Spontaneous clean-out of the Civil Service?

A very promising prospect in the Grauniad today: two thirds of senior civil servants are considering quitting:

The poll (pdf), conducted by the FDA union (formerly known as the First Division Association) also found that almost one in four Whitehall staff in the top three grades of the service want to leave their jobs immediately.
To which the only response can be: "so why don't they?" The top four grades are Perm Sec (including admirals, generals, air chief marshals), Director General, Director and Deputy Director; it seems that they exclude Perm Secs from this survey. There are 35 Permanent Secretaries and 200 "top" civil servants which probably account for the Perm Secs and most of the Directors General; there are about 3500 people in the 3 grades below Perm Sec. That's 900 senior civil servants wanting to leave immediately, and 2000+ considering quitting. (The numbers also imply, if there are 150 Directors General, that the number of people in each grade multiplies by around 4 for each level below.)

But where would they go? We're in a recession, and the traditional destinations for senior civil servants (quangos, NED positions in banks, consulting firms) are being rather squeezed. I suspect that most of those wanting to leave will be angling for early retirement, hoping to get at least something of a payoff for leaving 3-5 years before their due date. And why shouldn't they? If you're in sub-average health and not anticipating a promotion, retiring early is a good plan; you take your maximum lump sum, accept the slightly reduced annuity because you don't anticipate collecting it for many years, and go off doing whatever you enjoy for the next few years. And good luck to you!

The principal benefit a company gets in hiring a senior civil servant is an inside track into the department's commercial and legal practices. If you want to negotiate the labyrinthine acquisition processes of the department in order to sell your high-priced but user-hostile software, or work out how to write documentation to ensure your pharmaceuticals get prompt approval then a senior member of the department may come in handy. However, you have to look at bang-per-buck; instead of hiring a Director, you may well be better off recruiting more junior but well-informed members of the department who are current in the practice of the rules and regulations, rather than the "big picture" guys at the top whose usefulness will quickly expire. This is not how the article sells it, of course:

According to Dave Penman, the FDA's general secretary, the survey shows that the government is facing "an exodus of talent" from the public to the private sector if the economy picks up.
I think the word "talent" does not mean what Mr. Penman thinks it means. As a career civil servant from the Inland Revenue and DWP and PCS union organiser, he's never had a job which poor performance would have put at risk. Now he's on the TUC General Council. I think it safe to say that the responsible spending of taxpayer money is not foremost on his mind.

Now, of course, we ask "cui bono?" - who wanted this story to appear and so briefed Observer investigations editor Rajeev Syal on the survey? I expect this is one step in the Civil Service angling to reverse their pay freeze. "Prime Minister, we are losing experienced senior civil servants hand over fist - we must raise pay and improve conditions to retain the hard-won experience and leadership." Since the Government doesn't seem to be able to influence Civil Service appointments as a result of the Civil Service's political "neutrality", however, all it means is that the positions will be filled by "more of the same". There is no shortage of Civil Servants willing to go for promotion boards, and the Buggin's Turn aspect of promotion ensures that "seniority" (age in place) still counts for a lot. Any board for a Top 200 position would be implicitly considering "is this person One Of Us?".

Interestingly, the current Head of the Home Civil Service, Bob Kerslake, is a mathmo from Warwick University and a chartered accountant - a break from the economics / law / Classics background of his predecessors. I wonder if he's run the numbers and realises what's coming down the pipe for Civil Service numbers, pay and pensions?

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