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By Peter Hoskin
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Outside
of Manchester, the most significant political speech of the day is being
delivered by Francis Maude to the Institute for Government. Indeed, it could
actually be more significant than “the most personal speech ever given by a British
political leader,”
too. For Mr Maude’s
subject is the structural relationship between government and the civil
service, and how it should be altered. His words will mark an escalation in the
struggle against Whitehall.

And, judging by this
report
in the Financial Times, what an escalation it will be. Mr Maude is
set to claim that senior civil servants have blocked government policy or
advised other officials not to implement it. And while that will be no surprise
to Whitehall watchers, and while Mr Maude will describe these cases as “exceptional”,
it still amounts to an accusation that some civil servants don’t just fail to
do their job, but succeed in the doing the opposite of it. It’s another sign of
what I’ve written
about before
: Mr Maude’s growing impatience and determination on civil
service reform.


But there’s policy as well as rhetoric
— and it’s a policy so straightforward, yet potentially effective, that you
wonder why it wasn’t implemented two years ago. From now on, the objectives set
for departmental permanent secretaries will be published online, such that “Permanent
secretaries can then be judged for their performance against these objectives”.
It’s a dose of sunlight that ought to have an effect by itself. The pressure on
senior civil servants to implement, or at least comply with, ministerial
demands will be greater, if only because they will be named and shamed if they
don’t.

But this is likely to be only half
of Mr Maude’s plan, and the informal half too. He has already asked think-tanks
to consider how the performance of senior servants can be formally tied to
their contracts, such that sackings can follow on from failure. And, if that
happens, then these online checklists will have considerable bite. Chomp.

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