Cabinet Secretary acknowledges lack of skills in civil service

Simon Case said many officials lack ‘technical and specialist knowledge’.

Simon Case walking to Portcullis House
Simon Case walking to Portcullis House

The Cabinet Secretary has admitted that the Government lacks the necessary skills required to deal with the biggest issues facing the country.

Simon Case, who since September last year has been the most senior civil service adviser to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, wrote in a letter to The Times that many officials did not have the “technical and specialist knowledge” needed to carry out the Government’s reform plans after the pandemic.

Mr Case said he agreed with Dame Kate Bingham, the former head of the vaccine taskforce, who earlier this week gave a damning speech about the bureaucratic workings of the civil service, criticising a culture of “group think and risk aversion” that “stifles initiative and encourages foot-dragging”.

Kate Bingham
Dame Kate Bingham has been critical of the lack of skills in the civil service (Tom Kates/Handout/PA)

She also said there was a “devastating” lack of skills and experience in science, industry, commerce and manufacturing in the civil service.

Mr Case said in his letter he was determined to oversee a shake-up of training schemes for officials and “support greater innovation and creativity”.

He also wanted to bring “more Dame Kates” into Government and see more civil servants gathering experience outside of Whitehall.

The letter also comes after former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre recently described his experience of trying to become the next chairman of media watchdog Ofcom as an “infelicitous dalliance with the Blob”.

Steve Barclay making a statement to the House of Commons
Steve Barclay has said the Government is committed to ‘reform and modernising’ (Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/PA)

Mr Case has previously acknowledged that the civil service has assumed a “defensive crouch” position when faced with reform in the past, and has noted its “cumbersome processes and siloed working” and “confusion at times about who was responsible for what”.

Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay on Thursday insisted “further and faster” civil service reform can be delivered, amid claims officials have been stopping Boris Johnson from delivering his policies.

In response to a Commons question, Mr Barclay said: “It’s clear, and Covid has shown, there is opportunity to go further and faster. I know there is commitment from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary to do exactly that.”

The Cabinet minister noted the Government is committed to “reform and modernising,” but said it “shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that we have huge talent and capability within our civil service”.

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