GovernUp publishes ideas for Whitehall reform

GovernUp, the cross-party group launched last year to promote Whitehall reform, today (Wednesday 11 February) publishes new proposals for a shake-up of the government machine.

The ideas include the creation of a powerful new Office of Budget Management, combining functions from the Treasury and the Cabinet Office to give a greater focus on the efficiency of public spending; a Decentralisation Act to enshrine the presumption that services should be delivered locally; Commons confirmation hearings to strengthen the accountability of leaders of operational parts of the Civil Service; the ability to appoint Ministers from outside Parliament; and a beefed-up Civil Service Commission to scrutinise the effectiveness of the Civil Service.

The discussion papers are being launched at a conference at Westminster which is being addressed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude MP, and the Shadow Minister, Lucy Powell MP.

The event is being attended by senior civil servants, politicians, academics and think tanks, including Margaret Hodge MP, Chairman of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, and Bernard Jenkin MP, Chairman of the Public Administration Committee.

GovernUp was set up last year by Conservative MP Nick Herbert and Labour MP John Healey with the aim of building a new cross-party consensus on radical Whitehall reform.  The group brings together senior politicians of all parties, former civil servants, Whitehall advisers and business leaders.

GovernUp’s research projects have looked at lessons from international experience; the shape of the centre of government; the centre-local balance; the skills needed in a modern Whitehall; the role of today’s politicians; and the opportunity which the digital revolution presents in re-shaping the relationship between citizen and state.

The research has identified the need to strengthen the centre of government, with a greater focus on the efficiency of public spending and scrutinising value for money.  It warns that departmental boundaries, siloed budgets and central direction get in the way of innovation and local collaboration between agencies, and that government needs to be re-shaped to allow services to be designed according to user needs.

The projects identify flawed accountability as a crucial weakness in the system of government, and highlight a need to strengthen leadership and capabilities across government to support delivery.

They suggest that Ministers need the resources to drive the government machine and ensure that their policies are delivered, and that strong political leadership is required to focus on the operational effectiveness of government.

Nick Herbert MP, Co-Chairman of GovernUp said: “These are bold ideas for reform but all are do-able.  Our aim is to shape proposals which all the major political parties could broadly support, and to demonstrate why they are necessary.  The machinery of government must be equal to today’s challenges when resources are tight and the demand for services is rising.”

John Healey MP, Co-Chairman said: “Successive governments have tried to improve policy delivery and performance.  But problems remain while pressures grow.  We now have a unique moment when all three major parties have current or recent experience in office and see that our system of government itself requires reform.

"Our proposals aim to help map out the must-make changes, whichever party is elected in May.  There needs to be a drive for reform from the very top of government and the Civil Service if newly-elected ministers want to deliver on their promises to the people.”

Discussion papers

The policy suggestions in these papers have been produced by the authors for discussion and reaction.  GovernUp’s conclusions and proposals from the research projects will be published following feedback on these ideas.  We welcome all responses, which should be sent to by Wednesday 11 March 2015.

Summary of discussion paper proposals

World Class Government

•    Redesign public services to improve both cost efficiency and quality of service.

•    Restructure the Government’s approach to managing public finances - budgeting, investment and revenue management.

•    Strengthen functional leadership and capabilities across government to support delivery.

•    Optimise the structure, scale and operating model of government.

•    Develop the vision, accountability and capabilities needed to drive a large-scale transformation.

Repurposing Whitehall

•    Enable operational parts of the Civil Service to focus on serving the public by turning them into autonomous business units, with visible, accountable leadership and governance. 

•    Progressively create a more unified strategic core for government, “One Whitehall”, by turning the policy and headquarters functions of the Civil Service into a single organisation, built around the priorities of the government of the day, with much more working across traditional boundaries.

•    Reshape the centre of government with an Office of Budget and Management and a powerful Management Board responsible for the professionalism and effectiveness of government.

•    Build a powerful, balanced, mix of professions in leadership roles and across Whitehall, with finance, digital, commercial and operational skills working alongside policy, and much more open-ness and contestability.

•    Provide external scrutiny and assurance on the pace and effectiveness of change, as well as protecting impartiality through a repurposed Civil Service Commission. 

Localism 2.0

•    Empower local political leadership by scaling back central government limits on local decision-making, and legislate to set up locally-designed governance arrangements and "civic enterprises" that would allow local and national bodies, public, private and third sectors to pool funds, staff and accountability in streamlined, fast-tracked local joint ventures.

•    Bring about local fiscal autonomy and responsibility, by giving local elected leaders greater responsibility for funding local services, and raising the money to pay for them.

•    Ensure local public services are intelligently designed and delivered, by reforming the commissioning of public services, so it is done close to the coal face by people who understand what is needed and are closer to service-users.

•    Build citizen power by opening up local public services so local citizens can see how well they are doing, challenge them and take responsibility themselves.

•    Pass legislation to make these happen - an English Decentralisation Act - early in the Parliament.

Role of Politicians

•    Opening up policymaking. Each Secretary of State to have a Principal Policy Adviser and a team of Policy Advisers, politically restricted, but drawn from outside the civil service to provide challenge and expertise. The ability to seek policy advice from outside Whitehall extended.

•    Reform of Ministerial offices, with an experienced Chief of Staff with a remit to help Ministers navigate relationships within Whitehall and facilitate interactions outside it.

•    Ministers appointed from outside Parliament, with new methods of accountability to elected MPs. A stronger role for some Junior Ministers, heading new ‘programme ministries’.

•    Stability, coaching and/or mentoring to give Ministers the time, skills and confidence they need to be effective.

Tackling the Skills Gap

•    The current Capabilities Plan should remain in place for at least the duration of the next UK Parliament to allow for stability, but with an extensive 2015 refresh.

•    Further Civil Service capability reform should address fundamental issues including organisational design and reward, as well as skills.

•    Development programmes for civil servants should nurture wider abilities than the Capability Plan’s specific priorities, such as being able to design and deliver services through complex networks and across multiple channels.

•    Pay levels should be recalibrated for those withspecific, highly-marketable skills and experience to mainstream Civil Service employment with the wider working world.

Digital Future

•    A new shared digital civic infrastructure, by building shared digital platforms for common needs, available for use by central and local government teams, but also for use by partners and suppliers.

•    A new approach to managing and using data, giving citizens control of their data and creating a transparent framework for how government uses data.

•    Real time government and democratic engagement, performance data should be published side-by-side with services, Minister should have access to real-time data on how services are performing.

•    Putting services at the heart of the civil service, restructuring the civil service around end-to-end services and using shared platforms.