Government review set to recommend establishment of senior ‘change manager’

Former minister and long-term government reform advocate Francis Maude has given an insight into the likely recommendations to be made following the completion of an assessment of civil service governance

A long-awaited review of Whitehall governance by arch reformer Francis Maude is set to recommend the creation of a dedicated head of the civil service to serve as a “change manager” for government

Maude, who began the review process last summer and is due to publish the final report soon, has said that he plans to make the recommendation of separating the jobs of cabinet secretary and head of the civil service.

“The cabinet secretary is not the same as a powerful change manager. A dedicated head of civil service needs to be properly empowered,” Lord Maude told a Conservative Party conference fringe event hosted by the Reform think tank.

Maude said workforce management should be delegated to the head of the civil service. He said the “powerful change manager” must address challenges such as churn and the growing reliance on external consultants, which he said “has burgeoned once again”.

During a five-year stint as minister for the Cabinet Office, Maude led a shake-up of government’s relationship with suppliers of technology and other services – in which Whitehall commercial negotiators took a markedly aggressive stance. He also oversaw the creation of the Government Digital Service and the implementation of spending controls, as part of a wide range of reforms.

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Maude told this week’s event that there “isn’t any controversy” about the need to tackle high rates of churn in government.

“Nobody contests that the amount of churn, the balance of generalists and specialists, and the closed culture” needs to be addressed, he said.

He added that these issues are not “impossible to address”, but that change is difficult to implement and sustain.

The last time the civil service head job was split out as a separate role was in January 2021, when Sir Bob Kerslake took on the title. Jeremy Heywood was named cab sec and Ian Watmore was named permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office, with Gus O’Donnell previously holding all three titles.

The perm sec title continues to be separate, and is currently held by civil service COO Sir Alex Chisholm.

However, the head of the civil service brief was merged back into the cabinet secretary’s job in 2014, with Heywood retaining both titles until he stepped down with ill health four years later.

Maude’s comments echo the evidence he gave to the House of Lords Constitution Committee in June, when he said civil service reform was slow because “there’s no-one in charge”.

“The head of the civil service has always been a part-time job, with a very narrow exception 40 years ago,” he said. “And even if it were a full-time job, the head of the civil service isn’t empowered, has no mandate to make it happen, because those powers have not been delegated from the prime minister.”

Telling peers that the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service should be separate jobs, he added: “I think it’s ludicrous to propose that with this huge programme of agreed reforms that consistently doesn’t get implemented or sustained, which is a huge change-management programme, the right person to deliver that, on a part-time basis, is also the right person to be the prime minister’s principal policy adviser and coordinator.”

PublicTechnology staff

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