New rules for the gong show? More charity workers, fewer Whitehall suits


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Indy Politics

It could almost be written into the terms and conditions of the senior civil service. Get appointed as an ambassador to a reasonable size country? That will be a knighthood thank you very much. Manage to rise to the ranks of Cabinet Secretary? Expect a peerage along with your retirement clock.

But now that could all be about to change after a new report from a committee of influential MPs. The Public Administration Select Committee is thought to have concluded in a report due to be published this week that the system of "gongs for jobs" in which officials routinely receive honours for long service should be ended.

Instead the MPs believe more awards should be given to people who donate their time to help others, perform valuable public services for no pay or go beyond the call of duty in their job.

As the Independent on Sunday reported last week, this new thinking means Britain's Olympic medallists will not automatically qualify for an honour for excelling at the London games.

The report will find sympathy with some senior ministers who have also become irritated by the stranglehold that Whitehall officials have over the honours process.

While it is the Honours Advisory Committee which make the final recommendation to the palace for gongs, initial lists are drawn up by Government departments for their areas of expertise and approved by the Permanent Secretary. "Apart from a few high profile celebrities, the honours system is basically the civil service giving awards out to each other and their friends," said one minister.

The Public Administration Select Committee, which is chaired by senior Conservative backbencher Bernard Jenkin, has been presented with extensive evidence that local recommendations for awards such as OBEs and MBEs often "sink without trace".

The MPs were impressed by widespread evidence from lord lieutenants, the Queen's representatives responsible for encouraging members of the public to suggest recipients for honours, that too often these are ignored in favour of Whitehall nominees.

Sir Garth Morrison, lord lieutenant of East Lothian, told the committee: "Too many honours are bestowed on people who are perceived simply to be doing the job for which they are paid ... whereas an equally talented, committed and hard-working individual who devotes some of his or her time to an organisation like the Scouts, is much less likely to [be honoured]."

Two MPs on the committee, Labour's Paul Flynn and Kelvin Hopkins, are expected to go even further, issuing a minority report attacking the use of the word "empire" in awards such as the Order of the British Empire and the British Empire Medal.

They condemn the way the honours committee is dominated by whips, rewarding MPs who toe the party line. During an evidence hearing, Flynn joked that such honours might be known as the Order of the Lickspittle or the Order of the Toady.

Honours recipients: The good, the anonymous and the ugly

The tireless fundraiser for terminally ill children: Kirsty Ashton, 21, Wythenshawe

Appointed MBE in the New Year's Honours after raising nearly £100,000 for the Wish Upon A Star charity which supports terminally ill children. The Salford University student suffers from neurofibromatosis which means tumours grow on her back and must be removed several times a year. She has raised money for the charity for 13 years consecutively.

The dedicated career civil servant: Rachel Sandby-Thomas, civil servant

Solicitor and director general at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills; she was appointed Companion of the Bath. Has worked in the department since March 2008. Her government CV includes spells at Treasury, the Cabinet Office, the Attorney General's office, Work and Pensions and Health.

The friend of the Tories who donates his wealth: Paul Ruddock, Tory Party donor and hedge fund boss

Knighted this year. Lansdowne Partners, Mr Ruddock's company, was accused of gambling on the decline of Northern Rock. His appointment angered Labour, which claimed "hard-pressed families" would not understand the reward. Honoured "for charitable donations".