Goodbye, minister: civil service hit by staff exodus

Turnover of top staff risks leaving civil service short of expertise

The Government is dealing with an unprecedented churn of senior civil servants with a majority of ministers now in posts for longer periods than their permanent secretaries. Staff turnover rates in some departments are now as high as 30 per cent, according to an analysis by the respected think-tank the Institute for Government.

The situation is particularly acute at the very top of the civil service and within Downing Street, with an extraordinary turnover of officials over the last 16 months. The institute warns that, at a time when the Government is attempting to make significant public-sector savings, the loss of institutional knowledge could adversely affect the running of departments.

The most recent changes include:

* the Permanent Secretary and three director generals in the Department for Education departing en masse before Christmas. Their roles are now being filled by people "acting up";

* the longest-serving member of the top team at the Department for Communities and Local Government joined the board just before the election. Everyone else has been there less time than the ministers;

* the Prime Minister's top foreign-affairs team has just changed completely: he has his second National Security adviser since the election. A new EU and global affairs adviser and a permanent replacement for Alex Allan as chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee have yet to be announced.

The three of the senior officials at the Department for Education to quit just before Christmas were Sir David Bell, the Permanent Secretary; Jon Coles, director general of school standards; and Lesley Longstone, the director general of infrastructure and funding.

A source close to the department said: "There are persistent rumours of the tensions of working with this Government. Civil servants are told 'we've already made our minds up'. They have no input into the process."

George Osborne is also grappling with an exodus of personnel at the Treasury. Before Christmas, Treasury staff received emails asking whether they had any friends interested in applying for unfilled jobs. Two officials are said to have remarked that the Treasury's turnover rate is now "higher than McDonald's".

Annual Treasury staff turnover was 28 per cent in 2011, up from 22 per cent a year earlier and far higher than Britain's median labour turnover rate of 12.5 per cent.

Mr Osborne has lost six of his director and director-general level officials in recent months, including: Andrew Hudson, the director general of public services; Mark Bowman, head of Budget planning; and Nicholas Joicey, director of international finance.

The Treasury said it has traditionally had high staff turnover rates because it often takes staff on temporary secondments, but accepted that the current situation may be worse than usual.

A department spokesman attributed the rise in staff turnover in part to the Treasury's declining headcount: "Overall turnover rates inevitably increase when headcount is falling. Other departments have recently seen big increases in their turnover rates. For example, the turnover rate has increased by 10.5 per cent in the Department for Culture Media and Sport and by 8.1 per cent in the Foreign Office over the last year."

The Institute warns that the change is not yet over. The Department of Health is undergoing a complete restructuring of its top team – with three new director general jobs out for open competition, while the Department for the Environment is about to reorganise at director-general and director level.

Jill Rutter, programme director at the institute, said such high levels of turnover could have long-term consequences. "The need to make unprecedented cuts in budgets was bound to necessitate more churn than usual," she said. "But the Government will only succeed in seeing its longer-term plans through if it manages to retain and motivate good people to weather the current turbulence and stick with it."

Jonathan Baume, head of the civil servants' union the First Division Association, said the churn was the result of a slimming down of top-level civil servants and an appreciation that pay rates and promotion possibilities were likely to be limited over the next few years. "I think some have made the choice that their future is better in the private sector."

Civil service in turmoil

Department of Health: The department is undergoing a complete restructuring of its top team, with three new director general jobs not yet filled.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: About to reorganise its top structure at director-general and director level.

Department for Education: The Permanent Secretary and three director-general roles are filled by people "acting up" since the top team departed en masse.

The Cabinet Office: Work on "open public services" has been the responsibility of four deputy directors since the election, and the Government is already on its third chief information officer.

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit