Tuesday, 15 January 2013

I never thought I'd agree with (Sir) Leigh Lewis

There have been a series of articles in The Times newspaper over the last couple of days having a go at the Civil Service and Civil Servants in particular.  Their editorial today concentrates on the senior civil servants and states:

When a Government is elected it takes office on a popular mandate. If ministers have a say in the appointment of senior civil servants, as Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister wants there is no reason to suggest that government would not function. It works well enough with a more political civil service in the United States and Australia, for example.

A popular mandate is very questionable at the moment with a Coalition Government that no one actually voted for and in any case the handover in the USA does lead to a certain amount of chaos. I do recall reading somewhere (probably in the same newspaper) that there were some who thought the British system was preferable.

The Times continues;

The vast majority of any bureaucracy is made up of people with no political allegiance. But it is wrong to think that independence at the top is the chief virtue in a Civil Service. More than neutrality a government needs competence, expertise in the detailed delivery of policy and a desire to implement change. There is no huge principle at stake in a reform that would marginally improve the way that government works.

Actually the principle of "checks and balances" in government is very much at risk if the Civil Service is politicised. To have both Ministers and senior Civil Servants to simply rubber stamp every proposal without any kind of thorough and objective review would potentially lead to ill thought implementation of policy. Ideology would be the guiding principle something alien to the unique British constitutional process.

This proposal comes at a time when the government, in particular its' junior partners the Liberal Democrats have been focusing on issues that no one really cares about. The "Alternative Vote" and  Lords Reform are two issues that come readily to mind. This suggested reform of the senior civil service is a more "Tory" distraction from the real issue of concern to most working people. The economic crisis.

Civil Servants are an easy target to bash, but as a trade unionist in the PCS I know that our members work hard on behalf of the taxpayer no matter what department they are in. This is a point picked up by the former head of my own Department, Sir Leigh Lewis (against whom I organised a strike back in the day over screens) so I find myself somewhat surprised to agree with his conclusions published in the letters column of The Times:

"I simply do not recognise the parody of the Civil Service you report. Nor I suspect will the thousands of serving civil servants who will read it but be unable to respond."


Howard Fuller, Branch Secretary PCS South West Thames.

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