The civil service and its role

When I was a Minister I stuck to the rules. Everything I did was done with officials present or seeing the papers. I always considered the official advice carefully. The relationship needed to be properly conducted, with the Minister handling any politics outside the Ministerial office and without the back up of the civil service. As a Minister you need to understand you have to govern in the interests of the whole country, should not offer favours  to your own side, and often have to operate in a quasi judicial capacity. Ministers are above all beneath the law like everyone else. The privilege is you can change the law for the future.

You also need to understand you are on your own, you will take the blame for any mistake made in your department, whoever made it, and you cannot always rely on official advice. Whilst always saying please and thank you to your officials you  should not always agree with their preferred consensus view. Often I would need to hold a review meeting for the advice sent, and encourage officials to recreate the proper arguments and choices they should have considered before they had reached a single consensus piece of advice. Sometimes my own experience and past knowledge inclined  me to make a decision that was  not the one recommended.  Quite often it was better to choose a decisive option than a compromise one.

If you review civil service advice in an area you know well you can often see the problems with it. Officials change jobs far too often, limiting the amount they know about  any  specialist area. They often lack specialist expertise and write generalised advice or commentaries. Sometimes they draw on the work of outside bodies and companies to fill out their knowledge, which can introduce  bias into the advice to  a Minister. He  is not made aware of where the information came from and why it was produced.  The civil service needs to keep more people in worthwhile jobs for longer and  back them up with more relevant training in the given area. I tested out advice by inviting in outside interests to tell me their views, knowing their bias but recognising their understanding of the affected area.

The civil service needs to rate administration as highly as policy advice. Arguing through a new policy and setting it out to Parliament is the starting point, not the final product. What matters is implementation. There needs to be more audit and analysis of how a launch of a new policy has gone, with a willingness to amend or remove if it miscarries.

The Hancock Whatsapp and message revelations reveal some unusual developments in Minister-official relations. I objected at the time to senior officials making presentations to the media and nation about the pandemic. That along with the underlying decisions is a Minister’s job. Officials should concentrate on getting the data and advice right, and on implementing the decisions like the vaccine roll out and the need for extra hospital capacity. Civil servants should not be judging which Ministers to do things or which Ministers to back. Ministers should have held officials accountable inside government for the poor data, the changes of base for the data and the failure of some officials to even follow their own lock down rules. Ministers of course needed good science, but they had to balance the uncertain early science about the pandemic with the impact on the economy and personal  freedoms of some of the options.

 

107 Comments

  1. David Peddy
    March 10, 2023

    What is obvious to me, as a voter and member of the public , is that the Civil Service (CS)has become overmighty . This government has ceded policy making as well as its implementation ,to the CS. We see this most evidently with the Treasury but the CS have done their best to interfere with Brexit and the immigrant problem
    As a lifetime Conservative voter I am doubtful that I will be doing so next time

    1. Donna
      March 10, 2023

      It’s worse than that. Yes the Civil Service has become over-mighty and highly politicised, but the Quangocracy is over-mighty, highly politicised and they operate at arms length from the Ministry/Minister supposedly in control of them.

      The institutionally left-wing Quangocracy interprets and implements EU Regulations, which still apply in the UK and create UK Regulations. They invariably interpret them in the most extreme form possible: hence the Environment Agency’s decision not to dredge the Somerset levels, which led directly to catastrophic flooding, because they prioritised wetland birds over the local population.

      We continually hear that “the Regulator” has done/not done something which has caused a problem in our public services? Ministers pass blame to “the Regulator.”

      So we have an over-mighty, institutionally left-wing Civil Service effectively making policy and an over-mighty, institutionally left-wing and arms-length Quangocracy implementing the policies and then creating Regulations to suit their own left-wing agenda.

      And at the top? Usually a young, inexperienced but “smooth” LibCON Minister ….. who is unlikely to rock the boat and is easily controlled.

      1. Nigl
        March 10, 2023

        Excellent contribution and absolutely right in last sentence. We only saw yesterday an E Mail stating the obvious that the Blob was pushing back against migration policy, immediately rowed back because the Permanent Secretary went ‘shouty crackers’ and then Braverman having to praise them. The Home Office was deemed not fit for purpose umpteen years ago and nothing appears to have changed.

        Bullies will prey on the weak. The Tory government gets what it asks for and deserves.

      2. Mickey Taking
        March 10, 2023

        A clear view of where we are, and what has to be changed. Where is Dominic Cummings when you need him?

      3. MFD
        March 10, 2023

        You have hit the nail square DONNA,
        The cs used to stay out of sight in general, advising ministers , ministers making decisions and carrying the whole responsibility.

      4. Chris S
        March 10, 2023

        Very good, Donna.

        The reason we have an overwhelmingly leftie/liberal Civil service/BBC/Print Media is because the personnel departments are all recruiting graduates, largely in their own image. There is clearly no attempt at achieving political balance at all, not that this is remotely achievable, given the left wing nature of the education establishment from infant school teachers all the way up to university lecturers.

        I don’t know whether Raab and Patel are/were bullies – I suspect they have been no more than forthright in pushing the political agendas which the government was elected to implement. Being Home or Justice Secretary must be immensely frustrating, given the degree of internal opposition they must face every day.

        Given the degree of politicisation in the civil service, government should have the absolute right to appoint all heads of department on coming into office.

      5. Peter
        March 10, 2023

        A civil servant can be in post for life. They will be looking for advancement and perhaps a lucrative role in retirement which will usually get nodded through by ACOBA.

        Job security may mean they have a different outlook to others. They may have a mindset that is more sympathetic to the Managerial State.

        Ministers come and go. Some ministers will be in post for a short period and will be more interested in their own career than the fine detail of their brief – Boris Johnson types. Ministers may arrive in place as promotion, or because there is nobody else available that a Prime Minister wants in position. They may have little interest in the post.

        Ministers with a definite aim of what they are looking to achieve require the time to do it and also the determination to see it through – perhaps against civil service advice, perhaps against institutional foot-dragging.

        Then there are opposition voices, quangos and the media to handle.

        So perhaps the article is more what should happen than what happens in many cases.

      6. BOF
        March 10, 2023

        Great annalysis Donna.

      7. M.A.N.
        March 13, 2023

        Dredging was NOT prohibited by eu regs, if housing/ business was at risk dredging was allowed. extensive research by Richard north unearthed this gem. Same old blaming the eu and confusing the issue. Baroness of scone was ultimately responsible.

    2. Nottingham Lad Himself
      March 10, 2023

      There’s no contortion to which you will not stretch to excuse the utter degeneracy of the Right, is there?

  2. Mark B
    March 10, 2023

    Good morning.

    A very good piece, of which I have little argument against.

    It seems to me that MP’s, and by extension Ministers, have lost the art of how to administrate. Our Civil Service has, due to the EU, been subjected to politicization as the accumulation of power often doe – No one wants to lose their thrown / little empire. This was highlighted way back in 2012 on Dr. R. North’s blog, that one of the major side effects of being part of the and then leaving it, would we have to relearn hoe to govern ourselves once more. Hence why there is so much reluctance from all those in government to fully leave. They still want to cling on to nurse.

    Never more so then ever have we needed more wiser heads with experience to pass on the skills and knowledge to a new generation.

    1. Michelle
      March 10, 2023

      Way back in the mists of time after the Leave vote won the day and Cameron had scuttled off, I was listening to a piece on the radio regarding the slow preparation and pace of the negotiations with EU over our departure.
      One of the reasons given was that we did not have negotiators with the calibre necessary for this level of negotiation.
      I would imagine this to be true but tied up with the desire to not negotiate something you don’t want to happen, and of course decades of EU indoctrination leaving a blank space where there should be knowledge.

      1. Berkshire Alan
        March 10, 2023

        Michelle

        We had plenty of experienced negotiators to choose from, but Mrs May who it would appear had never negotiated anything of Substance in her life, did not want to choose any of them, and when push come to shove she even undermined those who she chose, hence the lousy one sided deal we got, when we should have stood our ground and or walked away.

      2. turboterrier
        March 10, 2023

        Michelle
        +1 many times.

    2. Sharon
      March 10, 2023

      Well put Mark B – our membership of the EU really did us no favours in so many ways. That’s coming home to roost with a large number of low calibre MPs and a very politicised civil service and a much too large state.

      1. Ian wragg
        March 10, 2023

        The civil service is just an arm of Brussels and takes its guidance from them.
        Until there is a root and branch clear out nothing will change.
        Unelected officials including fishy and hunt are the problem.

        1. John Hatfield
          March 10, 2023

          In a nutshell Ian. Well said.

    3. a-tracy
      March 10, 2023

      Boris could have used wiser heads; his biggest mistakes were choosing people like Sunak and Hancock (even whilst a serving minister, the latter was busy planning his book, giving out sensitive government material to a journalist to help him profit from his job, looking out for number one, a selfish, self-centred man).

      1. rose
        March 10, 2023

        We knew Hancock, for all his sunny nature and life as an amateur jockey, was a wrong ‘un. In 2016 he was in the Cabinet Office, in charge of the registrations to vote in the referendum. The computer malfunctioned for up to a couple of hours, and he seized the opportunity to keep the process open for a further two days, with much fanfare, hoping to enrol more remain voting students. This may nave backfired. Duncan Smith reported a record turnout from the council estates, from people who had never voted before.

        1. a-tracy
          March 10, 2023

          I think the most shocking is the reveal that him and Sunak were in on the planning of the Sunak administration back in May!

          I wonder if they ever discovered what caused the ‘malfunction’ I bet they didn’t.

  3. Javelin
    March 10, 2023

    Civil servants need to understand their job is dependent on voters wanting them, just like in the private sector where people’s jobs are dependent on buyers wanting their product or service.

    Civil servants are in a job with a high risk of being made redundant every 5 years.

    1. Mickey Taking
      March 10, 2023

      Civil servants are never faced with redundancy!!

      1. Donna
        March 10, 2023

        There was a brief period when the Coalition Government was formed when CS were invited to apply for redundancy. It was made clear that if you were even remotely efficient your application would not be accepted. The Dept I then worked for took full use of the opportunity to make a few absolutely useless individuals redundant. But they’d been kept on for years, liabilities and causing chaos until they could be shuffled off into another role.

    2. turboterrier
      March 10, 2023

      Javelin
      I cannot remember when at the change of government there was increases in redundancy in the CS voluntary or otherwise.
      Most peoples perception it is a job for life with a very good pension and benefits as long as you abide by their rules. (Don’t think outside the box)

  4. Wanderer
    March 10, 2023

    Your description of the role you played as a Minister is what we should expect. The results may not always be perfect, but the method is to think critically, probe advice and then to act in the interests of the country.

    What a far cry from what we have now. Most of your fellow MPs are simply not up to the job. Those that are don’t get a Ministerial position. “Yes Minister”, EU-style government is the result. We needed a thorough clear-out after the EU referendum.

    1. turboterrier
      March 10, 2023

      Wanderer
      Two thoughts on your post.
      Every change of government you change the personnel to bring in new thinking in line with the new government’s mandate and manifesto.

      Performance related pay structures based upon six monthly performance reviews in the key areas of the departments remit.

    2. Pauline Baxter
      March 10, 2023

      Wanderer. Yes I agree. We needed a thorough clear out after the referendum. It strikes me that the Civil Servants have far too much job security.
      I also agree that ‘most of your fellow MPs are not up to the job. Those that are do not get appointed’.

  5. Mick
    March 10, 2023

    If you want a true reflection of the roll of the civil service watch the 1980s British political satire sitcom of Yes Minister

    1. Bloke
      March 10, 2023

      The programme ‘Yes Minister’ appears more like a documentary these days.

      1. Atlas
        March 10, 2023

        It certainly does.

  6. AncientPopeye
    March 10, 2023

    Excellent summation Sir but do Ministers have any authority over civil servants who drag their heels or deliberately obfuscate, after all no one elected them? I think the CS has slid down the slippery slope since Ted Heath took us into the EEC on a lie and our once vaunted CS found ‘rubber stamping’ orders from Brussels much easier and more to their liking.

    1. Pauline Baxter
      March 10, 2023

      AncientPopeye. You are certainly right there. Ted Heath didn’t only abandon our Commonwealth he also abandoned the E.F.T.A. countries. We should have stayed as we were.
      My experience as a lowly civil servant in my distant youth was that rubber stamping, e.g. Commonwealth ‘waivers’, was the main part of my job.
      I am quite sure that rubber stamping orders from Brussels took over and is now what civil servants choose to do.

  7. Iain gill
    March 10, 2023

    John,

    Every single hotel room in my home town is fully booked over Easter. It’s not a tourist destination, quite the reverse. So vast are the numbers of rooms being paid for by serco under contract to the government to house immigrants that the few remaining rooms are easily swamped. So people cannot even book rooms to visit their family at Easter, workers with specialist skills needed there for short periods will not be able to stay locally, which will incrementally clog up business as they are unable to get maintenance tasks done etc.

    Wow just wow, this cannot go on.

    1. Mickey Taking
      March 10, 2023

      oh yes it will…

      1. rose
        March 10, 2023

        And will it be billeting when the hotels are full?

        1. Donna
          March 10, 2023

          I suspect if MPs were FORCED to use their taxpayer-funded second homes to house these criminal migrants, the problem would be solved very quickly.

  8. Hat man
    March 10, 2023

    These officials – are they the sort of people whose faces were pixelled out in the incriminating photos of parties in Downing Street during lockdowns? The ones where only Johnson and Sunak were fined for breaking the law? In the first 9 months of the lockdown regime over 100,000 people were reportedly fined for lockdown violations in England and Wales. I wonder how many civil servants were among them.

    1. Dave Andrews
      March 10, 2023

      Strange the civil service is so reluctant to remove illegal migrants, whereas they willingly made misery for the Windrush generation.
      Perhaps the Windrush generation had been here so long they considered them British enough to treat them with contempt.

    2. a-tracy
      March 10, 2023

      Who bought and paid for the food and drink? If it was a senior official, did he get it sanctioned and signed off by a minister? Did a minister instruct them to buy it and arrange a meeting with food and drink? These questions never got answered by the likes of Sue Gray because she’s one of them. Who in number 10 was put in charge of the 2m distance rule? The H&S of that? It won’t have been Boris or Sunak. It disgusts me in a private business the H&S person wouldn’t get away with this breach.

  9. DOM
    March 10, 2023

    The CS is today the bureaucratic wing of Labour and the regressive Left, fact. I can see it, John can see it, we can all see the political bias.

