The role of Permanent Secretaries

The Permanent Secretary  in a department is the most senior civil servant. He or she is responsible for supervising, promoting and disciplining the civil servants and for ensuring  timely advice to the Secretary of State. He or she  is the Accounting Officer responsible for controlling agreed  budgets, for spending regularity, legal conformity  and financial reporting of the department’s affairs.

The Secretary of State is the Head of the Department as policy maker, chief spokesman,  and decision taker. Ideally the Secretary of State after discussion with officials sets out the policy, agrees a budget with Cabinet and Treasury and expects the civil servants in his or her department to get on with implementing any changes and administering the wider corpus of departmental actions and policies.

The Permanent Secretary has no independent voice other than when reporting to the Public Accounts Committee as Accounting Officer or to a Select Committee when it is making an Enquiry into matters of implementation rather than government policy. In return for having no direct voice the Permanent Secretary  expects the Secretary of State to defend the department and the actions of officials when reporting to Parliament or appearing on the media.

There are occasions when relations are strained because officials have made substantial mistakes which the Secretary of State warned them against or knew nothing about. It is  best in such a situation for the politician and the senior officials to agree the  way for the matter to be reported to Parliament. The Minister has to take the main hit, but it may also be agreed that there needs to be  disciplinary action with an honest account made of where the mistakes or wrongdoing occurred and by whom.

It is much more difficult if relations are strained because senior officials do not like the policy being followed. This should not in theory happen. Assuming the policy decided by the Minister is not illegal or dangerous officials should accept and implement with good grace, especially if it was part of the governing party’s Manifesto or it was the result of a referendum. The price of anonymity and protection from too much public scrutiny is to accept properly made Ministerial decisions and implement them in the best way even if you have reservations about them.

If a Minister disagrees strongly with an important government policy they usually have to resign. It is difficult to see why it should be different for a senior civil servant who feels so strongly that a government policy is wrong yet he or she is called upon to implement it. When I was the Prime Minister’s chief Policy Adviser I had to judge on the few big issues where she and I disagreed when she had finally decided and was not going to change, and end my attempts to change her mind. Once she was committed in public to a course of action I would never do or say anything negative about the policy I was worried about. I disagreed with the Community Charge or Poll Tax and with the decision to sacrifice the veto in various single market areas.

I will be looking at issues around the performance of Permanent Secretaries in crucial departments  in  future posts.

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103 Comments

  1. Stred
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 6:09 am | Permalink

    Civil servants who have joined the Common Purpose and been trained that their leadership qualities are superior, as encouraged to do by Eural Cameron, do not take orders from populist upstarts easily. Ministers who are not groomed to the UN agendas should learn to accept the leadership beyond democratic authority. As Lord Mandison said “We will be living in the post democratic age”.

    • Everhopeful
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      Oh yes! Brilliant point “ Leading beyond authority” = all the disasters we see now.

    • agricola
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:10 am | Permalink

      Yes Minister!!! One sugar please.

    • Hope
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      We read over the weekend Sedwell forgot to advise Johnson that his space plans were not viable and the civil service were implementing an alternative! We also read Skidmore and Leadsome gave the European Space Agency £1.8 billion last year knowing the UK was leaving the EU and was forbidden by the EU to participate in Gallileo and the UK going is own way. Is this correct JR? Also how many other EU funds is the UK going to ocnitue to contribute towards? Forexample, £15.1 billon each year in overseas aide as ell as £.7 billion to the EU overseas aide! IS this correct and how can it be justified to waste £19 billion in overseas aide?

      Of course we have the civl service caught on tape claiming it had a Kitkat policy to hide costs and ties to EU, when will this be investigated?

      Villers instigated an investigation into her top civil servants for deliberately failing to prepare for Brexit (whistle blower came forward about the computer system) and was openly making disparaging remarks about Johnson- she has assurance from Eustice the investigation will continue.

      Then we have the leaks from the Home Office to the Times, again. The Home Office was declared unfit for purpose by John Reid in 2008. It continues to fail the country over immigration, illegal immigration, terrorism, criminal justice and policing. Under May the HO admitted to the select committee to losing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to its system, under Rudd it admitted to the select committee it lost 56,000 to its system. Why were there not sackings? These lost immigrants will cause crime, need health care etc. The Home Office has resoundingly failed in keeping UK citizens safe. Why has the permanent secretary(ies) been sacked?

    • Tony Sharp
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Spot on!

    • Rodney Atkinson
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      Yes the tendency for civil servants to “act beyond authority” is a Common Purpose philosophy. Everyone knows about CP except MPs and Ministers it seems.

      John was perceptive enough to warn against the Poll Tax. I also warned the relevant Minister at the time (and personal friend) Michael Portillo, explaining eXACTLY why it would be a disaster.

