NCVO: Charities need to be on top of government 'scheming' amid civil service reform

Charities have been warned that they need to be aware of the “internal scheming of government” to effectively influence policy amid ministers’ plans to reform the civil service.

The government is looking at widespread reform of the civil service, with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove wanting to see a greater focus on recruiting relevant experts within departments, proving impact and less influence of think tanks and lobbyists.

But in a blog National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) public affairs manager Chris Walker questions whether reform will lead to “employing greater expertise or more about finding faces who fit”.

“Initially at least this looks more like a continued movement towards political appointments within the civil service rather than a revolution in the role and expertise of civil servants,” said Walker.

Walker warns charities that while the rhetoric of government civil service reform focuses on the importance of evidence, impact and expertise “it could mean that charities in practice will need to be on top of the political implications and the internal scheming of government if they want to be able to influence policy”.

Already a change of the top of the civil service indicates this politicisation within Whitehall is taking place, suggests NCVO's Walker.

He points to the resignation of cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill last month amid an apparent breakdown in his relationship with key people in government.

In the role Sedwill was also national security adviser, a post that has been taken up by David Frost, who has a background in diplomacy and negotiation rather than security and intelligence.

Walker also wonders whether government plans for civil service reform mean that there are “fewer opportunities to build new relationships with people who might be prepared to think differently”.

He recognises that some charities may welcome a move away from lobbying and more towards “interactions with government being based on polished professionalism”.

“However there is understandable cynicism that rather than an attempt to create truly diverse decision-making structures, this is more about remaking the civil service in the government’s own image,” added Walker.

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