Going Head to Head with Whitehall

John Osmond hears how the Welsh Government’s Permanent Secretary is tackling a culture of arrogance in the London civil service

John Osmond

politics_ENG


News is news when we hear about it and appreciate its significance. I first pricked up my ears early this year when a series of press notices started coming out of the Welsh Government machine announcing the appointment of Secretary Generals as high level civil service mandarins, second in command to the new Permanent Secretary, Gill Morgan.

‘Secretary General’ has the ring of the United Nations or European Commission about it rather than the much more humble devolved government of Wales. It must mean something I decided and resolved to set up an interview with the Permanent Secretary to find out more. That took until September, and the result you’ll find in the current issue of the IWA’s journal Agenda, just published, and reported on in tomorrow’s Western Mail.
The New Welsh Government Directors General

  • Emyr Roberts, Public Services and local Government Delivery
  • Gareth Hall, economy and Transport
  • Clive Bates, Sustainable Futures
  • Paul Williams, NHS Wales
  • David Hawker, education
  • Bernard Galton, People, Places and Corporate Services
  • Christine Daws, Finance

Gill Morgan confirmed my suspicion that these appointments had been made to give the Welsh Government greater clout in Whitehall. The creation of Directors General was a deliberate way of engaging more effectively with civil service departments there. Compared with Whitehall departments the Welsh Government, made up of 6,000 civil servants, is relatively small. In the politics of the Whitehall bureaucracy Permanent Secretaries only tend to talk to Permanent Secretaries and Deputy Permanent Secretaries to Deputy Permanent Secretaries in other departments. So the Welsh Government was been fighting with one hand behind its back with only one Deputy Permanent Secretary. Now we have seven.

As Gill Morgan told me, “The civil service is notoriously hierarchical and it is very difficult to achieve an effective dialogue between civil servants of different grades. It’s easy for people in England to stereotype us as the weaker partner. I want to stop England seeing us as the weaker partner. I want to stop England seeing us as the younger sister or brother.”

Gill Morgan does not pull her punches. When I asked her what was her main reflection following her first year in post with the Welsh Government she answered, “What I have been struck by is a lack of genuine commitment to devolution and a culture of arrogance in some Whitehall departments. In many respects Wales is off the radar in London. I believe the restructuring of our management structure, with the creation of more Directors General will go some way to tackle that.”

John Osmond is Director of the IWA. Read the full account of his interview with the Welsh Government’s Permanent Secretary, Dame Gillian Morgan, in Agenda, available from the IWA at £5 and sent free to IWA members.

While you’re here, we’ve got something to ask you: will you join us?

We’re working every day to bring the right people together and generate the ideas to make Wales a world-leading force.

We’re independent of government and political parties. We provide a much-needed space for open, transparent debate about the ideas that can make Wales better.

To continue to do this, we need people like you to join us.

Join us today and you’ll be supporting vital work that’s making our country better than ever.

Find out more