Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Taking on Whitehall

There have been a number of posts and articles of late claiming that Cameron was wrong to identify the Civil Service as an enemy of Enterprise in his speech to Spring Forum in Cardiff. It seems that no less that the head honcho of the Civil Service, Sir Gus O’Donnell has been tasked with telling No. 10 to “Cool-it”, in their anti civil service rhetoric.

The argument from pretty much every journalist doesn’t seem to have been that the Civil Service isn’t an Enemy of Enterprise but that it’s wrong to pull them up on it. You see you need the Civil Service to support you in putting through your reforms, so you shouldn’t upset them by telling them they’re not doing a good enough job.

Rubbish, this kind of thinking is exactly why they are the enemies of enterprise. No government has ever had the guts to take them on for fear of them holding up everything else, but if we are to fundamentally reform our public services and rebalance our economy then we have to. The media should be cheering the Prime Minister for having the strength to take on a powerful lobby and set of vested interests, or are they too worried about losing the Civil Service’s support and access, to tackle them too.

Update: As I wrote this James Forsyth at the Spectator posted a piece on Coffee House pointing out that even former Labour government insiders and minister agree that the Civil Service get in the way and have power without accountability, mainly because they can’t be sacked. In opposition I believe that Francis Maude had plans to put permanent secretaries on short term contracts to resolve this, but I understand this has met Civil Service resistance (anyone really surprised by that) and been quietly dropped, along with other proposed Civil Service reforms.

Bootnote: I think we can guess that the leaked budget that Balls held up in the Commons yesterday was from a disgruntled Civil Servant who didn't like the idea of being pulled up on his performance by the government.

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