Select Committee on Public Service Report



  1.    The Select Committee on the Public Service was appointed on 30th April 1996 under the chairmanship of Lord Slynn of Hadley with the following terms of reference:

    "To consider the present condition and future development of the Public Service in Great Britain with particular regard to the effectiveness of recent and continuing changes and their impact on standards of conduct and service in the public interest.

    For the purposes of the Select Committee, the Public Service should be deemed to exclude local government, the National Health Service, schools and institutions of higher and further education, but to include all Government Departments, executive agencies, non-departmental public bodies and other organisations created by or working for the public service."

The membership of the Committee is given at Appendix 1.

  2.    The Liaison Committee, in recommending the appointment of a Select Committee on the Public Service, added the following recommendation: "In the light of the debate in the House on 8th March on the Government's plans for the future of Recruitment and Assessment Services we suggest that the Committee should begin by reporting, as a matter of some urgency, on that specific matter".

  3.    The Leader of the House said that if we were able to report on Recruitment and Assessment Services (RAS) before the Summer Recess, that would enable the Government to take careful note of what was in our Report. We therefore decided to concentrate first on the proposed privatisation of RAS before beginning our wider enquiry. Our enquiry into RAS was conducted under great pressure of time and placed considerable demands on the Committee. Our report on that subject, The Government's proposals for the privatisation of Recruitment and Assessment Services (RAS) was unanimously agreed by the Committee and ordered to be printed on 16th July 1996 (HL Paper 109). The debate on the Report on 25th July 1996 attracted a large number of speakers, almost all of whom warmly welcomed the Report and agreed its conclusions. The Government nevertheless rejected its principal conclusion, namely that there were positive reasons against the privatisation of RAS. Shortly after that RAS was sold to the private Capita Group.

  4.    Following the publication of the report on RAS the Committee issued a Second Special Report (HL Paper 116, Session 1995-96) containing an invitation to submit evidence to a wider enquiry within the terms of reference set out in paragraph 1. The Committee was conscious that it was not to be given the time nor had it the resources to conduct an enquiry giving its terms of reference the widest interpretation, even allowing for the areas specifically excluded. The Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of the 19th century (see paragraph 11 below) had been preceded by many years of campaigning by Sir Charles Trevelyan. Even the Fulton Committee (see paragraph 24 below), which was asked to report at great speed and whose terms of reference excluded the machinery of Government, found its task so demanding that it did not report until 1968-over two years after its appointment. We therefore decided to concentrate on the first three areas specifically said to be included in this enquiry, namely Government departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies, and to look at other organisations created by and working for the public service only in so far as they were linked to these three areas. For the same reasons, we also decided to exclude the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and to concentrate instead on the Home Civil Service. Whether other organisations should be looked at may be a matter for future consideration in the light of our conclusions.

  5.    The Committee's invitation to submit evidence contained two key questions: (a) is there an irreducible minimum of functions which must remain within the public service; and if so what are they and why can they not be done elsewhere? and (b) is there a distinctive public service ethos; and if so what function does it serve, and where does it reside? A list of those who submitted evidence in response to this request is given at Appendix 2.

  6.    In the autumn of 1996 the Committee began to take oral evidence based on the two general questions raised in the Second Special Report. As the enquiry progressed the right course seemed clearly to look at several departments, one after another, to see what changes had occurred in practice. In order to narrow the scope of the enquiry a little, the Committee decided to focus on the changes which had affected the Civil Service over the last 30 years. We began with a fairly lengthy investigation of the Department of Social Security, and went on to look more briefly at the Department for Education and Employment, the Home Office, the Treasury Solicitor, HM Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Office of Public Service and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Evidence taken before the General Election on 1st May 1997 was published in a Special Report (HL Paper 68, Session 1996-97). Following the General Election in May 1997, the Committee was appointed again on 4th June with the same terms of reference, and asked to report by Christmas 1997. All the evidence taken during that period is published in our evidence volume, HL Paper 55-I (Session 1997-98).

  7.    Because the Committee decided to focus on the changes over the last 30 years, it was necessary first of all to establish what those changes were. Thus Part 2 of this Report describes the Civil Service as it was thirty years ago; Part 3 describes the main changes which have taken place in the public service during the last thirty years; and Part 4 describes the Civil Service as it is now. Part 5 summarises the evidence we have received and includes the conclusions of the Committee. Part 6 sets the conclusions out again, gathered together in a single chapter.

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