The Whitehall Hit Squad:

No 10 asks for business chiefs' help to cut jobs

Britain's most senior civil servant is to call in a group of businessmen to advise on how to make thousands of job cuts

Britain's most senior civil servant is to call in a group of key private sector businessmen to advise permanent secretaries on how to make thousands of job cuts in the public sector. Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, wants the civil service to learn from private companies how to reduce in size and reform without cutting services and important functions.

Downing Street is refusing to say who the businessmen are. Among those thought to have been approached is Richard Baker, who as chief executive of Boots led a reorganisation of the company that led to over 2,000 job losses. During Mr Baker's three-year stint as head of the high street chemist, its share price doubled.

Mr Baker is now chairman of the gym chain Virgin Active but also worked for Asda in the run-up to its take over by the American retail giant Walmart. He is understood to have turned down a role as a permanent adviser to the Government.

Others believed to have been contacted for informal advice include Sir Roy Gardner, the former chief executive of Centrica, the company which used to run British Gas and the AA. At Centrica, he oversaw a major restructuring of the business which led to over 1,000 job losses. More recently he was unable to save the troubled social housing group Connaught after he was brought in as chairman. It went bust this year, causing thousands of redundancies.

Anthony Habgood, chairman of the publishing group Reed Elsevier, is another name in the frame. His interest to the civil service lies in his time running Bunzl, a company which pioneered "outsourcing". While he was executive chairman between 1991 and 2005, Bunzl grew £500m of sales to £2.9bn.

Also mentioned are John Gildersleeve, chairman of the fashion chain New Look, who helped organise the controversial sale of EMI to Guy Hands, and Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of the airports group BAA. Sir Nigel was chairman of Boots during Richard Baker's time, and founded Williams Holdings, a company which went on to become Chubb and Kidde.

As well as informal advice, the Government is looking to fill each department with a non-executive director able to bring outside business experience into Whitehall long term. These positions have proved harder to fill than expected and the date of the announcement of these "non execs" has been pushed back until later this year.

Giving evidence to the powerful House of Commons Public Administration Committee recently Sir Gus said: "I have asked key members of the private sector who have done this successfully to come and talk to the set of permanent secretaries to give them advice."

He also suggested the civil service was considering more redundancies than were needed under the Comprehensive Spending Review to give them scope to hire new people in future.

"It may be at times we are using our redundancy schemes to take out rather more [staff] and then come in with people whose skills we need for the future," he said. "My responsibility is to ensure this [the redundancy programme] is done in a way which makes the civil service stronger. So we have done this in a way that is perceived to have been fair, that we have ended up keeping the skills we need and done it in a value-for-money way for the taxpayer."

Whitehall sources said Sir Gus's plan might include making more senior civil servants redundant to ensure there were jobs for younger staff to move up into. "The last thing you want at a time when the civil service is shrinking is for your best talent to be stuck without the chance of promotion," they said. "The Civil Service needs to do something make sure these people don't leave."

Sir Gus said the public sector had much to learn from private business – not just about job cuts but motivating staff as well. He said the successful private firms had high levels of staff motivation – something that was not always true in the civil service.

"We know from surveys that we have a number of disengaged individuals across departments and we are working on targeting how we can improve engagement."

The move comes as David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Sir Gus prepare to outline plans today to make the civil service more accountable. They will announce a new website bringing together information on all government departments and detailing the performance of schools, hospitals and crime fighting across the country.

Mr Cameron says the plans will not be a repeat of Labour's target culture – but will make departments more accountable to the public and also set out how power will be devolved down from Whitehall. "The last government tried to make things happen through a system of bureaucratic accountability," Mr Cameron is expected to say.

"The target culture pressured people to go for short-term wins at the expense of long-term improvements. Today we are turning that on its head.

"Instead of bureaucratic accountability, these Business Plans bring in a new system of democratic accountability. Each of these Business Plans does not just specify the actions we will take. It also sets out the information we will publish so that people can hold us to account.

"These plans are about running Whitehall effectively so public services are steered by the people who work in them, responding to the people who use them. It is not about controlling everything from the centre – but running the centre effectively so it does what the Coalition agreement says: put more power in people's hands."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
tech
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas