Today (20 Jan 2012) the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) published a scathing attack on the re-organisation at the top of the Civil Service that took place over Christmas.
For new readers: with the retirment of Sir (now Lord) Gus O’Donnell his role was divided. A Troika now runs things: Jeremy Heywood as Cabinet Secretary; Bob Kerslake as Head of the Civil Service (and Permanent Secretary at Communities and Local Government) and Ian Watmore as Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office. For 30 years these three roles were effectively combined in one person (latterly Gus O’Donnell) with a second Permanent Secretary rank running the day to day work of the Cabinet Office and a head of policy in No. 10 (under Gordon Brown this was also elevated to Perm Sec status).
Lost yet? Well you’ll be even further confused if you look at the “wiring diagram” that the Committee finally wrestled out of Government (page 12 of their report). It raises more quetions than it answers. Just an example – what does the (one way) arrow from the Cabinet Office to the Cabinet Secretary mean, when there’s also one to the CO perm sec and thru him/her to the Head of the Civil Service? Does it mean the CO has two (or maybe three) bosses?
What the Committee report shows is that there is almost universal contempt for these new arranegements amongst former heads of the Civil Service, academics (I was one of them) and commentators who gave evidence to the Committee. Apart from the people who’d proposed it, hardly anyone had a good word to say about the new set-up.
My own ‘take’ was based around the idea expressed in the title of this blog-post. About a decade ago a review of civil service “executive agencies” set up under the so-called ‘Next Steps’ programme was conducted. During the process of the review one Perm Sec uttered the immortal words “those that can do policy, those that can’t run agencies.” (This quote never made it into the published report, but believe me, it was real).
Ironically, this was exactly the problem that the 1988 ‘Next Steps’ report had identified (and the 1968 Fulton Report before it) identified: the Civil Service ‘mandarinate’ privileges ‘policy’ over management, implementation or delivery. Turning a good polciy phrase is more highl prized than actually delivering anything.
My criticism of the new set-up is that it institutionalises this set-up. Reading the table of ‘roles’ for the new head of the Civil Service (Kerslake) and Cabinet Secretary (Heywood) (PASC page 13) it is clear one is to ‘do’ implementation and the other ‘policy’. My written memo is at the back of the PASC report.
So universal was the attack on the new set-up that I’m told the 1st meeting of Perm Secs under the new ‘regime’, which took place last week, spent the whole two hours discussing “implementation” – led jointly by Heywood and Kerslake. More on this in another post.