Arch reformer Maude kicks off probe of government efficiency

Former Cabinet Office minister begins review of civil service effectiveness

Credit: FCDO/CC BY 2.0

The Cabinet Office has officially kicked off a long-awaited review into civil service efficiency and effectiveness, to be led by erstwhile reformer Francis Maude.

Lord Maude will chair the governance and accountability review, with the support of Ministry of Justice permanent secretary Antonia Romeo, before putting his recommendations to ministers in the autumn.

It was first reported last month that the former Cabinet Office minister, whose tenure at the central department included overseeing a revamp of procurement and the creation of the Government Digital  Service was being lined up to lead the review, which was promised in last year’s Declaration on Government Reform.

He will examine the role of ministers and senior officials in governing the civil service – including “whether civil servants are sufficiently empowered to deliver against expectations”, the Cabinet Office said in its announcement.

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The wide-ranging review will scrutinise the “balance of responsibility and autonomy” between ministers and permanent secretaries, as well as the relationship ministers have with the heads of non-ministerial departments and agencies, according to the terms of reference published alongside the announcement.

It will also look at how cabinet decisions are implemented; the role of departmental boards and non-executive directors; and how civil service-wide boards drive efficiency.

And it will look at legislation giving the prime minister– in their capacity as minister for the civil service – the power to manage the civil service, including hiring and firing. Two pieces of legislation will come under scrutiny: the Civil Service (Management Functions) Act 1992 and the subsequent Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010.

The power to appoint and dismiss officials is currently delegated to the head of the civil service and perm secs, but Maude will consider whether the delegations are “appropriate and sufficiently flexible” and whether ministers are “sufficiently able to exercise their management powers” under the legislation.

The review will also examine how departments responded to the Covid pandemic, taking evidence from officials, industry experts and other governments.

Maude will be supported by a review secretariat in the Cabinet Office. He will report to Cabinet Office minister Kit Malthouse and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The government efficiency minister said Maude – whose coalition-era reforms included changes to how Whitehall buys goods and services and a since-reversed performance-management system – is “uniquely qualified” to lead the review based on his “vast experience of public sector reform”.

As well as pushing for major changes to how government was run as a minister from 2010 to 2015, Maude led a 2020 review into cross-cutting functions and spending controls that called for functions to be given a stronger mandate and greater authority to hold departments to account.

Commenting on the latest review, Rees-Mogg said said: “The public rightly expects the government to be a well-oiled machine, with clear lines of accountability ensuring government is making the best decisions possible and extracting maximum value from taxpayers’ money.”

Maude said he was “delighted” to see the commitment to commission the review in the Declaration on Government Reform, and is “happy to accept” the invitation to lead it.

“The way government makes decisions, how they are implemented, and how ministers and officials are held to account, are all essential to delivering good outcomes for our citizens,” he said.


Sam Trendall

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