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Permanent Secretaries

Volume 564: debated on Wednesday 19 June 2013

7. What plans he has to reform the procedure for the appointment of permanent secretaries of Government Departments. (160380)

The Government wish to strengthen the role of Ministers in permanent secretary appointments to reflect Ministers’ accountability to Parliament for the performance of their Departments. We believe it sensible to allow a choice of candidates who are judged by the Civil Service Commission to be above the line and appointable. The Civil Service Commission’s recent guidance is capable of strengthening the Minister’s role. We will review how it works before deciding whether to seek further changes.

Does the Minister agree with the two recent excellent reports from the Institute of Government and the Institute for Public Policy Research, which say that for there to be proper accountability Secretaries of State must have a say in who runs their Department, albeit from a shortlist agreed in the normal way? Will he reassure us that, contrary to press reports, he is not caving in to the mandarins on this vital reform?

I do not think that that is a phenomenon that would be recognised in Whitehall. The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. The relationship between permanent secretary and Minister is very important. Ministers are accountable in this place for their Department, and it seems to us to make sense—it clearly makes sense to him, too—that a Minister should be given a choice of candidates, as long as they are deemed to be politically impartial and capable of doing the job properly.

I commend my right hon. Friend for encouraging a lively debate on the leadership of the senior civil service, not least because senior appointments have led to a great deal of churn and discontinuity at the top of Government Departments in recent years. May I also congratulate him on publishing the IPPR report? We look forward to him coming before the Public Administration Committee to discuss it.

I look forward to one of my regular attendances at my hon. Friend’s Committee with barely concealed impatience. I am grateful for the interest he and his Committee take in this important area. I would like to take the opportunity, while answering this question, to pay tribute to so many hard working civil servants who do a fantastic job, and to the support that so many of them have given to the programme of reform we have set in train.