    John’s party has has since 2010 to reverse this Socialist takeover of the State and they have palpably failed and you know why? They don’t give a toss any more.

    Thatcher wouldn’t have allowed this to happen

    When scum Labour lie their way to power it’s game over for freedom, liberty and our ‘presumed innocent before guilty’ status. We’ll all become criminals for simply breathing

    1. Donna
      March 10, 2023

      They haven’t even got the guts to deal with the BBC, which employs a blatantly biased lefty sports presenter who admits he is using “his platform” to promote his political views, let alone take on the CS.

      1. a-tracy
        March 10, 2023

        Donna, we seem to be split in this country by the media into left 50%, right 50%. But only one half of that equation ever gets cancelled and demands cancellation, they are intolerant of anyone else’s views but their own. Anyone that doesn’t agree with them are unintelligent in fact some have gone and telly and called them ‘thick’. They just get away with it. It is time those to the right of this supposed line start to use the same rules of engagement.

  10. Michelle
    March 10, 2023

    What will the civil service of the future look like I wonder given the rush to appease all manner of minority groups and make it more like a left wing ‘work shop’ full of diversity, rather than sound knowledge and common sense.
    It’s diversity will make it more of a patchwork of competing groups looking to influence for their in-group.
    What Minister will dare stand up to that for fear of a Union backed campaign in the media against them?
    Consequence being the silent majority and the man on the Clapham Omnibus lose out again.

  11. turboterrier
    March 10, 2023

    But is not one of the problems with the CS it is a job for life with no real accountability? Too many years of being led by the EU policies took away responsibility and accountability and allowed a mentality of it is someone else’s fault when things went wrong.
    Too much a mentality of head down, auto pilot mode and allowing external committees and groups to apply the thinking outside the box moments.
    The ” We have paid for this report can’t it be wrong” mentality discourages thinking outside the box and detailed costing of the changes because the reality is ” Its not their money”

  12. Bloke
    March 10, 2023

    A Civil Service should perform a useful service, not act like protest or pressure groups pushing their own agenda.

  13. BOF
    March 10, 2023

    With reference to your last paragraph, the main problem with the last three years Sir John has been the blanket censorship of information to the public. The iron control and manipulation of data exercised by msm, ministers and government. The cessation of democracy no less.

    The early science was clear. The government chose untested science without consulting scientists with alternative views and established science. Scientists and doctors who did speak up were traduced and many had their careers destroyed. Then poorly tested gene therapy was given to the public with the simultaneous withdrawal of safe effective medications. I have yet to meet anyone who was properly informed on side effects.

    The Whatsapp files are the tip of the iceberg.

    1. R.Grange
      March 10, 2023

      +100 BOF
      The ‘early science’ was in fact the approved science of dealing with a public health crisis, developed over many years, and it underpinned our 2019 pandemic plan. That was thrown overboard at the instigation of Matt Hancock & co., as we’re now learning.

    2. MFD
      March 10, 2023

      Sorry BOF you miss the real truth, the politicians were doing as they were told by the WEF masters.
      They had no choice, they were the front guys for the bullies!

  14. Iain gill
    March 10, 2023

    One centimeter of snow and all the schools have shut, the GP surgeries have shut …

    Too dangerous apparently

    When I was a school kid we went to school in six foot of snow, indeed the few parents who kept their kids at home got prosecuted by the council.

    All the parents have to stay at home to look after their kids, so business has completely shut down.

    What a laughing stock of a country we have become.

    Public sector workers will still get paid no doubt.

    1. Iain gill
      March 10, 2023

      Funny how the schools in some of the northern towns with far deeper snow are open, while their southern counterparts are shut.

      1. Mickey Taking
        March 10, 2023

        I hate the expression but we are ‘southern softies’ as a neighbour regularly tells me.

      2. turboterrier
        March 10, 2023

        Iain Gill
        It’s woke snow mate, it makes all the difference!!

    2. Berkshire Alan
      March 10, 2023

      Ian
      I remember 1963 well, walked to school and arrived on time as did everyone else, and that was after completing my usual paper round earlier that morning.
      School Caretaker had been working from very early in the morning stoking up the coal fired boilers, so all of the classrooms were reasonably comfortable.
      No teachers absent.
      Still went out at break time with the pupils making a giant ice slides in the playground !
      We all had less then, but were more self sufficient !
      How times change !

    3. a-tracy
      March 10, 2023

      It’s quiet at work today, so I assume many businesses have had the staff not turn in today or have decided to close too.

      1. Narrow Shoulders
        March 10, 2023

        It’s Friday A-Tracey – work from home or compressed hours day off.

        1. a-tracy
          March 10, 2023

          Yes, but it’s even quieter than usual Fridays. Although the motorway was shut for hours, some very bad driving going on up on the M62.

  15. Donna
    March 10, 2023

    I’ve already commented on the over-mighty and highly politicised Civil Service and Quangocracy, so I will simply comment on one revelation from the Handcock WattsApp messages.

