"Rolls Royce" civil service? Parts of it wouldn't even get an MoT

Sir Humphrey Appleby needs to be held to account. And he needs to start doing what we voted for, not what he thinks is good for us, wrote Douglas Carswell back in 2009

by Douglas Carswell MP on 14 January 2013 17:34

How often are we told that Britain has a "Rolls Royce" civil service? Famed for its world-class impartiality and efficiency?

Yeah, right.

Square that with Damian McBride. Was he not a civil servant, at the heart of Whitehall?

"That's different", I hear you say "he was a "special adviser". Okay, so, what about those senior officials at the Home Office, who took steps that resulted in the arrest of Damian Green for exposing their incompetence in tackling uncontrolled immigration? Were they a specially partial category, too?

How partial were they when ruling out democratically accountable policing, despite it having been the policy of all three major parties? And what about the urbane Oxbridge-types at the Foreign Office? They might be impartial as to which clown of a minister is choosing what's on the wine list. But they're most definitely partial to more Europe. 

And what about the efficiency of those officials who lost those data disks? Or the quangocrats at defence, who spend £billions, but somehow never deliver our armed forces vital equipment on time and on budget. Are they all exemptions, too? How about those at the QCA who oversee perennial exam fiascos?  

From Special Advisers to arms-length quangocrats, the nature of our civil service has changed fundamentally over the past generation. It’s no good just blaming Labour and promising to limit the number of Damian McBrides. 

Far from needing to make it "independent", large swathes of the civil service are no longer world-class precisely because they're now almost wholly unaccountable.

Changing the culture in Whitehall means making the civil service more democratically accountable. What about Select Committee confirmation hearing for senior officials? How about Select Committee ratification of departmental budgets?  Australia has tried some interesting innovations, giving civil servants clear responsibility and accountability.  

Sir Humphrey Appleby needs to be held to account. And he needs to start doing what we voted for, not what he thinks is good for us.

UPDATE: Fraser Nelson writes an excellent piece here. Far from de-politicising the civil service, Fraser seems to suggest that we should in fact be making civil servants properly accountable.

This blog was originally posted on talkcarswell.com

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