ukcivilservant

Articles about the UK Civil Service and Regulation

Here’s a Simple Trade Agreement – 34 Pages on Fish!

 

Following its exit from the EU, the Greenland Government needed to be sure that fish caught in its waters could be sold in the EU.   The EU is the largest single fisheries market in the world and more than a quarter of the fish caught by European fishing boats are taken outside EU waters.

These are the three principal documents establishing the current EU/Greenland Fisheries Agreement. Note in particular that the agreement requires Greenland to ‘uphold fundamental rights as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, including work-related rights’.

Regulation 753/2007 and

2007 Fisheries Partnership Agreement (c. 8 pages)

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1461587826387&uri=CELEX:32007R0753

The 2015 Protocol (replaces 2007 version) (c.26 pages)

http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:22015A1121(01)&from=EN

 

Martin Stanley

68rtsw8@gmail.com

 

 

 

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Chilcot’s Criticisms of the Civil Service

 

This note summarises the criticisms of senior civil servants implicit in the Chilcot Report.

(I do not include the detailed criticisms of the failure to plan effectively, nor the failures of intelligence community. Text in italics is quoted directly from the report.)

There appear to be seven principal criticisms:

  1. No-one challenged the Prime Ministers’ habit of drafting vital inter-governmental communications without consulting his Cabinet colleagues

Mr Blair … drafted many or most of his Notes to the President himself, showing the drafts to his close advisers in No.10 but not (ahead of despatch) to the relevant Cabinet Ministers.

  1. No-one sought to record the reasons why the Prime Minster concluded that Iraq was in breach of resolution 1441, although this was an essential ingredient of the legal basis for the war.

In the letter of 14 March 2003 from Lord Goldsmith’s office to No.10 … Mr Blair was told that an essential ingredient of the legal basis was that he, himself, should be satisfied of the fact that Iraq was in breach of resolution 1441. In accordance with that advice, it was Mr Blair who decided that, so far as the UK was concerned, Iraq was and remained in breach of resolution 1441. Apart from No.10s response to the letter of 14 March, sent the following day, in terms that can only be described as perfunctory, no formal record was made of that decision and the precise grounds on which it was made remain unclear.

  1. No-one ensured that Cabinet Minsters were provided with proper legal advice

… the Inquiry concludes that [the Attorney-General] Lord Goldsmith should have been asked to provide written advice which fully reflected the position on 17 March and explained the legal basis on which the UK could take military action and set out the risks of legal challenge.

  1. No-one challenged the Prime Minister’s failure to discuss Iraq policy in Defence and Overseas Policy Committee (DOP).

In April 2002, the MOD clearly expected consideration of military options to be addressed through DOP. Mr Simon Webb, the MOD Policy Director, advised Mr Hoon that: “Even these preparatory steps would properly need a Cabinet Committee decision, based on a minute from the Defence Secretary …” The last meeting of DOP on Iraq before the 2003 conflict, however, took place in March 1999.

There was no substantive discussion of the military options, despite promises by Mr Blair, before the meeting on 17 March.

  1. No-one ensured that decisions were properly recorded and explained.

Most decisions on Iraq pre-conflict were taken either bilaterally between Mr Blair and the relevant Secretary of State or in meetings between Mr Blair, Mr Straw and Mr Hoon, with No.10 officials and, as appropriate, Mr John Scarlett (Chairman of the JIC), Sir Richard Dearlove and Admiral Boyce. Some of those meetings were minuted; some were not. As the guidance for the Cabinet Secretariat makes clear, the purpose of the minute of a meeting is to set out the conclusions reached so that those who have to take action know precisely what to do; the second purpose is to “give the reasons why the conclusions were reached”.

  1. No-one challenged the failure to organise adequate Cabinet discussion of the Iraq strategy.

Cabinet was certainly given updates on diplomatic developments and had opportunities to discuss the general issues. The number of occasions on which there was a substantive discussion of the policy was very much more limited.

  1. No-one challenged the Chancellor’s determination deliberately to keep the Cabinet Secretariat short of resources.

Sir David had found it quite hard to staff the Cabinet Office at the level he would have wanted and it had been necessary to prioritise. The Treasury had kept [the secretariat], he expected “deliberately”, on “a very tight leash in order to restrain the growth of Downing Street”.

