Why Francis Maude and Amyas Morse are right to ginger up complacent Whitehall

2015 General Election - Cabinet

Lord Maude Pic creditL gov.uk


Last week I attended  what turned out to be a highly controversial debate on the future of the civil service – one of a series on various issues chaired by John Bercow,  at Speakers House in the House of Commons.

I found myself  surprisingly agreeing with Lord Maude, the former  Tory Cabinet Office minister, and with his opponent, Bronwen Maddox, director  of the Institute of Government, ( who rightly highlighted the mistake to privatise the probation service) over why the top echelons of Whitehall need radical reform.

Don’t get me wrong I am not about to become a card carrying member of the Tory Party ( even if their average age at 72 is nearer mine) and I would  disagree with Maude profoundly over his savage cuts agenda, but on the management of Whitehall he is talking sense. He is also a Whitehall insider and his full speech is here.

I have often wondered why time and time again Whitehall is  dragged before the Commons Public Accounts Committee to explain fiasco after fiasco on how millions if not billions of pounds are wasted on defence contracts, computer projects, collecting tax, benefit errors and big transport  and energy infrastructure projects.

Francis Maude provided part of the answer – our top civil servants are not up to the job. because they are not trained properly  to do it. And they rely, I am afraid, still on too much secrecy, to cover this up.

They are not trained for the complexities of modern Britain and complacently still believe we have the best civil service in the world while the rest of the world is changing fast.

What was more shocking is that he proposed some  modest remedies to change this – and brought down a howl of protest from  stuck in the mud mandarins. He thought it might be a good idea if fast stream graduates got wide ranging training in different government departments over a  two year period rather than being stuck in one ministry.

As he said : ” Bright graduates thought they were joining the Civil Service; and were then surprised to find that they joined a specific ministry where training took a definite second-place to the job to which they were assigned.

My modest reform to make the Fast Stream programme look and feel more like a typical two year graduate training programme met with surprising resistance, with four permanent secretaries, including at the Treasury, showing up to tell me that it was completely impossible.

Apparently, if the Civil Service trained its graduate entry the way high-performing private sector entities do, the government would fall apart. If I insisted, as I did, that Fast Stream trainees did four six months postings in different parts of government, then they would be unable to do any useful work.”

He also suggested a much broader programme for the top senior mandarins – giving them international business school experience – and , believe or not, got threatened with exposure in the Daily Mail for wasting taxpayers money!

As he said: “The second eye-opener was when I proposed that senior civil servants headed for very big responsibilities should be put through top management courses, typically three months, at top business schools. High performing organisations routinely do this; and I have seen people come out transformed into a bigger, more confident and capable leaders. So I proposed first that the ten permanent secretaries should go through these courses before the 2015 election.

“The first objection was that this would be very expensive and that the Daily Mail would make a fuss. My response was to say: Bring it on. If the Mail really want to object to us spending £60,000 on someone managing a budget of tens of billions, I’d love to have the argument.”

He also, in answer to a question from me, about the secrecy surrounding who decided the bonuses paid to top Department of Works and Pensions who are responsible for Universal Credit, called for more transparency. He also suggested that civil servants should be much less timid in challenging ministers over public spending projects – ending the idea that when a top civil servant demands an ” ministerial directive” to do the job it shouldn’t be seen as a nuclear option but commonplace.

Since going to the debate I have discovered he has a strong ally over this – Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office -wrote a year ago about the failure of Whitehall to do the job in this area.

“The threat of this can prevent poor decisions about use of taxpayers’ money, and discussions about possible directions can have ‘invisible’ positive influence on decision-making.

” However, the evidence suggests the mechanism is not being used effectively. Major projects where there were clear value for money concerns, such as the FiReControl Project (2004-2011 which had cost £635 million when it was cancelled) or the National Programme for IT in the NHS (costing £11.4 billion between 2002 and 2011), were not the subject of directions.”

Instead the timid mandarins query  tiny projects by comparison – such as the use of money for a consultancy on the future of Manton Airfield in Kent- and are too frightened to challenge really big decisions.

The time has come for a radical change in direction in Whitehall to get better and more broadly trained civil servants at the top who would take better decisions on how they spend our money.


The £20,000 benefit bonus rewards for the metropolitan elite at the Department of Work and Pensions

neil couling

Neil Couling – £145,000 a year


Last week I had a story in the Sunday Mirror about top bonuses and pay rises for five of the most senior  and well paid civil servants at the Department of Work and Pensions over the last two years.

The information was published in the annual report and accounts  of the DWP released last month. These same accounts were qualified for the 29th year  running according to the the National Audit Office – because of fraud and error in payouts to claimants rendered them inaccurate and wrong.



Sir Robert Devereux pic credit Twitter

Sir Robert Devereux – £190,000 a year Pic credit : Twitter

The bonuses announcement came at the same time as 31 Labour MPs had called for a pause in the roll out of the ministry’s new Universal Credit  programme – which replaces five benefits – because of reported chaos in its administration leaving some claimants without money for up to six weeks. One of those 31 MPs, Kevan Jones, who represents Durham North said the bonuses were a ” reward for failure”.

