Research Project

Challenging Perspectives: Improving Whitehall’s spatial awareness
11 February, 2009

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Sir Gus O’Donnell today welcomed the launch of NLGN’s latest report, which makes new proposals to help Whitehall departments work more effectively with localities and regions. He commended the report, describing it as both “rigorous” and “well researched”, saying the recommendations deserved thorough examination.

The report assesses the ‘spatial awareness’ of Whitehall departments and proposes sweeping reforms to the way it operates sub-nationally. Its recommendations include introducing a new “duty to devolve” on central government, reform of Public Service Agreements and departmental Capability Reviews, merging the Audit Commission and National Audit Office into a new single auditor and converting regional Government Offices explicitly into ‘Offices of the Regional Ministers’.

Authored by NLGN Director Chris Leslie and Nick Hope, the report argues that Whitehall departments need to adapt to the challenges of delivering modern public services and should develop a more strategic, less interventionist role. The report also encourages reform of the civil service recruitment process including the establishment of a new National Public Service Fast Stream scheme for graduates and insisting that senior civil servants have some experience of working within local government.

Challenging Perspectives: Improving Whitehall’s spatial awarenessThe report maintains that while local authorities are expected to comply with a number of formal duties, central Government should mirror this process by introducing a new “duty to devolve” on Whitehall departments. This duty could become a ‘devolutionary test’ in the parliamentary and legislative process.

It also suggests enhancing the role of Regional Ministers by appointing full time Ministers of State for each region, supported by the adaptation of Government Offices into explicitly ‘Offices of the Regional Ministers’.

In the report, Chris Leslie says:

“We believe that these reforms would build on progress already made and deliver a step-change in the quality of local service delivery. They would strengthen Whitehall’s “spatial awareness”, raise the consciousness of its own limitations, encourage a more cross-cutting approach to policy and increase its understanding of variation between and within regions and localities. Such reforms would better ensure that decision-making is

properly integrated throughout sub-national structures and take place at the most appropriate spatial level. Crucially, they would help transform the way communities and citizens are served.”

Publication Date: 11 February 2009
ISBN: 978 1 903 447 75 8
Authored by: Nick Hope and Chris Leslie