    These messages have shown quite clearly that the Public Health Bureaucrats and “Scientists” and therefore the Ministers knew full well that the virus was not serious for the vast majority and had low mortality rates. They knew that only the very elderly/frail and those with serious co-morbidities were at risk. Whitty specifically told Handcock that the mortality rate was insufficient justification for giving authorisation to an experimental vaccine.

    Whitty, Vallance and Van Tam gave the Government “cover” so Johnson and the rest of the QUAD (Handcock, Sunak, Gove) could claim they were “following the science” when they were doing no such thing AND KNEW IT.

    It seems to me there is a case for prosecuting Malfeasance in Public Office against (anyone where there is evidence Ed) for deliberately mis-representing the lethality/risks of the virus during those Daily Briefings and the Ministers who were promoting policies they knew were not justified.

    (Words re vaccines left out) over 1.5 million adverse effects have been reported – many very serious. Yet Whitty clearly stated that the mortality rate (they estimated 1% and it turned out to be 0.03%) would not justify giving a poorly tested, rushed vaccine experimental authorisation.

    1. Mickey Taking
      March 10, 2023

      I remember the Ferguson predictions could be 1m deaths.

  16. Jude
    March 10, 2023

    The calibre of the minister is key. Today we have too many career MPs, who have little, if any, experience of working. Let alone managing others. It is a disaster waiting to happen. This allows civil servants, too much say in decision making. Which will mean that their political views & bias will come into play. Plus another key aspect is that the demographics of the UK should be mirrored within the civil service. So that our lifestyle,culture, history & religions are understood & upheld. Diversity has a place but if out of balance will naturally divide & dilute outcomes & implementation.

  17. agricola
    March 10, 2023

    The question in my mind is to what extent beyond carrying out government policy do you wish the civil service to create government policy.
    At the moment, through membership of the EU we are dealing with a CS that created policy along wifh their counterparts in Brussels. Government did little or nothing in recent years, all law was presented as a fait acompli. I think that the CS need a long period in rehab to adjust them to the idea of our government and Parliamenf being sovereign. Recent CS behaviour suggests to me that they are in dire need of rehab.
    If the upper echelons are to be seen in an advisory role in future they need to be strongly reinforced with professionals and customers of that ministries area of activity. Not I should say with lobbyists or fringe vested interests. Ministers will need to choose carefully.

  18. formula57
    March 10, 2023

    So like nearly everything else in this country, the civil service and Ministers are not what they once were, rather have become just poor imitations, no longer fitted to what is needed. It is hard to envisage how this decline can be reversed, certainly by decent, reasonable people.

  19. Nigl
    March 10, 2023

    And in other news we read that HS2 will not reach to Euston because HMG cannot afford it.
    The major engineering project meant to revitalise the North now neutered to the extent it can’t even reach the capital.

    Even a few weeks ago this was ‘denied’ . From obviously a political vanity project to this utter waste of 70 billion and rising, we have been lied to from the outset and now a metaphor for broken Britain and this useless government and the civil construction industry.

    Remind me again how long we have waited for the third runway at Heathrow or new power stations?

  20. Chickpea
    March 10, 2023

    It must be addressed that if the advisor has used outside sources for information when advising a Minister, that this must be made clear to the Minister where this information has come from. It’s totally unacceptable that this is not the case.

  21. MPC
    March 10, 2023

    ‘If the President asks us to empty trash cans that’s what we’ll do’. That old dictum will no doubt only apply once Labour are back in power in the near future.

  22. XY
    March 10, 2023

    Good piece. Perhaps political parties also need to develop their own “corporate memory”. With so many new MPs, why is it that there’s no mechanism whereby they learn from your experience of how to be a (good) minister?

    All too often they seem to be thrown into a role with no idea how to do it. In some cases, what’s expected of them may be murky at best even if there is a manifesto mandate it may only cover a single aspect of the role.

    1. turboterrier
      March 10, 2023

      XY
      Your second paragraph just highlights that nothing will change till the standard and ability of politicians is raised in the selection process. In the land of the blind man the one eyed man is king. That results in the present scenario of the CS remaining the king as the vast majority of ministers are winging it, operating way above their real capabilities.

  23. glen cullen
    March 10, 2023

    If only we had a government or political party that would reform the civil service from the 19th century into the 21st century ….we may no longer have a global empire but we still have the same civil service by size and scope, the bureaucrats are still in charge

  24. Alan Paul Joyce
    March 10, 2023

    Dear Mr. Redwood,

    Monsieur Macron looking very pleased today welcoming our Prime Minister to the Anglo-French summit. He has finally met a leader even smaller in stature and standing than he.

    1. Mickey Taking
      March 10, 2023

      the French will love it, the Brits flying over to plead for help and will pay handsomely – again.

      1. glen cullen
        March 10, 2023

        £500 million

    2. Lynn Atkinson
      March 10, 2023

      Ah no. He has met the actor Zelensky too.

    3. Bloke
      March 10, 2023

      Being short does not devalue people who make high quality decisions and act in pursuit of truth and goodness. However neither of that pair seems much use to the UK and Monsieur Macron is reported to wear a syrup which is somewhat misleading and grossly expensive. At least the French are paying for that!

  25. iain gill
    March 10, 2023

    Well I have been inside the civil service at various different levels. Places like MOD and Dept of Health. At varying levels from top to bottom. Sometimes crisis meetings about things that are front page news of the day.
    The civil service is too incestious, people are often hired simply because they are “friends of friends”, or went to the same school, or college, or were in the same military regiment. So lots of people get hired with completely the wrong background.
    The security checking regime takes too long, is too bureaucratic, so favours those who already have security clearance, as hiring anyone without it can take too long. And the way security clearance is managed by the organisation employing the person, rather than the person themselves, favours people working in certain ways, and discourages anyone from helping the civil service for short periods, or in chunks interspersed with work in other sectors.
    In many areas the civil servants are nothing more than a thin veneer supposedly managing a consultancy or outsourcing organisation which is actually doing all of the work. So you get silly meetings of clueless civil servants kept happy by equally clueless interface people from the consultancies (with the same incestious background) all of which conspires to keep any real decision makers who want to really improve things away from the teams doing the actual work.
    I have seen ministers visit the civil service, and the large consultancies, and watched as they actively had the wool pulled over their eyes, their ability to spot BS being negligible.
    Its all a bit of a joke.

  26. Bryan Harris
    March 10, 2023

    That sounds like the sort of code every minister should be following….

    All too often though ministers are not educated as ministers to get the job done.

  27. Ian B
    March 10, 2023

    Sir John
    It is clear to everyone that you are a sincere MP that recognises the duty and duties of an MP – what is also referred to as a ‘calling’. In just as much as it is clear you are also a Conservative.

    From the outside looking in, the majority of other MP’s of all completions seem to be just along for the ride, getting relatively well paid and biding their time until it all ends for them. The other point in that, there is large chunk that do not understand the real reason behind Democracy and Sovereignty therefore the real purpose of a Parliament and then failing to recognise it is their job to protect it, even beyond personal political allegiances. There is to much deferring to what they see as a higher power, that was never elected and isn’t held accountable.

  28. a-tracy
    March 10, 2023

    John, how does Hunt ‘freezing fuel duty’ get spent out of the bigger surplus. Surely fuel duty increased considerably with the price increase of fuel to a much bigger profit for the government last year. Diesel was under 140p per litre from 2006 to 2020, it peaked at 200p in January and has dipped but not below 150p. Re article in the Spectator.

    1. HFClark
      March 10, 2023

      Motor fuel duty is a fixed sum per unit of volume. As the selling price increases the government receive no increase in motor fuel duty but benefit from the increasing VAT receivable on the higher price.

      1. a-tracy
        March 10, 2023

        So they do get an increase in money don’t they? An extra 4p on every litre, considerable sum of money.

        1. glen cullen
          March 11, 2023

          +1

  29. Ian B
    March 10, 2023

    “Whatsapp” and messaging, as a generalisation about these modes of communications ‘context is always missing’. Meaning if you know the recipient well it has meaning if you don’t it can relativity easily get misconstrued. I have no idea of the intentions of the so-called ‘Hancock’ situation other than the headline I have never read the content.

    In a similar way commenting on our kind hosts diary, in order to be a brief as possible what is said is just a snapshot of our thinking and can be taken out of context.

    As a real point, “Whatsapp” is said to be ‘free’ it isn’t, it is clickbait to farm humans for their data. At times Meta(Whatsapp owners) allows access to around 30 or more other entities all outside of UK Jurisdiction to collect and record data from all its users. Humans are farmed and sold by Meta, that is how they reported $32.17 billion earnings for the 4th Quarter 2022.

    The other more concerning version is TikTok, and the Chinese Governments access to the data of all its users – it is written into Chinese law that the data must be handed to the state, and our Government that is there to protect thinks that is OK

  30. derek
    March 10, 2023

    Fings sure aint what they used to be in your time in Government, SJ. What has gone wrong?
    It appears the Civil Service within Whitehall and Westminster have taken it upon themselves to run the country the way they want and their respective Minister becomes a mere puppet to their authoritarian rule.
    When are we ever going to see proper democracy again?

    1. turboterrier
      March 10, 2023

      Derek
      The answer to the question is a big no.
      The CS and the globalists will ensure it never happens. The standard of the vast majority of MPs will ensure they succeed.

  31. Bert Young
    March 10, 2023

    The function of the CS is to advise and support impartially ; it has no right to publicise views directly to the media or elsewhere . The experience it has is a vital ingredient to its Minister in charge and to the hierarchy of his or her Department ; the will of the public through the voting system will modify its stance but only through the direction of its Minister . In any form of leadership everything depends on discipline in the ranks ; if this is lacking in any form then dissent and trouble ensues . The PM not only decides policy he/she has to make sure that there is no subsequent wavering away in the operating departments . I despair of the present management of the country .

