MPs lambast civil service contract management

Gurjit Degun
12 December 2013

The civil service is “not equipped to support consistent contract management”, an inquiry by a group of MPs on the House of Commons Liaison Committee has found.

The committee’s report added that the civil service’s contract management “tends to be driven by short-term pressures, rather than long-term value for money for the taxpayer”.

The committee, which is made up of chairmen of all Parliamentary select committees, based its report on evidence provided by the prime minister. It found the following failings: a bias to inertia; a failure to learn from previous mistakes; a belief in incremental change versus long-term vision; working in departmental silos rather than cross-cutting initiatives; a shortage of commercial and contracting skills; and a tendency to procure from large suppliers.

Liaison Committee chair Sir Alan Beith said: “Public service contracts with the private sector need to deliver good quality services and value-for-money for the taxpayer. Select committees scrutinising the work of departments across government have found that, on too many occasions, the civil service has failed to design effective contracts or to monitor contracts adequately.

“This report has collated this evidence and demonstrated that there are systemic failings in civil service contract management. We have raised specific concerns about the paucity of commercial skills, and officials feeling unable to speak truth to power.”

It also took evidence from other select committee hearings including electronic tagging, Universal Credit and rural broadband.

The committee endorsed the recommendation of the Public Administration Select Committee to establish a Parliamentary commission on the civil service. The Committee has called for such a commission to be established as a matter of urgency, and to report before the end of this Parliament.

“We believe that a coherent analysis of the state of the civil service, and the requirements placed upon it, would help to improve governance across Whitehall, and help to eliminate the contract-management failures seen in recent years”, said Beith.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said:

“Many of the concerns raised here have already been articulated by ministers and are addressed in our Civil Service Reform plan. The government’s reform plan should tackle long-standing weaknesses in the civil service including the gaps in capabilities highlighted in this report.

“A ‘comprehensive’ inquiry would risk pushing urgently-needed reforms into the long grass.”

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