OPINION: A chance to oversee change

The alphabet soup of policy units at the centre of government is about to get another stir. Barely a year after the last reorganisation, we may well see the PIU (Performance and Innovation Unit), the FSU (Forward Strategy Unit) and the OPSR (Office of Public Services Reform) redefining their USP.

This time a reorganisation has been prompted by the arrival of the new cabinet secretary, Sir Andrew Turnbull, and his reassertion of the role of the civil service at the centre of power. But since 1997, Number 10's policy units have been subject to an almost constant state of revolution, as Tony Blair has searched for the right formula for effective policy-making and delivery.

To the outside eye, the ever-changing kaleidoscope of policy units is certainly confusing. Some would say they have been indicative of a lack of strategic focus and direction. But while change is not a virtue in itself, the Prime Minister's willingness to scrutinise the effectiveness of the policy units ought to be admired.

Self-evaluation is a characteristic more strongly associated with the private sector where there is the perpetual search for efficiency in pursuit of profit. By contrast, the charity sector has placed greater value in providing security for its workforce. But while the sector rightly trumpets its approach, it might question whether in being less willing to embrace insecurity its capacity for self-evaluation is underdeveloped.

The response to the PIU review on charity law has been indicative. Among certain parts of the sector there has been an atmosphere of frustrated resignation that new measures to improve accountability will be proposed.

But others, leading charity figures among them, have embraced the prospect of change. The future of the sector rests on its ability to adopt a culture of self-reflection and self-improvement rather than self-righteousness and inviolability. As the PIU comes to publish its proposals, the important question will not be what changes the Government will impose on the sector, but can it lead the process of change itself?

LISA HARKER, deputy director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

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