Whitehall in crisis - ousted mandarin: Policy conflicts among its 'wayward barons' leave Civil Service unsure

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The Independent Online
A FORMER top civil servant has made an unprecedented attack on the way the Civil Service is being managed, saying it is 'in crisis'.

In an exclusive interview with the Independent, Sir Peter Kemp says policies are not being thought through and properly implemented; and the crucial programme of market testing, the review process that can lead to contracting out, has gone 'hopelessly awry'.

Whitehall, he declares, is being led by 'wayward barons' pulling in different directions. As a result, the the Civil Service is unhappy, unsure of itself and becoming 'littered with policies that do not work' such as those concerning unit fines (where courts imposed a penalty related to the offender's income) or killer dogs. The proposal to put value-added tax on fuel will be another such policy, he predicted.

Sir Peter was Permanent Secretary at William Waldegrave's Office of Public Service and Science, the department administering the Civil Service. He was forced to resign in August last year after disagreements with Mr Waldegrave.

Since then he has been critical of some aspects of Civil Service management but never in such a pointed and sustained manner. His comments will add to the mounting sense of strife in Whitehall, where civil servants are taking strike

action over the market testing programme.

A few days ago, a former Home Office deputy Secretary accused Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, of throwing away years of work by a sharp switch in policy. However, Sir Peter's attack is more significant: he is a former Permanent Secretary who remains in close touch with the service's higher reaches.

He said that Mr Waldegrave should be replaced as Civil Service Minister by a non-political supremo, answerable directly to the Prime Minister. His or her first task should be 'to pull together the wayward barons currently running Whitehall'.

Apart from Mr Waldegrave, the barons comprised Sir Robin Butler, head of the Civil Service; Richard Mottram, Permanent Secretary in Mr Waldegrave's department; Brian Hilton, director of the Citizen's Charter Unit; Sir James Blyth, Citizen's Charter advisory panel head; and Sir Peter Levene, the Prime Minister's efficiency adviser.

They were wayward, Sir Peter said, because 'they are all doing their own thing and reporting to different people . . . there is no single person who pulls them together.'

Sir Peter emphasised that he did not want the job himself nor was he out to exact revenge. 'The top of the Civil Service is in crisis. It takes great skill to get 250,000 civil servants out on strike - the last time that happened was with GCHQ, so it's quite an achievement.'

Market testing, he declared, 'was a good idea that has gone hopelessly awry'. If handled properly, the unions could not object to an exercise that was originally designed to check whether someone was doing his or her job properly, but instead the controversial programme had become solely identified with a cost-saving jobs purge.

Permanent Secretaries, he said, should have 'proper contracts, so that everyone knew what they were supposed to be doing.' It was not clear, for example, what position Sir Clive Whitmore, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, was taking in the row with Mr Howard. Such confusion was deeply damaging and undermining.

Last night Vernon Bogdanor, Reader in Government at Oxford University, said that while critics of Sir Peter would claim he had a personal motive for his comments, 'the criticism he makes is correct. There is a now a strong case for

a Royal Commission on the Civil Service.'

He said there was a strong feeling that a lot of Civil Service reforms had not been thought through, adding that the remarks were 'specially significant if you add them to what other people, like Lord Callaghan (of Cardiff), have said.'

Lord Callaghan expressed his concern over lack of Civil Service accountability to a committee of MPs earlier this year, and called for such a Commission.

JOHN MAJOR will today distance himself from the debate over family policy when he seeks to present 'back to basics' as a broad campaign about the economic and social life of the country, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

The presentation switch in his speech at tonight's Lord Mayor's banquet in London comes after an instruction to Cabinet colleagues to call off the moral crusade against single mothers - targeted for blame over rocketing crime and social security bills.

Sir Edward Heath, the former prime minister, said yesterday that the idea that single mothers had babies to get social security had been 'put forward by dogmatists who have no understanding of humanity'.

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