LETTER:Whitehall ideal of public service under attack

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Sir: Dame Gillian Brown and Fergus Allen (Letters, 2 and 4 February) have rightly criticised the Government's plan to privatise the agency that recruits civil servants. May I add my voice to theirs?

Nowadays, the concept of public service seems to have few advocates in Government circles and a Civil Service selected on merit by fair and open competition is, one fears, soon to be a thing of the past. Those who are out of sympathy with what they regard as "outmoded" ideas will, no doubt, argue that it is more efficient for the private sector to recruit the future Civil Service, and that the merits of the present system will be preserved at cheaper cost.

I am afraid that some of us who were at one time involved with the recruitment system will have doubts whether this is so. It was felt necessary for the Queen and not, let it be noted, the government of the day to appoint the First Civil Service Commissioner with direct responsibility for ensuring that only the best were chosen for the Civil Service and by processes which were under his control and were free from nepotism.

This was at a time when the concept of public service was not under attack. Now these functions are to fall to private recruitment agencies operating for private profit. How much more necessary is it to retain in the public sector, and subject to appropriate safeguards, the recruitment of civil servants when the concept of public service is no longer respected?

D J Trevelyan


Mansfield College, Oxford

The writer was First Civil Service Commissioner, 1983-89