Letter: The Civil Service and the changing nature of its mandarin class

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The Independent Online
Sir: John Garrett's article against the 'wrecking of Britain's public service tradition' ('Mandarins who live for ever', 15 June) would have considerably more force if he did not allow himself to be sidetracked by his almost obsessive dislike of those whom he describes as 'the mandarinate'. The weakness of his argument is also compounded by inaccurate and out-of-date statistics.

Current figures (not 1986, as Mr Garrett quotes) show that a majority of permanent secretaries in the Civil Service went to Oxford or Cambridge, but the figures are 17 out

of 28, some 60 per cent, and not

the 75 per cent that Mr Garrett has claimed to the select committee. Moreover, among the most recent permanent secretary appointments, there is a higher proportion drawn from universities other than


Moreover, Mr Garrett claims, again to the select committee, that 75 per cent of the permanent secretaries not only come from Oxbridge but have arts degrees. Among current permanent secretaries there are scientists, statisticians and economists; in fact just 50 per cent of permanent secretaries are Oxbridge arts graduates.

Furthermore, since the mid- Eighties the proportion of Oxbridge entrants into the Civil Service fast stream has fallen from a peak of 59 per cent in 1985 to 33 per cent in 1990. The recession accounted for an increase in 1991, but that was because of applications from those who in happier times might have applied for private sector careers.

Lastly, it is, alas, untrue that the senior Civil Service escapes 'the carnage' of what is happening to the Civil Service. In fact, the pay increases of the most senior civil servants, the top 650 or so covered by the recommendations of the Top Salary Review Body, have risen more slowly than the rest of the Civil Service. Until recently some promoted in the top three grades have suffered a technical cut in pay. There are, of course, redundancies as well among the senior Civil Service.

So it is simply not true to claim, as Mr Garrett does, that the senior Civil Service is 'largely untouched by the turbulence in the Civil Service or the social change outside it'.

Yours sincerely,


General Secretary

The Association of First Division

Civil Servants

London, SW1

From Ms Patricia Greer