Skip to main content

'Only a civil servant cull will cut red tape'

The outgoing chairman of the LSC calls for thousands of Whitehall posts to go. Ian Nash and Steve Hook report.

The chairman of the Learning and Skills Council has blamed civil servants for much of the bureaucracy in colleges and called on the Government to cull at least 110,000 jobs across all its departments immediately.

Bryan Sanderson, who leaves the post at the end of this month, said civil servants do not have enough work to do so they invent things. He dismissed proposals this week from David Normington, permanent secretary at the Department for Education and Skills, to cut 1,460 posts by 2008 as "too little" and "too delayed".

Mr Sanderson spoke in an interview with FE Focus of his growing disillusionment with the civil service since joining the LSC in 2000.

He said: "I started with a better impression of the civil service than I finished up with. It is the sheer size, the overstaffing that is the problem.

"They have added 60,000 since Labour came to power but hardly anyone has gone. They have some terrific well-motivated people but there are just too many of them."

His proposal is more draconian even than the toughest of Treasury-inspired plans to cut 80,000. The millions saved should be ploughed back into services like education, he said.

"Start with a 20 per cent cut out of the 550,000 then take another view," he said.

His comments revealed a deep discontent with the direction taken by Prime Minister Tony Blair. They are all the more significant since Mr Sanderson, who helped turn the failing international oil company BP into a world leader, is seen as an acolyte of Mr Blair and one of the more influential businessmen backing the New Labour project.

"Normington is going to take at least three years, creating much uncertainty, and uncertainty is the big enemy of efficiency.

"Far better to remove that uncertainty by cutting jobs quickly." This was the approach being taken by the LSC, he said. It will cut a fifth of posts by December, with a recent announcement that a further 80 will go.

He called for a new attitude in the civil service "that regards it as a key success to deliver more for less" with a head-on assault on red tape.

"I have seen the bureaucracy colleges have to cope with and there is a limit. A lot of that burden comes because the civil service is overstaffed.

They do not have enough real work to do and so they invent things," he said. He added that the civil service job-for-life culture had become "cemented in aspic".

Mr Sanderson also called for a bigger input from employers, echoing the comments of Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, at the Learning and Skills Development Agency summer conference in London this week.

Unveiling a radical reform agenda, with fewer lines of accountability, lighter-touch inspections and less bureaucracy, Mr Clarke signalled manifesto priorities for the General Election. He announced an extra pound;130 million over three years but insisted it must be supplemented by private sector cash.

There was still a need to bring employment and education closer together, he said. "Education must be able to be confident that employers believe in the educational relationship," he told the conference.

But Mr Sanderson warned that employers would be reluctant to chip-in if an expensive and wasteful civil service remained in place. He called for a "cool, hard look" at the future of every DfES function, including the standards unit, the post-16 counterpart of the schools standards and effectiveness unit which is to be scrapped.

Bureaucracy busting 3 Clarke on funding 5

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you