He described them as “an insult to many of my constituents who are already living on the breadline. In my constituency they plan to introduce this in November which could leave thousands of people without money in the run up to Christmas.”


Mayank Prakash £220,000 a year including £20,00 bonus Pic credit: DWP Digital

Within days of the publication of the story the FDA ( the First Division Association) which represents the top civil servants attacked the article in a report in Civil Service World.

Jawad Raza, FDA national officer for DWP, said officials should not be used as targets by political opponents of the system simply for doing their jobs.

“The suggestion that these civil servants have been ‘rewarded for failure’ shows a blatant disregard for the facts regarding their pay and

Jeremy Moore pic credit

jeremy moore – £135,000 plus £20,000 bonus

wilfully misrepresents the true complexity of their roles,” he said.

“Senior civil servants have delivered billions of pounds worth of savings since 2010 with an ever reducing workforce. These are highly skilled professionals working in challenging circumstances and they deserve to be adequately remunerated without having their names and faces spread across news pages.”

Sorry Jawad I think there is more to this.

The five civil servants are Sir Robert Devereux, permanent secretary at the Department of Work and Pensions; Neil


Andrew Rhodes – £140,000 a year plus £15,000 bonus

Couling, director general of universal credit; Jeremy Moore, director of strategy; Mayank Prakash, director general of digital technology and Andrew Rhodes, director of operations have received between £10,000 and £20,000 each .They are nearly all paid more than Theresa May, the PM.

The bonuses were awarded for “ top performance “ and “ leadership “when the rest of Whitehall is limited to one per cent pay rises and many benefits have been frozen.

Sir Robert last year received up to £20,000 extra on a salary of up to £185,000 a year. This year he hasn’t received any bonus but his basic salary has moved to £190,000 a year.

Neil Couling, who is directly responsible for universal credit, got a bonus of up to £20,000 last year on a salary of £125,000 a year. This year instead of a bonus his salary has jumped by £20,000 to £145,000 a year.

Mayank Prakash, director of digital strategy has received a bonus of up to £20,000  this yearon top of salary of £200,000 taking his annual salary to £220,000 .

Jeremy Moore, director of strategy, has received bonuses two years running –  totalling up to £40,000 over the two years – taking his total salary to £155,000 a year.

Andrew Rhodes, director of operations has received a £10-15,000 bonus this year, taking his salary to £155,000 a year. He also claimed £37,600 in travel expenses.

The ministry insist that all these pay rises were decided objectively by line managers.

In a statement it said:

Line managers are required to make an evidence-based and objective assessment over whether objectives have been met, not met or exceeded. 

 Individual performance is assessed by the individual’s line manager through an appraisal discussion, with supporting evidence from a range of stakeholders.

But apart from Sir Robert – whose bonus was decided by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary – the Department declined to say who these line managers are and which outside organisations and people recommended they should get bonuses. The bad news for the DWP is that Kevan Jones plans to table a Parliamentary Question next month to find out who.

Now the FDA has a point that compared to the top of the  private sector they are badly paid. A report put out by the House of Commons library revealed that the top 3000 bankers are ALL earning over £884,000 a year – which makes £20,000 sound small beer. But if anything that reflects that huge growth of inequality in Britain.

At other end of society how effective are these five top men ( note they are all men) in delivering what they are supposed to do. All are responsible in one way or another for the delivery of Universal Credit.

At present they are using Newcastle-upon-Tyne – to roll out the full effect of Universial Credit.

Catherine McKinnell , Labour MP for Newcastle North, said:“ My office has been deluged with complaints from constituents about a Universal Credit system that is clearly struggling to cope and failing to deliver the support that claimants need in anything like an orderly or timely fashion.”

Her debate can be read here.  Suffice to say it reveals a very sorry picture. The  new IT system means people can’t talk to a human. It has  a verification process that requires claimants to produce photographic identification such as a passport or driving licence, “which many simply do not possess and certainly cannot afford, even though some have been in receipt of benefits for several years.”

“I also have numerous examples of Universal Credit claims being shut down before they should be; of documentation being provided to the DWP, at the constituent’s cost, and repeatedly being lost or even destroyed; and of totally conflicting, often incorrect, information being provided to constituents about their claims.”

For a time the ministry effectively banned MPs from taking up cases by making impossible verification demands before they would talk about it.

What this shows to me is a growing disconnect between the people at the top – who are computer savvy, have nice centrally heated homes, no problems with bills, can afford expensive holidays, and can’t conceive of anyone not having a passport – designing a system for poor, dispossessed, desperate people without any understanding of how the world works for them.

It was this disconnect between the elite and the poor  in the USA that led to the rise of Donald Trump and I suspect this huge gulf between the Metropolitan elite – whom top Whitehall civil servants are part – and the provincial poor is in the end going to propel Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.