Sir Gus O’Donnell, head of the UK civil service, in a recent speech outlined why he thought the British civil service would perform well in the current financial and economic crisis. In an article – “Mandarin-tinted glasses” – published in Public Finance magazine, I ask questions just how well Whitehall is really doing – based on their reports of their performance. Both on their ‘Public Service Agreements’ and ‘Capability Reviews’ Whitehall have assessed themselves as doing a mediocre job at best. And strangely, the figures show that the better their ‘capability’, the worse their actual ‘performance’. Paradoxically though, Sir Gus may be right: the British civil service loves nothing so much as a good national crisis. It’s running the shop in normal times they are not so good at.
Story picked up by Nick Timmins in the Financial Times 2nd Mar 2009