Under-performing civil servants will be identified and fired under plans to rank all government officials by ability.David Cameron is growing increasingly impatient with institutional failures and his ministers have complained privately about regularly receiving “useless” advice from below-par officials.
Ministers are determined to change the culture of the Civil Service, in which, they say, “lazy” staff get away with poor performance because managers are unwilling to have “difficult conversations”. Sweeping plans to overhaul the service are expected to be published within a month. They are bound to infuriate the public-sector unions, who staged another day of industrial action last Thursday.
This included an illegal walkout by prison officers, who are banned from taking industrial action, as well as action by Border Agency staff and Job centre employees.
An estimated 30,000 off-duty police officers and their families also marched in London to protest about changes to their pay, pensions and working conditions.
Unions claimed that 200,000 public-sector staff had stayed away from work, although ministers insisted that just half that number had taken part and that disruption to public services had been minimal.
Under the new proposals, government departments will be brought into line with private companies, and managers will be “forced” to rate employees under a more rigorous assessment regime. The plan will affect all 434,000 civil servants who work for government departments, agencies and quangos.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph before the latest industrial action, Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, said: “It is a myth that you can never sack a civil servant. It is not easy to sack anyone, nor should it be. But it is no more difficult in the Civil Service than it is anywhere else, on performance grounds.
“It is just that the recent history has been that performance management hasn’t been very good, neither in terms of recognising the best performers nor in addressing the issues of the worst performers.”
Mr Maude said that civil servants were themselves “frustrated and concerned” that “the worst performers” faced no action, while those who worked hardest did not receive the recognition they deserved.
He added: “What we will need to end up with is the way performance management is done in most organisations, which is, you force managers to do rankings, to rate people in order of performance.
“Otherwise, the temptation always is for everybody to be ‘above average’. This will take time. There has been no incentive for managers to take tough decisions and have difficult conversations.
“That can change and it is one of the issues we will be addressing in our Civil Service reform plans.”
It is understood that the Prime Minister’s advisers are privately urging Mr Cameron to go further and dismiss tens of thousands of officials.
Steve Hilton, his director of implementation, who leaves to take up an American university post this month, has told the Prime Minister that the Civil Service could function effectively with a 90 per cent cut in staff.
He recently sent officials to “measure up” Somerset House, the main government building in the 19th century, from which Britain ruled the empire, compared with the large areas of Whitehall, Victoria and Westminster taken up by government offices today.
One Downing Street source said: “It turned out that 4,000 mandarins could run the whole empire, which rather puts today’s staffing into perspective.” Mr Hilton has proposed that one department “road test” severe cutbacks, reducing its staff by 70 per cent.
Another Downing Street source said: “We need to think laterally about what the Civil Service is actually for. At the moment, only about a third of a minister’s box is actually concerned with Coalition policy, the majority is unnecessary paperwork from civil servants and European matters.”
The Prime Minister is understood to value highly the advice and work offered by senior officials, such as Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, and is being urged to cut middle managers and focus on encouraging and rewarding the top performers.
According to the Cabinet Office, there are 434,000 civil servants, the lowest number since the Second World War, as a result of an efficiency drive by the Coalition. At the time of the last general election, in May 2010, the Civil Service numbered more than 500,000.
About one in five works in a Whitehall department, with the remainder staffing government agencies. The reforms are likely to affect staff in Jobcentres, the Pension Service, and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, as well as border guards at ports and airports, and officials at the criminal courts.
Ministers, especially those with a background in business, have grown frustrated at the slow pace of work in Whitehall departments and the lack of creativity among staff.
Meanwhile, a surprise walkout by prison guards on the 7am shift last Thursday affected an estimated eight in 10 jails, including those of Manchester and Leeds. Prison officers are banned by law from taking industrial action.
A skeleton staff remained to feed inmates and give medication, but remand prisoners could not be prepared to be taken to courtrooms, with the result that many criminal trials, including at the Old Bailey, had to be postponed.
As the Government prepared to take out an injunction over the action, guards returned to their posts after 2pm. Union leaders hailed this as a success in their campaign against the retirement age for prison officers being raised in line with the state pension age. Long-serving officers can retire at 55 or 60, but recent arrivals thought they had an agreement that the pension age would stay at 65.
Police are also banned from striking but about 30,000 marched against reforms to pay and conditions and budget cuts.
Officers from all 43 forces in England and Wales marched for the first time since 2008, many sporting caps bearing the message that cuts of up to 20 per cent were “criminal”.
Forces have been ordered to make the budget cuts, which the Police Federation, representing the rank-and-file, believes will lead to the loss of 16,000 front-line officers.
Police are having to retire later and pay more into their pensions while the planned Winsor reforms will make it easier to sack them and for outsiders to be fast-tracked into senior posts.
The line took 90 minutes to pass the Home Office, booing as it went.
The strike by members of the Immigration Service Union saw some queues reach 102 minutes at Terminal 3. Worst affected were passengers from outside the European Economic Area.
However, with the Home Office having enlisted large numbers of volunteers, many travellers had a smoother passage than usual. Stansted had more immigration desks manned than usual and Gatwick reported no delays.
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