The Constitution Unit


NEW REPORT: Critical Friends? Non Executives on Whitehall Departmental Boards

18 January 2018

Critical Friends? Non Executives on Whitehall Departmental Boards

The Constitution Unit publishes today the first major study of non-executive board members in Whitehall (commonly known as non-executive directors, or NEDs). The report finds that non-executives are high calibre, committed people, whose expertise is greatly valued by the civil service. But NEDs find the role frustrating, and feel they could be much more effective if the system only allowed.

The leader of the study, Professor Robert Hazell, commented:

"Non-executives express least satisfaction with the central part of their role, as board members. Few Whitehall boards are said to be working well. Ministers fail to understand their purpose, dislike challenge, and find it hard to set clear priorities".

"The non-executives make their greatest contribution outside the board, coaching and mentoring, advising on major projects. Senior officials greatly value their advice and expertise, their willingness to take on additional tasks. They constitute a small group of high powered internal consultants".

But Professor Hazell added that non-executives need to be more willing to challenge:

"The role of NEDs is to challenge, and they are failing in that core task if they do not challenge the unreality of many departmental plans. The central concern in every department is overload, now reaching extreme proportions. With their advisory status, the only powers available to NEDs are those of persuasion, and publicity.  Non-executives do the civil service and themselves no favours if they remain silent about the immense challenges facing Whitehall, especially in connection with Brexit".

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