  2. DOMINIC
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    I doubt John McDonnell would be so diplomatic if he was for example the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Many senior civil servants would now stacking shelves at Aldi

    It’s very simple. Europhile CS are acting politically in opposing specific Tory ministers. Their attempts to frustrate and slander specific Ministers is appalling. Accusations of bullying is nothing but a grubby smear tactic. It is the new method of playing the victim card and demonising the enemy

    Johnson has a majority given to him by the voter. No explanation should be given. Sack them and replace them. No apologies. Oh, and announce their sacking at the front of 10 Downing Street and do it with a smile on your face

    CS acting as a political activists is beyond the pale. We’ve seen this before crap before. And I bet these CS are working with external enemies and internal enemies to undermine and damage

    Pass new legislation if need be to bring to heel these taxpayer funded State employees

    They are unelected. Impose silence upon them.

    • Mark B
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:17 am | Permalink

      Whilst he was an appalling creature, Stalin did have a few qualities that set him aside, but not above the rest. One of those was his ability to get the best out of people because, as they all knew, failure was not an option. 😉

    • Cecila K
      Posted March 1, 2020 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Dominic is spot on when he says, “CS are working with external enemies and internal enemies to undermine and damage” the reputation of an enthusiastic Secretary of State like Priti Patel who is determined to deliver for the Country.

      Top Civil Servants (CS) are “Bureaucrats and Technocrats” rolled into one. They are powerful and want their subordinates to always obey and implement instructions right or wrong while they would not dream of obeying their Political Master’s instructions especially if it is a policy or implementation they object to. They would deliberately mislead and even hide the truths, as long as it won’t be them answerable to the electorate. Majority of Permanent Secretaries are Male who hides their dislike of a Female Boss.

      Having unanimously agree that “the Home Office is not fit for purpose”, why is it so difficult for the Civil Service to accept reorganisation of a poor performing department? Priti Patel wants to sort out the Home Office if given the chance rather than run away from it.

      This Conservative Government of Boris Johnson was elected to deliver people’s wish, which is what the current Secretary of State wants to deliver and she will deliver whether the Elite like it or not.

      We have witnessed the downfall of Secretaries of State at the Home Office because their respective Permanent Secretaries misled them. We should have a law that where a service failure result to sacking or resignation of a Secretary of State, top Civil Servant – Permanent Secretary should follow.

  3. Work is 4 letters
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    Very nice.
    The rest of us do as we are told by the boss or get sacked.
    It is the way work works. You sign the contract, do the work, you get paid.
    Did I like or agree with my bosses? Always. They paid me
    So given it is such an important position, one cannot have someone just wandering off without returning all salary paid and compensation to the tax payer for not doing their duty.
    Very nice for a Civil Servant. Heaven!Is that what is meant by communism?A workers paradise? So, communism does work after all.
    Oh, we do vote for the Minister, so it’s not communism, just a a huge gravy boat with crackling for the Civil Servant. Of course I know one would have to know someone to get a job like that.God?

  4. Shirley
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    In private businesses, they would not be sacked for questioning policy, but they would certainly be sacked for actively working against policy and direct orders or not doing their job well. Why are Civil Servants any different?

    • NickC
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      Shirley, Spot on. Two ears, one mouth. Any sensible boss should be willing to listen to his subordinates, but also tell them about external factors they may not have appreciated. But once decided, a sincere effort must be made to implement it by his subordinates. Not like Sir Mark Sedwill’s obstruction of the UK’s own global positioning programme.

  5. SM
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    Thank you for addressing this issue, John.

    It would be foolish to expect a Utopian world in which former politicians and retired senior Civil Service personnel do not use their knowledge and contacts to accept lucrative positions after their retirement.

    However, despite being a cynic, I was nevertheless somewhat shocked to see that former Civil Servants from the Cameron era were now ‘advisers’ to or employees of Huawei, with all the implications that carries.

    It’s perhaps worth remembering that much of the content of ‘Yes Minister’ which still rings so true today was inspired by Richard Crossman’s Diaries of a Cabinet Minister…..

  6. Ian Wragg
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    It appears that most of them work for Brussels and are in shock having been exposed. The whole lot need clearing out.

    • Mark B
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      The EU was created by, and for, Civil Serpents to do exactly what we have been witnessing – Subjugate democracy and give power to unelected and an unaccountable few.

  7. dixie
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Quite timely.

    The practice of “least surprise” is well known and expected in all relationships. For a civil servant to deliberately avoid it demonstrates ignorance or a willingness to deliberately undermine the minister, or prime minister and they can never be trusted again.

    Either way the remedy is clear – they should be sacked.

    Boris needs to take a serpent heads and strike some fear into the bureaucrats.

  8. Lifelogic
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    You say:- “I disagreed with the Community Charge or Poll Tax and with the decision to sacrifice the veto in various single market areas.” Indeed a great shame she did not take your wise advice.

    There is generally a large difference between the interests of civil servants (and indeed the legal profession and judges) and those of the public. The public need far less government, far lower simpler taxes, a bonfire of red tape, clear simple laws, fewer court levels cheaper energy and some real democratic controls. The civil servants and legal professions in general want the complete opposite and think they know best. Evermore EU and climate alarmism helps hugely with their agenda.

