UK Politics

Francis Maude: Shake-up 'not attack on civil service'

Plans to make it easier to sack under-performing staff members were "not an attack on civil servants", Francis Maude has told MPs.

Many of the ideas in the wider package of reforms were backed by civil servants themselves, he added.

The bottom 10% of staff face being fired after a year if they fail to improve and ministers will be given the power to choose who runs departments.

The PCS union said reversing job cuts was the best way to boost performance.

In a statement to MPs Cabinet Office minister Mr Maude said civil servants had told the government they found Whitehall to be "overly bureaucratic, hierarchical and focused on process rather than outcomes".

He said he wanted to see the civil service operate more like a business, with a tougher appraisal system, increased accountability and a more entrepreneurial culture.

'Smaller, pacier'

The planned changes come against a backdrop of deep cuts and job losses across Whitehall - and are likely to be resisted by civil service unions.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said: "I don't accept there's that under-performance.

"People work in incredibly stressful conditions. And, there's already procedures in every government department to give support to those people who may need some extra help with development."

He said Mr Maude should increase the number of civil servants if he wanted them to perform better.

But Mr Maude said the cuts had exposed weaknesses in the way the civil service was being run, and the reforms were vital to creating a slimmed down service fit for the 21st Century.

He told MPs: "The civil service of the future will be smaller, pacier, flatter, more digital, more accountable for effective implementation, more capable with better data and management information, more unified, consistent and corporate. It must also be more satisfying to work for."

He said he wanted to slash the "eight layers" of management he said existed in many government departments, to "empower" frontline staff to make more decisions without referring up the hierarchy.

"This is not an attack on civil servants. Neither have civil servants been rigidly resistant to change," the minister told MPs.

However, former head of the civil service Lord Butler accused Mr Maude of setting out "a litany of criticisms" of the service.

He said proposals to improve the performance of civil servants were always "both necessary and welcome" but added "the Civil Service should not be reviled and unattributably dumped on when ministers' policies run into difficulties".

'Arbitrary' target

Mr Maude defended plans to place the worst performing 10% of staff on a year's probation, which Labour MP Nia Griffith said would promote a "dog-eat-dog" culture and transform the civil service into something resembling a "ghastly" reality TV show.

The minister admitted the 10% figure was "by its very nature relatively arbitrary" but evidence showed "you don't get the focus on poor performance" without setting such a target.

"It isn't fair to the rest of the civil servants, who work hard and are dedicated, to see the reputation of the civil service pulled down by those who are constantly under-performing," he told MPs.

As well as looking at those at the bottom, the new appraisal system will identify the top 25% of civil servants so that good performance can be rewarded.

Mr Maude said he wanted to make the civil service operate more like a business and encourage greater "cross-fertilisation" between Whitehall and industry.

"It has often been tried. Far too rarely has it worked, but we are going to have another go," said the Cabinet Office minister.

Senior civil servants will be expected to be more accountable before parliament for their actions and the projects they manage.

Each department will carry out a full review of the terms and conditions of its staff to identify what additional perks civil servants receive which are not in line with other "good, modern" employers.

'Cronyism'

In a change which could prove controversial, ministers will no longer be restricted to the civil service as their only source of policy advice.

They will be able to commission policy research from outside Whitehall, for example from businesses, charities and think tanks. A central fund will be created to pilot this new system.

Mr Maude said this was a "modest" proposal which would be thoroughly tested before being fully implemented.

He also attempted to calm fears that giving ministers a "stronger role" in the recruitment of permanent secretaries - the top civil servant in each department - would not undermine their impartiality - seen as a key hallmark of the British system of government, in contrast to America where top bureaucrats are political appointees.

The Government would consult the Civil Service Commission on how that could be done, he told MPs.

But Labour warned that it could lead to "a rise in cronyism and of the dangerous politicisation of the civil service".

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Trickett said the Civil Service Reform White Paper "would do little to correct the chaos which exists in many Whitehall departments".

He added: "The point of reform is, after all, to make things better than they were before."

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