Broader horizons for mandarins

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The top 500 civil servants should spend at least three months working outside Whitehall in order to broaden their experience, a report published yesterday recommended.

It says that most of these secondments should be with private sector companies and should be part of a much wider interchange between the sectors.

The report - prepared by a committee headed by Sir Bryan Nicholson, chairman of Bupa, and endorsed by the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine - is an attempt to bring about "a fusion of cultures" between the private sector and the Civil Service.

Mr Heseltine sees benefits in a greater number of secondments between the two sectors. He said yesterday: "While people in the private sector tend to be more numerate and quicker in making decisions ... the strength of the public sector includes strategic appraisal, long-term judgements and good analytical skills."

The report sets out an action programme to ensure that the number of attachments begins to rise again after remaining around the same level for the past five years. Currently, about 400 civil servants each year go into industry for periods of more than one month, and 280 people in the private sector are seconded to the Civil Service. However, these attachments are largely confined to three departments; the Ministry of Defence, the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry. Overall, including secondments to voluntary organisations and European and international bodies, there were 1,514 last year and the number peaked in 1994 at 1,671.

Sir Bryan's committee found that until now there has been a lack of focus about the programme of interchanges and he wants each government department to set up targets for the number of attachments. The committee also wants more junior civil servants and those based outside London to get the chance to work in the private sector or on other attachments.

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