Press release

Reforms to increase accountability at the very top of the Civil Service

Permanent Secretary objectives will be published online for the first time to increase civil service accountability.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

20 December 2012
CAB 135/12

For the first time, the objectives of Permanent Secretaries who head Whitehall’s main departments, as well as those of the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, will be published online as part of reforms to increase the accountability of the civil service.

The objectives will be agreed in advance with ministers and the Prime Minister and updated periodically, including when ministers or the Permanent Secretaries change. They will clarify what is expected of every Permanent Secretary and will allow people to judge their performance against these objectives and hold them to account if they don’t deliver.

The Civil Service Reform Plan, published in June, set out our plans to create an exceptional civil service that delivers the best for Britain. Rising public expectations, coupled with spending cuts, mean the Civil Service needs to change.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said:

Publishing the objectives of Permanent Secretaries is an important step towards reforming the Civil Service and sharpening its accountability to Ministers and the public. Everyone can now judge how well the most senior civil servants are doing at getting best value for taxpayers’ money and delivering the government’s objectives.

This is a bold move, which will highlight the Permanent Secretaries who are effectively serving the government and the public, while holding the feet of all to the fire.

The world is changing and so must the Civil Service. We are in a global race, and are faced with rising public expectations and spending cuts to deal with the deficit. The Civil Service needs to do things faster, be smaller and to provide more services online. It needs to be more open and less bureaucratic, so that civil servants are trusted to get on and be accountable for what they achieve. It also needs to be more unified so we have an exceptional Civil Service delivering the best for Britain.

Today the Cabinet Office is also publishing information on the operational and commercial experience of Permanent Secretaries from the 15 main delivery departments. Just over a quarter (four out of fifteen) of current permanent secretaries had high levels of operational and commercial experience prior to their appointment as a Permanent Secretary. We will build on this baseline to achieve the expectation, set out in the Civil Service Reform Plan, that Permanent Secretaries appointed to the main delivery departments will have had at least two years experience in a commercial or operational role.

Over time we will move towards a position where there is a more equal balance between those departmental Permanent Secretaries who have had a career primarily in operational management and those whose career has been primarily in policy advice and development.

Head of the Civil Service Sir Bob Kerslake said:

Publication today fulfils the commitment to publish we made when we launched the Civil Service Reform Plan. With the publication of salaries and expenses of senior civil servants this makes the UK Civil Service one of the most open and accountable in the world.

Notes to editors

  1. The objectives of the Permanent Secretaries heading central Whitehall departments for 2012/13 and the percentage of those with two years’ operational and commercial experience can be found at:
  2. The 15 central Whitehall delivery departments are: the Department for Communities and Local Government; the Ministry of Defence; HM Revenue and Customs; the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; the Cabinet Office; the Department for Education; HM Treasury; the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Department for Transport; the Department of Health; the Ministry of Justice; the Department for International Development; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; the Department for Culture Media and Sport, and the Department for Work and Pensions.
  3. The Civil Service Reform Plan can be found at
  4. Progress to date in implementing the plan, includes launching the contestable policy fund, the Government Digital Strategy and
Published 20 December 2012