Monday, March 01, 2021

Conservatives lack an understanding of the Civil Service - which is why they're fated to make the same mistakes over and over again

I have to admit that "Centre Write", the inhouse magazine of "Bright Blue", which describes itself as;

 the independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism

is not my everyday read. Indeed, I probably wouldn't have gone out of my way to read it if I hadn't been referred to it by an article in that pageturner "Civil Service World". It just goes to show how the internet works really, luring you down a darker and darker path until, lurking in the forest, you encounter a Conservative.

I jest... a bit.

What drew my gaze was an article by Simone Finn, or Baroness Finn as I should correctly refer to her, who is Boris Johnson's Deputy Chief of Staff and, somewhat curiously, a Non-Executive Board Member at the Cabinet Office (that does feel like a conflict of interest, but...), in which she argues that reforming the civil service is vital for spreading opportunity.

In particular, my attention was drawn to this;

This means breaking up the current career ladder, welcoming people into the service not just for secondments but for periods of two years or more, so that the civil service can gain from people whose expertise is in, for example, renewable energy.

That rather makes me want to shout, "Miss, miss, I know the answer. You mean "Interchange"!". Because yes, we tried that more than twenty years ago - I remember it well.

I had just joined my Regional Personnel Team as the new Internal Recruitment Co-ordinator and there was talk of a new scheme to inject fresh blood in to the Civil Service, new ideas, radical new ways of doing things. And it was meant to be a two-way street, with civil servants being sent off to learn cutting edge stuff from the private sector. Indeed, it was said that taking part in the Interchange programme was going to be something that was expected of you if you were to become a mandarin. And, as somebody was needed to go to a seminar in Grantham (yes, it's all glamour), it was decided that the rookie Executive Officer could take on responsibility for it.

There were some problems. Persuading private sector experts to join the Civil Service for a period was made difficult by the drop in salary implied unless their employer was willing to fund the difference, and there was some suspicion that some of these experts were focused on trying to work out how our systems worked so as to advantage their employers. And, because politicians and the media had done a pretty effective job in denouncing civil servants for being dull-witted and wedded to vast tiers of bureaucracy, it was hard to persuade the private sector that providing opportunities to such apparently useless people was a good idea.

Interchange, not surprisingly perhaps, suffered a slow, lingering death.

And, to be honest, not that much has changed. The civil service has come under more attack from politicians and the media, not less, the pay gap has not so much grown as yawned, and it takes more than two years to embed meaningful change. Besides, if a civil servant is that good, they're more likely to be poached than trained.

1 comment:

Frank Little said...

> Persuading private sector experts to join the Civil Service
>for a period was made difficult by the drop in salary implied
I remember the start of this from almost sixty years ago when another outcome was that companies would take the opportunity to offload their duff or awkward executives on the Service.

It is a tragedy that the Fulton Report was not properly followed up.