Whitehall mandarins 'insulated' from failure, MPs claim

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SANCTIONS for poorly-performing Whitehall mandarins are "far weaker" than punishments in local government or the private sector, a group of MPs said today.

A report from the Commons public accounts committee (PAC) said failing senior civil servants seemed insulated against losing their jobs, compared with their town hall counterparts.

The MPs called for a "much stronger culture" of managing individual performance against delivery, and also said success should be better rewarded.

The committee, which serves as the government spending watchdog, made the recommendations in an appraisal of so-called "capability reviews".

Introduced by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell in 2005, they externally assess Whitehall departments.

The PAC report said capability reviews had been a significant step forward in examining how government departments carried out their work, but could be improved by tracking Whitehall performance against objective external benchmarks.

And it highlighted a number of failings, including a lack of accountability for mandarins.

"We see no evidence that senior leaders in poorly-performing departments are likely to lose their jobs in the way that has become established in local government," the MPs wrote.

"The Cabinet Secretary told us the high cost of severance payments can be a barrier to dismissing staff who are not discharging their responsibilities," they said.

The report went on: "Even at senior levels in the civil service, incentives to perform better, and sanctions to tackle failure, are far weaker than those in the private sector and in senior levels of local government."

Tory committee member Richard Bacon said: "Senior civil servants often seem able to get away with mistakes that would cost most people their jobs."

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