Dear William Waldegrave: After sombre reflection, a respected civil servant gives his considered reaction of 'not quite yes Minister' to the White Paper

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Re: Streamlining the Civil Service.

You asked me to test the water on your bold and far-reaching proposals. First let me assure you that I and my colleagues are 100 per cent behind you, united in appreciating the argument for a 'tauter and flatter' civil service.

We therefore welcome the White Paper as an opportunity to find a basis for discussion of reforms that may be necessary to fulfil the above objectives - always of course assuming that, after the basis for discussion has been settled, it is agreed in that discussion that the above objectives are consistent with fulfilling the aims we all share. In the unlikely event that discussion does not prove consistent with these hopes, the exercise will still have been worthwhile as a means of foreclosing those particular options, while opening up the debate in other directions.

In the light of that statement of principle, I believe I should be failing in my duty if I did not report the merest hint of reservations among my colleagues about two of your initial thoughts.

Performance related pay: We all accept the principle behind this objective - as it is applied, say, to railway signalmen and BBC interviewers. It is easy enough to count the number of trains a signalman lets pass, and the number of times Jeremy Paxman interrupts his guests. A civil servant's job embraces criteria that are less easy to evaluate.

The quality we cherish, if I may uncharacteristically sum it up in a single word, is patina. We are bred to mellow with age and experience. How do you measure the performance of a warmly polished mahogany dining table, or a buffed-up old riding boot?

As our job title suggests, we are servants, and humble servants at that, trained solely to do the bidding of our political masters. 'Initiative' has no place in our lexicon. If we do under-perform, the fault - and I am choosing my words carefully here - is not in ourselves but in those elected over us to interpret the wishes of the populace.

Opening up posts to outsiders: This would certainly bring in a welcome breath of fresh air to what sometimes must seem to you the musty corridors of power. But fresh air can be a mixed blessing, as Scott found to his cost on that fateful day in the Antarctic.

Men like Richard Branson could, on the face of it, work wonders. However, I am given to understand that Mr Branson is a stranger to the concept of the necktie. That would automatically exclude him from places such as the Athenaeum and the pavilion at Lord's, where much of our best work is done.

As I say, we have all been greatly stimulated by your proposals. I propose to file the White Paper in my 'immediate action' tray, where it should surface again soon after the next general election.

Yes, ex-minister?

Your humble servant,

(Photograph omitted)

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