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I’m old enough to remember when Civil Service reform was going to be a big part of this Government’s agenda. Perhaps it is just the time-warping effects of the pandemic, but it feels like a lifetime ago.

Perhaps ministers can’t be blamed for allowing Covid-19 to blow them off course. The mechanics of governance is precisely the sort of low-visibility area that doesn’t resonate with voters, and is thus wont to be pushed off the agenda by more immediate concerns.

It seems to be a feature of Boris Johnson’s way of running things that projects are very sensitive to changes in personnel. A coherent strategy on the Union ended up less important than an internal tussle over who ran the Union Unit, for example. And since Dominic Cumming’s departure, talk of Civil Service reform has gone quiet.

Yet the pandemic has also put a harsh spotlight on the shortcomings of the British state. A world-beating vaccine rollout should not be allowed to disguise this fact. If the Government wishes to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past two years (let alone make a success of ‘global Britain’), an overhaul is required.

Benjamin Barnard, in a recent report for Policy Exchange, highlights just how difficult it driving forward such change can be. We are still waiting on key proposals for the Civil Service that were set down in Gladstone’s time. A constant drum-beat of poor performance indicators, punctuated by actual scandals such as the Lex Greensill incident, have been insufficient to spur action.

His paper, Open, Meritocratic and Transparent, contains several proposals which seem eminently sensible. These include expanding Parliament’s oversight of the Civil Service’s internal processes, ending the current practice wherein numerous civil servants are empowered to set aside the requirement that roles be externally advertised by default, and bolstering the powers of the Civil Service Commission.

But is there the time or political will to put such an agenda into effect? Some of the proposals require legislation, and the Government’s schedule is already packed and difficult to manage. It would also require somebody to take personal charge of driving through the reforms on multiple fronts, however the post of Constitution Minister is apparently vacant.

One is put in mind, as so often, of a scene in Yes, Minister, in this case the one which explains the multiple stages of Civil Service excuse-making to stall reform-minded ministers. The last is something along the lines of “do we have time to do this before the next general election?”

With two years in the rear-view mirror already, it surely won’t be too long until Sir Humphrey’s heirs start taking a similar line. If the Government is going to act, the time to act is now.