Civil service relations with ministers – what’s gone wrong, and how to fix it

Image by David Mark from Pixabay
May 25, 2023
United Kingdom

The relationship between civil servants and ministers in the UK is under unprecedented strain.
The resignation of deputy prime minister Dominic Raab brought a renewed focus on how civil servants and ministers work together. Raab resigned after bullying complaints against him by officials were upheld following an investigation – but Raab said his departure was the result of “activist civil servants” who were able to “block reforms or changes through a rather passive-aggressive approach”.

A long-awaited review by former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude into civil service governance and accountability is expected soon, and Maude said that his review would set out the need for “a much more robust culture, with less groupthink, more rugged disagreement, and the confidence to both offer challenge and to accept it” across government. “Today there is no external accountability for the quality of advice, other than to ministers,” he said. “There could be value in regular external audits, conducted by qualified outsiders, with published results. This would reward officials who get it right, and provide a stimulus to the rest.”

This webinar brought together experts – including those who have set out plans for greater scrutiny of government policy proposals – to share insight and intelligence on how to build a constructive relationship between ministers and officials.

Join this session to find out:
• How to make the relationship between ministers and officials work.
• What happens when it goes wrong.
• The scope for reforms to rebuild the confidence of both ministers and civil servants.


Lucille Thirlby, Assistant General Secretary, FDA

Lucille Thirlby Assistant General Secretary FDA Lucille is a senior leader in trade union movement for 22 years. Previously worked for UNISON moving through the organisation in a range of roles.

Lucille moved to work the FDA in 2018. Here she leads and manages a team of negotiators, until recently had strategic responsibility for civil service pay, SCS, SSRB evidence, Pensions and engagement with the Cabinet Office.

Her new role leads strategic development of FDA learn and organising, equality and union communications Both unions are member organisations and she has in depth experience of leading complex change, governance, engagement with executive boards and political structures.

Lucille has a strong commitment to equalities and seeks to deliver change to people’s experiences in the workplace.

Jonathan Slater, former Permanent Secretary, Department for Education

Jonathan Slater is a Visiting Professor at King’s College London and Queen Mary’s University London. He sits on the boards of the Charter Schools Educational Trust, Morley College, and Sheffield Hallam University. Jonathan was Permanent Secretary of the Department for Education until 2020, at the conclusion of a 20 year civil service career that included Justice, Defence, the Cabinet Office and No.10. Before that Jonathan worked in local government for over 10 years, ending up as Director of Education and Deputy Chief Executive at Islington Council, though his career actually started as a mathematical modeller for British Rail.

Andrew Kakabadse, Professor of Governance and Leadership, Henley Business School, University of Reading

Andrew Kakabadse is Professor of Governance and Leadership at Henley Business School and Emeritus Professor at Cranfield School of Management. He was Visiting Professor at the University of Ulster, Macquarie University, Australia, Centre for Creative Leadership, USA as well as at other European, USA and Chinese universities. Andrew’s research covers boards, top teams and the governance of governments. He has published over 47 books, 88 book chapters, over 240 articles and 18 monographs. He is Advisor to the UK Parliament and numerous corporations, NGOs and other governments.

Richard Johnstone, Executive Editor, Global Government Forum

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.


Webinar chair: Siobhan Benita, Facilitator, Global Government Forum

Siobhan Benita was a senior civil servant with over 15 years’ Whitehall experience. She worked in many of the major delivery departments, including Transport, Environment, Health and Local Government. She also had senior roles at the heart of Government in the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, including supporting the then Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell to lead work on Civil Service reform and strategy. Siobhan left the Civil Service to run as an independent candidate in the Mayor of London election. She subsequently joined her alma mater, Warwick University as Chief Strategy Officer of Warwick in London and Co-Director of the Warwick Policy Lab.