On Tuesday, I gave evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee as part of its inquiry into the future of the civil service. I was appearing alongside Professors Anthony King (Essex) and Matthew Flinders (Sheffield). Anyone wishing to watch the session can do so here, though to make sense of some of my comments you also need to read my written evidence (available in the list of written submissions here).
Civil servants have been generalists. The problem is that so too have been ministers. Civil servants need to be better grounded in the subject matter of their Departments (something recommended by the Haldane report in 1918). However, when it comes to improving the quality of governance in the UK, the civil service cannot be seen as a discrete entity. There is a constitutional dimension, not least in terms of parliamentary accountability. Civil servants need to have a better understanding of the role of Parliament. Ministers also need to have a better understanding of their role as ministers. Too often senior ministers are left to reinvent the wheel when it comes to running Departments. There needs, in short, to be training of both civil servants and ministers. Enhancing the managerial efficiency of the civil service – which is the thrust of the Government’s proposals for reform – may be necessary, but it is not sufficient.