Cutting the fast stream won’t speed up renewal of the civil service
There are many problems with Britain’s civil service. It is clunky, bureaucratic, probably too large, oftentimes unable to keep up with technological advances and has an institutional bias towards expanding, rather than reducing, its remit.
One of its many problems is not, however, the fast stream – a program designed to elevate smart young graduates into senior roles across the civil service, which in theory brings fresh blood and new ideas into parts of the organisation that might otherwise suffer from institutional thinking and time-servers taking up senior positions.
So quite why the government has decided to slash the fast stream route for at least a year is beyond us. There are few organisations in the world which actively try and avoid hiring young talented people, and the reason there are few is that it’s self-evidently a blindingly stupid thing to do.
The logic behind the move is that it comes as part of a wider thinning-down of the civil service ranks. This may be necessary; the body has ballooned in recent years as a result of extra demands. Cutting the civil service back to 2016 levels however ignores the fact that the civil service is still, even after the negotiations related to Brexit, now required to do more things; much of the workload previously shouldered by the EU is, of course, now domiciled here.
There are many reasons to cut the civil service down to size and this newspaper is not known for sticking up for public sector bureaucracies. It is not obvious that cutting a host of long in the tooth middle managers would make much of a difference to the country’s administration.
But a less talented civil service will work less effectively, and we all lose. Young, smart people are the lifeblood of any business, renewing it from the inside and keeping it fresh. As so often with government, they have identified a real problem – and come up with the wrong solution.