The Mandarins in Whitehall – A Voice from the Past. Does this explain the Grenfell Tower Inferno?

Below is not so funny!

Tidying my office and binning old paper I came across this cutting from The Times dated7 August 2006. I will let extracts speak for themselves.

 Whitehall remains closed to outsiders and needs radical change, report says.

By Bill Sherman, Whitehall Editor

 Catching the eye first:

 Performance is poorly managed and often goes unchecked. In short, there is trouble at the top.

This is how it begins:

 The “Sir Humphrey” culture lives on in Whitehall’s ivory towers, with top officials un-accountable, underperforming and lacking professional skills, a report published today claims.

In a devastating critique, the influential Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) calls for a radical shake-up of the way Whitehall is “governed”, to improve policy delivery to avoid another Home Office meltdown.

Later on:

The 4,000-strong senior Civil Service is badly managed and fails to work effectively across departments “It lacks a strong centre able to think strategically … or drive standards up” the left-wing think-tank says. “Performance is poorly managed and poor performance too often goes unchecked,” it adds. “In short there is trouble at the top”.

 But the IPPR came under attack from the FDA, the Union that represents top civil servants, who accused it of using old data to make unfair attacks on the Civil Service. “There is a danger of descending into a search for scapegoats when problems emerge,” Jonathan Baume, General Secretary of the FDA said.

 The Report, which is based on interviews with permanent secretaries and ministers over nine months, calls for an end to the convention of “ministerial responsibility”, where the politician takes the flak and officials remain unscathed.

 Ministers should take responsibility for policy decisions but the Civil Service should take the blame for delivery failures, with new structures to hold both ministers and officials to account, says the IPPR.

 And later on, again:

Despite numerous reform programmes instigated by a series of Cabinet Secretaries, “the pace of change in Whitehall is glacial”, says one minister cited in the report.

 And the nub of the matter:

Only a third of senior civil servants hold professional qualifications and few outsiders make it to the top ranks of Whitehall, with the “job for life” reigning supreme. Most staff have no experience of service delivery and few have skills in corporate services such as HR, finance and technology. 


Officials are often let off the hook after delivery failures with a minor reprimand from the Commons Public Accounts Committee. “The Public Accounts Committee can be very difficult, but it is not hard-edged accountability … we are not fired as the result of a bad performance; indeed, appearing before the PAC doesn’t change the price of fish,” said one permanent secretary.

Accountability is the missing ingredient:

Another permanent secretary said “As a group, permanent secretaries have managed to duck accountability” …. Ministers were even more scathing “The most fundamental problem with the Civil Service is that it is not accountable to anybody,” one minister says…. “There is simply no price for failure in Whitehall” says another.

In 2006 new Building Regs substituted data testing for laboratory testing of flammability and highly flammable tiles on Grenfell Tower were not  banned then and have not been banned since. Does this help to explain why? Click

Does this also explain why Ombudsman aren’t?

Please copy to your friends & colleagues

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *