Managerial and Efficiency Reforms

- beginning with Fulton

The demands of the 1939-45 Second World War required substantial change in the civil service, and within Government more generally, including the employment of large numbers of strong characters and experts who would otherwise have remained outside government.  This trend was put into reverse after the war but the experience appears to have informed those who in due course wrote the 1968 Fulton Report which looked at the structure, recruitment, management and training of the civil service.  (It is interesting to note that its authors complained that they were not allowed to look more widely at questions such as the number and size of departments, and their relationships with each other and with the Cabinet Office.) 

The report identified the following weaknesses in the civil service:

  1. It was too much based on the philosophy of the 'generalist' or 'all-rounder'.
  2. Scientists, engineers and other specialists were not being given the responsibilities, opportunities and authority they should have.
  3. There were too few skilled managers.
  4. There was not enough contact between the service and the community it serves.
  5. There was inadequate personnel management and career planning.   

The report was taken seriously and led to significant change within the civil service, though not to the fundamental - and arguably elitist - Westminster/Haldane Model of government.  

But pay restraint together with a wide range of other concerns led to the first ever national civil service strikes in 1973, which in turn led to the Wider Issues Review whose report Civil Servants and Change was published in 1975.

The post-1979 Thatcher government then sought to make progress on two fronts, and the ‘New Labour’ Government, elected in 1997, continued to make significant managerial and efficiency improvements.

New Public Management ...

... is a somewhat vague phrase which essentially summarises efforts to introduce competition between different public agencies, and between public agencies and private firms, and so incentivises innovation, efficiency and good customer service.  New public management accordingly treats beneficiaries of public services as customers, and citizens as shareholders.  It has been most obviously applied in the health and education sectors, and through contracting out support services.  These reforms – which were continued by all successor governments - are not dealt with in any detail in this website, although it is worth noting that many believe that insufficient effort was put into getting the civil service ready to manage this more competitive environment. This led to significant problems with many of the programs, and to excessive costs being incurred on contracted out services (especially IT) and on consultants who were brought in to help introduce competition.

Efficiency Initiatives:   Separately, the Thatcher Government and its successors have focussed on improving the efficiency of the big, high-spending departments.   Here, the existing civil service has been on more comfortable ground.  It has considerable experience of delivering services on a large scale and in managing large numbers of staff across the UK.  Senior officials accordingly reckon that they can steadily improve efficiency and customer service as long as politicians refrain from changing the rules – or at least don’t do so too often or too dramatically.  There was considerable early success, including sharpened financial management and the establishment of separately managed 'Next Steps' Executive Agencies.  Subsequent reform programs have also been essentially managerial, and have addressed subjects such as leadership, performance management, the role of the Senior Civil Service and improved delivery.
   
Lord Bancroft's Lecture, Whitehall and Management: A Retrospect, provides a thought-provoking and entertaining review of management reforms through to 1984.

Colin Talbot wrote a brief history of performance management in 2017.

The following is a list of the key managerial reform documents.

  1. The Financial Management Initiative (1986) sought improvements in the allocation, management and control of resources.
  2. Improving Management in Government; The Next Steps (1988) led to much of the executive work of Government being devolved to Executive Agencies
  3. Prime Minister John Major's Citizen's Charter, launched in 1991, was a well-meaning attempt to make public bodies more responsive to the needs of their customers.  But it wasn't aimed mainly at the civil service, and was met with a good deal of coolness by senior officials.  It may be that (rather like subsequent PM David Cameron's Big Society) it had not been sufficiently well-designed or well-planned in advance.  Sadly, therefore, it ran out of steam pretty quickly.
  4. The 1993 Oughton Report led to some useful improvements in the management of (what became) the Senior Civil Service, although some of his recommendations were unwelcome and therefore ignored.
  5. The 1994 'Continuity and Change' consultative White Paper and the 1995 'Taking Forward Continuity and Change' decision document led to:

    • the delegation of further management flexibility and freedoms, including delegation of pay and grading decisions, to individual departments
    • the establishment of the Senior Civil Service, and greater use of recruitment from outside the civil service ('open recruiting') and more flexible remuneration arrangements at senior levels.
    • the promulgation of the Civil Service Code, and
    • an enhanced role for the Civil Service Commissioners in recruitment and selection on merit.
  6. Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown introduced Public Service Agreements in 1998, and ...
  7. ... the PM established the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit in 2001.
  8. 'Modernising Government' (1999) had a strong civil service reform element. Indeed, the then Head of the Civil Service told the Prime Minister that he and his Management Board 'pledged themselves personally to drive forward a new agenda' including

    • Stronger leadership
    • Better business planning
    • Sharper performance management
    • A Service more open to people and ideas, and which brings on talent, and
    • A better deal for staff.

  9. 'Civil Service Reform: Delivery and Values' was published in 2004. It was an insubstantial document promising greater emphasis on 'delivery' without any clear explanation of how this was to be achieved. The Gershon and Lyons reports ('Putting the Front Line First'), published around the same time, had a much harder edge, promising significant reductions in civil service numbers - especially those employed in London and the South-east.
  10. 'Putting the Frontline First', published in 2009, contained little more than a series of cost-cutting measures.
  11. The austerity-driven Civil Service Reform Plan was published in 2012.

There is much more detail in these web pages. In particular, Detailed Notes 7 et seq look at the 2012 Reform Plan and the consequences of sharp reductions in staff numbers for the quality of customer service and the quality of advice for Ministers.

Detailed Note 17 includes an interesting (and scathing) 2017 IfG review of departmental priorities and Permanent Secretary objectives.

Here is a handy IfG summary of key performance initiatives:

 

And there is a nice tongue-in-cheek imagination of officials' response to efficiency initiatives here.

 

Martin Stanley