Big society policies hampered by civil service, MPs say

Public Administration Select Committee report says the Cabinet Office must push officials to implement reforms and adapt to new ways of working

Cabinet Office
Cabinet Office

The government’s big society programme is perceived to be failing partly because civil servants are not letting go of the levers of power, according to a report by MPs.

The Public Administration Select Committee’s Change in Government: the agenda for leadership says Whitehall needs to undergo a profound change in the way it works with communities and adapt to new ways of commissioning.

The report quotes Dame Helen Ghosh, the Home Office Permanent Secretary, as saying civil servants need to learn to let go of the levers of power and "support the capacity of local people to make decisions and form their own future".

The report, published last week, says this does not appear to be happening. "We have found little evidence of the detail of the specific changes which will be required in terms of roles, structure, accountability and training," it says. "We believe this is one reason why the government's decentralisation and big society policies are perceived to be failing."

It says the civil service needs to be more "transparent and flexible" and adopt to its "new role of commissioning public services from charities, social enterprises, mutuals and private companies" while coping with spending cuts.

"Ministers seem to believe that change will just happen," it says. "It is essential that the Cabinet Office take leadership of the reforms and coordinate the efforts in individual departments and across Whitehall as a whole."

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