Chilcot’s conclusion, therefore, was as follows:-

The Inquiry considers that there should have been collective discussion by a Cabinet Committee or small group of Ministers on the basis of inter-departmental advice agreed at a senior level between officials at a number of decision points which had a major impact on the development of UK policy before the invasion of Iraq. 

 In addition to providing a mechanism to probe and challenge the implications of proposals before decisions were taken, a Cabinet Committee or a more structured process might have identified some of the wider implications and risks associated with the deployment of military forces to Iraq. It might also have offered the opportunity to remedy some of the deficiencies in planning which are identified in Section 6 of the Report.

No Permanent Secretaries or other senior colleagues are criticised by name, although, in seeking to explain the behaviour of the Cabinet Secretary, the Inquiry noted Sir David Omand’s evidence that “… the Cabinet Secretary was not as present as previous Cabinet Secretaries … would have been … the Cabinet Secretary could have “made a fuss” about that: “But it would have been at the direct expense of not being able to devote the time to sorting out reform and delivery across the government’s agenda.”

The then Cabinet Secretary – Andrew, later Lord, Turnbull – told the inquiry that Mr Blair …

“… wanted a step change in the work on delivery and reform, which I hope I managed to give him. … You have to make choices as to where you make your effort, and I think the policy I followed was not to take an issue over from someone to whom it was delegated simply because it was big and important, but you have to make a judgement as to whether it is being handled competently, whether that particular part is, in a sense, under pressure, whether you think they are getting it wrong in some sense, or they are missing certain important things.”

Chilcot noted, however, that:

“The responsibility of the Cabinet Secretary to ensure that members of Cabinet are fully engaged in ways that allow them to accept collective responsibility and to meet their departmental obligations nevertheless remains.”

 

Martin Stanley

14 September 2016

www.civilservant.org.uk

@ukcivilservant

Why do politicians sometimes ignore scientific advice?

This blog was first published in March 2015 by Manchester University’s Whitehall Watch

Respected scientist Sir Paul Nurse recently expressed his distress that politicians sometimes “ignore” scientific evidence. Here is a slightly different take on the issue from the perspective of a recent senior civil servant.

At one level, of course, I agree with Sir Paul. I can’t prove it but I suspect that many if not most Ministers would (if they could) legalise cannabis and ecstasy, and sharply increase the cost of all alcoholic drinks. Many would also be tempted to ban dangerous sports – especially for children – including horse-riding, rugby and boxing. The fact that they do not do so upsets Sir Paul who feels “distressed” when scientists find clear evidence that contributes to a particular issue – such as drugs policy – only for politicians to ignore it “because they don’t think it will play well with the public”. “It indicates a total lack of leadership on the politicians’ part,” he told BBC Newsnight’s Evan Davis. “They have the evidence in front of them but they sometimes are cowardly about using their intelligence and using our evidence to come to a leadership decision.”

There are two problems with this analysis. The first is that leaders cannot lead unless their followers remain willing to follow them, and it is far from clear that the great British public would willingly accept many of the decisions that seem so obviously correct to Sir Paul. Sir William Harcourt’s comment that “The Minister exists to tell the Civil Servant what the Public will not stand” remains as true as it ever was.

The second problem is that the public’s risk appetite depends very much on the non-scientific context within which the risk is taken. We all dread dying in an airplane accident much more than we fear dying in a car accident, which is why apparently disproportionate resource is devoted to aviation safety. We more readily accept risks that we can control (horse-riding. rock-climbing) than risks imposed on us by others (polluters). And we certainly don’t like risks that might damage our children and future generations, which is one reason why nuclear power is so much more closely regulated than coal mining. (See http://www.regulation.org.uk/library/risk.pdf for a longer discussion of this subject.)

