Legislation can embed change and establish norms of expected behaviour. Northcote and Trevelyan argued in their seminal report on the Civil Service in 1854 that overcoming the ‘powerful interests’ of the status quo needed ‘the force of law’. Their recommendation was ignored until 2010, but elsewhere – such as in New Zealand – legislation has been used to drive through public sector reforms and embed a new system. On the flipside, legislation can also be deployed to prevent change. Supporters of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 sought to entrench civil service values in legislation. All four countries require in law that a set of civil service values and a code of conduct should be set out. In Australia, the text itself is in primary legislation – meaning any change at all requires parliamentary approval. The relationship between ministers and the Civil Service is less clearly codified. By convention in the UK there is no constitutional separation between ministers and their officials. The roles taken on by permanent secretaries therefore change in response to different ministerial personalities, priorities, styles of working and interest. We often accept this as inevitable, but legislation in New Zealand and Australia sets out the […]

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