Select Committee on Public Service Report



  247.    The second of the two key questions on which the Committee (in its Second Special Report) invited evidence was "is there a distinctive public service ethos; and if so what function does it serve, and where does it reside?".

What is the Public Service Ethos?

  248.    The Committee has seen many attempts to define the public service ethos. The 1994 White Paper on the Civil Service stated "The Government, like its predecessors, is wholeheartedly committed to sustaining the key principles on which the British Civil Service is based: integrity, political impartiality, objectivity, selection and promotion on merit and accountability through Ministers to Parliament. These are as important to good government in the future as they have been in the past."

  249.    In written evidence (Special Report, p 2) Lord Armstrong of Ilminster said that the public service ethos was "a portmanteau phrase which connotes not only the sense of and pride in serving the public and the public interest but also the qualities of integrity, of dispassionateness, of freedom from corruption, which have characterised and I believe continue to characterise our public services in this country". He added that it was "a surprisingly hardy plant, but not indestructible. For those who are in charge of the public services, it is not enough to pay lip service to the public service ethos or to take it for granted as something that will survive anything that is thrown at it. Those who seek to reform the public services and the way in which they are conducted and managed need constantly to have regard to the actual or potential effects of the reforms they have in mind upon the public service ethos and upon the commitment of public servants to all that it stands for. ...I can assure the Committee, from direct and personal experience, that it is real, that this public servant, like (I know) very many others, found the sense of public service and the principles and traditions summed up in the phrase 'public service ethos' to be a guiding and sustaining force and influence in a working life which had its share of stresses and frustrations, as well as its share of satisfactions and achievements".

  250.    Sir Brian Barder (Special Report, p 215) summarised the following key elements in the public service ethos: "motivation primarily non-financial; subordination of private to Ministerial opinions; party political neutrality, demonstrably permitting an official to serve any Government; ability to see both sides of an argument but to make choices; loyalty to both the Minister and the public interest, even where these are irreconcilable; willingness to offer frank and if need be unwelcome advice without regard to personal consequences; acceptance that however high he is promoted, the official will remain the servant and the political chief his master; abstention from the use of official position or information for private gain; rigorous and demonstrable propriety in the conduct of official business; resistance to the temptations to cut corners, make generous gestures, relax discipline, take risks or experiment or innovate except within clearly authorised Ministerial policy; acceptance of obligations of confidentiality, security, and often anonymity."

  251.    In oral evidence Sir William Reid (Q 593) identified five elements in the public service ethos: "first, a recognition that employment in the public service carries with it an understanding that it is a service and not just a job. ... Secondly, I think there is an expectation that those who take decisions which will affect the public will be guided by a fair and a reasonably full consideration of the likely effects of those decisions and not just by dogma or hunch. ... Thirdly, for those who are in the public service I think there should be an understanding that it is an essential, not just an option, to inform Ministers of unpalatable or unwelcome consequences of their intended decisions. ... Fourth, I think to pay due regard to fairness and equity and to the effects on individuals as well as other classes of citizen of the actions or inactions that are planned. ... Then finally to abstain from the kinds of behaviour which are categorised as maladministration."

  252.    Dr Barberis argued (Special Report, p 213) that a healthy and vibrant public service ethos could not be sustained "simply by rules and procedures, checks and balances. The debacle exposed by the Scott Report had its roots both in cultural atrophy and procedural weaknesses. No one seemed able or willing to say, as Sir Warren Fisher reputedly encouraged Civil Servants to say when necessary to their Ministers: "That is a damned swindle, sir, and you can't do it". Or, if it was said, there existed no procedure by which the sentiment could be mobilised to curb what became an unsavoury and squalid episode at the heart of Whitehall. That certain Government Ministers and some of their supporters continue publicly to deny that it was an unsavoury episode strengthens rather than weakens the argument. Failure to recognise when the rules have been broken is itself a manifestation of the decomposition of the public service ethos."

  253.    Ms Ann Chant said (Q 500) that on the basis of thirty years' experience in the Civil Service, she did not think the changes which had taken place had had an adverse effect on the public service ethos, including loyalty and dedication and a sense of commitment to the Crown or the State. "The basic core standards remain. It is always difficult to actually pin down what an ethos is, I find, but the consensus seems to be that what we are talking about is impartiality, applying the law without fear or favour, an absence of nepotism-particularly in recruitment-and objectivity. Those are the core values of the civil servant. Nothing I have seen has weakened those at all".