Sir Paul’s comments bring to mind those of Professor David Nutt, Chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, who said that taking ecstasy was no worse than the risks associated with “Equine Addiction Syndrome”, a term he invented to describe people’s addiction to horse-riding which causes 10 deaths and more than 100 road traffic accidents a year. This caused a fuss that was tolerated by Ministers. But then, in October 2009, the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies published a lecture by Professor Nutt and quoted the Centre’s Director as saying that “Professor Nutt’s briefing gives us an insight into what drugs policy might look like if it was based on the research evidence, rather than political posturing and moralistic positioning”. This was a step too far for the Home Secretary who promptly sacked the professor, believing that Professor Nutt had gone beyond giving advice and had begun to campaign on an essentially political issue. In a letter to The Guardian he noted that “There are not many kids in my constituency in danger of falling off a horse – there are thousands at risk of being sucked into a world of hopeless despair through drug addiction”.

Sir Paul should not therefore have accused Ministers of ‘ignoring’ science or of cowardice or lacking leadership. This is bound to make them defensive. A much more positive approach would have been to recognise that Ministers and scientists are on the same side in wanting the public (and in particular the media) to understand the science underlying these difficult policy areas, so that attitude-changing discussion can take place. It is interesting, for instance, to note that three government departments have come together with industry to prepare an Agri-Tech strategy which implicitly (though not very explicitly) involves support for GM food, another supposed hazard which has diminished under scientific scrutiny. The main obstacle to the development of GM technology now lies outside the UK, and elsewhere in the EU. But that is another story …

Speaking Truth unto … Prime Minister Trump?

It is well accepted, in the UK at least, that powerful men and women should be advised by those who are willing to ‘speak truth unto power’. It is also well recognised that senior officials – and senior members of the armed forces – and senior executives – need to offer their advice in way, and adopting a tone, that is best designed to ensure that the advice is accepted.

But what does this mean in practice? There is some advice available for those lucky enough to work with politicians who will listen to advice, even if they don’t always agree with it or accept it. Recent examples include Christopher Jary’s Working with Ministers, and How to be a Minister written jointly by ex-Minister John Hutton and ex-Permanent Secretary Leigh Lewis. But what advice might be given to those working with a politician with a more difficult personality?

This question came strongly to mind when I read Professor Norman Dixon’s On the Psychology of Military Incompetence in which he argues that many military blunders may be attributed to the authoritarian psychology of certain military leaders – and to the failure of their subordinates to challenge them effectively (or at all). He defines authoritarians as those who …

are less likely to …

be able to put themselves in others’ shoes, give full credit to an opponent’s ability (likely calling them stupid, feeble and/or evil), accept criticism from below, accept blame, experiment, reconnoitre, learn from their own mistakes, accept information or advice which challenges their beliefs and assumptions, and be warm and sympathetic.

and are more likely to …

have strong egos, be vain (but lack true self-confidence), blame a subordinate, be anti-intellectual, emphasise the importance of obedience and loyalty, take silence as consent, and dislike those who are ‘odd’ or ‘different’ – including those from a different social, educational and ethnic background
There are probably very few senior politicians who display absolutely all of these traits, and none who are totally free of all of them. Accepting blame (as distinct from changing one’s mind) does after all appear equivalent to committing political suicide. But it is not hard to think of a good number of strong characters who would score pretty highly in any test of authoritarianism. Donald Trump for a start, but maybe also Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage? Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown would also score well, I imagine.

It is perhaps relevant that a recent Vox.com article noted that authoritarianism amongst American voters correlates strongly with support for Mr Trump. This is because, it is claimed, people who score high in authoritarianism value conformity and, when feeling threatened, turn to strong leaders who promise to do whatever is necessary “to protect them from outsiders and the changes they fear … Trump in turn embodies the classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful, and punitive”.

My question is, therefore, what advice would you give to senior officials who might be asked to work closely with an authoritarian Prime Minister or Cabinet Minister? Cabinet and Permanent Secretaries famously got off to a bad start with Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and failed to establish an effective working relationship with Gordon Brown in either the Treasury or No.10. All three seem to have preferred to work with those who did not ‘push back’ too hard – ‘courtiers’ even. And it is hard to read The Blunders of our Governments or Conundrum – Why Every Government Gets Things Wrong without wondering whether very senior officials could not have done more to persuade their political masters and mistresses to take more sensible decisions. If not, then what were we employing them for?

