Sir Humphreys face axe in Whitehall reforms

THE CIVIL Service characterised by Yes Minister's Sir Humphrey Appleby is to be swept away by radical reform, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, announced yesterday.

The moves to make the public sector more flexible and more business-orientated will mean large numbers of early retirements. Older staff - who tend to perform less well in appraisals - may find themselves targeted to "create more space at the top", while bright young managers may be head-hunted for promotion. Between pounds 30mand pounds 35m will be set aside to pay for severance schemes and for extra expenditure on recruitment and marketing, according to one of a series of reports.

The changes, aimed at making the service more modern, were ordered by Tony Blair but the details have all been drawn up by senior civil servants. They will be aided by pounds 100m in extra funds over the next two years, with departments bidding for their share and contributing a further portion of cash themselves. Among the targets for the future, which have been set out on a New Labour-style pledge card, are plans to recruit more women and ethnic minority staff to senior positions.

There will be a new flexibility which will make it easier for staff to move between departments and to move between the public and private sectors either permanently or on secondment. Plans are being drawn up for changes to the Civil Service pension arrangements so that staff who do this are not disadvantaged.

Stronger leadership will be promoted through a team of Civil Service "champions" responsible for different areas of reform, and some departments will bring in outside organisations to help them review how they plan their operations. There will be new pay and appraisal systems, and new "talent spotting" programmes will lead to the promotion of bright young managers who may be outside the Civil Service fast stream. Performance- related pay will be used increasingly to reward good work.

One of a series of groups set up to plan the reforms has suggested that the National Audit Office should be brought in to oversee how departments are improving their performance. It was headed by Michael Bichard, the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Education and Employment.

The programme will last between three and five years. "Sir Humphrey was invented 20 years ago and I don't think he would have recognised management as an important part of his responsibility," Sir Richard said. "Over the next 20 years we want the service to have a much stronger sense of leadership, not just from the top but all the way down the line," he said.

Civil Service unions were involved in drawing up the reforms, and broadly welcomed them yesterday. John Sheldon, joint general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said the changes should benefit all staff.

"The key test will be that this programme of reform involves all of the Civil Service whatever their grade, wherever they are located, whatever their gender or ethnic background," he said. Paul Tyler, the Liberal Democrat cabinet office spokesman, said civil servants who failed should have their pay cut. "Few would argue with rewarding good performance but it will be interesting to see if this principle cuts both ways and bad performances result in pay cuts," he said.

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