So outstanding was the success of Kate Bingham’s vaccine task force, the story of which she told in her Romanes Lecture last year, that there must surely be lessons to be learned from it.  Though there will always be some who will say otherwise.

They might claim that it was always going to be easier to get people jabbed rather than isolated, since we vaccinate for flu each year, but don’t test and trace annually.  Or that the task force jelled, as good schools tend to do, because of excellent leadership, and that this is less easily replicated than one might believe.

Or that what might work in what Bingham calls “wartime”, in other words a national emergency in which government is concentrated on one end, wouldn’t work in peacetime, when it is pursuing a multitude of them.  Or that government in Britain has worked better, over a long period, than a snap take on her lecture might suggest.

But none of these arguments invalidate the achievements of the task force which, she said, confounded the expert consensus that the chance any of the vaccine candidates would work was only 15 per cent. Furthermore, they were based on formats that had never been approved for use in any product, and the UK was a relatively small customer.

Nor do those counter-arguments disprove her case for change.  Having warned of the risk of a snap take on it, I will now attempt one.  There is a lack of relevant skills: “there are too few senior civil servants other than economists and historians…“nor are we awash with junior ministers educated in STEM subjects”.

Within the civil service, “officials are not generally rewarded for specialist skills, flair or drive, but for following correct procedures. Individual energizers and doers were outnumbered by officials able to think of reasons not to do something.”

And “too often, companies that have been created by principled, idealistic doctors and scientists seeking to make the world a better place and save lives, are instead seen and treated as money-grabbing fat-cats, whose only interest is to rip off the taxpayer”.

Bingham would be the first to point out that she was criticising the civil service, not civil servants – the system, not individuals.  Where had I heard that take before?  After a while, memory clicked in: “I stress that I became disillusioned with the Service, not with civil servants.”

“We have some of the very best civil servants in the world, both in Whitehall and on the operational side. But the Civil Service as an institution is deeply flawed, and in urgent need of radical reform. And it is civil servants themselves, especially the younger ones, who are most frustrated by the Service and its culture and practices.”

Those words are from a lecture delivered in 2017 by Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office under the Cameron Government.  His critique overlaps significantly with Bingham’s, though his stress is on better generalists rather than more specialists.

During those years, his right hand man and woman respectively were Simone Finn, now Deputy Chief of Staff in Number Ten, and Henry Newman, our former columnist, now at the Department of Levelling Up.  Here they are writing on ConservativeHome about the same subject.

Finn: “the risk-averse culture in the civil service…must be replaced by an entrepreneurial attitude that empowers civil servants to experiment and take calculated risks.  Newman: “is the Civil Service ready to the challenges that leaving the EU will inevitably mean? Simply asserting that we have the best officials in the world doesn’t get anyone very far.”

I drag the duo into this piece to help make the point that much of Bingham’s critique is scarcely new (not that she suggested otherwise).  Recently, there has been Michael Gove’s Ditchley Park lecture; there is Nick Herbert’s govern up project.

Or how about this? Reform “means working not in traditional departmental silos. It means working naturally with partners outside of Government. It’s not that many individual civil servants aren’t capable of this. It is that doing it requires a change of operation and of culture that goes to the core of the Civil Service.”

That was Tony Blair in 2004.  Trawling back through these documents suggests that there has been more change than one might think but less than their authors would like.  Maude fumed at the resistance to putting senior civil servants through top management courses.

“It is surprising how often Ministers are told things that are simply not true,” he said. Tony Blair went further – at least, according to Steve Hilton, who says the former Prime Minister told him that “they genuinely see themselves as the true guardians of the national interest, and think that their job is simply to wear you down and wait you out.”

Bingham’s three main recommendations are: “adopt a venture capital mindset”; “embed scientific thinking”, and “improve recruitment, development and incentives”.  This take reflects her recent experience of working with government and is none the worse for it.

Sir Humphrey might reply that our civil service is rated the best in the world. To which Maude might then respond: no, it’s rated twentieth (it depends whose rating you prefer, and how up to date you can get).  Either way, the civil service is surely part of the establishment – or, perhaps more accurately, an establishment.

Establishments are slow to change and conservative with a small c.  So perhaps it is no wonder that the civil service reflects the broad prejudices of the wider governing class: pro-market economy, pro-Net Zero, pro-NATO, pro diversity (of appearance), pro-inclusion (up to a point) and pro-America (at least when Donald Trump isn’t in charge).

There are better worldviews and there are worse.  But if this Government or its successors want to improve the civil service, at least in terms of more effective delivery, real diversity of appointments, and more controlled job movement, it will want to flesh out Bingham’s ideas for improving recruitment, development and incentives.

Over at Policy Exchange, Ben Barnard, the co-author of one major report on reform and author of another, would make the point that until or unless the appointments system is made more open, meritocratic and transparent, far less will change for the better than it should.

As he points out, decisions about filling vacancies within the “Top 200” Civil Service jobs do not go through the ordinary procedures for other vacancies in the Senior Civil Service…they are instead reserved to a body called the “Senior Leadership Committee of the Civil Service”.

“Crucially, under the provisions of the Protocol, the Senior Leadership Committee of the Civil Service can authorise the appointment of a candidate without having to undertake a recruitment competition. Very few details about the Senior Leadership Committee are publicly available.”

“Its exact terms of reference, rules of procedure, and the frequency with which it meets are unknown. No minutes of its deliberations have ever been published. Indeed, the Civil Service Senior Appointments Protocol is one of the few documents in which clear allusions to the Committee’s role are made.”

You may say that this stress on better civil servants is one-sided.  What about better politicians?  Bingham is on the case. “The present Cabinet is the youngest ever, averaging 48 years old. Barely a third of its members have any kind of non-finance commercial background.”

“Is it possible, then, that here too there might be a lack of industrial, manufacturing or operational non-political experience?”  Beyond doubt, the shift in the role of MPs from elected representatives to professional politicians, and the impact of social media abuse, has slowed the entry of talent and speeded its exit. But there I go again.