ministers is crucial.
d) Central coordination: Either the Cabinet Office or reform units such as the Efficiency and Reform Group must drive the change programme. This requires good quality leadership of such units and a method of working which ensures collaboration with departments, and Prime Ministerial commitment.
e) Timescales: There must be a clear timetable with clear milestones to achieve optimal impact and to ensure political support is sustained. The lifespan of the change programme should include the time taken for reforms to become embedded. Two to three years is likely to be the most effective; beyond this period reform bodies may experience mission creep.
63. Measured against the factors for a successful change programme, the Government's approach to Civil Service reform currently falls short. There is no clear or coherent set of objectives, nor have Ministers shown a commitment to a dynamic strategic problem solving approach to change. The Cabinet Office have signalled their commitment to change the culture of Whitehall, but we have not yet found sufficient evidence to imply a coherent change programme. In the absence of leadership from the Cabinet Office, departments are carrying out their individual programmes with limited coordination and mixed levels of success. Without clear leadership or coordination from the centre, setting out, in practical terms, how the reform objectives are to be achieved, the Government's reforms will fail
We were snowed upon this morning in Sofia!
The painting is another Yuliana Sotirova which I have my eye on. Has a certain appropriateness for the theme of the post.....