I haven’t written an update for some time, a result of pressing ahead with my career. I work as a reporter for Civil Service World, the newspaper of the senior civil service, which I started after working throughout the general election as a duty editor at PoliticsHome.
This is what I’ve been up to:
As part of my work I frequently interview ministers, senior civil servants and public servants working for executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies.
Recently, I interviewed Lord Andrew Turnbull, the former cabinet secretary (and head of the Home Civil Service) from 2002-2005. He told me that political pressure on civil servants prevented people in the Treasury coming forwards and telling ministers that borrowing levels were too high before the credit crunch.
He also criticised the Academies Bill for shifting focus from boosting under-achieving schools to allowing thriving schools to press further ahead.
And, he told me that the Tories’ measures to redraw the election boundaries is “politically motivated” and is designed to negate the effect that electoral reform would have on their poll standing. This point has been made before, but not by a former cabinet secretary.
Other high-ranking civil servants I have interviewed include the now-retired permanent secretary (head civil servant) of the Scottish Executive, Sir John Elvidge. It was the last interview he gave before he retired, and as well as discussing the difficulties of serving a coalition, he also talked about the problems that spending cuts would present to Scottish politicians.
I combined the interview with a broader essay on the lessons that can be learned from Scotland’s experience of coalition governments. A key finding was the importance of special advisers on the political process – and the surprising discovery that civil servants in particular valued the role of often-denigrated political advisers.
Amongst others, I have also interviewed Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, transport minister Norman Baker, foreign office minister Lord Howell, chairman of the Olympic Development Agency John Armitt, and am soon to publish a joint interview with the heads of the Sustainable Development Commission – the recently scrapped government environmental watchdog. Stay tuned …
I’ve broken a number of scoops in my months at Civil Service World, here are the best:
[update November 2010] A week before Martha Lane Fox recommended that the government combine all its online public services into one website,I exclusively reported this.
My first story was when a special adviser let slip to me that DWP planned to scrap Labour’s Pathways to Work scheme as part of its work programme.
And most recently, I broke the news that Defra planned to scrap its funding to the Sustainable Development Commission, which has now been formally announced.
None of them are Watergate, admittedly, but I like to think I’m reporting on serious issues and keeping track of what’s actually going on in Whitehall.