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Time to take back control – of the civil service

Ollie Lane
June 29, 2020

Far from being overly radical, Boris Johnson's Government has been far too timid concerning reform of the civil service. The civil service needs to be revolutionised, and the elected politicians need to take back control, argues Ollie Lane

With the UK set to leave the European Union at the end of the year, it's time to ask, who will be taking back control from the Eurocrats in Brussels?

For years, elected Governments have been frustrated by the very employees who supposedly work for them, with a clique of Whitehall mandarins having effectively used the EU as an excuse to act as if they were the true, legitimate and permanent ruling class of the UK.

Simply put, Brexit isn't enough to change this.

Replacing Brussels based bureaucrats with their London equivalent will lead to nothing but more of the same. Having wrestled control back from Brussels, our politicians need to take back control, to ensure a return of democratic accountability. For far too long politicians have been able to hide behind EU rules as an excuse for inaction, but now, it's time to ensure they are forced to take responsibility, and make decisions, even on contentious issues they don't appear to want to touch.

While dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic has rightly become the Government's sole focus in recent months, their ability to effectively cope with the immediate economic and social consequences of the lockdown should now be seen as all important. While many will assume that the Commons majority Boris commands will be enough to ensure post pandemic, and outside the EU, things will be done differently, history has shown this isn't the case. Only through wholesale reform of the civil service, will the Government be able to deliver on their manifesto, and change the status quo.

Over the last few months, it has appeared clear that the Government have been in favour of reforming the civil service, but so far anything of real substance has failed to materialise. Far from taking back control, and working on behalf of their electors, Ministers remain the spokespeople for unaccountable departments. Even now, Ministers meekly inherit teams of civil servants hostile to their agendas when they take the job, often only bringing in a single advisor to help assist them.

Converting a Commons majority, even one as robust as Boris enjoys, into changing the culture of civil service is no easy task, but to effect the sort of liberalising conservative changes this Government will need to undertake to get the economy moving, will require a public administration willing to break with the past.

To do this, the Government need to be radical. Firstly, they need to overhaul civil service recruitment and promotions, fully opening middle and senior leadership positions within the civil service up to outside competition from the commercial or third sector. And secondly, they need to shift the civil service culture away from the left wing attitudes that have become entrenched over the last two decades.

With the battle to leave the EU all but won, it's time to review who is taking back control from Brussels, and rethink the very way we are going to be governed. Now is the time for the Government to be radical, the civil service needs to be revolutionised, and the elected politicians need to take back control.

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Ollie Lane has worked for a Conservative MP, and now works in the Charity Sector
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