Looking Across: Bharti Patel, ECPAT UK CEO

Perspectives from outside the civil service

Keyboard emaiils Photo PA

By Colin Marrs

12 Sep 2014

What are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of the civil service?
I’m impressed by civil servants’ ability to manage such a huge range of issues. They exhibit great resilience and flexibility, often rising to the challenges resulting from change in political leadership every four to five years, combined with regular turnover of ministers.
On the weaknesses, many individual civil servants will believe they know a better way of doing things in government, but their position often prevents them from challenging ministers on their policy ideas. There also appears to be a silo mentality, with a clear lack of joined-up thinking and working.

What is the biggest misconception about the civil service among charity workers?
There is a need to break through the often deep-rooted mutual mistrust. Charities should try to understand the real motivations behind government actions, and governments should not fear erosion of their political power when charities are critical of their work.

In your opinion, how could partnership working between government and charities be improved?
A healthy collaborative relationship is only conceivable when both parties share common objectives, based on mutual respect, and an acceptance of charities’ independence and the pluralism of their opinions and positions.

What is the most inspiring government project that you have been involved in, and why?
Recently, we have seen the government reaching out to charities in the anti-human trafficking sector, demonstrating a willingness to engage in open and frank discussions between parliamentarians, civil servants and NGOs. The most inspirational part of this process has been their support for the need to listen to victims of trafficking. The next challenge is how to translate this learning – this exposure to the reality of systemic failures in protecting vulnerable people – into action.

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