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No 10 defends Civil Service after senior aide says system ‘arrogant and remote’

Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent
·3-min read

Downing Street has defended the work of the Civil Service after a newly-appointed senior Number 10 adviser said the political system was seen as “aloof, arrogant, remote and centralised”.

Baroness Finn, a key ally to Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, was promoted to the role of deputy chief of staff in Downing Street last month.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph on Friday, she said the Brexit result in 2016 was a backlash by “overlooked families and undervalued communities” against a “political system they regarded as aloof, arrogant, remote and centralised”.

The Conservative peer said it was not good enough for Civil Service jobs to be spread around the country as part of Government reforms, but that “levelling up” had to mean “respect for and inclusion of different voices and life experiences”.

Asked about the comments, a spokesman for the Prime Minister said Boris Johnson was “immensely proud” of how Whitehall had responded to the coronavirus crisis and that reforms were in train.

“The PM has huge admiration for the Civil Service and is immensely proud of the amazing job they have done throughout the pandemic,” the No 10 spokesman told reporters.

“The Civil Service is always seeking to improve and the reforms we’ve already set out are part of that ongoing effort to deliver the best for the people of the UK.

“A new programme to transform Government is already under way. This is a shared priority for both ministers and civil servants.”

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Prospect, a union that represents civil servants, hit back at Baroness Finn’s remarks, saying Civil Service “bashing” was being “used as a smokescreen to distract from the failings of ministers”.

Deputy general secretary Garry Graham said: “The reality is that the Civil Service has delivered magnificently during the pandemic and helped navigate through the challenges of Brexit whilst politicians were in chaos.

“There are never grounds for complacency however and we need a calm and rational conversation with Government about how we can ensure the Civil Service continues to improve so it can best serve the public.”

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said further announcements on moving civil servants out of London would be made “in due course”.

An arm of the Treasury is due to be established in the North of England
An arm of the Treasury is due to be established in the North of England (Chris Ratcliffe/PA)

It follows the decision to relocate Treasury and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government officials out of the capital.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick announced last week that a second headquarters for his department is to be set up in Wolverhampton in the Midlands.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has yet to reveal where the Treasury North headquarters will be located, but Darlington in Teesside is hotly tipped.

Baroness Finn said in her Telegraph article that while “various sites are being canvassed”, the “compelling logic says Teesside is the obvious location”.

She added: “Taking advantage of the transport links provided by Tees Valley and Teesside International Airport and acknowledging Darlington’s proximity to the universities of Durham and Newcastle, it could be an attractive exemplar of change.”