So – go on then – imagine that you are lucky enough to be appointed Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff or Cabinet Secretary. You are in pole position to stop him making some very serious errors. How would you set about persuading him to listen to you and maybe change his mind?

Martin Stanley
_______________________________________________________________

1. http://www.vox.com/2016/3/1/11127424/trump-authoritarianism .
2. According to Vox, “Authoritarians are a real constituency that exists independently of Trump – and will persist as a force in American politics … we may now have a de facto three-party system: the Democrats, the GOP establishment, and the GOP authoritarians.”
3. Anthony King & Ivor Crewe
4. Richard Bacon & Christopher Hope

_______________________________________________________________

This blog was first published by Civil Service World

Martin is the author of How to be a Civil Servant whose third edition was published in2016.

Are Senior Officials Now Serving Individual Ministers, not the Government?

A fascinating and worrying IfG Report is published today:

In [some] departments, policy development is sometimes carried out solely for one party (most often the party of the secretary of state), occasionally with explicit requests not to include the other side in discussions or on distribution lists. There is a lack of clarity in such circumstances about whether policy is being developed for the Government, or for one party. … In one case a secretary of state instructed officials not to speak to ‘the other party’s’ special advisers. In another, the secretary of state asked officials to keep junior ministers out of the loop because of concerns they would pass on sensitive information to their party leader. This can put officials, working for a minister on a particular portfolio, but acting on instructions from above, in an impossible situation.”

This looks at first like a clear breach of the Armstrong Memorandum which says that:  “The Civil Service serves the Government of the day as a whole, that is to say Her Majesty’s Ministers collectively, and the Prime Minister is the Minister for the Civil Service.”  On the other hand, the Memorandum goes on to say that “The duty of the individual civil servant is first and foremost to the Minister of the Crown who is in charge of the Department in which he or she is serving.”  And the IfG points out that  “The default approach of Whitehall is to avoid formalisation of rules, and to rely on personal relationships and individual good judgement to respond to pressures as they occur. This is a model of government based on the principle of constructive ambiguity, which may have worked in the context of a single-party government, but is under serious strain in the context of coalition, particularly as the focus shifts to the election.”

It is certainly very worrying that senior officials are being asked by some Ministers to hide their work from other Ministers.  Wouldn’t it be better if it were clear that this is not allowed?

The IfG Report can be found here.  Standard advice for civil servants in the run up to a general election is here.

More policy making ‘on the hoof’ from Francis Maude?

Many politicians, academics, civil servants and others will be interested to read Francis Maude’s latest thoughts, as reported in Monday’s FT.  He suggests that a new requirement (that civil servants in charge of big projects should account directly to parliament) would “toughen the relationship with ministers”.   This would be a significant departure from the longstanding principle that civil servants are accountable to ministers and only ministers to parliament, but Mr Maude argues that it would give officials a greater incentive to challenge developments they believed were wrong.  According to the FT, he said: “If you have [a senior official] who knows that he or she is going to be hauled up in front of select committees and interrogated . . . then I think you’re much more likely to have what is a very healthy thing in our system which is push-back. . . There’s a great phrase ‘speaking truth unto power’ and it’s very important – it doesn’t happen enough.”  He also said that senior civil servants in charge of projects should tell ministers bluntly if they felt they were being misdirected and insist on a formal “letter of direction” to show that they had raised their objections. If they did not, they should be accountable for failings on their watch.

This is another example of far-reaching and maybe sensible change being mooted without any serious and open discussion of the context and the consequences.  The suggestion that there should be more push-back is no doubt spot-on but it needs to be weighed against the recent Civil Service World survey which concluded that “Just 9% of civil servants believe that ministers and senior managers openly encourage challenge, debate and reporting of operational problems”.  

And a request by an official for a formal a letter of direction from a minister has always been seen as the nuclear option, as it indicates serious disagreement between officials and their political masters over the propriety of the decision.  In therefore has to be reported in the department’s annual report and accounts, and disclosed to the Public Accounts Committee.  Do Mr Maude’s colleagues really want more of such letters?

 

 

 

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