Civil Service Reform 23

This note summarises developments from around April 2021.

The Institute for Government published Finding the Right Skills for the Civil Service in April 2021.  It had lots of good analysis and good suggestions, of which perhaps my favourite was that managers needed to be more accountable for developing their teams.  (It was of course depressing that such a report needed to be written, as most if not all of the recommendations could have been made (and probably were made) at frequent intervals over previous decades. )

Greensill

A 'modern' approach to the recruitment of senior No.10 officials hit the headlines in and after April 2021.  The initial cause was the discovery that previous PM David Cameron had lobbied on behalf of Greensill Capital after leaving office.  Greensill Capital was subsequently declared insolvent threatening large numbers of jobs, including in Sanjeev Gupta's GFG Alliance/Liberty steel, whose own financial arrangements looked odd, to say the least.

It then transpired that:

Writing in The Times, former First Civil Service Commissioner David Normington commented that:

'This is about much more than obeying the strict letter of the rules. It is about the standards of behaviour required of anyone in public life. That means acting with the utmost integrity and, as the civil service code says, “putting the obligations of public service above your own personal interests.” Good behaviour cannot be legislated for. It needs leaders — the prime minister, parliament and senior civil servants — to set the example. I hope that our present leaders will now rise to that challenge.'

Writing in the FT, Robert Shrimsley commented as follows

The genesis of the current scandal lies in efforts started by Cameron and continued by Johnson to change the culture in Whitehall. The moves to bring in outsiders to shake up what was seen as an inefficient and obstructionist Whitehall were led by Francis Maude, a cabinet office minister under Cameron. The background was the era of austerity and the need to find substantial savings.  There is nothing to suggest any wrongdoing in this aim, but in the words of one senior civil servant from that period: “Those brought in to shake things up did not have the same values as long-term civil servants and the culture of contempt towards Whitehall generated within the civil service a defensive crouch and low self esteem which made them unwilling to challenge actions they felt were wrong.”

Martin Stanley

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