Maude Lays Into Civil Service – But Did His Procurement Reforms Work?

Francis (Lord) Maude, ex Minister for the Cabinet Office and de facto “minister for procurement” from 2010-15 has laid into the civil service.  Civil Service World reports:

Discussing the future of the civil service as part of a lecture series hosted by the speaker of the House of Commons, he said he had been lied to by officials, and that reforms started while he was in office were being quietly rolled back by “departmental barons”.

In another interesting quote, he claims that ministerial decisions were not always heeded: “On one occasion I asked a cross-departmental group of officials why a Cabinet Committee’s very clear decision had simply been ignored. The answer? ‘We didn’t think it was a very strong mandate’.  What on earth do you need? A Papal Bull?”

We think he may be referring there to the move to centralise procurement of common goods and services to Crown Commercial Service. We have heard from other sources that he felt senior procurement folk ignored the first “directive”.

The irony of course is that the move to centralise procurement has been something of a disaster to date. Malcom Harrison and the new team at Crown Commercial Service have been busy unwinding much of the work that went on under Maude. Now perhaps he sees that as the departmental civil servants pushing back, but both the National Audit Office and Harrison (as an independent outsider initially) felt that the centralisation was badly conceived and executed. So maybe those officials who resisted his entreaties initially had a good point.

Maude undoubtedly achieved some good things in his time, including work on the digital agenda and his focus on major government suppliers, and he is right we think to highlight that there has been a loss of focus in certain areas.  But there are areas where initiatives such as the creation of the government commercial function have continued to build on his legacy, and his overall criticism seems harsh.

That’s because in other areas, we would argue, he failed pretty comprehensively. His reforms of civil service pensions were “a cop out”, didn’t save money, and “did nothing to bridge the huge and increasing gulf between public sector and private sector” schemes according to John Ralfe, the industry expert (writing in the FT).  The shared services programme for back-office processing has been another failure, and we don’t perceive that his support for creating more mutuals has really achieved much.

So his own legacy is very mixed. Perhaps John Manzoni or Sir Jeremy Heywood (our top mandarins) should give a lecture and go through the Maude initiatives, commenting on their lasting success or otherwise. That would be fun …

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