January 18, 2013 5:40 pm

Don’t ‘trash’ civil servants, says Mitchell

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Andrew Mitchell has hit out at ministers who “trash” their civil servants, likening them to “bad workmen who blame their tools”.

The former international development secretary said he was uncomfortable with the tone of debate surrounding civil service reform, amid growing tensions between Whitehall and Westminster.

Mr Mitchell said: “The British civil service is one of the jewels in our crown.”

He added: “At times, this debate has got uncomfortably close to the old adage that a bad workman blames his tools. The civil service is accountable to ministers, and it is a very big mistake in my view for ministers to trash the civil service.”

Nick Herbert, the former policing minister, told the BBC this week that the civil service was “no longer fit for purpose”, adding: “The system can be very resistant to change.”

His comments came after Steve Hilton, the former Number 10 policy chief, was reported by The Sunday Times to have described civil servants as little more than “paper-shufflers”. He told students on his government course at Stanford University, California: “The bureaucracy masters the politicians.”

Mr Mitchell has not always been popular with his own civil servants. Some report having had briefing papers returned with a single-word profanity stamped across the front by way of criticism.

But he insists that after a few initial teething problems, he forged a good working relationship with mandarins.

He told the Financial Times: “The British civil servants deliver on what ministers tell them.”

He also commented: “I think Steve Hilton has lobbed a few missiles from sunny California. What he is reflecting is a frustration sometimes at the speed at which change is made, and also that sometimes Number 10 pulls a lever and nothing happens.

“In the end, it is for ministers to make decisions and decide what happens.”

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