United Kingdom

Key Boris aide launches vicious attack on 'incapable' civil service

A key Boris Johnson aide has launched a vicious attack on the lack of 'capability' in the civil service warning it is risk averse and obsessed with the metropolitan 'bubble'.

Baroness Finn, the new Downing Street deputy chief of staff, said Brexit showed the political system was seen as 'aloof and arrogant' and Whitehall is part of the problem.

She called for an overhaul in career structures and a change in mindset to help the government force through its 'levelling up' agenda.

The intervention, in an article for the Bright Blue think tank, suggests Lady Finn has been handed the mantle of civil service reform that was held by Dominic Cummings before his abrupt departure.

Lady Finn wrote: 'In the Brexit referendum of 2016, overlooked families and undervalued communities expressed their discontent with a political system they regarded as aloof, arrogant, remote, and centralised. 

'A key part that the civil service can play in drawing together a renewed sense of common purpose is making sure that it draws on all the talents of every part of the UK, and ensuring that decision makers are acquainted with the challenges faced by those outside the metropolitan bubble.'

Baroness Finn, who became a Tory peer in 2015, is now Boris Johnson's deputy chief of staff

Lady Finn said the Government needed to 'address the lack of capability in the civil service to deliver successful projects across the UK and create the right enabling environment'. 

She suggested Whitehall currently was too closed off to new ways of thinking and working. 

'The civil service needs to become more open to new ideas and decision making, more commercially aware, and less risk averse,' she said. 

'It is not enough simply to relocate jobs. Those leading the civil service also need to think harder about cognitive diversity. 

'Levelling up means not only geographical diversity, but respect for and inclusion of different voices and life experiences.

'This means breaking up the current career ladder, welcoming people into the service not just for secondments but for periods of two years or more, so that the civil service can gain from people whose expertise is in, for example, renewable energy.'

Lady Finn said she welcomed the Treasury changing its Green Book - the rules which are used to assess the value of government schemes - but said more needed to be done. 

She said: 'This is a welcome development as the rules have traditionally favoured investment in London and the South East. 

'Equally importantly, the civil service lacks the right approach when it comes to investment and the allocation of project resources. 

'The Government must be allowed to take on genuine risk and invest at earlier stages when the risk cannot be fully quantified and would therefore be out of bounds for early-stage venture capital.

Lady Finn said the Government must 'address the lack of capability in the civil service'

'There could be a high failure rate, but our universities are spread nationwide and provide ample opportunity for the state to invest and commercialise the IP.' 

FDA boss Dave Penman told Politico that civil servants have been 'working their socks off' during the pandemic response. 

He said: 'If this government is serious about civil service reform, it needs to learn about leadership: Insulting the very people you want to reform — who are already working flat out for a civil service that's internationally recognised as the best in the world — is entirely self-defeating.'

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