Crackdown on ‘activists’ in the Civil Service

John Glen
John Glen

The Government will crack down on civil servants accused of wasting taxpayers’ money on diversity “activism”, The Telegraph can disclose.

John Glen, the Cabinet Office minister, has ordered a review of Whitehall diversity networks and a “refresh” of civil service impartiality guidance to stop officials “using their jobs as a vehicle for political activism”.

Under plans discussed with Kemi Badenoch, the Equalities Minister, and Esther McVey, the “minister for common sense”, diversity meetings would have to be held before work, during lunch breaks or in the evenings.

Mr Glen also said that mandarins who are unwilling to follow ministers’ instructions to ignore injunctions from Strasbourg to ground Rwanda deportation flights could look for “other options” outside the Civil Service.

In addition he said that a new efficiency drive across Whitehall would deliver savings that could be used to “give back money” to households in the form of tax cuts.

Mr Glen, who was reshuffled to the Cabinet Office in November with a brief to carry out reforms, will use a keynote speech at the Institute for Government on Tuesday to lay out plans for a “lean, keen and productive” Civil Service with a smaller headcount.

He told The Telegraph it was “a good thing” that the Civil Service had made “significant progress in making itself representative of the country it serves”, but added that “confusion” existed about how the networks operate.

He added: “That’s why we want to issue new guidance to inform and clarify how they work.”

Mr Glen said that the public expected “the core mission of the Civil Service” to be delivering the Government’s agenda and public services rather than working on internal projects related to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). He said that taxpayers were “very sceptical of activism in identity politics which can slip into these networks”.

“We feel a responsibility, given that we’re talking about what taxpayers’ money is being spent on,” he said. “People want to know that civil servants are spending their time on their primary job, not on network activities.”

Mr Glen, a former management consultant, said that he had seen diversity projects mushroom. “Their profile has raised quite considerably in recent times,” he said.

Last year, The Telegraph disclosed that staff at the Competition and Markets Authority were being encouraged to spend half a day each week working on activities to promote “an inclusive culture and working environment”.

Mr Glen said: “That seems to me way beyond reasonable expectations of what these networks should be doing.

“When I was in the private sector, these activities were things that we did at breakfast before we started work and in the evenings, and that to me is where the orientation of these things should be headed.”

He said that the Government had written to more than 100 public sector bodies, including Whitehall departments and quangos, to quantify how many people were working on EDI.

Some civil service networks have been criticised for trumpeting controversial views. For example, a newsletter from the Ministry of Justice’s Gender Equality Network claimed that “in many societies, the gender binary is a product and tool of colonialism and white supremacy”.

Mr Glen said he had seen “examples that appear to be very concerning”. “We don’t want people who are paid as public servants, to be using their jobs as a vehicle for political activism,” he said.

Updated impartiality guidance would make clear that any work “on identity and inclusion issues” should not be a “vehicle for taking an agenda into the workplace”.

“The workplace is to deliver for taxpayers,” he added.

Unions unhappy

Last week, the Home Office issued draft guidance making clear that officials should be willing to follow a minister’s instructions to ignore Rule 39 injunctions issued by the European Court of Human Rights to block deportation flights.

Public sector unions criticised the move, claiming that complying with the guidance would force civil servants to break international law.

Mr Glen said: “I expect and believe that civil servants will do their job as per the will of Parliament … I don’t have any concerns because I believe that the Civil Service are professional and will follow the instructions of the legislation and the ministers that they are working under.”

But he added that if individuals had “difficulties” with what was being asked of them, “then you live in a free society, there are other options available”.

He said: “Wherever I’ve worked, private and public sector, you do the job you’re asked to do and if you don’t want to do the job, then there are opportunities elsewhere.”

In his previous role as chief secretary to the Treasury, Mr Glen led a productivity review aimed at delivering more for less across the public sector.

In his new job, he will be responsible for implementing this efficiency drive in the Civil Service. Integral to this will be shrinking the workforce to pre-pandemic numbers – a reduction of about 66,000 posts. Mr Glen said there was significant scope for artificial intelligence and new ways of working to cut costs.

We have over-invested in people as a solution rather than thinking about innovation and technology,” he said.

Mr Glen said he had a “high regard” for civil servants and wanted to reform career progression paths to let the best performers “take on more responsibility, earn more money and be rewarded”.

But he added that the service also had to be able to let poorer performers go.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.