  254.    Sir Christopher Foster and Mr Francis Plowden in their written evidence (Special Report, p 17) expanded on the third of the elements identified by Sir William Reid by referring to "the erosion of the Haldane principle of Ministerial-Civil Service partnership which used to be the keystone of their relations. The report of the Haldane Committee on the Machinery of Government in 1918 set out that the idea was central to the British philosophy of administration that relations between Ministers and officials were not bound by laws or bureaucratic rules, but by the convention that Ministers would take decisions, see deputations and in general conduct their business with officials present, so that they could be advised what was lawful, what proper, what evidence and precedents were relevant, what interests might reasonably expect to be consulted, as well as what words in [parliamentary questions], letters and speeches were misleading. ... Not only did this relationship help make the quality of decision making better. It was also more helpful in ensuring propriety and probity than any [Questions of Procedure for Ministers] however long, any ethics commission or Nolan-style commissioner. In very recent years, the distancing of Ministers from Civil Servants, the taking of more decisions by Ministers on their own or with external advice, has undermined these safeguards of the public ethos." They also noted that, with the expansion of private interests in the provision of public services and with the intensification of party politics, the public service ethos can be seen as a convenient term to describe those influences on Government which are neither purely private nor purely political in their motivation.

  255.    Sir Robin Butler confirmed (Q 2133) that "there is a wider range of sources of advice available to the Prime Minister in No.10, both political and Civil Service. In my view and experience the cream rises to the top. The Prime Minister, who is always, as it were, in need of good advice, will draw it from the best people and that is a thoroughly good thing whether they are political or Civil Servants". Sir Robin explained (Q 2142) that special advisers were paid out of Government funds. They were subject to most of the Civil Service rules except the rule that requires political impartiality.

  256.    Asked (Q 2140) whether recent portrayals of the new Government had not shown special advisers playing too great a role in the making of policy, Sir Robin explained the position thus: "You have in opposition, Opposition spokesmen working with a very small group of advisers with whom they are intimately bound. They come into Government and that intimacy is not broken, it is maintained. Indeed, they have just been through a campaign together, they have won a great victory and they naturally feel very close to each other. The Minister does not know the Civil Servants from Adam and so part of the transition will be the building up of the confidence that already exists between the Minister and the special advisers, between the Minister and the Civil Servants. You cannot do that overnight. It takes a little time to do so. That is perfectly understandable and natural".

  257.    Professor Hennessy (Q 1915), referring to the 1980s and 1990s, said "it would not be for me to put an over-rosy tint on the political class of old, but they really did change in my period as a working journalist from it being a rare event when one would cut a corner and act in a partisan or crude way or misuse patronage within or without, to it becoming relatively commonplace. I am not talking about sleaze here, I am talking about even things like setting up committees of enquiry or Royal Commissions, and the degree to which the outcome was almost predicted by the terms of reference and the people. These factors are very hard to pin down, but they have to do with the decency of the state, the old central state... the high minded state".

  258.    Sir Robin Butler gave the Committee some reassurance about the traditional values of the Civil Service (Q 2113). "The Civil Service has not had such a monopoly of providing advice to Ministers. Ministers have gone much more widely for advice. I do not think that is a bad thing at all". He added (Q 2114) "I have seen my job, while I have been in this post, as not promoting efficiency at the cost of the traditional qualities of the Civil Service of integrity, political impartiality, objectivity, selection and promotion on merit, and accountability of Ministers through Parliament. I have not been doing it at the cost of those. What I have been trying to do is to keep these two horses together. I do not see why you cannot. That has been my whole objective: to try to retain those traditional qualities but improve the management and the efficiency of the Civil Service".

  259.    A more practical illustration of the importance of the public service ethos was given by Mr Jim Hanson of the CPSA (Q 807) in relation to the establishment of the Child Support Agency: "It was felt when that was set up in 1993/94 it was going to be on the basis of something that was established without any reference to Civil Service values or anything that had gone on in the past. They brought in a chief executive from outside the Civil Service and they very much saw themselves as a new departure that was not going to be hampered by any of the baggage the Civil Service had with it. I think the record of the first 18 months of that agency was something of a disaster. The only way they were able to turn that around was to bring in the Chief Executive of the Contributions Agency ... and bring back some more traditional Civil Service values and I think that has worked .... I think one of the values that perhaps the Civil Service has, which is neglected in terms of its benefits, is that administrative thoroughness and I think that is something that perhaps has been neglected in terms of looking at short-term savings of finance".

