Key Whitehall reforms blunted

16 Dec 99
The Treasury has blocked key parts of a radical Whitehall reform programme drawn up by senior mandarins in a last-minute wrangle over cash.

17 December 1999

Senior Whitehall sources said Chancellor Gordon Brown vetoed a top-level redundancy programme, designed to provide promotion opportunities for younger civil servants, and a planned bonus scheme for high-flyers.

Brown only granted £100m to fund the reforms 48 hours before they were launched by Cabinet secretary Sir Richard Wilson and senior colleagues on December 15.

'There was a furious row between [the Treasury] and the Cabinet Office. But £100m was the minimum permanent secretaries could accept if the plan was to have any credibility,' said one senior official.

Ironically, the row has meant the removal of some of the most radical and, for senior civil servants, most worrying of the proposals.

The 65 remaining initiatives unveiled by Wilson aim to accelerate promotion, boost recruitment from the private sector and 'dramatically' increase the number of women and ethnic minority people in senior jobs.

Wilson denied the reforms had been forced on him by ministers frustrated with the slow pace of change in Whitehall. 'This has been designed, led and presented by the civil service. This is the civil service itself seeing that it needs to change,' he said.

The plans mark a radical departure from traditional Whitehall management practices and are sure to raise some eyebrows.

Senior mandarins will have their performance assessed by junior staff under a new '360-degree' appraisal scheme being introduced immediately for the top 150 officials.

'This will have to be handled with great skill because you can feel very exposed. But I believe that it gives you very good feedback and I highly recommend it,' said Wilson.

Sir Michael Bichard, permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Employment, admitted that bringing in more senior staff from outside Whitehall could lead to disagreements between senior officials.

'But if you bring in more people from outside and expect them to express the same views, then in my view that would be a waste of time,' he said.

The reforms won backing from the First Division Association, the mandarins' trade union.

'However, with such an ambitious programme, it is important that the government allocates sufficient resources for implementing change,' said FDA general secretary Jonathan Baume.


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