Is it time for a slimmed down Civil Service?

24 November 2011 11:27

Is it time for a slimmed down Civil Service?


The Civil Service is a very large and diverse organisation. Critics argue that there is an increasing disconnect between how policies are created in Whitehall and their actual impact on the ground. One of the main aims of the Coalition government is to transition power from Whitehall to local communities. This decentralisation based drive means that the role of the Civil Service is now under review.

The Cabinet Office has begun to develop plans for the long-term reshaping of the civil service, based on a slimmed down model which has the flexibility to respond to challenges that cross departmental boundaries. A number of changes are being proposed including opening up the recruitment process to the private sector, hiring more project managers rather than policy advisors and strengthening the role of key government departments.

This event will explore a number of issues including:

  • How should the Civil Service be structured? Can the current system manage the delivery of policy decisions, many of which fall under different departmental remits?
  • Is the Civil Service recruiting the right people? Should the role of the civil servant be that of a policy advisor, a project manager of both? What incentives could the Civil Service use to attract the best people?
  • Is the Civil Service too big and unfocused? In Sweden the civil service is small and focused on drafting legislation. In New Zealand the “Hive” is sometimes seen as a way to avoid departmental-itis.  Are there international examples we can learn from?
  • What is the right relationship between civil servants and ministers, special advisors and departmental boards? Should the UK move towards French style ministerial cabinets?
  • Should civil servants be made more accountable for the delivery of policies or would that extra responsibility actually affect the ability of civil servants to make decisions effectively?


  • CHAIR: Neil O’Brien - Director, Policy Exchange
  • Rt Hon Francis Maude MP - Minister for the Cabinet Office
  • Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield - Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History & Director - The Mile End Group for the Study of Contemporary British Government, Intelligence and Society, Queen Mary, University of London
  • Jonathan Powell - Former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Tony Blair


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is it time for a slimmed down civil service?