    The BBC programme inside No 11 interviewed 5 Cabinet secretaries. They were almost identikit in their wrong headed (BBC type of) rather misguided views. Invariably little or no understanding of science or business and very little pro growth vision. These people are in the business of delaying or preventing change, over regulating and growing the size of their departments and offices. This by employing more and more people just like themselves. Climate alarmism and the anti-democratic EU were wonderful ruses in their objectives.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

      If civil servants are more powerful than elected politicians (as I suspect they largely are) then how we we claim to live in a democracy. This even after we have fully left the EU. On vote every five years for MPs who rarely do what they promise anyway. Then are not even powerful enough to do it (against opposition from the civil service and judges) even if they try to.

      Conservatives politicians always promise lower taxes, less red tape and better public services. Ever since John Major they have delivered the exact opposite we now have the highest taxes for 40+ years and dire, declining public services too. The over paid and pensions state sector are largely out of control. Run for the benefit of the workers rather than the voters. Rather like the dire NHS in fact.

  9. agricola
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Ministers are judged publicly on outcomes of policy, they stand or fall on such. Ultimately Governments stand or fall on such. Civil servants are implementers of government policy. They should be free to say privately to their minister whatever they wish on the difficulties , practicalities and consequenses of policy, but in the end they carry out policy decisions or in extremis they resign. I imagine that major policy decisions are taken in Cabinet and are not at the whim of ministers alone.

    We sre moving from a time of implementing policy designed by the EU to one designed by Cabinet. I imagine that senior civil servants had a closer relationship with their equivalents in the EU than they did with nominal ministers in the UK. This situation is changing rapidly and all involved need to accept this. If they cannot then resignation and finding alternative employment is the only course.

    I suspect that the total failure of the Home Office on none EU immigration was a result of the department having greater loyalty to EU thinking than that of the UK Government or electorate. Times have changed, civil servants have a new boss, they either accept this or depart. I will be reading your thoughts on the subject with interest.

    • agricola
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      Disagree with it and say so if you don’t like it. It isn’t as if the diary is oversubscribed at present.

    • Mark B
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:35 am | Permalink

      I imagine that senior civil servants had a closer relationship with their equivalents in the EU than they did with nominal ministers in the UK.

      Nail, head, hit ! 🙂

      In some cases our (sic) CS even Gold Plated some EU legislation.

  10. RAF
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    All powerful anonymous bureaucrats concocting policy for powerless politicians to rubber stamp and turn into law. What a novel idea, where did that evolve?

    • Mark B
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:36 am | Permalink

      Shortly after WW1. Jean Monet and Arthur Salter – Two Civil Servants ! Quelle surprise 😉

  11. Andy
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Senior civil servants have also been through many years of training and have significant experience of managing large, complex organisations. For that it what government is – large and complex.

    There is a reason why you don’t pick Derek from the cheese counter to be the next Chief Exec of Tesco. But if he works hard, manages a department for a few years, then a store, a region – and moves into head office – there is no reason why Derek can’t rise to the top in the end.

    Politics is different. People are put in as ministers who, frankly, have no place in government. They have no relevant skills, no background in overseeing large organisations and if they won’t listen to the experts whose job it is to help them then there is frankly little hope,

    You do not have to agree with someone to know if they are a good minister. I disagree with Mr Gove on just about everything. But there is zero doubt that he is a highly competent government minister. William Hague was an exceptionally accomplished minister. I have never knowingly agreed with him. Ken Clarke, Alan Johnson, Mo Mowlam, Vince Cable Did they get every decision right? No. But they were great Secretaries of State from a range of parties.

    Which brings us to Priti Patel. I disagree with everything she stands for. But unlike Michael Gove she has thus far shown no competence for government. I don’t know if she is a bully
    – but I do know that she should have never been brought back after her tenure at DFID ended in disgrace. I suspect she is incompetent which is why we get all the headlines. But I understand it is easier for Brexiteers to blame everyone else rather than one of your own. (Chris Grayling was one of yours too – yes, really).

    At some stage you will run out of things to blame for your failed Brexit. But I guess the civil service, BBC and judges are just the latest targets of the cultists whose project is disintegrating before their eyes.

    • Bill W
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Why do you say ‘failed Brexit’ when you must know that the real Brexit has not yet happened? You have condemned it out of hand and without the help of even your crystal ball !
      Things are rapidly changing and no one, not even you, can predict, with any accuracy, how the future will unfold.
      Perhaps a little more faith in our Nation and a lot less support for the (obviously) decaying EU would soon alter your outlook.
      Of course there is the other option of baling out of the UK in favour of living in the doomed EU !

  12. Mark B
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Good morning.

    Ministers are there to implement government policy and oversee good governance. Not to take the hit from poorly run departments and rogue Civil Serpents.

    The EU as allowed the Civil Service great power without any real accountability or responsibility. They have, on occasion, even gold plated EU legislation and made things even harder. Now is the time to reign them back in, cut their numbers and limit their ability to create and alter law. We also need to begin the process of decentralisation, handing more powers to Local Authorities with the caveat that referendums on budgets are held. The government already took a step in this direction when it decided to use this as a means to force them to keep below 2% increases.

  13. DOMINIC
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    I don’t see what the problem is? Sack them, replace them and then cancel their pensions. Convention is seen as limiting the actions of a democratically elected politician acting in their official capacity as Minister of the Crown.