  32. rose
    March 10, 2023

    I take your point about officials standing at the lectern informing the public. That should not have happened. But I remember the two most prominent ones didn’t seem to want to shut us down any more than the PM did. The overwhelming force to do so was coming from the media most of all, from the unions, and anyone politically hostile – which were a lot of people. Farage, for example, played his full part on LBC, as did James O’Brien, just one outlet whose presenters were hurling abuse at the PM and accusing him of mass murder. That was how they did it, by terrifying the PM and the Cabinet with threats of judicial retribution later. The visible officials didn’t appear to be part of that. It was as if the politically hostile were seizing an opportunity to bring the Government down. Taken together with the left wing scientists, the quangos, and the mighty NHS, HMG looked hopelessly outnumbered. Does Sir John think an experienced and strong minded Cabinet could have seen off these forces?

    1. a-tracy
      March 10, 2023

      Don’t forget Sturgeon on English tv every night! Undermining the UK government, getting in with her briefings first, keeping masks for months and months later. Drakeford went full out too at one point banning the English with his anti-tourism, anti-English tax.

      1. rose
        March 11, 2023

        The Secretary of State, Alister Jack, gave evidence at the Scottish Select Committee on all this. Among other things, he had briefed her on the rule of six. She said not a word throughout the meeting but beetled back up to Scotland, called a press conference, and announced she would be excluding children from the tally. He sounded exasperated at this and said if only she had raised it at the meeting it could have been accommodated and co-ordinated across the Kingdom. It was clear they were trying to work with her but they weren’t getting anything back. She would take all the advantages of being at COBRA meetings and getting the advice, to undermine the Union which made it possible. Drakeford was the same. At the beginning he said he wasn’t convinced by the case for masks. But the moment they were relaxed in England, the Welsh were forced into them. Petty little tunnel-visioned advocates of partition.

  33. Keith from Leeds
    March 10, 2023

    Part of the problem is the sheer size of the CS today. Over 500,000 people cannot be properly managed. Make 400,000 redundant & you will start to get a grip. But only if you have intelligent, hard-working Ministers who can think critically & will find out if they don’t know enough. As a guideline, people do what you inspect, not what you expect.
    Net-Zero is the classic example. 15 years ago, you could accept it, for there was little detailed knowledge about it. Today no MP who thinks & reads should support Net-Zero because there are now plenty of books, by well-qualified authors, proving it is nonsense. Why is the CS not telling Ministers it is dangerous nonsense which will impoverish the UK?
    The quality of people in the CS is as low as Ministers allow it to be. When did a senior CS last get sacked for incompetence, gross misconduct or refusing to do their job?

    1. Original Richard
      March 10, 2023

      Keith from Leeds : “Today no MP who thinks & reads should support Net-Zero because there are now plenty of books, by well-qualified authors, proving it is nonsense.”

      Correct.

  34. rose
    March 10, 2023

    Worrying signs already that the Usurper is giving us a different version on the Summit from the EU. The French lady representative this morning was cold and clear: there is nothing doing on illegal immigration, as far as France is concerned, and nothing to be expected from the EU either. That is because we chose to leave the EU. Meanwhile, the Usurper is giving out messages that Anglo-French relations have improved dramatically since the lawful PMs have departed, and that illegal immigration is top of the list of things to be agreed. Oh, and be prepared for a hefty sum of money to be going across the Channel again.

    1. BOF
      March 10, 2023

      rose
      How many times now has 50, 60 or 70 million been handed over to the French to stop the boats? Lets face it, if they actually did stop them, it would destroy this very successful business model.

      1. rose
        March 10, 2023

        The only way the French can help is to take the illegal immigrants back. This would help the French too, as the illegal immigrants aren’t going to go squat in France in the first place if they know they will be returned there. The French public hate being in a transit country. It is degrading and destabilising. Yet it seems spite against Brexit pour encourager les autres is the priority.

      2. hefner
        March 10, 2023

        So Sunak agreed £500 m over three years, roughly £460,000 day.
        That has to be compared to the cost of housing migrants, £1.5 bn/year, £4.5 bn over three years, £4.2 m/day.
        BTW the cost of Ms Braverman’s Rwanda agreement is already £120 m with zero person transported there and possibly 200 transported there in the future, ie, £600,000/person.
        £11 m have been given to Albania to return 1,000 illegal Albanians (Telegraph, 28/10/2022), ie, 11,000/person.
        What solution is the cheapest?

        1. rose
          March 10, 2023

          It is not a solution if we are paying the French indefinitely and the illegal immigrants are still being ferried to England.

          1. glen cullen
            March 10, 2023

            Somethings not right here …..shouldn’t we be sending a bill to the French for housing & feeding their immigrants

        2. gregory martin
          March 10, 2023

          Travel by P&O ferry Calais-Dover costs from £19.00 return as a foot passenger. Entry without a valid passport is criminal. No passport-no entry, same day return!

