Earlier this year the Major Projects Authority gave 31 out of 191 government projects an Amber/Red or Red rating, signalling that there are problems with implementation. Yet all of these projects have had the implicit endorsement of the permanent secretary of the department responsible as being both good value for money and feasible – will their confidence be vindicated? The Coalition government has been less than sure that their policies have civil service support. Francis Maude – the minister responsible for civil service reform – has repeatedly referred to some ‘obstructive’ officials blocking policy implementation. There is no excuse for this. Former Cabinet Secretary Robert Armstrong famously said that civil servants have “no constitutional personality separate and apart from that of the government of the day”. Their job is to implement government policy – irrespective of what they might think of it. But there is one role that gives the Civil Service a licence to question a policy decision publicly by requiring direct ministerial authorisation before proceeding: the role of the accounting officer, which is the subject of a new Institute for Government research paper published today. Each permanent secretary is the accounting officer for their department, directly accountable to […]

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