One of the country’s top civil servants said the Whitehall bureaucracy sometimes has to save politicians from themselves.
Treasury Permanent Secretary Sir Nicholas MacPherson dismissed the idea that the civil service opposes change but said it had to provide “skeptical challenge” for ministers.
“Politicians [can] come up with ideas that sound very good but when tested don’t deliver value for money," he added.
Sir Nicholas also said the public sector trailed behind the private sector in good financial value.
“It’s extraordinary how the public sector has lagged the private sector in its approach to financial management," he said.
He was speaking on Thursday morning at a debate hosted by the think-tank Reform.
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin said that the government’s public service reforms were necessary as they dealt with the “closed, monolithic and monopolistic” system.
“Without contestability, or the innovation that a new entrant brings, we have bureaucracy – the enemy of innovation,” he said.
Letwin attacked the previous Labour government for “believing and suffering the illusion [that there was] almost unlimited quantities of money to pour into public services”.
Norman Lamb, the newly appointed LibDem minister at BIS and close advisor to Nick Clegg, praised the idea of opening up public services.
“The future of public services has to be driven by putting the citizen centre stage”, he said, “we should not be obsessed by who provides the service, but the service that is provided," he said.