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Cath Everett

Sift Media

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

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News: ‘Cameron to decimate Whitehall’ claim


The Prime Minister’s director of strategy has advised him to "road test" swingeing cuts to Whitehall in a belief that the the civil service could function effectively with 90% less staff.

According to The Telegraph today, Steve Hilton, who is leaving to take up a US university post this month, has already sent officials to "measure up" Somerset House, the main government building in the 18th century from which Britain ruled its empire, against large areas of Whitehall, Victoria and Westminster.
One source told the newspaper: "It turned out that 4,000 mandarins could run the whole empire, which rather puts today’s staffing into perspective." According to the Cabinet Office, there are currently 434,000 civil servants, the lowest number since the Second World War due to coalition government cuts.
But Hilton is keen to take things a step further and have one government department cut its staff by 70% in order to test his theory.
A Downing Street source clarified the thinking: "We need to think laterally about what the civil service is actually for. At the moment, only about a third of a minister’s box is actually concerned with coalition policy. The majority is unnecessary paperwork from civil servants and European matters."
The government also intends to publish plans over the next four weeks that will lead to mandarins being ranked in performance terms, with the aim of sacking the weakest ones.
At Cabinet level, they are apparently "fed up" with "lazy’"mandarins who are “allowed to get away with poor performance because their managers are unwilling to have ‘difficult conversations’”.
Under the plans, departments will be made to work more like big private sector companies, with managers “forced” to rate their employees under a more rigorous assessment regime.
Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude said of the move: “It is not easy to sack anyone, nor should it be. But it is no more difficult in the civil service than it is anywhere else, on performance grounds… It is just that the recent history has been that performance management hasn’t been very good, neither in terms of recognising the best performers nor in addressing the issues of the worst performers.”
He also claimed that public sector staff were “frustrated and concerned” themselves that “the worst performers” faced no action, while those who worked hardest “did not receive the recognition they deserved”.
“We need to force managers to rank. This will take time. There has been no incentive for managers to take tough decisions and have difficult conversations. That can change and it is one of the issues we will be addressing in our civil service reform plans,” Maude said.
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Cath Everett

Freelance journalist and former editor of HRZone

Read more from Cath Everett

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