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Fewer government reshuffles can mean better performance argues top civil servant

A Whitehall insider has set out his suggestions for better government - including fewer cabinet reshuffles - in a speech at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Sir Richard Mottram, who spent 15 years at the top of the civil service as a Permanent Secretary in five different jobs, argued that rapid turnover of ministers can hamper effective government and that the scale of change is not always appreciated.

He told an audience of students who are following the LSE's Masters in Public Administration (MPA) course: 'The first whiff of political trouble is usually accompanied by demands for new initiatives and a Cabinet reshuffle'. 

Photograph of Sir Richard Mottram talking to students'For example, the Department for Work and Pensions has had six Secretaries of State since 2002, some brought down by events, one who resigned for his own reasons, a number simply reshuffled. If DWP were a regulated financial institution, this scale of turnover would surely have attracted the regulator's attention'.

Sir Richard argued that government is also sometimes guilty of over-centralised management and fails to show the 'humility' which would allow it to work effectively with front-line staff. He said: 'Both the rhetoric and the reality have at times been very different.'

His speech came during a visit to LSE to meet postgraduate MPA students who have completed Capstone projects as part of their course. These are applied research projects addressing directly a public policy problem faced by an external organisation. Clients include international organizations (for example the OECD, World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), UK government departments (DWP), parliamentary bodies (including the National Audit Office), major companies (including EDS) and think-tanks (for example, Demos and Revenue Watch).

Photograph of Sir Richard MottramThe MPA students follow either a Public Policy and Management or Public and Economic Policy course.

Sir Richard's other key jobs have included being Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Transport and most recently handling security issues at the Cabinet Office. He said government benefited from working with social scientists from LSE and elsewhere and finished his talk on a note of optimism.

He said: 'I spent 40 years working in central Government. Who can doubt that the UK has been much more successful, including through better government, in the last 15 years of my career than in the first 15?'

His full speech is available at http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/MPA/PDFs/SirRichardMottramtxt.pdf| and via the MPA website at http://www.lse.ac.uk/collections/MPA/|

Ends

For more details contact:

LSE press office 020 7955 7440

21 May 2008

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