Lord Patten launches extraordinary attack on spads, claiming they ‘harm civil service recruitment’
Conservative peer and former education secretary launches House of Lords tirade against “megaspads” and calls for substantial headcount reduction
Recently departed - Theresa May's former joint chiefs of staff Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill Credit: PA
The rising influence of special advisers in Whitehall is deterring a generation of talented young people from careers in the civil service, a former Conservative secretary of state has warned.
Speaking in a House of Lords debate, Tory peer John Patten said the role of “spad” had evolved from provider of necessary support to a secretary of state into a “counterproductive” class of official “who see it as their job to promote internecine warfare between departments on too many occasions”.
Patten said it was hardly surprising the civil service felt “undervalued with the emergence of huge numbers of megaspads” and called for a reduction in numbers on the principle of “one in, two out”.
- Theresa May's Downing Street chiefs Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill resign
- Civil service unions blast "hypocrite" David Cameron as he boosts Spads' exit pay – and over-rules John Manzoni
- Top civil servants Robert Devereux & Chris Wormald stick up for spads
“No wonder too many talented young men and women are thinking twice about going into the civil service,” he said.
“‘Don’t put your son or daughter in the civil service, Mr or Mrs Whoever’, is pretty wise advice at the moment. So let a cull begin.”
Patten served in a number of ministerial roles during the 80s and 90s, including as education secretary from 1992-1994.
He said there was a “constitutional affront” in the extent to which some spads bossed around ministers and took on powers themselves.
“They disturb the balance between civil servants and ministers, whose constitutional roles are very well known and understood under our unwritten constitution, by interdigitating themselves in a way that is completely uncontrolled,” he said.
“The civil service pretends to regulate them but it does not, and I think that we are rapidly coming to the point when we need to have a new organisation called Ofspad to regulate these creatures in the undergrowth.”
Patten said he completely accepted there was a need for “proper grown-up spads” among secretaries of state.
“Several decades ago, there were just a few of them,” he said. “They were demure, attentive and diplomatic, doing a helpful job in advice, speech-writing and sometimes murmuring in the margins interpretations of what the secretary of state really meant during some civil service meeting.
“I know that one or two of my friends in the chamber, both civil servants and politicians, have seen all this in action: ‘No, no, the secretary of state was just exaggerating’, et cetera.”
However, the peer said he believed spads had become a “growing and unregulated industry” who put themselves above civil servants and wasted public money.
Report suggests UK’s top negotiator is increasingly frustrated at being sidelined in Brexit...
The centenary of women’s suffrage is a good opportunity to start making sure government is held...
Departmental perm sec reveals Brexit funding for 2018-19 has not yet been agreed with the...
Government insists agreed transition will have an end date, ahead of a Brexit war Cabinet...
BT takes a look at the shifting nature of cyber threats, and how organisations can detect and...
Microsoft shows a few of the ways that governments can turn data into insight
With the ‘low-hanging fruit’ exhausted, the public sector must approach new government saving...
TCS is keen to contribute to the topic of successful partnerships between the public and private...