Big Society doomed unless civil servants change - MPs

Whitehall Is this where David Cameron's Big Society dream will die?

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David Cameron's flagship Big Society plan will fail unless there are big changes to the way the civil service works, a group of MPs has warned.

The Public Administration Committee says the PM's hopes of decentralising power will not work without civil service backing.

It adds that ministers have "failed to recognise the scale of reform required" and think change will "just happen".

Mr Cameron wants to shrink the state and hand more control to communities.

But the job of devolving power to voluntary groups and decentralising control will fall to civil servants in Whitehall departments.

And the cross-party group of MPs is concerned they do not have the skills that will be needed.


With government departments making cuts and offering staff voluntary redundancy, not enough attention has been paid to making sure people with the right skills and experience are kept on, the report says.

The MPs want to see Whitehall departments working together and are calling for a more "innovative and entrepreneurial civil service".

The committee's chairman, Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, said that without big changes, the government's flagship policies would be left high and dry.

"There is a culture in the civil service which makes change very difficult," he said.

"Civil service reform is something ministers talk about, but which most civil servants feel does not affect them.

"They keep their heads down until the latest reform has passed over, and then carry on as before.

"With the challenges of cuts and downsizing on top of the reforms, that is simply not an option this time."

The committee calls for the Cabinet Office to take charge of Whitehall reform, saying that without a "comprehensive change programme" there would be "little of the real change which was the watchword of David Cameron's manifesto for government".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    As an ex-civil servant, they do not like change, everything remains the same if it is not in the CODE. The status quo must not be put under threat, the politicians of any colour will not be able to or allowed to effect change. basically the whole thing has to be scrapped and start again, the same is true with the armed serices and the NHS sorry to say. These are cast in concrete institutions !

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    This govt talk about devolving power to local communities and then act by doing the opposite. e.g wanting charities to do more and ensuring they have less money to do it. Changing the planning laws so the decisions are made locally but changing the rules so the decisions can only be in favour of want the govt wants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Easy for politicians and the like to blame civil servants as they can't respond. The fact is a big policy change like this requires leadership, a formal project setting up with clear aims and objectives, a time line funding and resourcing. It's not about lack of skills in the civil service but, a lack of political leadership and willingness to fund/resouce the change.


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