    Of course these reprobates don’t mind ripping up conventions when Mandarins and senior CS collude with foreign powers and against the democratic voice of the people.

    Mandarins are acting unlawfully and they need putting in their place, silencing and treated like the underlings they are

    Wielding their powers as un-elected outriders must be crushed

    • NickC
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      Dominic, A little harsh at first sight, but on reflection I believe you are entirely correct that the subversion by mandarins is too extensive and blatant – it has to be crushed.

  14. zorro
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Indeed…. Unfortunately some buy into the ‘Leading Beyond Authority’ principle beloved of a certain organisation which has fruitful pickings amongst the higher reaches of the Civil Service. However, it is important to be balanced when considering this as a Minister needs to be a good leader and inspire his/her department. Sometimes a Minister may come across as bullying to mask their own issues or lack of confidence. Ministers must also be careful to properly listen to legal advice and challenge or be ‘lawfully audacious’ when necessary. Sometimes policies cannot be implemented in a legal context and a change of law is required. This must be signalled quickly and addressed by a confident government keen to enact its own policy agenda.

    Zorro

    • a-tracy
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      Perhaps any new Minister, who has not previously worked in a Manager of staff role needs a SPAD with specialist HR skills to act as a personal assistant.

  15. Martin in Cardiff
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Owing to FPTP, this Government was put in place by just fourteen million votes, about twenty percent, one-in-five of the population.

    Its members clearly want it to be an absolute dictatorship during its office.

    They can hardly claim any kind of mandate at all for many of their policies however.

    • Edward2
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Quite ridiculous statistical wriggling Martin.
      We have some simple rules for voting.
      You have to be 18 years old or above.
      And you have to be a UK citizen.
      The Conservatives gained a huge majority of constituency MPs and therefore form a government.
      I expect you didn’t mention this when Blair and Brown ruled for three terms.
      Labour are unelectable and you may as well get used to it for the next 10 years at least.

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        More people voted against this government than voted for it.

        We also have some simple laws – such as all are equal before them, whether they did not or could not vote.

        Most civilised countries have moved to more representative systems.

        You’re in a grossly over-represented minority. The country is waking up to that. Get used to it.

        • NickC
          Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

          Martin, More people voted for Leave or were happy to accept Leave, than voted Remain. Yet you’ve spent the last two years at least, trying to crush patriots like us. You’re in a grossly over-represented minority. The country is waking up to that. Get used to it.

        • Matt
          Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

          Better make the most of it, more like.

        • Bob
          Posted February 24, 2020 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

          “More people voted against this government than voted for it.”

          They were not voting against this govt, they were voting for free high speed broadband.

        • Edward2
          Posted February 25, 2020 at 12:17 am | Permalink

          The same thing applies in nearly every election if you add up the votes of every other party.

          If you dont vote then that is your own stupid fault.

          Was I “in a grossly over represented minority” when Blair and Briwn ruled the country for three terms?

          You are just a sore loser.
          First the referendum, now the election.

          I am very much getting used to it thanks.
          It is you that is still in denial on both results.

      • a-tracy
        Posted February 25, 2020 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        Edward to vote in a UK Election you have to:

        * be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen
        * be resident at an address in the UK (or a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years)

    • SM
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      If Labour were a decent Party that was worthy of respect it would provide the kind of worthy opposition that all democratic governments are in need of.

      FPTP is the least worst of voting systems.

      • Peter Parsons
        Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        FPTP is the worst of voting systems.

        FIFY

        • Edward2
          Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:29 am | Permalink

          It took 76 days after the last Republic of Ireland election to cobble together a sort of Government and now it is weeks after the recent election they still cannot manage to work out who is charge.
          What a mess.
          All caused by the mess of their PR system.

          • Peter Parsons
            Posted February 25, 2020 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

            It’s called real democracy. The people have spoken and, unlike in the UK, have been listened to.

            Just remember who it was that implemented the Irish electoral system, and why. (And that the attempts to move to less representative systems have failed.)

          • Edward2
            Posted February 25, 2020 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

            The people want a government.
            Now they wait while the elite decide what policies they fancy and who will be their leader.

        • a-tracy
          Posted February 25, 2020 at 9:06 am | Permalink

          How have you fixed it Peter?
          I believe fptp gives us some protections from protest parties like the Brexit Party and keeps our Country more stable.

          Perhaps though we could try your method and elect just 400 members of the Lords, other Lords not required to work and vote in the House of Lords could keep their title, but Voting Lords would go in a list chosen by the Head of their grouping.

          • Peter Parsons
            Posted February 25, 2020 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

            FPTP disenfranchises millions by rendering their votes irrelevant. If you want a modern democracy, you need to give everyone an equal stake in it and that includes a vote of equal value. Only PR voting systems do that.

          • Edward2
            Posted February 25, 2020 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

            So did the people who voted Lib Dem get the policy they voted for in 2010 when they dropped the main reason most voted Lib Dem in order to cobble together a coalition.
            Bet they felt they had a vote of equal value.

