26 September 2023

UNITED KINGDOM: Defensive PS ‘not the best’

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A former Minister in charge of the United Kingdom Public Service has dismissed the often-repeated claim that the institution is the best in the world as a myth.

Instead, Lord Francis Maude (pictured) said Whitehall was beset with an “odd combination of insecurity and complacency”.

Lord Maude’s comments came while speaking about his time as Cabinet Office Minister from 2010-to-2015 when he oversaw the Government’s attempts to reform the Public Service.

His tenure saw the introduction of fixed-term appointments for Permanent Secretaries and the controversial performance-management regime that required 10 per cent of staff to be described as poor performers.

In an interview with a London radio station Lord Maud, who is advising the current Government on its own series of reforms, said the Public Service was “excessively defensive” about itself.

“We have to be hard-headed and clear-sighted about what’s capable of being improved and what isn’t working well because otherwise you’re never going to address it,” Lord Maude said.

“If there is this sort of impermeable wall of resistance to criticism or exposing the room for improvement, then nothing is going to get better,” he said.

Lord Maude said that during his time in office speechwriters would routinely hand him first drafts of speeches on the Public Service that began with the sentence: ‘The British Civil Service is the best in the world’.

“We got fed up with just crossing that out and we then explored what evidence there is for it. We found that the only ranking was a World Bank ranking for Government effectiveness where the UK ranked 16th,” he said.

“It is a myth that this is the best Civil Service in the world, but whenever I would say this, some former Civil Service leaders would rail against me that I was running down Civil Servants and I wasn’t.”

He said that some individual Public Servants were absolutely among the best in the world “but the Civil Service as an institution is deeply flawed”.

London, 29 October 2020

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