BRITAIN’S civil service is a “failing organisation, in which most people know the system is failing,” according to a blistering report released today by MPs.
The Public Administration Select Committee says the government’s existing plans to modernise Whitehall – generally considered to be the most ambitious set of civil service reforms in a generation – are “bound to fail” as they are not radical enough to combat the system’s many flaws.
The MPs say the only answer is to immediately launch a full root-and-branch review of the civil service for the first time since the 1960s – and reconsider the entire purpose of the organisation.
“Whitehall is a Rolls Royce machine, but it is sorely in need of modernisation and repair,” said Public Administration Select Committee chairman Bernard Jenkin MP.
“While there has been much successful change in the Civil Service in recent years the overriding narrative is one of recurring discord between ministers and officials.”
Problems identified by his committee include a low level of engagement amongst civil servants, and a “general lack of trust and openness”.
It finds there is still “a tendency to scapegoat individual officials” rather than to learn lessons from failures such as the West Coast Main Line franchise failure and the collapse of the Borders Agency.
The report also claims that civil servants routinely filter “honest and complete assessments” of policies before they reach ministers, in an attempt to control government policy.
Last night the cabinet office, the department responsible for the civil service, said that holding a full parliamentary investigation would only delay its existing reform programme.
“We have the right plan in place and are proud of the steps jointly taken by ministers and civil servants, but we acknowledge the need to step up the pace in some areas of reform,” a spokesman said. “Last year we saved the taxpayer £10bn – £600 for every working household.”