Trickett: civil service reforms ‘ad hoc’, with ‘hectoring tone’
Government’s efforts to reform the civil service have been “characterised by a hectoring and haranguing tone,” and morale has hit “rock bottom”, Jon Trickett, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesperson has told CSW.
He also criticised the briefings against Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, which have been appearing in the national newspapers.
Speaking to CSW yesterday at Labour conference, Trickett said that the government’s programme of civil service reform “has been characterised by a hectoring and haranguing tone, which gives the impression of not valuing people who are public servants”.
The government “blames the civil service for errors which quite frequently were the fault of ill thought-through policy”, he said, citing the West Coast Mainline. “That’s very bad for morale, and we know that morale is at rock bottom.”
Trickett said that in implementing spending cuts, the government hasn’t “adopted a strategic approach to the whole issue of managing the civil service. They’ve done it in a piecemeal and random way. It’s the triumph of ad-hockery over proper management”.
It was “bizarre”, he said, that early redundancy programmes were open to all civil servants, “however much they were needed and however important their skills were – leaving major skills gaps”.
“It would have been far better to wait a few months, and work out what skills they wanted to retain” before launching redundancy programmes, he said, adding that the result has been an “explosion” in the number of temporary workers.
Trickett also criticised briefings against Sir Bob Kerslake. “I don’t think it helps anybody to brief against civil servants who are bound by the civil service code to remain silent,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate if that’s been done by senior ministers.”
“It’s completely wrong to blame a named individual for a lack of progress” in civil service reform, he added, arguing that in fact “it’s the government’s fault.” The decision to make Kerslake a part-time head of the civil service “was destined to cause problems,” he said. “If they’d only taken time and maybe had a debate about it, they’d have had a wiser decision.”
Trickett backed the government’s plan to introduce ‘extended ministerial offices’, with ministers given powers to appoint external advisers and civil servants to bigger private offices. “The public expects democratically-elected ministers to make decisions about how the government is run,” he said. “It is essential there’s primacy of the elected over the administrative core.”
However, he also warned that the government’s current reforms will concentrate too much power over perm sec appointments in the hands of the prime minister, saying there must be “counterbalancing movement to ensure that the legislature isn’t further diminished”. Trickett called for select committees to be given a say in the appointments process.
The Cabinet Office said that “ministers and permanent secretaries agreed” the reform plan – including the private office and appointments reforms – and added that the reforms are “driven by what individual civil servants have been asking for – a leaner, more efficient organisation which rewards high performers and values innovation and creativity.”