Governance in Central Government: Reconciling Accountability and Capability

Authors

  • JOHN MACAUSLAN,

    1. Have both been senior civil servants, and are at the time of writing Civil Service Commissioners, but this article represents work done in a personal capacity and should not be taken to reflect the views of any organisation with which they are or have been associated.
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  • MARK ADDISON

    1. Have both been senior civil servants, and are at the time of writing Civil Service Commissioners, but this article represents work done in a personal capacity and should not be taken to reflect the views of any organisation with which they are or have been associated.
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Abstract

Governance structures in central government departments are poorly articulated. Departmental boards were imported from the private sector; in central government their remit and accountability are obscure, as is their role in relation to Permanent Secretaries and Ministers—whose leadership roles are also muddled. This brings costs for Ministers, departments and the public. Improvements have proved elusive, in part because an underlying confusion has been neglected—about how bodies subject to the almost unlimited democratic accountability of Ministers are to be governed. The confusion can be cleared up, principles of governance formulated, and concrete improvements proposed. These include: better articulation of Permanent Secretaries' presumptive leadership role; strengthened lines of external accountability; and more coherent provisions for the role and accountabilities of boards, and their relationship with Ministers, Permanent Secretaries, and the centre of government. Such changes should improve accountability, leadership, capability and delivery.

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