Did your views of the civil service change during your time in office?
I am a former civil servant myself (a principal private secretary in Private Office), so I thought I knew what to expect. The changes since the late 1980s, however, were significant; much more intrusive judicial oversight, demand for instant press reactions, and a much greater dependence on process and stakeholder influences and input (for good or ill), yielding a more private space in which to develop policy over time.
'A touch of humanity that speaks volumes about civil service decency' - Caroline Spelman on her experience of Whitehall
The official view: Tim Loughton
The official view: Norman Baker
What challenges did you face in working with civil servants?
I came with seven years' direct knowledge of the policy area; few departmental officials had the same policy memory, so there were some issues with the conventional concept of all-knowing officials guiding the minister. Nor was I aware of how far some departments have been colonised by the sectors they sponsor; it is important for civil servants to be impartial, not only politically, but in relation to competing interests.
If you were Cabinet Office minister, how would you change the civil service?
I would make the Senior Civil Service subject to open competition, with selection panels drawn externally, including more private sector assessors and input. I would also look for core policy teams, responding to ministers, who would act as an internal challenge to those with line policy responsibilities.
Can you tell a story that reveals something about the civil service?
The look of surprise when I said I wanted to see one in fifty of replies to the public (the 'lucky dip'), but then the quality of the responses I saw. I know people often say they’re being fobbed off by government departments, but I could see how hard the department worked to get a good answer each time.