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.

Image copyright Martin Rosenbaum

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.

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