    • mancunius
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      Owing to FPTP, Tony Blair’s 2001 government was put in place by just nine million votes – fifteen per cent or 0ne in 6.6 of the population – but it gave Blair 61% of the parliamentary seats. And he and his government instituted a virtual Labour and EU-complaisant dictatorship during office, packing the House of Lords and all available quangoes with his own people.

      Funny how many people suddenly object to the electoral system when the vote goes against them or their personal interests.

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        No, you are quite correct.

    • Robert McDonald
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      At least FPTP gives the UK a chance of having a government that can get things done, and if we don’t like it we can not vote for our local MP next time. With PR there would be compromise and stasis and apathy, with no positive action possible, and our MP’s would be party apparatchiks, best mates of their bosses, untouchable by us plebs, bit like the eurocracy !

      • margaret howard
        Posted February 24, 2020 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

        Robert McDonald

        “bit like the eurocracy”

        Your ‘eurocracy’ consists of 27 independent countries who are the world’s wealthiest, best run nations with the highest standards all favouring a democratic PR system.

        The UK stands almost alone in Europe in using a ‘one-person-takes-all’ disproportionate voting system.

        Belarus – “Europe’s only remaining outpost of tyranny” – is the only other one.

        Says it all really.

        • Edward2
          Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:35 am | Permalink

          28 member nations with all getting a vote yet only 9 paying in the rest taking out.
          The real aw making power in the hands of the Presidents and the Commission.
          When did you vote for any of these people Margaret?

          The MEPs are deliberately elected by a form of PR so there is no strong majority for any one group.
          This makes them weak and just a vote passing chamber.
          Rarely do MEPs ever reject legislation.
          Most laws are pushed through in the form of rules regulations and directives based on interpretation of previous treaty obligations.
          The EU is a sham democracy

        • graham1946
          Posted February 25, 2020 at 9:33 am | Permalink

          ’27 independent countries who are the world’s wealthiest and best run.’

          Clearly an absurd statement. Why are 19 of the ‘worlds wealthiest’ added together smaller than the UK economy and reliant on handouts from the few successful ones? Also, most standards in the UK are higher than the EU. You really don’t know much about the EU do you? Just blind acceptance of EU propaganda.

    • Richard1
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      were you moaning about the blair / brown govts when they were voted in by less than this? I guess not.

      But I should think you were also moaning about Coalition govt policies even though they nominally got the votes of more than 50%?

    • Henry Rogers
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

      Martin,

      I think we would both prefer everybody to turn out and vote even if the side we favour loses. Unfortunately, apart from a few who hadn’t been able to foresee the need for a postal vote, there are others who had no interest in the outcome and some who disapproved strongly of everyone standing for election.

      All we can do in a democracy is to accept the verdict of our fellow citizens who do cast votes. We happen to have FPTP and that system was confirmed by a referendum a while back, but under any system we can only count votes actually cast. I’m not sure you could argue that some form of proportional representation would have produced a result closer to your preferred outcome than the one in December, given the way people voted in the elections for the EU’s Parliament a few months earlier. But that’s another thing entirely.

      Henry

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

        My point, Henry is, that if a government ignores all but its voters, then it is turning its back upon most of the country, and by a very long way.

        That majority of seats does not symbolise the division in public opinion.

        It seems to me that this government are making that mistake.

        • Edward2
          Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          There will be another election soon.
          If your claim is correct then another party will win.

        • a-tracy
          Posted February 25, 2020 at 9:01 am | Permalink

          I don’t think you can accuse Boris of ignoring all but its voters, suggestions being made at the moment aggravate some of his own voters and please the Greens (wood burning) for example.

          What particular policy is a mistake?

      • Peter Parsons
        Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

        If you want everyone to turn out and vote, changing to a PR system is one way of getting closer to that objective. Studies show that turnouts for elections where PR is used have an average turnout about 7.5% higher than for comparable elections which use systems such as FPTP.

        Voting should be worthwhile. FPTP renders millions of votes worthless. If it didn’t, the term “wasted vote” would not exist. If a system renders one person’s vote a valuable and another person’s as a waste.

        Under STV, every single vote contributes which individuals are elected in each constituency, so it is always worth voting, something which can’t be said for millions under FPTP.

        • Edward2
          Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:41 am | Permalink

          Wow 7.5%
          Your PR really makes a difference to voter turn out.

          I see millions of votes wasted under PR.
          Under some types of PR you don’t even know who your representative will be locally when you vote.
          Under other forms of PR you vote for a party because you really like a key policy of their manifesto, but after the election that policy is quickly dropped in the rush to gain power.
          EG free student fees.

          Going well in the Republic of Ireland I see.

          • Peter Parsons
            Posted February 25, 2020 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

            If 7.5% is not significant, I take it you’d turn down a 7.5% pay rise as not worth having?

            Millions of votes are not wasted under PR, because in PR systems all votes count in determining the final outcome. I agree with you about Closed List PR (the one where you vote for parties) which is why I do not advocate using that system, but one of the two where you vote for individuals to be constituency representatives (STV or Open List PR).

            In Ireland their Parliament is actually representative of their voters, and, from what I can see, things are carrying on as normal over there. The sky hasn’t fallen in and the world hasn’t ground to a halt.

