Public Administration CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Martin Surr (CSR 10)

The Civil Service and issues regarding Civil Service reform have been much in the news lately. I am writing to you as a former Civil Servant having worked for most of my career in the Department for International Development and HM Treasury.

Let me say as a former Civil Servant that reform of the Civil Service is badly needed and long overdue. I do believe, however, that we are lucky to have such a fine institution as the Civil Service in this country with a long, proud tradition of impartiality and excellence capable of attracting some of the best people in the country. However, I do feel that lack of reform of the Civil Service over the last 30 years or so has created tensions between Ministers and Civil Servants which are unhealthy, counterproductive and self-defeating. Many Civil Servants would welcome change and reform but find themselves working for an institution that has not quite shaped up to the challenge. The truth of it is that reform has been fitful and too slow and patchy. While the Civil Service itself needs to accept some of the blame for this, Ministers are also at fault here across successive Governments since political interest in Civil Service reform has been intermittent, short term and sometimes superficial with insufficient follow through leading to the more conservative elements within the Civil Service and elsewhere to be able to stifle change (by often appearing to embrace it!!)

Many of the issues around Civil Service reform have been well documented and commented on for a long time. The issues are wide ranging and include accountability, performance assessment, size and numbers, relationship with ministers and parliament, impartiality, diversity, skills, interchange between the public and private sectors, rotation, commissioning, service delivery skills to achieve agreed outputs, policy analysis, recruitment, promotion and pay.

The issue of Civil Service pay is a difficult one. I do believe that Senior Civil servants in the Senior Civil Service are underpaid. Their pension arrangements, in spite of what the press may argue, do not adequately compensate them for this low level of pay. Both Lord Turnbull and Lord O’Donnell have raised publically this issue of pay and they are right to do so. When I worked in DFID I can remember the Department advertising for the post of a very senior position only for there to be absolutely NO applications from the private sector at all for the position on the basis of the salary the Department was able to offer. This is the reality of Civil Service pay and conditions at the senior level. It also means that those former Civil Servants who transfer to the private sector rarely come back to the Civil Service if they have to face a big cut in salary to do so.

I think the issue of pay in the Senior Civil Service, that is those with senior leadership roles, could be addressed as part of a wider programme of reform to make the Civil Service leaner, more efficient and more productive so that that pay increases themselves could lead to little or no net increase in demand on the taxpayer.

I think the time is now due for there to be a major Royal Commission Review of the Civil Service. Royal commissions are called to look into matters of great national importance and sensitivity. It would involve research into the issue as well as consultations with the Civil service and outside of it, including former and current Ministers, and be held in public. The issues have been kicked around for too long by successive Governments with only limited progress. We do not need yet another low level internal review into the problem. It is also important for the issues of Civil Service reform to be taken out of the narrow political arena not least because the impartiality of the Civil Service is a crucially important feature of its history traditions and modern day operation. I know the idea of a major Royal Commission Review of the Civil Service is not a new one but perhaps the time is now right to proceed with this idea. I think there is currently a great opportunity to seize the issue of Civil Service reform and make real progress.

I am copying this to the Rt. Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office.

October 2012

Prepared 5th September 2013