Tag Archives: civil service

It’s time we gave the Civil Service independent communication!!

When a Government has been suspected of putting short term politics ahead of proper governance, we’ve often made functions independent. Suspicions that irresponsible monetary policy was being used to provide a short term boost to the economy ahead of an election led to us campaigning for the Bank of England being made independent. George Osborne’s distrust of the Labour Government’s own economic forecasting led him to create the Office of Budgetary Responsibility, to provide economic forecasts that were guaranteed to be free from political interference.

Following Boris Johnson’s assault on our political norms and institutions, and the rest of the Conservative Party’s subsequent descent into post-truth conspiracism, I feel that the Lib Dems need to add a new bullet point to our programme of constitutional reform: Give the entire Civil Service independent communication!

“Why is this even important?”

Civil servants tend to deal with the technical side of Government; establishing what the facts are, what can be done, with what risks and what costs. Our MPs then deal with political side; making and/or evaluating decisions, based on the facts and options provided to them by the civil servants.

It’s a good system, as the two require completely different skillsets. However, it’s muddied by the fact that the public don’t hear the facts from the politically neutral civil service directly. Instead, it’s communicated by Government ministers, politicians, who will often garnish it with political spin. (and even when they don’t, the public find it difficult to trust them, especially if they’re from a different political party).

And this was before Boris Johnson strode onto the scene.

His complete disregard for the truth rode roughshod over a system seemingly designed under the assumption that someone elected Prime Minister simply wouldn’t do that. It showed once and for all that our current system just isn’t built to withstand heavily partisan politics.

“So how would independent communication help?”

Allowing the civil service to directly communicate facts to the public would not only ensure that the public get clear information free from party political spin, it would also make it easier for the public to trust the information being given to them. It’s difficult to trust facts when they’re being delivered by a partisan politician that we deeply distrust.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 21 Comments

The ethos of the service

My late father was at the opposite end of the Civil Service hierarchy to Sir Mark Sedwell. He never rose above the humble rank of Clerical Officer. However, one of his claims to fame was being (as a “Paper Keeper”) one of a small team of a dozen or so in 1940s Newcastle, who in the early stages of the implementation of the Beveridge Report started the Central Office of what became the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance – always known on Tyneside simply as “the Ministry”. This went through various mutations (DHSS, etc.).

A phrase which my father explained to me at a tender age was “the ethos of the service”. It affected the way he did his job in the office including, for example, how you dealt fairly with members of the public however difficult they might be, or how much effort was required to ensure that traveller family got their payments despite unpredictable movements. It also occasionally found its way home. If there were amendments to regulations that needed inserting (a laborious scissors and paste job), or if there was a fraud case (literally tied up with red tape!) that needed to be dealt with very urgently, he was liable to stuff the papers into his saddlebag before cycling home for tea. 

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 10 Comments

27-28 June 2020 – the weekend’s press releases

  • Govt must act now to reassure public they are managing Leicester outbreak
  • PM must ensure Civil Service is not hollowed out after Sedwill’s departure

Govt must act now to reassure public they are managing Leicester outbreak

Responding to news that the Home Secretary has confirmed the city of Leicester may face a localised lockdown following a rise in coronavirus cases, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Health, Wellbeing and Social Care Munira Wilson said:

The Government must act now to reassure people in the Leicester area that they are managing this serious outbreak.

Ministers must urgently examine the data and act immediately if necessary, hand in

Posted in News and Press releases | Also tagged , and | Leave a comment

19 June 2020 – today’s press releases

  • Cross-party group urge Govt to “right the wrong” done to Chagos Islanders and respect the ICJ
  • Debt response must be green recovery plan
  • Govt must do more to tackle disproportionate BAME Covid-19 deaths
  • Sir Simon McDonald’s premature departure raises serious questions
  • Challenge is for Govt, not teachers

Cross-party group urge Govt to “right the wrong” done to Chagos Islanders and respect the ICJ

The Liberal Democrats are leading cross-party calls for the Government to adhere to United Nations’ calls for the Chagos islands to be returned to Mauritian control and come good on the promise of a £40m package of support for the Chagossian community.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael, who has secured the support of 29 other MPs from across the political spectrum, criticised the Government’s “arrogant” rejection of the International Court of Justice’s ruling on Chagos and warned it is jeopardising the UK’s credibility on a world stage.

The intervention comes after the UK Government issued a response to the UN Secretary General’s report on implementing Resolution 73/295 – which advised it to end the unlawful occupation of the islands – earlier this week.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, the cross-party group quote the Prime Minister of Mauritius who highlighted the connections between the Chagossian struggle and the Black Lives Matter movement by warning “the occupation of the Chagos Archipelago inscribes itself in these historic wrongs.”

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said:

I’m saddened but not surprised at the Government’s decision to reject the International Court of Justice’s ruling on the illegal British occupation of the Chagos archipelago.

The ICJ has very clearly instructed the UK to return the island chain to Mauritian control. The Government’s refusal to do so is arrogant and jeopardises our credibility on a world stage.

The Government must abide by the ICJ’s ruling and ensure the £40m package of support promised to the Chagossian community is paid out in full.

Posted in News and Press releases | Also tagged , , , , , , , and | 1 Comment

Observations of an expat: Maybe Minister

Embed from Getty Images

The row between British Home Secretary Pritti Patel and her until recently Permanent  Under Secretary of State Sir Phillip Putnam is part of a disturbing trend which is undermining a 150-year-old tried, tested and globally-respected system.

Europe, America and most of the rest of the world endure political patronage in varying degrees. This was also the case in the UK before Gladstone took a leaf from the Chinese and Indian experience and introduced civil service exams in 1870. Patronage, corruption and political ties were swapped for a civil service based on merit. Bribery income was replaced with job security, above average salary, a gold-plated pension and the prospect of a lucrative private sector contract upon retirement.

In return the civil servants were expected to offer apolitical and impartial advice to their policy-making ministers. When the policy was decided, the civil servants implemented it.  Secretaries of state came and went. The civil servants stayed on to provide a historic knowledge, keep track of the buried bodies and point out the consequences and pitfalls of a minister’s preferred course of action.

The final ruling, however, rested with the minister. That is why when a mistake was made it was the politician who resigned.  The issue of resignations is one of the core causes for the unravelling of the relationship between civil servants and government. Ministers have, for the most part, stopped taking responsibility for their decisions. Politics has become a career choice. Elected officials have become increasingly focused on retaining their jobs, political infighting and climbing the greasy pole rather than public service.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 15 Comments

6 February 2019 – today’s press releases

  • Thousands dying waiting for social care as Govt ignores crisis
  • Lib Dems: 50 days until Brexit cliff-edge
  • Greg Clark’s warning exposes recklessness of Tory Govt
  • Lib Dems: Govt must investigate civil service support for Tory meetings
  • Lib Dems threaten veto to force Govt u-turn on knife crime

Thousands dying waiting for social care as Govt ignores crisis

Responding to the research by Age UK showing that more than 50,000 older people have now died waiting in vain for care during the 700 days since the Government first said it would publish a Social Care Green Paper, Former Liberal Democrat Health Minister Norman Lamb said:

These figures

Posted in News | Also tagged , , , , , , and | 3 Comments

Farron: Government making up Brexit strategy on the back of a fag packet

People who know about how the government and civil service operate have been expressing concern about the challenges Brexit poses for months.

Back in November, the Telegraph reported a leaked memo saying 30,000 extra civil servants would be needed to cope. The following week, the former head of the civil service Bob Kerslake had this to say:

It’s not possible to do that at a point when the civil service is at its lowest numbers since the second world war and continuing to fall.

“I think it is pretty essential for the government to pause, review, take stock of what it has in front of it and then revisit the question of capacity.

“And I don’t think it’s necessarily about lots of skills that the civil service doesn’t have – I think it has huge skills but there will be a real issue about numbers to deliver these very big demands.”

Back in August, former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell said that the Government needed to get its strategy in place before invoking Article 50 and there was no rush to do so:

“The key for government is to have a strategic plan to say: ‘What kind of UK do we want? What is our place in the world? What are we trying to achieve in these negotiations?’

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 48 Comments

The Lib Dem minister and the carefully annotated 500-page document that was shredded by mistake

It’s Friday, so it must be time to read Civil Service World, which sounds like one of those publications they feature at the end of “Have I got news for you?”. (Baroness) Lindsay Northover tells the magazine about her experiences of working with civil servants, while serving as a whip in the coalition government. Lindsay is very complimentary, in the main, about civil servants. She tells of one of the challenges of coalition government:

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 3 Comments

Opinion: if you pay peanuts, you risk bad governance

PeanutsIt is reported today that, in a further attempt to control spending, George Osborne is proposing further changes to public sector pay and conditions. Before he does though, perhaps he ought to make time for a little light reading…

Last week, the National Audit Office (NAO) published the extravagantly titled “Building capability in the Senior Civil Service to meet today’s challenges”, which sounds, on the face of it, to be a white knuckle, edge of your seat kind of read. And yet, if you’re keen to change the way that we are governed, …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 14 Comments

Opinion: time to march for the Civil Service

At the moment we are being outmanoeuvred by the Tories on the PR front, as the Osborne distortion of employee ownership illustrates, and we are not differentiating ourselves in an increasingly right wing government. We need to issue two challenges, right now, in addition to the clamour around the Employee Share Ownership issue – especially with the TUC demonstration looming on Saturday, which I shall be attending (hopefully I will see other yellow rosettes there).

They are related. The first is the austerity measures translated into

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 26 Comments

Opinion: Lib Dems should say “No, Minister” to Tory plans to politicise the Civil Service

An initiative by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, should be a cause of considerable alarm for Liberal Democrats. According to the Independent, Maude has proposed a massive expansion of politically-appointed civil servants. The details are rather sketchy. But it seems obvious that if Francis Maude gets his way it will hugely reduce the effectiveness of government.

There are countless problems with an apolitical Civil Service. It is traditionally seen as a bastion of Establishment moderation and elitism. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest this has more than a grain of truth. The success of Yes, Minister

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 13 Comments

Opinion: are we participants in ‘elective dictatorship’ ?

A formula. Politicians who are weak, plus ‘Sir Humphreys’ who are strong, equals elective dictatorship.

It was Tony Blair who introduced the idea to the British public of politicians who see themselves primarily as spokespeople for the decisions and interests of officials. With Blair and his New Labour concept, it became more obvious that there was a new class of ‘professional’ career politician – seeing their role primarily as spinning-for-the-state and controlling public opinion.

A little-noticed last phrase in a BBC news item last week may be another symptom of a weakening democratic system of elected politicians – those who used …

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged | 15 Comments

NEW POLL: Is it time to end ‘politically restricted’ jobs?

Blogging Labour MP Tom Harris has an interesting story today, revealing that Tina Stowell, the BBC’s head of corporate affairs “is not only a wannabe Tory candidate, but still has a live website proclaiming her love of all things Cameron.” But Tom doesn’t point this out in order to fulminate or demand her resignation:

And you know something? I don’t have a problem with this. I would much prefer to know the politics of someone I’m dealing with because at least you know where they’re coming from. She wants to become an MP? Good for her! I hope she

Posted in Voice polls | Also tagged , , and | 16 Comments

Lib Dems reveal civil servants paid £26m in bonuses

Lord (Matthew) Oakeshott, the Lib Dems’ treasury spoeksman in the House of Lords, has been busy in recent weeks – busy compiling figures from Parliamentary answers on the level of “non-consolidated performance pay” (bonuses to you and me) shared between 2,600 of the most senior officials working in Whitehall. And here’s what he’s found:

  • senior civil servants were awarded “bonuses” totalling £26 million last year;
  • £1.21 million was paid out to 141 senior officials in the Department for Business – three quarters of the total – an average of £8,582 each
  • officials at the Department of Health received a
  • Posted in News and Parliament | Also tagged | 2 Comments

    Lamb reveals 50 Health civil servants earn £100k+

    From today’s Telegraph:

    The number of staff earning three-figure salaries at the Department of Health has shot up from just eight in 1997 when Labour came to power. Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesman who obtained the figures in response to a written Parliamentary question, said: “For too long the Government’s priority has been increasing the amount of bureaucracy in the NHS.

    “The explosion in the number of managers, not just in the Department of Health but across the NHS in general, is crazy when front line services are under huge pressure. People will be shocked that so many civil

    Posted in News | Also tagged and | 9 Comments

    Recent Comments

    • Andy Chandler
      @Adam Ah, that's my bad on that. I misread it. Apologise about that. Part blame dyslexic tendencies (always came out as that despite three attempts to get it p...
    • David Symonds
      I find the adversarial politics in Britain to be highly depressing and corrosive. They are enforced and reinforced by the rotted First Past the Post voting syst...
    • Martin Gray
      @Alex Macfie..Whatever the reason, this individual felt the need to assassinate a democratically elected head of government. As Mary has pointed out - those t...
    • Adam
      @ Andy Not "invented" but "inverted"! https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/inverted_snobbery...
    • tom arms
      @ Ian Sanderson: Normally I would agree with your assessment, but in the case of Robert Fico, in the first elections after 1991 he was elected to parliament as ...