Minister who oversaw UK civil service job cuts ‘set to lead governance review’

By on 07/06/2022 | Updated on 14/06/2022
A picture of Francis Maude, who drove the UK civil service reform agenda during his time as Cabinet Office minister between 2010 and 2015
Lord Francis Maude/ Photo courtesy Foreign & Commonwealth Office via Flickr

A former UK Cabinet Office minister who oversaw the development of a plan that led to 90,000 civil service job cuts is being lined up to lead a review into civil service governance in the UK.

Francis Maude, who was Cabinet Office minister from 2010 to 2015 and devised the Civil Service Reform Plan, could lead the planned review into civil service governance and accountability, according to the Financial Times (FT).

Two reviews were proposed in the June 2021 Declaration on Government Reform – one into civil service governance, including consideration of the appropriate roles for senior officials, non-executive directors and ministers; and a review into models of accountability for decisions, drawing on international best practice and experiences during the pandemic and taking account of the role and design of ministerial directions.

It is not clear which of these reviews would be led by Maude, or if they have been merged into one. A government spokesman told the FT the reviews into civil service governance and accountability would take place this year. “They will seek to learn from other countries, organisations outside the civil service, and from recent experiences in government. Further information on this activity will be provided in due course,” an official said.

Read more: UK government seeks international best practice on civil service accountability

According to the FT, some government ministers were pushing for the review to consider changes to the appointment of departmental permanent secretaries and other senior officials, including the possibility for external political appointees to lead ministries.

Maude’s possible role in a governance review comes as the UK government has announced its plan to reduce the civil service by 91,000 roles to return it to the staffing levels that Maude-led reforms had reached in June 2016, before the twin impact of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic saw it increase to around 475,000.

Read more: Exclusive: experts on the impact of 91,000 job cuts in the UK civil service

Maude’s previous attempts at civil service reform

Maude has a long history of civil service reform. He oversaw the development of the 2012 Civil Service Reform Plan, which as well as the job cuts that reduced the UK civil service headcount to a post-war low of 384,260, also made a number of changes to the way the UK government works. These included the development of ‘professions’ around areas including digital skills, finance, communications, policy, and operational delivery – as well as changes to how permanent secretaries are appointed to lead departments.

Maude also led changes to civil service leadership training, but said last year that UK civil servants spurned leadership training intended to improve their skills.

Read more: UK civil servants spurned leadership training, says Francis Maude

Maude told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee that lack of interest in training shows “an anxiety or insecurity” in the face of external influences. The peer said in the evidence session that the civil service “continues to have some deep institutional flaws, and what I interpreted as complacency I’ve come since to think is a bit different from that… there is some complacency in there but there’s also defensiveness born of insecurity.”

In an update in March, Maude’s successor as Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay said that the reviews would seek international best practice on civil service accountability.

Listen: Leading Questions podcast: civil service leaders share what they learned from their time at the top

“The reviews will aim to improve accountability and governance processes in the civil service, where needed, to strengthen decision-making so that decisions are taken effectively and aligned with delivering for the public. The reviews will seek to learn from other countries, organisations outside the civil service, as well as from recent experiences in government.”

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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