I led regeneration projects and know how to empower communities. It is deeply regrettable that the government seems so distracted from a true "levelling up" agendaby Michael Heseltine / July 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
In some respects, the most depressing feature of the two dangers facing our country—Covid-19 and Brexit—is the persistent attempt from within Downing Street to heap most of the blame on the civil service.
As a minister for 17 years—13 in the cabinet—it has been my privilege to rely on civil servants. I then worked within or on the fringe of government as an adviser for another eight years. I could list a catalogue of decisions where I successfully encouraged civil servants in a direction they would not themselves have devised. I can remember only two occasions when I felt I was facing deliberate resistance: and in both cases I prevailed.
I defend absolutely what some see as their inertia or hesitancy. It is a complete misunderstanding of the constitutional role of the service to see it in the role of initiator or innovator. That is the role of ministers. If you are looking for collective failure for Britain’s lacklustre post-war economic performance, look no further than the absence of any consistent industrial and economic strategy, as left-wing governments and ministers swapped desks with right-wing equivalents and sought to reverse each others’ policies. Even within this electoral change government reshuffles injected yet more uncertainty. Even within the same party, ministers were replaced by colleagues with quite different attitudes towards individual policies.
This is before you ask difficult questions about the managerial experience of individual ministers, their willingness to provoke controversy, or their ambition to climb the ladder of the party hierarchy. I have no hesitation in affirming my long-held view that our civil service is a Rolls-Royce organisation. It needs fuel and a driver but that must be provided by ministers. Just imagine the howls of the British press if civil servants were constantly proposing policies perceived to be biased towards those of the parliamentary opposition!
After months in which No 10 briefings have focused on the “blob” culture, a “Remainer” instinct and alleged incompetence, culminating in effective dismissal of the cabinet secretary, we were encouraged to await a definitive speech by Boris Johnson in Dudley on 30th June.
If ever a speech was reflective of Whitehall at its most typical, this was it. The speech was…