Civil service FDs ‘must have more power’

21 Jan 10
Whitehall finance directors must be given more authority, a leading think-tank has said
By David Williams

21 January 2010

Whitehall finance directors must be given more authority, a leading think-tank has said.

The Institute for Government this week issued a report calling for a broad shake-up of central government. Shaping up: a Whitehall for the future condemns the civil service for being uncoordinated and sets out proposals to bridge a ‘strategic gap’ at the heart of central government.

As part of this, the January 18 report argues that finance directors should be given more say over how money is spent.
Report co-author Jonathan McClory told Public Finance: ‘Of the FDs we interviewed, two had come to Whitehall from the private sector and they voiced frustration at what they perceived as a marginalised role on the board, and that so much power is concentrated in the permanent secretary.

‘FDs felt they were treated more like score keepers – it’s retrospective, not forward-looking. They do not feel like they are really used in forward planning and strategic decisions.’

McClory said that in one case, an FD from the private sector lasted just 18 months in Whitehall before walking out, disenchanted at his lack of authority over spending.

Other recommendations included a clearer role for the Cabinet Office, which should work with Number 10 to implement strategies covering the whole of government.

To improve governance, the authors recommended that all Whitehall departments set up strategy boards, chaired by ministers, to improve performance and forge closer relations with the Cabinet.
The paper, which is the result of a year’s worth of interviews with leading civil servants, also recommends giving ministers briefs that cut across departmental ‘silos’ to tackle broad-reaching issues such as social exclusion.

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