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Fixing Whitehall’s broken policy machine

Read the report

In this report, Jonathan Slater, who was the most senior civil servant at the Department for Education from 2016 to 2020, writes that while public engagement is a core part of the role of local government policymakers, it is not seen as important for their counterparts in central government.

The result, he says, is that Whitehall shows “surprisingly little interest” in what those who use or deliver public services think, and that “policy” far too often amounts to little more than preparing statements of intent for ministers, rather than actually turning these statements into reality.

He makes the following recommendations:

  • Civil service leadership which challenges head-on the pervading culture of remoteness, “studied neutrality” and “emotional detachment”.
  • Rewarding officials for what they achieve on the ground, rather than just for helping ministers with short-term fixes.
  • Managing people’s careers, so that policymakers genuinely learn the reality of frontline delivery early on their careers, and cannot get promoted without it.
  • Transparency and accountability for policymakers, making civil servants account to parliamentary select committees for the options appraisals they prepare for their ministers.