Whitehall focus Turnbull bows out with defiance

28 Jul 05
Sir Andrew Turnbull this week delivered his final speech as Cabinet secretary, calling for further Whitehall reforms and attacking critics who questioned civil service values under his stewardship.

29 July 2005

Sir Andrew Turnbull this week delivered his final speech as Cabinet secretary, calling for further Whitehall reforms and attacking critics who questioned civil service values under his stewardship.

In his valedictory lecture on July 26, Turnbull, who retires from office at the end of July, also defended the growing influence of ministerial special advisers and his decision not to back a Civil Service Act during his tenure.

Many Whitehall bodies, including the Commons' public administration select committee and the FDA mandarins' union, want a Bill to enshrine civil service values, such as impartiality, in law. This is to counter perceived threats such as the growing use of politicised policy advisers. The PASC and the government have both published draft Acts.

Turnbull, who took over as head of the civil service in 2002, said: 'I have been accused by some of not taking values seriously enough, as evidenced by the fact that I have not seen a Civil Service Act as a priority.

'I have always thought that the proponents of an Act had completely unrealistic expectations of what it would achieve. For example, I do not see how what the PASC called "these unfortunate events" at the former Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions [the infamous Jo Moore September 11 e-mail to "bury bad news"] would have been influenced by the existence of a Civil Service Act.'

Turnbull said the PASC's draft Bill 'would do actual harm' by over-prescribing future pay structures, for example. And he dismissed heavy government prescription. 'I do not see how keeping politics out of the civil service is best served by giving Parliament a role in its detailed management,' he said.

Turnbull said he favoured entrenching many Whitehall values 'on a non-statutory basis'.

He also warned the Committee on Standards in Public Life not to 'ghettoise' special advisers. 'Please set aside your thinly disguised hostility which pervades much of your thinking about special advisers,' he said.

However, Turnbull also urged spin doctors to 'live with the principles' of the new special advisers code.

Turnbull, who hands over to current Treasury permanent secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell, said that many of the changes introduced during his tenure were 'controversial' but necessary.

He cited Whitehall's widespread use of performance targets as an example, justifying them because of an increased focus on service delivery.

Departmental IT spending set to rise by 21%

IT spending by Whitehall departments is set to soar by 21% over the next three years, as the government wrestles with new ways of delivering services while cutting civil service staff.

A study by public sector researchers Kable, published on July 25, estimates that central government departments will spend more than £3.2bn on information and communications technology in 2007/08, compared with £2.6bn in 2004/05.

It is predicted that more than 60% of the 2007/08 spend will be outsourced.

But half (49%) of the Whitehall ICT managers and directors surveyed by Kable believe 'their own IT systems would not allow them to move forward in the future with real confidence'.

Directors have called for a greater understanding of ICT issues across central government, 'suggesting that even after years of promoting greater understanding of ICT in effective service delivery, many government organisations have still not grasped the concept', Kable reports.

Over half (56%) of the expected growth in ICT will come from the biggest technology-spending departments: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Work and Pensions; and Revenue & Customs.

All three departments are committed to large savings and job cuts under Sir Peter Gershon's efficiency programme, which will necessitate vast improvements in Whitehall's use of technology.

But the government's patchy record in procuring computer systems combined with directors' concerns have left some experts wary that the savings might not materialise.

However, a Treasury source told Public Finance that the extent of ICT growth predicted by Kable 'highlights the scope that exists for savings across departments, many of which still use outdated equipment and systems'.

In-house bid wins MoD contract

Ministry of Defence officials have confirmed that the department's new Private Finance Initiative scrutiny team played a 'significant part' in deciding to opt for an in-house bid on a major new storage contract.

Defence Secretary John Reid announced last week that an in-house team would manage the future storage and distribution of defence supplies.

The MoD was recently attacked by civil service trade unions for its regular exclusion of in-house bids for major contracts.

The Future Defence Supply Chain Initiative was initially set up to identify a private sector partner to undertake

the storage and supply work.

But Public Finance understands that option was unpopular among members of the MoD's Private Finance Unit, directed by former city banker Nick Prior.

Prior's team was established to improve the MoD's record on private finance contracts amid concerns over cost escalations and patchy delivery. A MoD source said the FDSCI 'was a prime example of the more discerning work now undertaken' across the department.

The Public and Commercial Services and Prospect trade unions said news of the in-house bid had been 'soured' by the need to cut 2,000 MoD jobs as part of the deal.


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