This week saw an extraordinary outburst from the most recently retired Head of the Civil Service, Lord Gus O’Donnell. He said, on the BBC, “”When governments go through difficult patches you are looking for who you can blame. The issue comes up of ‘well, let’s try and blame the Civil Service’. It does not usually work and I don’t think it will work this time either.”
Now I am not one of those who would blame the Government’s current ills on the Civil Service, or at any rate not entirely. Most of what has happened to them has been because of crass and rushed policy-making on the hoof, without proper thought and analysis. Certainly sometimes Civil Servants have failed to say “no, Minister” when they should have, but Ministers have only themselves to blame when things go wrong. Ministers who allow official or unofficial advisers to run amok, as in Defence or now DCMS, can hardly blame the Civil Service for not stopping them (even if the CS should have).
But that does not exonerate the Civil Service. I have been saying for years that our supposedly “Rolls Royce” Civil Service has deep flaws in its institutional make-up. Continue reading