Civil servants might not be civil for long

by Greig Baker

In the most extraordinary fortnight for British politics, people should be forgiven if they missed an important – if fairly dry – announcement from the Cabinet Office this week. Despite being largely ignored, the announcement is a helpful reminder that Labour could still have supporters outside of Momentum, if only it got its act together.

On Tuesday, arguably the most powerful department in Whitehall announced the new Civil Service Workforce Plan to 2020. This sets out how the government wants to reform the way the Civil Service works – and so change the way that every single public service is delivered and determine the job prospects of the 440,000 people who work for the government.

The Plan includes some reforms that any shadow secretary of state who is even only half awake would presumably want to get their teeth into. For example, the number of secondments to and from the private sector, and especially large scale commercial suppliers, is likely to increase dramatically. Optimists argue this improves civil servants’ understanding of the world and allows them to bring in valuable lessons and expertise from business. Others may be concerned about the influence gained by private interests who lend their staff to policy makers.

Similarly, while many on the left might welcome the new drive to recruit civil servants based on their “potential, not polish” (i.e. hire more people from poor backgrounds and fewer from Oxbridge), the requirement of departments and their suppliers to create socio-economic profiles of their staff raises questions about privacy, data security and discrimination – whether positive or otherwise. And regardless of whether these reforms are good or bad, they certainly do concentrate even more power in the Cabinet Office, which will now have “a centre of expertise” to “centralise the senior recruitment function”. In other words, every single senior civil servant will now be hired by and answer directly to Sir Jeremy Heywood. How this centralisation discourages ‘group think’ and encourages devolution is yet to be seen.

But the real opportunity for Labour lies in much more raw politics. The new Workforce Plan says that senior civil servants are in line for big pay rises by November (through the introduction of “flexible rewards for scare skills” that will get around maximum pay limits previously in place). However, at the same time as senior mandarins’ mouths are being stuffed with gold, there will be significant job cuts for officials at lower levels (“in future the Civil Service will need to be smaller”). Given that about 400,000 of the 440,000 strong Civil Service are more likely to fall into the latter category than the former, the potential for unrest and resistance to implementing the changes is huge.

For good reason, centrist Labour types are in despair at the moment. The party is being held hostage by a couple of hundred thousand loons who have previously shunned it “because it is not left wing enough”. All the while, it is neglecting twice that number of people who are inherently inclined to vote Labour in seats outside areas where it already weighs its majorities – and who will also be asked to implement the very policies that are being ignored by an opposition too self-indulgent to scrutinise government.

Greig Baker is Chief Executive of The GUIDE Consultancy

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9 Responses to “Civil servants might not be civil for long”

  1. Ed myers says:

    The party is being held hostage by 172 loons whose cuckoo like occupation of the nest is about to end-irrevocably.

  2. Mark Livingston says:

    This is no time for any Brown/Blair nonsense. We need a proper Labour party which really represents the working people of this country. Promising to cut slightly less than the proper Tories, and to spread the cuts over a slightly longer timeline than the proper Tories, is only slightly appealing. So, let’s reclaim Labour!

  3. Forlornehope says:

    Here’s a story, true, only an anecdote but not unique. I was working with the armed forces on a major piece of engineering. The officer in charge was having a moan and I was a convenient person to moan to. His team was having the number of services people reduced and replaced by civil servants. Whenever there was a flap the “blue collars” stayed until the work got done but hell or high water the civil servants were off at five and as there were more and more of them the pressure on the troops got ever harder. I asked about our people, seconded to his team. “Your guys are great; they are every bit as committed as the military”. There you have it; it’s the money grubbing private sector parasites on the public purse who get stuck in and support the troops come what may while the “public service spirited” civil servants b*gg*r off home.

  4. madasafish says:

    “The party is being held hostage by a couple of hundred thousand loons who have previously shunned it “because it is not left wing enough”.”

    Sorry but calling people “loons” is both stupid, impolite and frankly demeaning.

    Stupid because not all can be loons. And calling them so is no way to change their minds.

    Impolite: suppose you called them “mongols”. There would be an outcry. Loons is a term of abuse.

    Demeaning: of the writer.

    Mr Baker is bringing his office and the organisation he represents into disrepute. He would last one day in a properly run organisation before being fired for gross misconduct- after a grovelling public apology.

  5. Tafia says:

    Forlornhope – Having spent 22 years in the Army, and worked with both private sector and public sector o joint projects I fullagree with you. The Civil servants wee idle arses, wouldnt work in the rain and cold and buggered off at 5. they also worked to rule over meals etc. The troops just cracked on (obviously) and the private sector did likewise.

  6. Landed Peasant says:

    Correction Ed Myers, 172 loons who could walk away from the party leaving all the debt, the Trots and Militant, sorry, Momentum, but taking with them Millions in short money, all current and former corporate donors and the right to form Her Majesty’s opposition.

  7. Tafia says:

    Landed Peasant. Before you can be HM Opposition, you have to be a political party and recognised by the Electoral Commission.

    If the Labour rebels jump ship en masse, until such time as they are a formed and recognised party, then if rump Labour is less than the SNP, the SNP become HM Opposition.

    And we’ve been down this route before with Labour breaking away – the SDP in the 1980s. And what happened? Not that much of the vote went with them and what did quickly evaporated.

  8. Doug says:

    I hope all Labour Party right wingers are as clueless about what’s happening as Landed Peasant. If you think the vast majority of Corbyn supporters are Trots and Miltant then you are thankfully utterly deluded.

  9. Landed Peasant says:

    What gives you the idea that I am a Labour anything? I am a well informed floating voter, you know, the kind of person Labour has to win over to return to power.

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