The Very Civil Service

As civil servants book their holidays for the upcoming election, several government departments have been investing in ways to make life less stressful for the famously hard-working, clock-off-at-four profession. Signs have popped up urging people to not use exclusionary phrases like “that’s crazy”, gender-neutral toilet schemes are becoming very popular, and even ‘safe spaces’ are appearing.

In the Department for International Trade, civil servants can relax in the ‘Tranquility room’ where personal calls and meetings are banned. Negotiating those new trade deals can get very stressful…

In the Treasury, signs guide civil servants on how to avoid offence, with comical posters even suggesting replacing words like ‘crazy’ and ‘schizophrenic’ with ‘absurd’ and ‘erratic’. Four words that aptly describe their language-policing scheme

Civil Service: Brexit Doesn’t Mean Brexit

The Civil Service seemingly have a deeper aversion to ‘Brexit’ meaning Brexit than might have first appeared. Brexit-watchers will have noticed that official documentation never mentions the word, with officials instead being told to always use the phrase ‘EU Exit.’ One Civil Servant told Guido Brexit has been given the ‘Voldemort’ treatment…

Interestingly they aren’t the first people to avoid the word – Vote Leave also rigorously avoided using the word ‘Brexit’ because it was found to have less positive associations with voters than ‘Leave’. Whatever people want to call it, it doesn’t change the fact that Brexit means Brexit and Leave means Leave…

Rudd Case Shows Sedwill Wrong to Put Civil Servants Above Criticism

Amber Rudd levelled some remarkable accusations at her former civil servants in the Home Office this morning following the publication of a report into the events surrounding her resignation over the Windrush Scandal. Sir Alex Allan’s report, which was completed on May 23rd but not published until today after being leaked to The Times, pointed the finger of blame at civil servants for not providing Rudd with correct briefings which led her to misleading MPs about the existence of removals targets.

Rudd herself went further on Today, effectively accusing senior civil servants of politically-motivated leaks against her:

JW: You were leaked about at the time as well – do you have a sense that this was just incompetence or was there something political as well – was there an attempt to embarrass you?

AR: It certainly felt like the latter as well… yes, there were a series of leaks during the past year at quite a high level that were definitely intended to embarrass me.

The two civil servants singled out for criticism in Allan’s report, Director General for Immigration Hugh Ind and Permanent Secretary Patsy Wilkinson, have simply been moved to other high level jobs within the civil service. Ind is now Director General at the Cabinet Office while Wilkinson has moved into a national security role. Classic civil service promotion for failure.

The whole affair makes a mockery of Mark Sedwill’s protestations only two weeks ago that civil servants should not be subject to scrutiny from the press. It is a basic fact of politics that individual civil servants have agendas and leak to the press for political reasons. It is a basic fact of life that civil servants are not infallible and sometimes make mistakes when carrying out their jobs.

Yet the notion still persists in some quarters that civil servants should be immune to political criticism despite carrying out political attacks of their own, while politicians take the flak for officials’ mistakes even as the Whitehall gravy train ensures that the officials responsible still have a cushy job at the end of it all. Funny how many of those rushing to defend Robbins now want officials’ heads to roll over Rudd…

Civil Service Headcount Still Rising in London

The Civil Service is ripe for reducing numbers, digital automation and A.I. should bring a merciful demise to a lot of paper-pushers doing mundane jobs. Think about all the processes that have become digitised; driving licences and tax filing for example. Headcount for the civil service has gone down in most places since 2010. Yet in London it has been going up for the last 5 years…

The number of civil servants in London rose by a massive 5,000 last year, in fact civil service headcount has been rising overall and median pay rose at above inflation rates. The wage bill in London alone rose by hundreds of millions. The initial Osborne/Maude onslaught on the bureaucratic fat after 13 years of Labour lethargy saw over 100,000 pen pushers find jobs in the private sector under the coalition. Now with a mangerialist government the Treasury has lost the will to bear down on the headcount. Despite the massive opportunity to reduce paperwork and civil service numbers through digitalisation of services the headcount is steadily rising. What happened to the quangocides we were promised? The state and para-statal organisations seem to be ever expanding…

Robbins’ Private Sector Options

Rumours are doing the rounds in Whitehall that Theresa May’s Brexit adviser Olly Robbins is weighing up his options for a potential move to the private sector after October. The water cooler chat in several departments is that Robbins could bail out after the key EU summit and is considering a big pay day outside of government. He will not be short of offers on the continent…

Robbins Hits Back at Brussels Briefing

May’s chief civil service Brexit adviser Olly Robbins has joined Twitter with a passive aggressive dig at the Brussels official who briefed the press yesterday that the UK was “chasing fantasy”. The implication of Robbins’ tweet very much that Brussels has not been calm and professional. Robbins’ Twitter mentions when Leave.EU and co find his account will be quite something…

No.10, Treasury and Robbins’ Bid to Wreck Max Fac

If any further proof were needed that the civil service is working against Brexit, this morning’s revelation in The Sun that Olly Robbins held back evidence in favour of the Max Fac model just about sums it up. May’s Europhile Brexit adviser stands accused of deliberately not including evidence that a technological solution can be found to solve the Irish border question in his presentation to the Brexit sub-committee. Meanwhile, George Trefgarne reports that Number 10 and the Treasury nixed plans to trial Max Fac next year:

If the civil service stopped trying to fight Brexit and just got on with it, things would be going a lot better for Number 10.

Civil Service Workshops With Paul Mason and AC Grayling

Where do the civil service get all their brilliant ideas? Perhaps from the workshops they run for mandarins billed as “bringing the world’s leading thinkers to Whitehall”. On 30 May the Treasury is inviting in AC Grayling, number one on Guido’s list of 10 people who’ve been driven mad by Brexit, to address staff. Twitter’s nutty professor, who has called Brexiters “vermin“, sought a general strike to oppose Brexit and alleged other ultra-Remainers were being “silenced” by forces of the state, will be speaking as part of the Treasury’s “Thought Experiment” series. The Treasury tell Guido their speakers are balanced. Grayling certainly isn’t being silenced by forces of the state, they’re giving him a platform.

A few days earlier, on 24 May, civil servants at BEIS will be addressed by Paul Mason. The mad Corbynista is giving a speech titled “Economic History” as part of the department’s “Alternative Approaches to Economics” series. Yes, the leather-jacketed revolutionary hero of the insurgent left will be coming in to share his wisdom with the heart of the government machine. These events are taking place during the working day. Don’t civil servants have anything better to be doing?

No.10 / Civil Service Love In

In response to more Brexiteer criticism of Olly Robbins’ customs partnership proposal in the Sunday newspapers, a clear concerted effort from Number 10 to back their Remainer civil servants:

Jeremy Heywood sends some love back:

Hardly going to reassure Leavers. Pass the sick bucket…

Foreign Office’s Top Civil Servant in Spectacular Amritsar Blunder

Simon McDonald is the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office. He is its top civil servant. He thinks the Golden Temple in Amritsar is a mosque. Almost unbelievably, this tweet was up for 10 hours before anyone at the FCO thought to correct it. McDonald grovels: “I was wrong: I am sorry”. Foreign Office gaffes don’t come worse than that…

Overwhelming Anti-Brexit Bias of Former Top Civil Servants

Anti-Brexit bias runs like a spinal cord through the bloated body of civil servants and ex-mandarins that make up Whitehall. This group of metropolitan remainers – whose fat pensions are funded by the taxpayer – are an influence network which has been regularly accused of trying to hamper Brexit. Many of them have seats in the House of Lords. Last night every living former Cabinet Secretary voted against the government on the customs union. A Guido probe reveals the extent to which former top civil servants share anti-Brexit views…

Let’s start with Lord David Hannay, formerly Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the European Economic Community. He tarred all Leave voters with the same brush, calling them “feckless” during a Parliamentary debate last year. That’s 17,410,742 voters dismissed…

Lord Robin Butler – Cabinet Secretary for a decade under Thatcher, Major and Blair, loudly and publicly opposes Brexit. He claims leaving the EU:

“Strikes a dagger to my soul… The United Kingdom being motivated by an illusory quest for independence, in a world which becomes more interdependent day by day, is a painful prospect.”

Sir John Kerr – former Permanent Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office (a particular hotbed of remain sentiment) – wants Article 50 reversed and believes the UK should accept a subordinate position to the EU:

“At any stage we can change our minds if we want to… we can remember that an Article 50 notification can always be withdrawn… in the end, we will basically come to heel.”

Lord Sir Nick MacPherson, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury for more than a decade, suggested stopping Article 50, even if it demands a change of government:

“Lord Kerr drafted Art. 50 and entirely right that Brexit can be halted at any time. Odds are against but all governments’ lives are finite.”

Lord Ricketts, former Permanent Under Secretary of State of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, denied that the EU intends to create its own army despite evidence to the contrary:

“I think we can be completely relaxed about the prospect of a European army; it is never going to happen.”

Former Head of the Civil Service Lord Kerslake – often deployed by Corbynistas as a policy ally – says there is “no upside” to Brexit:

“The challenge here, and I’ll be very direct about this – from my perspective there is no upside [to Brexit]. This is about damage limitation. And we’re working in a situation where policy has not been properly settled.”

Sir Martin Donnelly – Permanent Secretary of the Department for International Trade until last year, prefers a food analogy. He compared leaving the Customs Union to sign trade deals with other countries to:

“Giving up a three-course meal now in favour of the promise of a packet of crisps”

And let’s not forget Lord Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary from 2005-2015, who publicly campaigned for ‘remain’. Faced with the legacy of this gang of Brussels-loving Sir Humprheys, no wonder Brexiteers think Whitehall is working against them…

How Did Someone Who Thinks We Should Stay in the Customs Union End Up Running DIT?

