Cabinet Office has no records of obstructive officials

Francis Maude

Some top civil servants have deliberately obstructed plans that ministers want implemented.

That's the view of the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who in a speech to the Institute for Government last month complained that "there are cases where permanent secretaries have blocked agreed government policy from going ahead or advised other officials not to implement ministerial decisions".

It's not happening all the time, he says, but there are too many occasions on which this "utterly unacceptable" behaviour has occurred. He's keen to stress that Labour ministers in the previous government also protested about the same difficulty.

In an interview in August Maude outlined one example where he said a permanent secretary's behaviour was "designed to give a signal to all the officials in the room that they needn't bother about what Francis Maude wanted".


It's one reason why he's introducing a plan for civil service reform, including greater accountability for the top officials in government departments.

But how often have senior officials actually been behaving in this unconstitutional and obstructive way to intentionally thwart the wishes of ministers? I made a freedom of information request to the Cabinet Office for examples of the problem Maude is angry about.

I was surprised to get the reply that they couldn't tell me about any - because they haven't got any relevant recorded information.

Response from Cabinet Office

So what is the explanation for this? "Francis Maude was referring to verbal communications rather any recorded information", a Cabinet Office spokesperson told me. (FOI requests only cover information which is recorded in some form).

'Not fruitful'

But why are none of the examples recorded? "There is no list of examples, because we haven't held a meeting to collate the examples," says a source close to Maude. "We didn't think it would be fruitful to do so".

So if that's the explanation, I suppose at least it means it wasn't because the minister asked officials to draw up a list of examples of civil servant obstructiveness and they refused to do so.

Martin Rosenbaum Article written by Martin Rosenbaum Martin Rosenbaum Freedom of information specialist

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  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Quelle surprise. Yet another Tory minister mouthing off about something where there is absolutely no evidence to back up the claims. It's a kind of arrogance - we say it's true so it must be. In Maude's case he came in making all sorts of ridiculous claims about waste - it appears that when he can't find the fantasy amounts he was looking for, it was time to blame someone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Francis Maude: "Some top civil servants have deliberately obstructed plans that ministers want implemented..."

    If that is true then at least someone has the sense to try and stop the Govt and their half-baked idea that are ruining this country....

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.


    Well there sure have been a lot of resigning senior civil servants! Though none apparently for such reasons (ahem!)

    Seems fair to me, the civil service is there to advise on and carry out policy. Some ministers obviously don't know the difference between sound advice and obstruction! What they really want is a bunch of patsy's! Apparenty there aren't enough SPADs to share the blame!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    If this was not true it would be funny a la 'Yes Minister'.

    Instead we have this metropolitian elite that thinks both that they know better and that they have the right to block the political will - especially when it is in self interest.
    Government decides to cut the deficit - civil service proposes cuts to capital investment not current expenditure or real cuts to civil service levels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    In the senior civil service, if a permanent secretary really, really feels that a decision is wrong, the procedure is to request a 'written instruction' to implement it from his Minister. The next stage of objection is to resign.

    Both leave a paper trail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Francis Maude is a repeat offender at making up reasons that justify his policy changes. He is a cynical politician who seeks to turn popular opinion in his chosen direction using lies and fabrication.

    A truly hateful man!

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Some top civil servants have deliberately obstructed plans that ministers want implemented.
    Where is the proof?
    If there was proof, would not these civil servants be dismissed for cause.
    Seems like some kind of excuse by Coalition Govt to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    So Maude making up policy with no evidence to back them up.

    Shocking first for this govt. NOT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    /Simon Says/ please give me the documents...

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Hacker: You're blathering Bernard.
    Bernard: Yes Minister
    Hacker: Why are you blathering Bernard?
    Bernard: It's my job Minister
    Put away your Thick Of It box set sir and consult the master tapes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    This is all leading to a Centralising, more controlling (when they promised exactly the opposite) incompetent govt trying to pave the way for having its own stooges in place so that their mistakes are covered up. Forget appointments on merit - they want to base it on political agenda, and "spreading privilege" to their own. Forget National interest - this is all about their OWN interests!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Let's be fair - I too would be paranoid if I were in the coalition government

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Yet another sign of this bullying govt showing its true Flashman colours: when the Posh Boys are in trouble - blame the servants. No doubt this is a fore warning to their own employees to do as they are told, or outsourcing to their friends (whose Boards they will end up on) beckons!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    It would be a sad day if the Civil Service was so politicised that it was in effect preventing the will of Parliament. Unfortunately we do know that the trade union movement is most active in the public sector and inevitably this must lead to suspicion that its members could be less than eager to implement policies where they have negative political views. Ban Union activity in the public sector!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    This is nothing more than an incompetent govt trying to put the blame on someone else. No doubt the 34 U Turns performed so far are as a result of Civil Servants also? This is the Minister for Jerrycans who is telling them that they should not conduct any Trade Union activities. This is all about Politics (as most things are with this useless govt). Why don't they just get on with their own jobs?


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