Shadow Cabinet secretary promises to make Civil Service “more business-like”

Shadow Cabinet secretary Francis Maude has promised to make the Civil Service “more business-like” should the Tories come to power in the next general election. He tells Personnel Today how his plans would improve leadership and management across Whitehall.

The government’s capability reviews have repeatedly highlighted leadership and people management problems across Whitehall, which have hindered government efficiency and delivery.

At a parliamentary select committee earlier this month, the Cabinet Office admitted it was “disappointing” that better progress had not been made since the reviews were introduced in 2006, and again pledged to put more effort into improving leadership.

But shadow Cabinet secretary Francis Maude said Whitehall needed to better learn lessons from the private sector. As the former managing director of financial services firm Morgan Stanley and previous non-executive director of retail giant Asda, Maude promised to shake up the way civil servants went about their jobs.

“The Civil Service needs to be more business-like than it currently is,” he told Personnel Today. The public sector should work more closely with the private sector to bring “a greater awareness of business methods and [civil servants] would pick up very broad management skills”.

The original capability reviews resulted in parachuting 25 senior private-sector HR individuals into the Civil Service to work across departments, but as Personnel Today has previously reported, some of those professionals found themselves banging their heads against a wall when it came to suggesting new ideas or ways of working.

Maude warned against bringing people into the Civil Service at higher ranks because of the cultural issues and different practices involved. “I’m very much in favour of greater interchange between the private sector and the Civil Service, at a more junior and middle-ranking level,” he said.

Career breaks

Senior-ranking civil servants would be pushed to take secondments and temporary ‘career breaks’ in the private sector, he added.

“We need to be more open to people going out and doing a spell in the private sector, maybe for as much as 10 years, with there being a sense that you won’t lose your place on the Civil Service career path so you could come back in at a much more senior level.”

Maude also pledged to reform recruitment procedures to encourage more junior and middle-ranking private sector employees to take jobs in central government.

“We are concerned about the number of Whitehall jobs that only get advertised internally. I think the right and simple way to do this is to publish all central government job vacancies online – which would actually save on recruitment costs and improve scrutiny – making it easier for people outside the public sector to know what the opportunities are and how to apply.”

Efficiency savings

Maude said the government’s target to create £15bn savings in back office functions by 2013-14, as identified in this year’s Budget, was “achievable”. He refused to be drawn on whether the Conservatives would try to match the savings predicted or go one step further.

However, he accused Labour of merely “rearranging the deck chairs rather than actually lightening the burden on the ship”, by transferring processes between departments to create the illusion of working more efficiently.

The Cabinet reshuffle last week saw the two-year-old Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills merge with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, axing the post of skills secretary. And chancellor Alistair Darling said he would speed up the introduction of shared services to increasing savings in back-office support functions, which puts 6,000 HR jobs at risk.

The Conservatives would take a different approach. Rather than pursue shared services, Maude said the Tories would introduce widespread HR and back-office outsourcing, threatening a similar number of HR roles, if not more, according to outsourcing consultants.

He said: “It’s not obvious that [shared services] are the answer. We are ready to outsource.

“If shared services are started and run in-house, you will always have turf difficulties over who will run it. But if functions are outsourced, the turf difficulties get removed and you are more likely to have a better outcome in terms of getting more for less,” he said.

Other approaches to cut costs that Maude was investigating included moving government departments and functions out of London to save on rent, reducing the number of quangos and cutting public sector pay. The next general election is now less than a year away.

Maude’s CV

  • 2007-present – Shadow minister for the Cabinet Office
  • 2005 – Chairman, Conservative Party
  • 2000-2001 – Shadow foreign secretary
  • 1993-1997 – Managing director, Morgan Stanley
  • 1992-1993 – Director, Salomon Brothers
  • 1992 – Non-executive director, Asda
  • 1989-1990 – Minister of state, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

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