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Old school tie no longer required

Sir Humphrey's days are numbered, according to the new head of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary.

Sir Richard Wilson wants to dispel the Yes, Minister stereotype and bring in a new breed of public servants more representative of the population as a whole.

His office, a wood-panelled room the size of a squash court, was the model for the sitcom's stage set, but any resemblance to the pompous, pen-pushing world it depicted ends there.

Sir Richard is approachable and, although of the Oxbridge-educated old school, keen to cast the net wide in his search for talented college-leavers.

He says: "Like all big organisations we need our share of talented people. The civil service is there to serve the community and we need people to reflect that community.

"People from ethnic-minority backgrounds need to see themselves as being relevant to our needs and the service as being relevant to them."

A degree from Oxford or Cambridge is not the automatic passport to the corridors of power it once was, he insists. "There was a feeling that the Civil Service was only for Oxbridge people but that's a bit of a misconception."

Although Oxbridge graduates still account for more fast-track appointments (36 per cent of them in 1996) than any other higher education institution, the figure is falling.

Instead, Sir Richard says, a "mix of temperament, personal qualities and intellectual abilities" is what matters.

Under the Civil Service's fast stream programme of recruitment, graduates can find themselves assisting junior ministers within a few years of starting work or having equally responsible positions in any one of eight areas. And a politics or economics degree is not essential - some 50 per cent of the intake are arts graduates.

The faceless image of the Civil Service disguises a wealth of opportunities in many different areas of public life.

Sir Richard's own career has seen him serve in several government departments, dealing with "everything from nuclear power to prisons".

The change of government has meant "the policies and personalities you deal with may be different" but his job remains the same - keeping the wheels of Whitehall running smoothly.

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