A lack of clarity about the role of Number 10, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office is “jeopardising government’s ability to deliver value for taxpayers’ money in key public spending areas,” according to an influential group of MPs.
Margaret Hodge MP, chairwoman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said an apparent lack of agreement between ministers and civil servants on the role of the centre meant it wasn’t clear who was responsible for implementing cross-government initiatives, such as debt collection and centralised procurement.
“Departments are making unacceptably slow progress on some central efficiency initiatives such as shared back office services and debt collection, resulting in taxpayers’ money being wasted,” she said. “The centre needs to challenge departments more actively on their implementation of cross-government initiatives, like civil service reform and centralised procurement, including by holding permanent secretaries more strongly to account for departmental performance.”
The report, The Centre of Government, published today, also said key specialist skills are in short supply and not distributed effectively between departments and the centre. “The effectiveness of government is undermined by shortages in specialist skills and capability, such as recognised gaps in commercial, contracting and financial management expertise.”
It said while some progress is being made - such as in the Major Projects Leadership Academy’s training of senior project managers, more coordinated central leadership of corporate functions such as procurement, and the Civil Service Reform Plan’s focus on developing project management, digital and commercial skills - much of the talk about improving skills is still about future actions rather than what is being delivered now.
Speaking to SM in response to the report a government spokesman said: “As part of this government’s long-term economic plan, we have worked since the 2010 General Election to strengthen commercial, project management and digital capability at the centre of Whitehall. Last year alone the Efficiency and Reform Group worked with the Treasury and departments to save taxpayers £14.3 billion compared with a 2009-10 baseline.
“There’s more to do to improve efficiency but we have just appointed a new chief executive [John Manzoni] to accelerate reform and strengthen control over key functions. We thank the committee for its report and will consider the recommendations carefully”.
The Cabinet Office also refuted any lack of clarity, adding: “There is no disagreement about the role of the centre – ministers laid out their position in their letter to the committee earlier this year.”