Whitehall chief calls for more spin doctors

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More political advisers and private consultants could be drafted into Whitehall under a major reform of civil service recruitment, the new head of the civil service suggested yesterday.

Sir Andrew Turnbull, the new Cabinet Secretary, praised the role of party political appointees such as Ed Balls, the Chancellor's chief economic adviser, saying they provided "an invaluable injection of new ways of thinking".

He also supported the role of Lord Birt, the former BBC director general whose appointment as an adviser to the Prime Minister on transport policy has been derided by the Opposition and some senior Labour MPs. Such advisers could help "with a particular method of thinking or drawing up a strategy from which to develop a plan", he said.

Sir Andrew, who will take over from Sir Richard Wilson in September, told The Times that civil servants would be expected to gain experience in the private sector, while recruiting from the private sector would be made easier.

He rejected criticism that special advisers were simply replacing civil service jobs. "The last thing I want to be seen as is another professional organisation that wants to protect against competition," he said.

Any proposals to increase the number of party-political appointees within Whitehall would be controversial after the infighting in the Transport Department that led to the departure of Stephen Byers' spin doctor Jo Moore and his head of communications, Martin Sixsmith, earlier this year.

The apparent politicisation of the civil service has also roused concerns. But Sir Andrew said it was important to consider how to use people who had a political allegiance but still had a contribution to make.