Uncivil remarks

Robert Peston's sour comments about the civil service (21 January) missed the point. The civil service is entering year three of a major reform programme that includes a commitment to equality almost unmatched in any other employment sector, and a recognition that there is a deficit of certain important skills. This reform programme will deliver, but only if it is given time to effect change. The civil service has been subject to almost continual reform since 1979, but reform that has often pulled in opposing directions.

The civil service recognises that public service delivery (and reform) is critical to the government. However, part of the delivery problem dates back to 1997, when the new government included almost no one with previous ministerial experience or any other relevant experience of the management of large organisations, public or private. Any failure in public sector reform is largely political; the government is far too centralist for its own good, still lacks a coherent strategy for public services, and seems to believe that delivering a package of money on day one leads to results the very next day.

The argument for keeping the posts of cabinet secretary and head of the civil service as one is based on practical experience. As history has shown, the authority of both roles is diminished by a split. And while a significant number of outsiders have already been appointed to senior civil service posts, very few in the private sector have the skills necessary to deal with political egos. Just look at the poor track record of those from the private sector brought into ministerial posts (usually in the Lords).

Jonathan Baume
General secretary Association of First Division Civil Servants
London SW1

This article first appeared in the 28 January 2002 issue of the New Statesman, Time to bite back?