Former Department for International Trade permanent secretary Martin Donnelly’s anti-Brexit speech today has been seized upon by Remainers and given top billing by the Today programme. Donnelly’s latest whinge is nothing new – he essentially says this morning that we should stay in the single market and customs union, just as he did three months ago. Not that that’s stopping the BBC and Remain media from treating it as new information. The more pertinent question is how on earth did someone who thinks we should stay in the customs union end up in charge of a department the whole point of which is to sign trade deals outside the customs union? 

The reaction on Whitehall this morning is more one of rolled eyes than surprise. A former Eurocrat, Donnelly was never rated, neither by ministers nor Jeremy Heywood. Indeed they tried to push him out repeatedly pre-referendum before he finally took a knighthood and left. Donnelly tells you all you need to know about the civil service being stuffed full of Remainers trying to undermine the process… hardly helpful for his former colleagues.

Jeremy Heywood Openly Endorses Civil Service’s Political Campaigning

Over the last few days some of the supposedly ‘great and the good’ have been clasping their pearls and theatrically reaching for the smelling salts at the suggestion that civil servants might have some groupthink going on, and that the Treasury in particular might be politically suspect when it comes to forecasting. Former heads of the civil service Andrew Turnbull and Gus O’Donnell came over like pantomime dames at the impilication, comparing Brexiteers to Hitler and snake oil salesman.

What are the views of the most recent ex-head of the civil service, Lord Kerslake? Strangely he was silent this weekend, fortunately we have the benefit of being able to read his 44 page independent review published last year Rethinking the Treasury. It was produced by another heavyweight panel of ‘the great and the good’ – and it was scathing…

The theme of the report is that the Treasury tells Chancellors what they want to hear, suffering from an arrogant inward looking “groupthink“, tailoring forecasts and analysis accordingly. In a wide-ranging criticism of the Treasury’s macroeconomic forecasting, Kerslake notes that “The creation of the Office for Budget Responsibility reflected a conscious decision to outsource Treasury responsibility for forecasting…”. He warned of “the specific need to re-establish the department’s credibility in terms of the impartiality of its advice and hence the importance of its economic expertise in designing Brexit.” Something Brexiters in government don’t believe has happened.

Jeremy Heywood of course pretends the civil service is impartial and departmental research is objective analysis. He is pictured above at the Civil Service Awards, held after the Scottish Referendum, presenting his Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Award to the Treasury’s Scotland Analysis Programme Team. At the time of the referendum their analysis was bitterly contested by the SNP as politicised and heavily slanted. Something the civil service denied haughtily at the time in much the same way it is doing today with its Brexit forecasts. 

Celebrating after receiving the award team members spoke to Civil Service World Magazine. Mario Pisani, perhaps a little too in vino veritas said:

 “… we’re part of a political campaign. We were doing everything from the analysis, to the advertising, to the communications. I just felt a massive sense of being part of the operation. This being recognised makes me feel just incredibly proud.” 

Shannon Cochrane said:

“… it is possible for civil servants to work on things that are inherently political and quite difficult and you’re very close to the line of what is appropriate…”

Civil Service World is the trade press for civil servants, who are not famed for being candid in public. Very revealing – Heywood signalling that if you do get too close to, or even cross, the line in supporting his policy goals, he will be very pleased….

Former Civil Service Chiefs: Brexiters are Crazy Nazis

On the front page of the Observer the former head of the civil service Andrew Turnbull compares Brexiters to Nazis.[…] Read the rest

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Heywood Hits Back

Jeremy Heywood with an unsubtle defence of his Brexit doom document, praising his civil service colleagues for “making evidence-based policy”.[…] Read the rest

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10 Questions For Jeremy Heywood to Answer

Jeremy Heywood is feeling “heat” from Number 10 this morning according to Whitehall sources. Guido will believe it when he sees it, Theresa May’s aides usually allow the Cabinet Secretary to walk all over them. The Sun reveals Heywood “played a key role in coordinating” the Brexit doom document and was consulted on it last month.[…] Read the rest

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Did Heywood Have Permission to Defend Remain Ally Robbins?

Worth watching Nick Watt’s profile of Theresa May’s Brexit supremo Olly Robbins, which draws on Guido’s story about his communist past and reveals David Davis regularly mocks his former Soviet sympathies. The film also carried a rare public statement from Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood defending his Remain ally:

“The civil service is putting enormous effort and many of its very best people into making a success of the project.

[…] Read the rest

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Ultra-Remainers Claiming End State Victory

Wishful thinking from the Treasury’s ultra-Remain former Perm Sec? Or is he onto something?

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Knives Out For Heywood and Robbins

Tory Brexiteers fear Theresa May is being bounced by her top civil servants Jeremy Heywood and Olly Robbins into a non-Brexit which prevents us from diverging from the EU after we leave. Leavers have been pragmatic, calm and willing to compromise throughout the Brexit process so far.[…] Read the rest

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Sir Cover-Up, Sir Craig and the Curious Case of His Memoirs

The rules for a former Special Adviser wanting to write a book on their time in government are very clear: Sir Jeremy Heywood must give his personal approval. As the Code of Conduct for SpAds states: “The permission of the Cabinet Secretary must be sought before publishing, or entering into a contractual commitment to publish such memoirs”. […] Read the rest

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