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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
i100
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

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

2nd Line server support - Microsoft certified

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large organisa...

Year 4 Teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Teacher required...

Year 1 Teacher

£120 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS1 Teacher required...

Year 5/6Teacher needed - Roath, Cardiff

£100 - £105 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?