Where does it Reside?

  260.    The Committee's original question had two parts. The second part asked "Where does the public service ethos reside?" The thought behind it was whether it was possible for it to survive when public services were performed in agencies, or by non-departmental public bodies, or even by private contractors. Public services in the private sector are dealt with in paragraphs 274ff. In relation to the question whether the public service ethos survives in non-departmental public bodies, Professor McLean and Mr Clifford of Nuffield College drew attention (Special Report, pp 85-86) to the fact that until 1997 there was no equivalent of the Civil Service Management Code to bind non-departmental public bodies together. Further, they pointed out that "There has been no serious study of any ethos that may exist within NDPBs".

  261.    Nevertheless, Mr Turnbull told the Committee (Q 2213) that despite the fact that NDPBs were not part of the Civil Service, "They have much of the same sort of ethos as the public service. Something like English Nature is a public sector body, it aspires to impartiality, objectivity and so on. I would say their technical status differs more than the ethos to which they are working. If you go into a room full of Housing Corporation people you will basically find yourself with like-minded people".

  262.    The Committee notes that the Committee on Standards in Public Life has recently been gathering information on openness and accountability in non-departmental public bodies.

Is the Public Service Ethos Alive and Well?

  263.    The Committee received much evidence that the characteristic virtues of the public service ethos were still to be found in abundance in the British Civil Service. Lord Moore of Wolvercote (Special Report, p 264) wrote that there was little doubt that Britain has the best public service in the world. "Intellectually first class, they are able, efficient and impartial and their integrity is unquestioned. Wherever I have been abroad, I have heard nothing but admiration for our Civil Service." Lord Kennet (Special Report, p 259) wrote that "The internal and external consistency of our state has been secured for the last century and a half by a highly developed Civil Service."

  264.    Mr Keith Burgess said of the Civil Service (QQ 680 and 681) "We know throughout the world that we are dealing with very, very high standards in the United Kingdom, that is, high standards in terms of the people we are dealing with and high standards in terms of the way that the business in being executed". He confirmed that this meant intellectual robustness, a strong ethos and an absence of corruption not found in other parts of the world.

  265.    The first report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life stated: "We believe that standards of behaviour in the Civil Service as a whole remain very high, and that cases of outright corruption and fraud are rare... Nor have we received evidence that other important standards-political impartiality or the ideal of public service-are under systematic threat". In giving evidence to this Committee, Lord Nolan confirmed (Q 1797) that that remained his view. Sir Robin Butler cited (Q 2120) the way that the Civil Service coped with the recent change of Government as evidence that the Civil Service was free from political bias. Dr Clark supported this view, saying (Q 1840) "the political impartiality of our Civil Service is maintained... we, as a Government, have been more than delighted by the experiences which we have felt over the past six months".

  266.    However, Professor Bogdanor drew the Committee's attention (Special Report, p 36) to the 1994 report of the Oughton Committee on Career Management and Succession Planning which concluded, after a questionnaire survey of Senior Civil Servants that there was "a belief that the public service ethos is being eroded. This negative image was significantly stronger than any other and must be of concern for those responsible for the management of the service".

  267.    Sir Peter Carey stressed the need to take care to preserve the public service ethos. "We need to maintain our record of avoiding the corruption which bedevils some other countries' services; and we need to preserve the ability to tender neutral, objective advice on a confidential basis. If Public Servants come to feel that their advance depends on trimming, we are on the road to overt politicisation, the case for which has not up to now been made" (Special Report, p 225).

The Effect of Structural Change on the Public Service Ethos

  268.    The Committee asked various witnesses whether the introduction of agencies, or the farming out of public services to NDPBs or private companies had threatened the public service ethos. On the whole, witnesses felt that no irreparable damage had been done, but that the public service ethos should not be taken for granted but should be nurtured and protected. Sir Robin Butler said (Q 2119) "If you put a lot of emphasis on results, there is a danger that people will cut corners. You have to be very careful to see that they do not; and that they preserve the essential equity of treatment which is a necessary hallmark of Government and the Civil Service. ...I cannot say for certain to you that I am absolutely sure that there is never going to be any damage to the ethos of the Civil Service as a result of these changes because they take a very long time. All I can say is that our objective has been to preserve those aspects of the ethos and we have worked very hard".