          • Edward2
            Posted February 25, 2020 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

            Not a big number as voting levels vary in elections for reasons other than the system used.
            In Ireland they have no real Government and the situation seems to be deadlocked.
            A system that creates that mess is robbing every voter.

        • a-tracy
          Posted February 25, 2020 at 8:58 am | Permalink

          But as a result of PR Peter, no one gets what they wanted, no manifesto is kept to, we get a coalition of parties who can’t agree on how to move forward and minor parties have to go back on their word to their electorate causing much more angst than we have now. Someone has to drive change without change we stagnate.

          • Peter Parsons
            Posted February 25, 2020 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

            The majority get the majority of what they voted for, and if you can’t get the majority to agree with you, why should you get everything your own way? Isn’t democracy about majority rule? That’s what I was always taught as a child.

            Dictatorship can drive change, doesn’t make it a good system of governance.

          • a-tracy
            Posted February 26, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

            Peter, when people voted Lib Dem in 2010 did they really know what they were voting for, a party with two faces, one version that is prepared to work with Labour and the other one that is prepared to work with the Conservatives but no manifesto that indicates coalition working promises.

            Also lets say the Brexit Party and the Conservatives got over 50% of the vote between them but for political expediency the Conservatives decided to work with the Greens and Lib Dems instead how does that give the majority what they thought they’d voted for?

    • steve
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

      MiC

      I don’t see FPTP as being due for criticism right now.

      The fact is we have a government that does not do as it’s electors say, then again was it ever different ?

      Which ever way you look at it one thing about governments is always constant – we always get proper shafted. The mechanism by which the swindlers get into power doesn’t stop them doing us over.

      PR / FPTP…..it makes no difference.

  16. Nig l
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    I look forward to your comments tomorrow about how anyone can manage anything with annualised accounting, budgets slashed etc at the drop of a political or economic hat or have to report to a revolving door of Secretaries of State, plus Ministers and Spads, often mediocre
    appointed for political reasons not ability.

    In general the public have zero respect, possibly even contempt for their politicians across the spectrum with a few exceptions.

  17. Sir Joe Soap
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    To an outsider this all seems like a technical discussion. You are not seeing this from the civil servant’s point of view. When I work for a business whose direction I disagree with, I tend to find another business to work for. You can say that technically I should buckle down and try to sell coals to Newcastle or whatever for five years, but in practice this is both disheartening and the results won’t look good on my CV. If I don’t go,but just carry on plodding,it should be up to my boss to fire me for non-performance,and this doesn’t happen in the civil service to our knowledge.

  18. Richard1
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    There is clearly a concerted campaign against Priti Patel. This partly comprises ‘leaks’ (note this am that the allegations about ‘bullying’ have been expressly and very unusually denied by the security services) but also immediately promoting the allegation to top news item.

    Mrs Patel is in favour of controls on immigration and a robust approach to crime. She must certainly expect a fight with the liberal-left establishment. But the public on both issues are on her side.

    Meanwhile good luck to Toby young with his new free speech union initiative. A very worthwhile venture to counter leftist attempts to shut down dissent. The law also needs strengthening in this area. We need free speech again in the U.K. as we’ve had for centuries, until recently.

  19. Oliver
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    It’d be good if you could fill us in on SPAD’s.

    From the recent furore it seems their role is to liase between the Minister and his Civil Servants to ensure they’re doing what he wants. If so, the only reason I can see for No 10 not having a tight control over them is if the Minister wishes to frustrate the PM’s policy. Which rather suggests Javid had to go. After all, why shouldn’t the Treasury do what it’s told – market sources advise better than them on the implications for borrowing costs of spending policy,and they can’t forecast their way out of a paper bag. So why shouldn’t they be reduced to “housekeeping”? After all, which CFO tells his CEO what to do?

  20. Iain Moore
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I find the ‘poor little me’ Home Office Civil Servants line hard to swallow considering the Home Office has been a graveyard for Ministerial careers. Considering their record you might have thought they would have been reticent about picking a public fight with Priti Patel , conscious about their record of Ministerial resignations, as well as being a department that is a bye word for incompetence, but no in their dumb arrogance they think they can curry favour as being victims.

  21. Glen Spokes
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Business. A business man is a man chasing after money. Mostly he doesn’t care how. He just follows the path he is given.

    There are others though, who become good at things, real or abstract. These often get to the top by using the stepping stones of an organisation or profession etc. Occasionally you get one who is both. They either get to the top or get used mercilously, or very occasionally take a more congenial route

  22. Javelin
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Ministers need to employ independent HR lawyers to help them with new contracts and disciplinary procedures with senior civil servants.

    When a civil servant is promoted new contracts need to be issued containing clauses on transparency, public scrutiny, dismissal grounds etc.

  23. Irene
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    It is becoming increasingly difficult to know exactly who is the policy maker. It must be ever harder to implement a policy that you may disagree with if you aren’t sure where it comes from. We will soon be living in a post-democratic rage.

  24. Glen Spokes
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    PS.
    The experts who get to the top by being good, are forced to learn other skills and jobs, and cope with them and use unsought after new skills, and so get forced on and on by the winds of change.
    Pity them. Poor old Brunel, Einstein, Newton etc

    • mancunius
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

      Your examples are ridiculous. Newton, and Einstein were academics, and Brunel was not a civil servant, but a private entrepreneur who sold his services to the state.

      Many employees lament that the skills they most pride themselves on go unused, and they have to learn new ones (and are often not very good at learning). That conviction of knowing more than their employer is the sign they are temperamentally unsuited to their employment, and should find one that is more congenial (and less well-paid).

      • NickC
        Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

        Mancunius, I cannot quite agree with you there. I frequently knew more than my boss about my own job. Indeed it would have been a bad sign if I hadn’t. The good bosses were the ones who recognised that fact.

  25. formula57
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Priti Patel enjoys my full support. This Government must win its battle against obstructionist civil servants.

    • NickC
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:24 pm | Permalink

      Formula57, Indeed so. Priti Patel gives me every confidence that she is up to the task. I wish I could say the same about James Brokenshire after reading his abysmal cop-out in today’s Telegraph.

  26. Fred H
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    ‘If a Minister disagrees strongly with an important government policy they usually have to resign.’
    That follows if policy becomes decided after an election and initial policy changes….

    Why would a Minister be put in place when it ought to be known they disagree with Cabinet policy? Some sort of appeasement to other groups is foolhardy, and shows the Party conned the electorate into believing everything was sweetness and light!
    (eg. the Cabinet and Ministers in that woman’s recent government).

  27. Peter Major
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Off Topic: What’s wrong with the UK?
    In the D Telegraph today, Business Section, Page 2, a Johnathan Turner reports that
    “In recent years at Oxford there have been on average 33 places for Computer Science (and a further 56 for Computer Science and Maths), approximately 1-2.7pc of the undergraduate student body of 3,300 in each year. …. In contrast, there are over 300 places for Classics … .” He makes further comments on how many overseas students take up the Computer Sciences places, amongst other matters.
    Whilst accepting that a degree is about training the mind rather than just gaining knowledge, perhaps we have our university priorities wrong (though it must be admitted that Boris seems pretty effective even as a classicist!).

    • forthurst
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 1:21 am | Permalink

      The uptake of STEM courses by foreign students at our universities is far too high and the update by British students far too low; this is because STEM courses are more expensive to put on so the universities use fees from foreign students to subsidise their STEM courses. It is the government’s duty to ensure that STEM courses at universities are properly funded without reliance on foreign students.

      Arts courses are mostly useless but being awarded by elite universities are prestigious, so politicians who have these worthless degrees imagine that the measure of any degree is by the prestige of the institution awarding it when it is the quality and relevance of the degree course which is paramount if both students and society at large are to derive benefit.

      Oxford specialises in awarding Arts degrees of little utility such as in PPE; this explains why politicians run on tracks which are parallel to science but never intersect so we the public have to put up with such idiocies as the destruction of our economy in order to appease well funded climate hoaxers. The political arguments about scientific matters by people with no scientific knowledge are particularly annoying. A lack of understanding of the immutability of human biology is causing some confusion at the moment.

  28. Duncan
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    What about Syria John? what are you guys doing about it in parliament? Why don’t you speak out more about the awful situation pertaining and the way the poor people are suffering? Why don’t you get after the govetnment- surely your topics on the role of permanent secretaries comes way down the list of what’s really important

    • Robert McDonald
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      So what is your answer ? Send in troops ? It didn’t work with Blair and it won’t work in Syria. Terrible situation over there, lets not make it worse.

    • Glenn Vaughan
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Has Dominic taken a day off from attacking John about domestic policy as it seems that his alter ego (known as Duncan) has returned to whinge (sarcastically) about British foreign policy?

  29. Everhopeful
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Treasury, Foreign and Home Offices ….talk of removal of top mandarins. They are seen as impediments to Boris’s govt pursuing its agenda. Ripping up Treasury ( Victorian) rule book for starters.
    Home Secretary coming under fire, probably unfairly because she is treading on toes! Shaking up the status quo.
    Boris can not afford to disappoint.
    He must have a free hand.

  30. Tony Sharp
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Sir John,
    This midset i by the PermSecs has been inculcated from that of the EU-SSR. They regard themselves as implementing a superior supranational authority directed by other bureacrats in the Brussels Commission who decide policy. Therefore the nation they live in, especially its population’s needs, is of no consequence and certainly not those people’s directly elected representatives. If Johnson had not been warm to at least HS2 we would have seen similar maneuvers in Whitehall to ‘keep it on track’ as it is of course a Euro ‘grande project’.

    There will be no end to this sabotage until these place men are dismissed without their pensions and titles to ‘encourage the others’. The US has the most transparent Executive- Administration in policy, the president appoints political allies to these roles who ensure the policy is adhered to, they argue things out with the Congress on expenditure were necessary.

  31. Ian Kaye
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Some things endure. Lenin inherited the machinery of government from the Provisional Government. Molotov cited ancient Russian Turkey diplomatic agreements with which Churchill declared he was not familiar.

  32. glen cullen
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    In 1939 (still an empire) we had only 163k civil servants and in 2019 we had 415k (source civilservant.org.uk)

    Maybe the real problem with Permanent Secretaries is that they haven’t modernised and wish the own continuance via the size of their own departments and staff i.e empire building

    No wonder decisions can’t be made….too many committees, agendas, studies, more sub-committees etc

    And the same can be said about the commons with endless All-Party Parliamentary Groups

    • Mark B
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:57 am | Permalink

      Not to forget all those non-positions like the Minister for Women and Equalities, or the Minister for Universities etc.

      Do we need these ?

  33. a-tracy
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    “The Sunday Times quoted unnamed officials” isn’t this just a form of bullying a Minister? “The home secretary and permanent secretary are deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media.”

    The Guardian says Government has “rejected reports in the Sunday Times alleging intelligence chiefs do not trust Patel and have decided to share less intelligence with her. The spokesman said: “The home secretary and MI5 have a strong and close working relationship, and baseless claims to the contrary are both wrong and against the public interest.”

    So who is making these briefings to the Sunday Times? What sort of person would the newspaper take this gossip as true from? Don’t Civil Servants have unions, don’t we all contribute towards their Pilgrims (16,664 full time “Pilgrims” across police forces, NHS bodies, councils, and Government departments – what is the Pilgrim’s role)? If someone has concerns such as these about a Minister who should they report them to instead of the Press, why doesn’t Boris want this department investigating?

  34. Bob
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    If a civil servant doesn’t want to serve then replace them with someone who does.
    Perhaps an overhaul of employment legislation is called for.

  35. John Partington
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Time to move on all these obstructionist civil servants who did nothing to help or actually obstructed Brexit preparations. They should be named,shamed and sacked. I believe the IT whistle-blower who highlighted what was happening at Defra rather than the statement put out by Defra. Time for the truth is now.

  36. David L
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Had we got a Corbyn government and the Permanent Secretaries were not facilitating widespread nationalisation quite as quickly as they should their praises would be sung by some of your posters, Sir John.
    I find the demonisation of anyone not fully supporting this administration a little concerning, as I would if we had a Marxist one .

    Reply I would expect the civil service to implement a nationalisation policy if Labour were elected to carry out such a proposal. I and others would be fighting it in every legal and political way we could.

    • NickC
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

      David L, Network Rail was nationalised in 2002. The civil servants who were involved carried out the wishes of the then Labour government. Why do you say they wouldn’t now if Corbyn had been elected?

      Quite evidently a number of high profile civil servants were (are?) Remain, and they tried to block Leave. Do you seriously think they would have baulked at implementing Remain? There is not the equivalence you believe.

  37. BJC
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I was utterly stunned to learn that our highest ranking Civil Servant had unilaterally changed the specification of a key government project because he considered it “unrealistic and unaffordable”, so had annointed himself with extraordinary powers and instructed his officials to work on a cheaper alternative. Surely, such a blatant display of defiance can’t be explained away as a minor misdemeanour?

    If these people aren’t working for the government, who exactly are they working for?

    • Fred H
      Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

      surely a dismissal offence.

    • Mark B
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 6:59 am | Permalink

      Depends on the powers he was given. If he was allowed to do so, then there is nothing more to add. If not, why has this not been challenged ?

  38. Polly
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    ”The price of anonymity and protection from too much public scrutiny”.

    Open Society.

    George Soros.

    Zero public scrutiny in the MSM for over 12 months.

    Public scrutiny totally prohibited on this site.

    I wonder why the activities of Open Society and George Soros are being kept a secret ?

    Perhaps you could explain the reason please ?

    Polly

  39. MeSET
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    It was not….. Feed a cold, Starve a fever
    It was Feed a cold, STAVE (off) a Fever

    I know……… it was.

  40. glen cullen
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Priti Patel did a great job today in the HoC, but please tell her to speed things up a bit

  41. ian terry
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    One roll for a PS is to inform his minister by diligent research is that when electric cars stoo because of no power, they just stop dead, no freewheeling to safety. They cannot be towed and need a low loader to lift them. Fantastic, just what we need on our smart motorways. You cannot make it up.

  42. Bob
    Posted February 24, 2020 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

    It’s long past time that cultural Marxism was exposed in the establishment.
    The useful idiots of the left are acting like a pack of hyenas whenever some public figure says something that doesn’t conform to their PC orthodoxy.

    Laurence Fox is now being victimised by his union Equity and he has received an outpouring of vicious bile on social media after his QT appearance, and Yorkshire Tea have been subjected to a concerted onslaught of complaints and threats by a pack of howling lefties after Rishi Sunak tweeted a photo of himself making tea with their tea bags. This all goes very deep, it has infected schools and universities to the extent that Toby Young has been moved to set up freespeechunion.org to provide support for members who fall victim to the smears and denunciations from the cancel culturists.

    Decriminalisation of the BBC Licence cannot come soon enough!

    • Mark B
      Posted February 25, 2020 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      The problem starts higher up. Once the government crumbles to these incessant Harpes of perpetual offence, then the rest of the dominos will soon fall. That is why Mrs.T was always under attack. Knock her off her perch and the rest goes with her. But the fight back has started and hopefully we will be able to push them back.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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