Rumours abound that Sir Bob Kerslake is for the chop because the prime minister thinks he’s not delivering civil service reform fast enough.
Some say it’s because he hasn’t got enough “clout” with the other permanent secretaries - that he is still seen as a local government “outsider”.
Sir Bob is a very talented man who has a career he can be proud about. So why these rumours?
Cultural clash comes high as a reason. I was once down to the last few for a director job at the then Department for Education and Employment. My final interview ended up with the permanent secretary almost shouting at me because I said that all civil service jobs should be publicly advertised.
I didn’t get the job. Unlike local government, most civil service jobs are not filled by open recruitment - keep your nose clean and suck up to your boss and you will get promoted.
If Sir Bob is having trouble, then it is because he is trying to open up the civil service. Senior civil servants don’t like this.
What should a politician do in such circumstances?
I’ve been in a similar situation twice in two different councils. Both times I was forcing through change that senior managers didn’t like. All the clever power games started. Secret lobbying, subtle undermining of the change programme and me. The first time the leader supported me 100%. The change led to major increases in productivity and resident satisfaction. The next time the leader didn’t support me, and I went. That council is still an unhappy place wallowing in mediocrity.
Sir Bob is right in his vision for the civil service. The prime minister should clearly tell all the senior civil servants he is fully behind what Sir Bob is doing and if they don’t like it, they should go. He should then tell the rest of the world the same. I hope David Cameron does, but I doubt he will. He is part of the same culture and background. He probably went to the same school as most of the other permanent secretaries.
Whatever happens Sir Bob, you have thousands of supporters in local government.
The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…