Weak Whitehall leadership undermining future spending strategy

25 Mar 14

The civil service must begin preparations for the post-election Spending Review in 2015 now to ensure planned public spending cuts can be delivered, the Institute for Government has said.


In a report published today, the IfG concluded that a ‘lack of collective leadership’ at the centre of government risked undermining Whitehall’s ability to plan ahead.

The Leading change in the civil service report warned the coming months were the last chance for civil service leaders to set the groundwork for the review. Based on the policies of all parties, the funding round will require public service pay restraint and further savings in departmental budgets.

However, the IfG said the three top civil servants – Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, Head of the Civil Service Sir BobKerslake and Permanent Secretary to the Treasury Sir Nicholas Macpherson – were not offering the leadership required to meet the challenge.

Peter Thomas, a senior fellow at the institute and co-author of the report, highlighted that the civil service had implemented both unprecedented cuts and a radical reform programme in the current parliament. But there was little sign that the Whitehall machine has been able to plan ahead for the challenges the next government will face.

‘As the pace of reform escalates and the easier savings have gone, a far more concerted leadership effort is required from the political side, the head of the civil service, cabinet secretary and permanent secretary to the Treasury to ensure that Whitehall doesn’t fall flat on its face after 2015,’ Thomas said.

To overcome what the report called the historic weakness in central government’s corporate leadership, the three top civil servants were urged to take a more visible role in leading civil service reforms and making preparation for further cuts.

In particular, the report said a dedicated Cabinet Office and Treasury team should be formed to plan how best to support the implementation of the next government’s financial plan.

• Read more on the Leading change in the civil service report in April's Public Finance.

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