Civil servants are “woefully unprepared” for a seismic transformation of Whitehall under new plans the prime minister wants to implement.
The sweeping reforms – which include merging, abolishing and creating new government departments – are just a “tiny fraction” of wide-scale plans to shake-up the civil service.
Downing Street is set to embark on the project this spring, following the UK’s departure from the European Union, according to Rachel Wolf, a co-author of the Conservative’s election manifesto.
Writing in the Telegraph, Wolf said the changes would also directly affect the career progression of civil servants by ending the “merry-go-round” where officials change roles every 18 months.
’Civil service won’t be politicised’
Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s special advisor, is likely to have a big influence over the reforms but Wolf dismissed any suggestions the civil service will be “politicised” and said Boris Johnson wanted to run “the most dynamic state in the world”.
Recruitment and training of officials will be one of the biggest areas of change in Whitehall and is, Wolf said, needed because the current system where a civil servant in the same role for 18 months is seen to have “stalled” is part of a culture that ensures “everyone rises to their position of incompetence”.
The changes, Wolf suggests, could see civil servants forced to sit regular exams to prove their competence to work in Whitehall and she predicted they will be “reoriented to the public” rather than “stakeholders”.
The revolution to the system will come as a shock to officials, who Wolf said: “cannot believe the prime minister and Dominic Cummings mean business”, adding: “as a result, they seem woefully unprepared for what is coming”.
400,000 civil servants of ‘radicalist overhaul’
Cummings is a long-standing critic of Whitehall and the civil service and has complained about lack of accountability for senior posts involved in failed policies because “almost no one is ever fired”.
He has described the principle of a permanent civil service as “an idea for the history books” and wrote a “to-do list” for a 2014 lecture in which he outlined his ideas for reform.
Wolf’s column in today’s Telegraph follows a spate of recent articles about the prime minister’s plans for Whitehall, and his special advisor’s disdain for civil servants.
On December 15 the Sun said the PM was “planning a brutal shake-up to make it easier to give civil servants the chop”, and the day after, a civil servant warned 400,000 colleagues in a Guardian column about Cumming’s plans to “spearhead” a “radicalist overhaul of the civil service.”
PM’s plans are ‘insulting’
Responding to Wolf’s column and other reports, Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, said the proposed reforms were “insulting” and showed “a lack of understanding” of modern Whitehall.
He told the PoliticsHome website: “Tired old rhetoric of ‘civil servants being promoted to a level of incompetence’ is not only insulting, but demonstrates a lack of understanding of the modern realities of the civil service.
“All senior civil service jobs are externally advertised, meaning anyone promoted has not only competed successfully against their peers, but also with external candidates.
“Indeed many of the issues the civil service faces are of the government’s own creation. Churn in senior civil service roles is a result of a decade of pay stagnation, with movement between jobs the only route to a pay rise.”