by Ray Fleming

Not much has been heard of Francis Maude since his stupid advice to the British public last March to store petrol in jerry cans in their garages in case of a petrol driver's strike. Yesterday, however, Mr Maude returned to the limelight by revealing his plans for reforming the upper reaches of the UK civil service. He believes, as do several Conservative ministers, that civil service permanent secretaries of Whitehall departments and their senior staff are a drag on a new government wanting to implement policies included in election manifestos. Actually, it is the civil service's job to point out the impracticability's and possible unintended consequences of ideas that sounded attractive at the hustings. Mr Maude is not the first Conservative minister to complain about the role of the senior civil service and to believe that it would better be carried out by businessmen and women and technocrats. The odd thing, however, is that most accusations about senior civil servants are very general in character and inspired more by the TV series Yes Minister than by hard evidence.

It is odd that a government which has already such a poor record of U-turns in its policy initiatives should want more Yes-men and women to carry them through before their faults are discovered rather than the advice of widely experienced and politically neutral civil servants.