Lord Browne’s report says that enhanced boards, with external non-executives helping to drive more effective management of government departments, are now well-established in Whitehall and “should be here to stay”.
Sixty-eight leaders from the private, public and voluntary sectors act as non-executives, providing advice and scrutiny to support the government’s reform programme and greater efficiency.
Lord Browne’s report says enhanced boards with prominent roles for non-executives have significantly improved the 5 priority areas identified in the Corporate Governance Code:
- strategic clarity
- commercial sense
- talented people
- results focus
- management information
Lord Browne sees important improvements in the leadership and management of major projects. The Major Projects Authority (MPA) has strengthened its reviewing processes, and the Major Projects Leadership Academy is working to enrol 340 participants by the end of 2014, using private sector best practice to raise competence and skills.
Despite the progress made, Lord Browne says it is incomplete and non-executives have more to contribute. The report’s main recommendations build on progress in 3 priority areas identified by Lord Browne in his 2012 to 2013 report:
- the capability of boards and departments
- major projects and procurement
- management information
Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said:
I have seen for myself how non-executives’ drive and expertise are helping government operate in a more business-like way, increasing commercial awareness and injecting a results-driven approach.
But we acknowledge there is more to be done to maximise the benefits that non-executives bring. We will consider the report’s recommendations carefully and respond in due course.
How non-executives help departments
On average, non-executives spend a third of their time in board meetings and the rest on other work. The best boards, Lord Browne believes, make the most of the use of this time outside the boardroom, asking non-executives to advise on specific initiatives or sit on governance boards for major projects.
For example, Sara Weller, Lead Non-Executive at the Department for Communities and Local Government, supported an efficiency review of the fire service in England. Drawing on her experience of large-scale business operations, she applied best practice for benchmarking and identifying opportunities for savings. This contributed to the review finding efficiency gains worth at least £200 million.