Whitehall administration - a variation on anarchy?

It’s doubtful there was ever a time when Sir Richard Mottram was the archetypal senior civil servant. I was lucky enough to meet him when he was slightly intoxicated at a party in Whitehall thrown by David Blunkett. Sir Richard speaks his mind, which is a mark, I think, of his character, rather than the drink.

Now the plain-speaking Sir Richard is reported in The Guardian as telling the Public Administration Committee the truth about Whitehall organisation. He said it’s a “variation on anarchy“.

There is a resistance to reform in Whitehall because, 

“actually it suits some politicians, including some prime ministers, and it suits some officials, to run a system which is frankly a variation on anarchy, and when you have a variation on anarchy funnily enough things do not get decided and implemented in a structured, process-driven way.”

This may help to explain why governments – and not just Labour – havefound it so difficult to achieve modernisation – so-called joined-upgovernment. It may also explain why, for example, £161m cannot be accounted for on prisons IT.

Sir Richard has had many top civil service jobs. He moved to a strategic position at the Cabinet Office on 11 November 2005 as Security and Intelligence Co-ordinator. 

He also acted as Deputy Chair of the Civil Contingencies Committee,supporting the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and other Ministers intheir role as Chair and, in the event of any serious incident requiringcentral government coordination, acting as the Government’s seniorCrisis Manager. He was also responsible for co-ordination of the Government’s counter-terrorism policy and programmes.

He retired from the Civil Service in November 2007.


Another example of anarchy within government? – IT Projects Blog

Bright people at IT suppliers treat ministers as playthings – IT Projects Blog

Anatomy of an IT Disaster – C-Nomis – IT Projects Blog

Article on Mottram’s comments – Guardian