17 April 2012
The British civil service for generations has been seen as the epitome of bureaucratic effectiveness. Potential leaders, selected for academic excellence benefit from accelerated careers where their abilities have matched their intellect. If the Independent is correct the shine has gone from those careers. The likes of Sir Humphrey are abandoning ship. Many are resigning.
The Opposition claims that this reflects low morale and an ideologically discomfort with working for a Conservative government after many years working to Labour Ministers.
The shadow Cabinet Office Minister commented that “the exodus of highly experienced senior government staff may explain in part why we’ve seen David Cameron’s government’s reputation for competence plummet to such depths recently with more and more examples of mistakes, incompetence and poor policy-making.”
The churn has occurred in most Departments. Some like the Serious Fraud Office may have lost as many as 50% of senior managers. Treasury is reported to have lost more than 30%.
The senior branch makes up about 1% of the civil service. It comprises the top four grades. These are the ranks of deputy director, director, director general and permanent secretary. There are currently about 3700 officers. This is about 650 fewer than two years ago. However in June 2011 when the Guardian published a list of all civil service numbers, the senior civil service was listed as comprising 3877 officers. This means the reduction of 177 over the last 10 months would appear to be nearer to 4%.
A more cynical assessment could be that the senior civil servants have seen advantage in giving effect to government policy. That policy is to reduce public sector numbers by 700,000. The Government proposed in the 2009 White Paper ‘Putting the Frontline First: Smarter Government’ that the senior service would be cut by about 20% .
Voluntary redundancy is incentivised by payments, generous by New Zealand standards, of 1 month salary (up to a maximum salary of £149,820) for each year of service to a maximum of 21 months. As actual salaries range from £74,999 to £229,000 with most being less than £100,000, there may be little advantage in remaining in post for anyone nearing retirement.
The Department for Communities and Local Government has lost 43% of its senior civil service. One of them has been appointed as the new Head of the Civil Service. In what is a marked departure from the traditionally low profile maintained by senior civil servants, Sir Bob Kerslake took up social networking contemporaneously with his new job. His intent is to “do anything to kill off the stereotype of the Whitehall mandarin…”
He hasn’t yet tweeted about redundancies in the senior civil service to the 1579 people reported by the Independent to his following.