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Taking on Sir Humphrey: can the civil service be reformed? – podcast

Michael Gove has set out his plans for a revolution of Britain’s permanent bureaucracy, the civil service. But as former Downing Street chief of staff Jonathan Powell argues, it is easier said than done

When Jonathan Powell arrived in Downing Street in 1997 as Tony Blair’s chief of staff, he was met with a handshake from the head of the civil service. From then on, it was this institution, comprising hundreds of thousands of apolitical government employees, that would be tasked with turning the new ideas into reality.

Powell tells Anushka Asthana that it was not easy: many officials are reluctant to run with new ideas, or tend to look for problems rather than solutions. It’s an issue that the current Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, has also identified. In a recent speech, he promised to shake things up: move more civil servants out of London, make them take more risks, and become more specialist and numerate.

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