by Daphne Liddle
FRANCIS MAUDE, the Cabinet Office Minister, last week announced a new Government plan to reward “the best” civil servants while at the same time making it easier to sack their “underperforming” colleagues.
It is a thinly disguised move to make new swingeing cuts in the civil service without incurring the costs of redundancy settlements by blaming the victims of the new purge.
The plan is part of a wider package of reforms, could see the “bottom” 10 per cent of staff sacked after a year if they fail to improve.
It is a scheme designed to add yet more insecurity and stress to workers already overburdened as the result of past cuts in staffing numbers.
And it opens to door for all sorts of discriminatory practices and prejudices in the assessment process. In effect, if you face doesn’t fit or you are not a crawler your job is in danger.
The scheme will also allow government ministers to choose the civil servants who run their department. This introduces for the first time politically biased appointments.
Hitherto civil servants have been bound absolutely to party political neutrality; giving the best service they can to which ever government has been elected to power.
Now we could see a situation where every change of government leads to a complete change of top level civil servants and the appointment of political favourites who may lack the in-depth knowledge and understanding of the department held by civil servants who have spent their whole career in it.
The Government says it wants to see the civil service operate more like a business, with a tougher appraisal system, increased accountability and a more entrepreneurial culture.
So we are likely to see new heads of department parachuted in from the private sector to run the department for the benefit of the private sector.
Each department will carry out a full review of the terms and conditions of its staff to identify what additional perks civil servants receive which are not in line with other “good, modern” employers.
Furthermore ministers will no longer be restricted to the civil service as their only source of policy advice. They will be able to commission policy research from outside Whitehall, for example from businesses, charities and think tanks. A central fund will be created to pilot this new system.
Civil service unions are angry at the proposals.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This plan is built on sand because cutting more than 100,000 jobs and allowing the pursuit of private profit to dictate what we do is entirely incompatible with providing the kind of good quality public services that we all rightly expect and demand.
“Instead of seeking to blame civil servants, ministers should recognise that austerity isn’t working and, far from making our economic situation better, it is their political choices that are causing misery for millions of people in this country.”
Prospect, the union for professional and specialist civil servants, said the Government’s reform plans would fail to create a more professional civil service and would “import the worst excesses of David Brent’s The Office into government.”
On behalf of 34,000 scientists, engineers and specialists in departments and public bodies, general secretary Paul Noon said politicians had obsessed for years over issues of policy and management. “But what the public cares about is service and services.”
He added: “What is planned for the Government’s own workforce is more of the same — pay and job cuts, once again without any indication of what tasks are to be shed or their impact on core skills.
“The cuts are to be achieved by a human resources policy that takes it out on people who don’t get on with their boss, which will only create a culture of fear and import into government the worst excesses of David Brent’s The Office.
“This is not a vision of a professional civil service attuned to an economy in crisis or the technological needs of the 21st century. It is management by diktat and another nail in the coffin of the public service ethos.”
Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the FDA, which represents the most senior civil servants, said further consultation and debate was needed, particularly on the “sensitive and complex issues” surrounding civil servants’ relationships with ministers and their accountability to Parliament.
But from the point of view of the general public, on the receiving end of Government services, it is another big step towards commercialising the civil service and intruding a private sector ethos which puts the welfare of citizens in second place to the welfare of private sector profits.