  269.    Mr Alan Churchyard of the CPSA was asked whether the creation of executive agencies and the delegation to them of responsibility for pay and conditions had had a direct effect on the morale of his members. He responded (Q 799) that "the simple creation of agencies where previously there was one department, in my judgement, has not led to any significant effect on morale. I would say that was morale neutral".

  270.    Mr Turnbull was asked whether within the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, there was any difference between the ethos in the agencies and the ethos in the core department. He replied (Q 2181), "In the really fundamental things, no." Mr Turnbull was also asked whether any differences in ethos had been evident when the Departments of Transport and the Environment merged. He replied (Q 2160), "In terms of ethos, things that matter like the Civil Service values, no difference at all. Those qualities set out in the Civil Service Code, you would not find any difference in".

  271.    Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, then Minister of State for Social Security, was asked (Q 907) if the Civil Service ethos in the Department of Social Security had been affected by the creation of executive agencies, and said "Maybe I should not say it to you, but I am a little puzzled as to what is exactly the Civil Service ethos out in the Benefits Office in Truro or in Wick, or wherever it is. The people there do a good job. They do understand loyalty to their employer in much the same way as their brothers and sisters do if they work for the local law firm or the local bank or whoever it is. It is at the centre, where people are near to the policy-making edge, where there is a significant difference in the Civil Service. They do have a different ethos than you might get in other organisations: they do have a loyalty to the Government and an appreciation of their responsibilities to the public purse... I certainly have no evidence that leads me to believe that anything has been damaged there by the creation of agencies".

  272.    Despite this general confidence that the public service ethos had not been damaged, the need to protect and preserve it was underlined. Mr David Faulkner argued (Evidence volume, p 220) that the unity of the Civil Service and the security of tenure associated with it, should not lightly be abandoned "but it is neither practicable or desirable to retain, or seek to restore, those features in the forms or through the mechanisms-such as conditions of service and structures for pay and grading-which were familiar in the past". Given the recent structural changes in the Civil Service it "becomes all the more important to make sure that the characteristics and values which unity and security of tenure were designed to protect-integrity, impartiality, a sense of equity and a commitment to the public interest and to constitutional behaviour-are secured by other means".

  273.    Lord Nolan told the Committee that he had not perceived any strong indications that the ethos of the Civil Service had been affected by the changes which had taken place (Q 1813): nonetheless, he sounded a note of warning. He took the view that the primary consideration in the creation of agencies had been the quest for efficiency; and (Q 1808) that the "price of creating greater efficiency to my mind is too high if in doing so you will destroy the degree of security you do need ... there is something of a conflict between efficiency of the commercial kind and the Civil Service ethos".

Public Services in the Private Sector

  274.    The Prison Service Agency has some prisons run by the private sector. Its Director General, Mr Richard Tilt, was asked (Q 1520) whether a public ethos existed which was not shared by the private sector. He said "No, I would not draw that distinction. One of the things which you do see with the private sector establishments is that they have recruited a completely new staff usually, therefore some of the older attitudes are not present in some of the private sector establishments. However, I would not draw a distinction between ethos and commitment. I find a good commitment in private sector establishments to the principles, the goals and the values of the main Prison Service. We require them to be run to the same policies, the same standards, the same rules, and we specify quite clearly what sort of regime we want and what they must deliver on a daily basis." He added in his supplementary written evidence (Evidence volume, p 102) that the Prison Service's Statement of Purpose, Vision, Goals and Values was adopted by the management and staff of both public and private sector prisons. "The value of integrity includes exercising effective stewardship of public money and assets. For the private sector there is in addition the obligation to produce a return for the shareholder. So far there is no evidence that these two objectives are inconsistent."

