Politicising civil servants fraught with danger


Politicising civil servants fraught with danger

Political neutrality and the separation between ministers and their civil servants are at the heart of effective stable government. Yet they are under threat from the government’s reforms, Prospect union warned today (Tuesday).

Leslie Manasseh, Deputy General Secretary of the union for professionals, managers and specialists, told the TUC conference in Bournemouth: “We may like to be with people who agree with us or share our views. But for a government minister to demand that is a dangerous path to take. Policy ideas and plans need independent scrutiny and objective testing. They need to be challenged and deconstructed, not simply embraced.

“It’s the role of the civil servants to give ministers impartial advice which can look beyond the next day’s headlines and indeed beyond the next election.”

Manasseh was seconding an FDA motion condemning government proposals to allow ministers to surround themselves with an “extended, personally appointed group of civil servants.”

He stressed the value of the “rigorous analysis and operational scepticism based on years of expertise and experience” provided by civil servants. The government, on the other hand, saw this as prevarication and obstruction.

“Giving ministers the right to select their teams might seem unremarkable, but it could change the entire character of the civil service,” he warned. “That character has political neutrality and separation between the minister and their civil service advisers at its heart. These are precious commodities that help guarantee effective, stable government. And they are under threat.

“Just think of the car crash waiting to happen in the form of universal credit; the reckless gamble being taken with the education of all our children, and how local government, so vital to a democratic and civilised society, is being shredded before our eyes.” These were all reasons to prevent the politicisation of the civil service, he said.