Editor's notes: The great Civil Service myth, and why it’s time to shake things up...

Christian May
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Why we should have a debate about the best way to promote effective government (Source: Getty)

Though probably not on your daily reading list, Dominic Cummings (former adviser to Michael Gove and a top dog in the official Leave campaign) writes a fascinating blog.

In between posts on artificial intelligence, super-computing and advanced physics, you’ll find reflections on his time working at the Department for Education as Gove’s senior adviser.

If you want to challenge the illusion that the UK civil service represents a ‘Rolls Royce’ machine of the brightest and the best, working seamlessly to implement ministers’ policies, look no further than the Cummings blog. He details with remarkable candour the infuriating reality of department officials who were either opposed to the Gove reforms or too incompetent to deliver them.

Of course there are plenty of bright, hard-working and professional civil servants, but it’s daft to pretend that they all conform to this description and (especially after reading the accounts of daily life in the DfE) it’s fair to ask whether ministers would achieve more if they were able to hire swathes of officials in whom they could have absolute faith. Deep down, politicians of all stripes know this. New Labour rebuilt the civil service in its image and in the coalition government Francis Maude introduced the position of “executive ministerial appointments” to civil service roles, in a bid to cut through Whitehall inertia.

Read more: Liam Fox is hiring almost 100 civil servants for his trade department

In America, around 7,000 officials serve at the pleasure of the President ­– having been appointed at all layers of federal government. Come 20 January, it will be out with the old and in with the new. By contrast, many Whitehall departments are staffed by lifers and are protected by a romantic and nostalgic notion of an apolitical, competent and world-beating civil service. We should not recoil at the notion of ‘politicising the civil service’ - instead we should have a debate about the best way to promote effective government.

The dangers of doing TV with your partner

Last night I reviewed the papers on Sky News, and is often the case I did it with my partner, Eliza. She’s the brains of the outfit. The thing is, people tend not to know we’re an item. Why would they? Indeed, after a recent appearance together on the Sky sofa, one prominent journalist emailed Eliza to congratulate her on her analysis and lament the fact that she’d been stuck next to “a complete nonentity”. As I said, she’s the brains of the outfit.

France has a long way to go to woo bankers

This week, officials in Paris said they were confident of swiping at least 20,000 financial services jobs from London. One leading figure representing the industry here in the City actually laughed down the phone when we put the idea to them. Now we learn that JP Morgan’s chief has warned that banks won’t move people to Paris unless the country’s labour laws are ripped up. This is France we’re talking about, so don’t hold your breath.

Read more: JP Morgan's Dimon voices concerns on post-Brexit London

Sorry shouldn’t be the hardest word

Research by consultancy giant FTI looked at 100 major corporate crises to see what lessons can be taken on board. Their selection of disasters (including the VW emissions scandal, TalkTalk hack and Alton Towers tragedy) cost the companies $66bn in legal fees and compensation but a staggering $130bn in value destruction via market cap reduction. Their conclusion? Saying sorry early in a crisis can actually save money. The longer it’s left, the less it will be worth in customers’ eyes.

Read more: TalkTalk boss calls for firms to be made to report all cyber attacks

Time to stand up for a free and fearless press

You must have heard of Section 40 of the Crime & Courts Act, on which the government is consulting. If implemented, any paper not a member of a state-backed regulator would have to pay all the costs in a libel case – even if they won. Such a move would be a gift to the wealthy – and the guilty. It would deter investigative journalism and could ruin publications. Please, take part in the consultation and tell politicians to abandon this absurd law.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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