  275.    Mr Tilt summed up the impact of the introduction of private prisons, saying (Q 1497) "my experience is that it has worked extremely well. There are no problems with security in the private sector establishments; their performance is as good as the public sector. In fact, on all the things we measure their performance is, broadly, as good as our better establishments. Of course, they are delivering our service at lower cost, which is an advantage for us." He said (Q 1499) that the latest comparative study suggested "that they are somewhere between 11 and 17 per cent cheaper than the comparative public sector ones. We know why that is: it is, largely, because they are paying lower wages to staff and providing poorer conditions in terms of pensions and holidays and so on." He added (Evidence volume, p 102) that not all staff were paid less than their counterparts in the public sector prisons, and that he expected the gap between the costs of the two types of establishments to narrow as a result of efficiency targets already set for publicly managed prisons.

  276.    The Prison Officers' Association, on the other hand, was fundamentally opposed to private prisons. Mr David Evans said (Q 1717) "the ethical dimension is that if the state is responsible for law and order then they should in fact be responsible for the incarceration of prisoners as well. There should not be any commercial dimension in that kind of strategy. A lot of us believe that the work should be undertaken not just by POA members but by Civil Servants working on behalf of the state and indeed society itself". He added (Q 1734) that the existence of private prisons had had a detrimental effect on the unity and ethos of the prison service.

  277.    Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish was asked (Q 882) whether, if a public service function was contracted out to the private sector, confidentiality and accountability could be maintained and preserved in the way they traditionally had been in the public service. He explained "I think you can because you simply put that into the contract with whoever is doing work for you, whether it be computer work or anything else. As long as you have made a firm enough contract I believe all these things can be delivered to you. I do not particularly have any worries about things like confidentiality because out there the banks, building societies, lots of other private companies who have always been in the private sector, run confidential information systems. By and large we trust them and by and large they come up to the standard we expect of them".

  278.    Dame Ann Bowtell explained how (Q 431) the DSS handled contracts with the private sector. "I think this depends entirely on what kind of contract you write with the private sector. What is absolutely critically important in these is the specification you give to the private sector, and what incentives you build in for them to behave in the way you want them to behave. ... When you are looking at outsourcing, you really are not just saying, 'Who will offer us the lowest bid for doing this job?', you are actually going through in great detail specifying what you want, trying to find the sort of company which will do the kind of thing you want. We go into great detail about all aspects of the company because what you are buying in a way is a particular company which will behave in a particular way, since you cannot write down every last line of every single thing they do. But it is the contract and the contract specification and the monitoring of that contract which is all important. If you get that right, you can get them to do what you want".

  279.    Andersen Consulting has a PFI contract with the DSS to replace the Contributions Agency's central National Insurance Recording System with a new computerised model which will carry over 65 million personal records (Special Report, p 157). Andersen Consulting will develop and install the system and run it (with security-cleared staff) until 2004. Under PFI the risk as well as the responsibility for the delivery of the contract passes to the private sector. Mr Keith Burgess was asked (QQ 676 to 678) if Ministers had the right to change the way things were done under the contract. He said "the dilemma is clear. If we are taking financial risk and financial responsibility, at what point do we have the sole decision about the way something is going to get executed? Or how much does it belong outside that area for somebody who does not have the financial risk, or is not under contractual obligations to deliver a service? becomes an interesting issue about PFIs where we are trying to transfer risk, what decisions are you going to take and what decisions are you not going to take? This is partly the reason why it takes so long to finalise any private finance initiative".

  280.    On the other hand, the Council of Civil Service Unions drew attention (Special Report, p 245) to the importance of confidentiality as a component of the public service ethos: "Many functions in the field of defence and foreign policy, and law and order are highly sensitive for reasons of national security or political sensitivity. Where policies are being developed, and in some cases where they are being enacted, there is a need for a high degree of confidentiality. That can only take place where there is a very close relationship between Ministers and their advisers who understand the implications of policy options and the public interest factor. This close relationship with Civil Servants imbued with the value of the Service, a strong sense of loyalty and bound by the Code of Conduct, could not be maintained easily with a private sector organisation".


  281.    The Committee has received much evidence that the morale of the Civil Service is at present low. Mr Alan Churchyard, whose trade union (the CPSA) comprised about 120,000 members, listed several contributory factors (Q 800): "If we encompass the totality of issues such as competing for quality and all the initiatives that flow from that, privatisation, market testing, the general slimming down of the Civil Service ... there is no doubt that Civil Service morale is at an historically low level and a major aspect of that perception is to do with perceived job security and uncertainties about the future".

  282.    Asked to elaborate on job security (QQ 825 and 826), Mr Churchyard said, "I think the most important fact is that the Civil Service is contracting and that has obvious implications for job security. There are other specific policies which the Government has been following for a number of years which also impact in this area. In particular the competing for quality initiative and market testing, which essentially is a process whereby units of Civil Servants, they could be small units or quite large units, in effect compete to keep their own jobs against bidders from the private sector. It is a kind of competition ... and clearly that is an unsettling process which carries with it a considerable amount of stress and fears about people's futures. There is then privatisation ... and direct contracting out of work which is a variant on the same theme. All these things taken together in the context of a contracting service (and there is plenty of evidence of that) clearly do make people feel insecure and uncertain about the future".

  283.    Professor Hennessy, asked (Q 1951) about morale in the middle and lower grades of the Civil Service, said "I think pay has a lot to do with it. They got very cross with this new Government ruling out any pay rises for them, and that is understandable because the pay is not wonderful".

  284.    Another problem which witnesses identified was the attitude of Ministers to their Civil Servants. Lord Moore of Wolvercote (Special Report, p 264) stated "considerable damage has been done by successive Governments in allowing, even encouraging, the Civil Service to be denigrated by the public at large." Lord Beloff wrote (Special Report, p 223) "What is most important for the ethos of the public service is ... the belief that its work is both successful and appreciated." Sir William Reid also said (Q 548) "I certainly do not think it improves the morale of Civil Servants if they are constantly criticised by their political masters."

  285.    Professor Hennessy said (QQ 1951, 1952) that a lack of esteem, as well as the tendency to blame Civil Servants when anything went wrong, affected the morale of the public service. He said that the degree to which parodied views of the public service prevailed was depressing. "I think the main problem was the disdain of many Ministers, although not all, in the 1980s. That is absolutely the single greatest problem. Ian Bancroft's wonderful lecture when he said 'the routine words of praise delivered through gritted teeth deceive nobody' deserves re-reading".

  286.    Dr Barberis wrote (Special Report, p 212): "No doubt the likes of Sir Warren Fisher and Sir Edward Bridges were able to express and to uphold within Whitehall a more strenuous public service ethic. They were working with the grain. Today it is more difficult to hold the line, especially when certain Ministers launch thinly veiled assaults upon much with which public servants of yesteryear were proud to be associated-impartiality, detached analysis, the 'social perspective' and the canons of broader public accountability. The climate is undoubtably less propitious for a distinct public service ethos".

  287.    Sir Robin Butler said (Q 2094) that jobs in executive agencies had been made more challenging and exciting, and that was good for morale. He broadly agreed (Q 2095) that if Civil Servants could take managerial decisions without interference from politicians, that was very good for morale. "I am not saying that the picture of morale is unalloyed because whenever you make changes, particularly when you reduce staff numbers, you create uncertainty and that has a bad effect on morale. You cannot have change on this scale without also having some deleterious effect on morale. But I think the end result is actually to raise the pride and performance and the ability to deliver".

  288.    Dr Clark admitted that (Q 1841) "there is a problem ... with morale in the Civil Service. of the challenges which I how we actually restore that morale". He went on to suggest that one of the reasons why morale fell was that when workers were transferred to an agency, they believed that that transfer was only the first step towards privatisation (Q 1881). Dr Clark sought to assure the Committee that he did not regard transfer to an agency as any step towards privatisation. "The present Agencies know they are part of the Civil Service, the people employed in it are Civil Servants and it is our intention for them to remain so" he said. However, he was unable to rule out the possibility of further privatisation, saying (Q 1882), "I can not rule out that there may not be a little operation here that it may be better to hive off".

The Committee's Conclusions

  289.    The evidence we received testified to the high standards of efficiency, integrity, impartiality and intellectual rigour which continue to characterise the Civil Service. We pay tribute to the Civil Service for maintaining these qualities so well. However, the evidence we received-and which, indeed, the House of Commons Treasury and Civil Service Committee received in connection with its 1994 Report on the Role of the Civil Service-leaves us in no doubt not only of the great importance of the Civil Service ethos, but also of its vulnerability.

  290.    Perhaps the single most important factor leading to the preservation or alternatively the erosion of the public service ethos is the esteem in which it is held. Maintaining it can be demanding and often difficult. If its value is doubted or if it is ignored, people are less likely to be committed to upholding and preserving it. It needs to be consciously fostered. We received evidence that Civil Servants find a dignity of purpose in working for the public sector, but also evidence that some Ministers have tended to regard the private sector as having superior qualities. The extent to which many of the changes in the public sector have involved transferring work from it to the private sector will have reinforced the feeling amongst Civil Servants that in relation to those areas of work their political masters regarded their input as unnecessary or inappropriate.

  291.    The attitude of Ministers towards Civil Servants is crucially important. As Lord Armstrong of Ilminster said (Special Report, p 2), "it is not enough to pay lip service to the public service ethos or to take it for granted as something that will survive anything that is thrown at it". We believe that Ministers have a particular responsibility to affirm the value of the public service ethos in maintaining standards of conduct and service in the public interest.

  292.    The Committee attaches particular importance to the role of the Civil Service in offering frank advice to Ministers. Sir William Reid said (Q 593) "for those who are in the public service there should be an understanding that it is an essential, not just an option, to inform Ministers of unpalatable or unwelcome consequences of their intended decisions". Sir Brian Barder described it (Special Report, p 215) as a "willingness to offer frank and if need be unwelcome advice without regard to personal consequences". It takes personal courage for a civil servant to perform this important public duty; he or she can only be sustained in it by colleagues who share the same strong public service ethos.

  293.    The importance which the Committee attaches to this role lies behind the Committee's concern at the evidence given by Sir Christopher Foster and Mr Francis Plowden (Special Report, p 17) about the distancing of Ministers from Civil Servants and the tendency of Ministers to take more decisions on their own or with external advice. The Committee considers that such tendencies are capable of undermining the safeguards of the public service ethos.

  294.    Some of the changes made in the structure of the Civil Service might also reasonably be supposed to reduce the willingness of Civil Servants to offer Ministers unwelcome advice. Senior Civil Servants employed on personal contracts to meet specified measurable targets and with performance related pay could, at the very least, be tempted to look no wider than their responsibilities to deliver those targets. The only yardstick may be seen as efficiency, and there is a risk that such persons might feel that it would count against their own personal and professional interests to draw Ministers' attention to matters affecting the wider public interest which might adversely affect their ability to meet their targets. A public servant who is required to compete with the private sector for the performance of his function can be forgiven for assuming that Ministers do not see the public service ethos, including the duty to proffer unwelcome or unpalatable advice, as important to his tasks.

  295.    The Committee welcomes the statement in the Ministerial Code (Cabinet Office, July 1997, paragraph 56) that "Ministers have a duty to give fair consideration and due weight to informed and impartial advice from Civil Servants". The consultation process is no less important.

  296.    Difficult though it is to define the public service ethos, there was a broad measure of agreement among our witnesses about its constituent elements. These include factors, such as the importance of an esprit de corps, which go a good deal wider than any characteristics one might reasonably expect to be mentioned in any Civil Service code. It is these other factors which are likely to be particularly vulnerable to the kinds of change in the public service which have taken place over the last thirty years. The role of the Civil Service is not governed by rules. Its advice on constitutional propriety, for example, is often based on experience and tradition as much as on law. The traditions and collective memory of the senior grades in the Civil Service are therefore very important and depend crucially on its unity, continuity and collegiality. These, in the view of the Committee, could easily be damaged by the structural division of the Civil Service if they were not specifically and consciously safeguarded.

  297.    The role of the Civil Service is so important that both ethos and morale must be monitored carefully. This is no doubt the function in the first place of senior managers within departments and ultimately, for the Civil Service as a whole, the Permanent Secretaries and the Head of the Civil Service. We believe that they have done well to uphold the ethos of the service throughout a period of considerable organisational turbulence.

  298.    At the Ministerial level, the overall responsibility for protecting ethos and morale lies in the first place with the Minister for the Civil Service (i.e. the Prime Minister) and under him the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as Head of the Office of Public Service. But we stress strongly that this should not be left solely for Ministers with designated responsibility for the Civil Service. All Ministers as guardians of the public service should bear the responsibility, whatever departmental portfolio they hold, to uphold and sustain the traditions and the ethos of an impartial, dedicated, non-political Civil Service. In order to safeguard the future, this responsibility should be spelled out in the Ministerial Code. Consideration should also be given to including it expressly in the Civil Service Act.

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