Capable in a Crisis?


Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the UK civil service, in a recent speech outlined why he thought the British civil service would perform well in the current financial and economic crisis. In an article – Mandarin-tinted glasses” – published in Public Finance magazine, I ask questions just how well Whitehall is really doing – based on their reports of their performance. Both on their ‘Public Service Agreements’ and ‘Capability Reviews’ Whitehall have assessed themselves as doing a mediocre job at best. And strangely, the figures show that the better their ‘capability’, the worse their actual ‘performance’. Paradoxically though, Sir Gus may be right: the British civil service loves nothing so much as a good national crisis. It’s running the shop in normal times they are not so good at.

Gus  O’Donnells’ speech

NAO report

Story picked up by Nick Timmins in the Financial Times 2nd Mar 2009

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About Colin Talbot

Professor of Government at the University of Manchester, England.
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