    2. Berkshire Alan
      March 10, 2023

      Rose

      Now being reported in the media that we are to pay the French £480 Million, not sure if this is in addition to what we are already paying them, or includes it.
      As usual Sunak thinks like all other Prime Ministers before him, that if you pay enough into anything, it improves matters !
      Value for money always seems absent.
      Still not his money so why care ?
      I see yet another amnesty coming on !

      1. Mickey Taking
        March 11, 2023

        Correct, once this latest idea of France actually operating its laws is working, then UK will announce the amnesty that the 100,000 illegals can stay – to worldwide acclaim and admiration.
        WIN WIN?

  35. Geoffrey Berg
    March 10, 2023

    At the end of the day no institution and few systems are better than the people running it, certainly not at the governmental level.
    When Ministers cannot rely on the advice nor even the impartiality of their senior, highly paid civil servants the whole arrangement is grossly unsatisfactory. Ministers who are temporarily in government for political reasons cannot be expected to have better technical judgement than civil servants and very few have. Furthermore politics (if you are right wing – Starmer gets a ‘free pass’) is now toxic. Look at Nadhim Zahawi losing his last job for a tax penalty nobody would have bothered with in a regular job; look at the vilification Suella Braverman gets for saying what most people outside the political class probably agree with; look at the fuss over Stanley Johnson, a former MEP, being reportedly nominated for a knighthood which there is an arguable case for, especially as paid Permanent Secretaries and High Court Judges get an automatic knighthood, whereas Stanley Jonson did unpaid work at the Prime Minister’s side. So few talented people bother with politics, let alone get promoted within politics (for instance our host, John Redwood should be a Minister in running the country rather than running a blog!).
    The whole thing gets worse and worse and now the Civil Service is so useless and partisan (opposing policies rather than implementing them, let alone making them work efficiently) that it would be better to change to the American system where each government appoints its own senior civil servants.

    1. Neil
      March 14, 2023

      Belated comment ~4 days later … from various diaries/memoirs/autobiographies, Blair/Brown (1997-2010) and then Cameron (2010-) all but destroyed cabinet government. Thatcher was said to be pretty discontent with it unless the cabinet agreed to her proposals. So I don’t know how one gets back to the more satisfactory system that seems to have operated for decades before 1979. Ask advice from a few politicians who are old enough to actually have seen it in operation, e.g. Ken Clarke?

      Reply Thatcher on my advice took all important decisions to Cabinet or Cabinet Committee

  36. glen cullen
    March 10, 2023

    BBC reporting that we’re going to give £500 million to France …..and here’s the kicker – they don’t have to accept a single illegal immigrant in return

    Sunak would make a great civil servant

    1. Mickey Taking
      March 11, 2023

      But has made tens of thousands of influential friends.

  37. Original Richard
    March 10, 2023

    I take your point Sir John that civil servants change jobs too often and hence lack expertise and instead need to be kept in jobs for longer with more relevant training.

    But how do we, the voter/taxpayer, ever get rid of either poorly performing civil servants, or even more importantly, those who have their own agenda and use the enormous resources and power of the civil service to promote it? Even plotting against the manifesto pledges of an elected government?

    Because of Robert Conquest’s 2nd and 3rd laws of politics we inevitably have a far left civil service made worse by 3 years of Marxist indoctrination at university.

    Hence we have, for instance, BEIS writing in their “Mission Zero” such nonsense that wind energy is 6 times cheaper than gas, that heat pumps have a COP of 4 and are now cheaper to run than gas boilers and publish an energy flow chart showing no plan at all for backup when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun isn’t shining.

    Not only do we need to employ better trained civil servants, particularly in STEM subjects, but we also require a mechanism for removing them which does not appear to exist at present.

    The country voted to leave the EU because it was undemocratic to be ruled by a bureaucracy we could not elect and could not remove. The civil service are acting like the EU Commission and this is undemocratic.

  38. margaret
    March 10, 2023

    As time goes on more and more play the power game. They know how to bring persons and jobs down. They know that if they put a false accusation in due to jealousy or spite it has to be investigated . They know that documenting either falsities or even the truth sometimes, is called evidence. The blame culture is a nasty cooperate of the nasties. Truth , honour , intelligence, morality is somewhere in peoples imagination.
    My profession is totally accountable for all its decisions and practice. We cannot do something because some other profession told us to. It doesn’t stand up in court. We should know or seek help.

  39. IanB
    March 10, 2023

    When you look at how the Civil Service, the OBR and the Bank of England’s operate it’s hard to see any difference between them and the novel ‘Our Man in Havana’. The similarities are staggering

  40. Paul Cuthbertson
    March 12, 2023

    Nothing will happen until our whole system of government is changed and the “swamp” drained. However change is forthcoming and nothing can stop what is coming, NOTHING.

  41. Dr John de los Angeles
    March 13, 2023

    Just brilliant.

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