Sir Humphrey wins again

Sir Humphrey wins again
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The antics of the mandarin masters of Whitehall have long been of interest to Mr S. Back in September, Steerpike revealed that the Director for Civil Service Modernisation and Reform was appointed last year without any external or internal competition. This is despite much hot air and hyperbole from the master of spin himself, Michael Gove, the recently-departed minister for the Cabinet Office. For last year, during the heady days of the Dominic Cummings era, there was much talk of a civil service revolution, with plans to move them out of London, hire specialists in place of generalists and purge the 'confident public school bluffers' as part of a 'hard rain' on SW1.

All this culminated in the grandly-named 'Declaration of Government Reform' in June 2020 co-signed by all permanent secretaries and promising to usher in a new era of transparency, meritocracy and excellence in the palaces of Whitehall. Now though, Cummings is gone and with Covid on the march, there are signs that such an agenda has dropped down the government's groaning list of priorities. An indication that normal service has resumed was the publication last month of a much-vaunted report by the Institute for Government on funding for the Senior Civil Service. 

The think-tank, stuffed to the rafters with the great and the not-so-good of Westminster, called for government guarantees for 'sufficient funding to support rises' in order to make any proposed capability-based pay system viable. It noted concerns about ministers like Rishi Sunak enacting public sector freezes in the past and called for 'future pay restraint' to 'in practice only apply to the base pay of civil servants' with the money used 'to maintain capability progression.' Its' conclusion noted that 'the additional annual cost of capability-based pay should be protected with a ringfence.'

Now Mr S has learned how much such research cost the taxpayer. For a Freedom of Information to the Office of Manpower Economics (OME) – under the auspices of the Department for Business – has revealed that it was procured through the OME's 2020 open call for research, with some £38,554 spent on commissioning the report. An arms length body, spending thousands on a government think tank report, which called for more funds to be spent on the Senior Civil Service? 

Sir Humphrey himself would be delighted.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike