Wilson open to new thinking on Whitehall funding

10 Feb 00
Cabinet secretary Sir Richard Wilson this week admitted there was scope for changing the way government departments are funded, and that they could even consider bidding for money from a central 'pot'.

11 February 2000

Giving evidence to the House of Commons public administration committee on February 9, Sir Richard agreed there was a need for 'new thinking' about central government financing.

Asked if ministries should bid for money from a central pot, as local authorities do for schemes such as the Single Regeneration Budget, he said 'experimentation' was needed.

'I think we do need to look at new ways of planning budgets. There is a real issue that requires some experimentation on behalf of the government.'

Such new models of financing would complement current government thinking with its 'focus on results', as well as meeting public expectations of public services.

One new ministry that could bid for money would be a prime minister's department. Wilson said there was a case for such a department and for a 'stronger centre if that is what the government wants'.

During questioning which lasted almost two hours, he also said a culture of risk-taking should be allowed to develop across the public sector when it comes to making finance-based decisions.

He said this would be helped by co-opting senior private sector staff into high level positions in the civil service.

And he rejected suggestions from committee chairman Tony Wright that reform was being driven, not by the civil service but by a prime minister 'obsessed with delivering'.

Sir Richard said the desire to reform was genuine and there was 'considerable welcome' among civil servants for the proposals. The service had also proposed a number of things itself.

And he stressed that the reforms would have an effect: 'It doesn't feel to me either that we are on the Titanic or are just shuffling a few chairs around.'


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