Francis Maude wants to sack under-performing Civil Servants – Sir Humphrey takes charge….

Ah, Humphrey, do come in.

Good morning Minister, morning Bernard.

So Humphrey, what do you think of Francis Maude's new idea? Marking all you civil servants and sacking the lowest ranked performers. What do you think of that then? I bet that's got you and your mandarin friends down the Reform Club in a bit of a lather?

Not at all Minister, we think it is a wonderful idea.


Yes Minister. Executed properly, it could improve the support that the civil service can offer you and your colleagues , which is all we in the upper echelons of the civil service desire!

Are you sure, Sir Humphrey? My colleagues at slightly less exalted levels are a little less happy about the idea.

Yes Bernard, I understand your concerns.  But of course we will have to do it this properly, that is the key. So for instance, if Bernard here is ranked the lowest of the twenty SCS 1 grade managers in this Department, but he is actually performing quite adequately, AND better than perhaps the 5th ranked SCS1 in another less successful department – the Home Office perhaps - then clearly it wouldn't be fair to dismiss Bernard, now would it Minister? That would offend the laws of natural justice, as well as the laws of the land...

Well, no, in that case, I don’t suppose it would be fair .

Exactly Minsiter. So we will need to have a standardised review and appraisal process for all Departments with common measures, followed by a cross organisational moderation process to assess relative performance at each Grade, across the whole of Whitehall, to ensure fairness and transparency – you do like transparency don't you Minister?

Well, yes...

Then of course we will need to go through the proper process. If someone is going to be dismissed for poor performance then we must treat them properly to avoid negative media coverage – so an informal verbal warning, a verbal warning, a first written warning, a second written warning, a final warning, a very final warning... then, assuming of course that the informal verbal warning, the verbal warning, the first written warning, the second written warning, the final warning, the very final warning, have all been structured and documented properly, with full evidential support and objective analysis of key performance indicators.. then we can fire the sorry specimen!

That all sounds a little complicated, Humphrey.

Well, you would not want to end up with an embarrassing employment tribunal Minister, would you?

That would be very bad. Minister. Front page news.

Yes, thank you Bernard.

Then of course we must ensure that dismissals are not tainted by – God forbid – racial discrimination, religious preference, the gender and sexual orientation of the employee, age related issues, disability discrimination of any type....

Well of course not Humphrey, we wouldn’t dream of doing that!

So we will need an extensive training programme, attended by every individual in the civil service who manages staff. We'll have to spend a substantial sum on that training – I’ve asked our finance Director to set aside £10 million per year for that -  but I'm sure it will all pay off...


Minister, I'm glad you agree. So I've already taken the liberty of speaking to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and he has agreed to form a working party of Permanent Secretaries to address these issues. I’m honoured that he has asked me – with your permission of course Minister – to chair the group. We will agree the terms of reference with the Cabinet then report back in October.

Well, at least that’s a fairly rapid timetable.

October 2013 Minister. Then a two-year implementation programme I suspect to establish the training, the new appraisal systems, the moderation process…..

But that will take us well past the next election Humphrey!

Yes Minister.  It certainly will…

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Voices (11)

  1. Garrydc:

    All standard anti-civil servant comments from those that have never worked in senior levels of the service. If senior civil servants are so bad, why do so many private companies seek to employ them?

    1. Yes Minister:

      Ah the famous speed and agility of the civil servant.

  2. Bryan Matthew:

    My sense is that is part of the frustration the government have with the civil service -see my more in detail analysis below!

  3. Phoenix:

    At least Government will be able to fire any new civil servants who turn out to be crap without fear of any nasty tribunals, so long as they get round to it within the first two years. In fact, they’ll be able to fire them even if they’re not crap. Even if they just don’t like them.

  4. Gazanib:


    Oh how people scoff when ever I describe the machinations of senior civil servants as being just like ‘Yes Minister’.

    This article is so to the point, in my experience there are many civil servants who would not last more than 4 weeks in a commercial organisation.

    It is also very prevalent for some senior civil servants to be given roles without portfolios as it is easier to keep paying them than to either make them redundant or retire them off.

    1. The Guitar Man:

      …and in my experience even more private sector folk who wouldn’t last 4 weeks in government!

      1. Rob:

        Private sector folk coming into public sector tend to fall into a broad range of categories:
        – to make a difference;
        – due to indifference (agnostic about whom they work for – it’s a job, and they get paid);
        – to exploit it (go client-side with the intention of going supply-side;
        – because they failed and were fired in private sector and it takes the civil service an eon to realise they are just as woeful in the public sector;
        – for some, in private sector they were ‘fairly junior’ while in public sector they are ‘fairly senior’;
        – annoyingly, due to curiosity: “wanted to try it for a couple of years”

        Worringly, some private sector folk have entered the public sector, have delivered a fairly average outcome, and, after 3-4 years, or so, have picked up gongs (OBEs, CBEs etc).

        1. The Guitar Man:

          Rob, and as you and I will know, some have made a significant and valuable contribution and made that diferrence. Just not all!

  5. TimBya:

    More populist headlines from our special advisor on the storage of inflamable liquids. Loved the Yes Minister piece and sadly, as ‘huhh?’ suggests, it gives a very accurate description of the existing process in place. The system of warnings, mandatory diversity training and fear of emplyment tribunals are all part of the current system. Despite this, poor performing public sevants can (and have been) be dismissed, if there is a just cause, a will from above and a well documented audit trail.

  6. huhh?:

    This is probably an accurate representation of life. And an indicator of why politicians and civil service needs total reform…. All connection to reality has been lost….

    If you wanted to fire crap civil servants – just restructure like every major business does… Especially as the minister has fixed the redundancy terms..

  7. Final Furlong:

    Just in time to see the new government in…

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