Johnson forges ahead with civil service shake-up

By on 14/08/2020
The prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, is driving radical changes to the UK civil service. (Image © Steve Taylor/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire).

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is moving policy advisers out of Downing Street and into the Cabinet Office as part of wider plans to ensure that No 10, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office work together more closely.

From September, the Downing Street policy unit and its director Munira Mirza will be based in the Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall, according to national news website inews.co.uk. Johnson wants major decisions signed off by all three departments, it said.

Around 20 political officials are to be based in the Whitehall building together with existing civil servants from the Cabinet Office, according to the report.

Downing Street is also pressing ahead with a radical centralisation of communication, which will lead to many job losses and see the introduction of government run televised press briefings from the autumn.

Number 10 has informally limited departments’ communications teams to a maximum size of 30 employees.

Each department was mandated to submit details of their communications operations to Alex Aiken, executive director, government communications, who is overseeing the changes. The deadline for this passed yesterday.

Communications staff across government are very anxious about the centralisation of communications and potential redundancies, according to a civil service union.

FDA assistant general secretary Amy Leversidge said: “The way the centralisation of services was announced, in particular announcing the arbitrary figure of having a maximum of 30 staff per department before the Cabinet Office even started their audit exercise, has left staff feeling like decisions have already been made without their input or expertise.

“This feels utterly disheartening for staff, especially when they been working round the clock on the government’s response to coronavirus.”

The FDA argues that the way the government is dealing with the changes is contradictory, as while saying that it wants skilled and knowledgeable communications staff, it is failing to give them clarity over its plans. As a result, they felt unvalued and surplus to requirements, Leversidge said.

The union wants the Cabinet Office and government to work harder on ensuring full engagement and consultation with staff.

The moves are part of wider plans to reform the UK civil service, which Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has criticised strongly.

In March, changes were made to the way senior aides are appointed. Rather than ministers choosing their own advisers or picking from a pool of people already known to the party, advisers are now recruited through a central website.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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