UK public trust civil servants more than ministers, survey finds

Public significantly more likely to say civil servants are more trustworthy, hardworking, competent and have the public’s interests at heart, according to the survey

The British public are more likely to put their trust in civil servants than in ministers, research has found – despite recent suggestions that “the blob” is harming the country by undermining ministers’ objectives.

Two in five people polled by the think tank More in Common said civil servants are more trustworthy than ministers – while just one in 10 said the opposite.

In a poll of 2,018 people, 42% said civil servants are the more hard working group, while 12% said the same of ministers. The remainder were unsure.

And 36% of the survey respondents said civil servants are more likely to have the public’s interests at heart, compared with 15% who said ministers. The split was the same when people were asked to say which is the more competent group.

More in Common’s UK director ​Luke Tryl said the results – first reported by HuffPost UK – showed that “far from believing in the notion of an intransigent civil service blob blocking progress, the public are significantly more likely to say civil servants are more trustworthy, hardworking, competent and have the public’s interests at heart – and that’s something that even those who voted Conservative at the last election agree with”.

The survey respondents were weighted according to age, gender, region, education, ethnicity and how they voted in the 2019 general election.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, said the polling "reinforces what we already knew".

"Trust in civil servants has been rising for decades," he said. "The public can see through the scapegoat tactics from here-today, gone-tomorrow politicians. It’s counterproductive and unpopular. Will they learn?"

Last week, Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin was challenged to acknowledge the “disastrous impact on morale” caused by "continuous briefing against our civil servants by ministers and Conservative MPs”.

Recent criticism includes Tory Party chair Jake Berry’s accusation, shortly after Boris Johnson’s resignation as an MP, that “the blob” had forced him out, and “blocked” Brexit. 

Quin said he "totally refute[d]" the contention made by Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi that ministers were briefing against civil servants.

"That is not the experience of this ministerial team. That is not what we do," he said.

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