Tsars and civil servants: what’s going on?
Author: Zoe Stavri
Published on Sep 18, 2012
Research from King’s College London has revealed that the Coalition government is appointing a lot of public policy advisers, commonly known as “tsars”. While Tony Blair was famous for having appointed “more tsars than the Russian Empire”, the current government has surpassed his figure, appointing 90 tsars in two years (meanwhile, the Russian empire had 26 tsars in 370 years!). These tsars are overwhelmingly older, male and white, largely drafted in to advise on business, academia or public services.
Meanwhile, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has commissioned a study to reform the civil service to increase political accountability and make the service more effective. For the first time, outsiders will conduct the research: think-tank IPPR have been commissioned to undertake this task. This represents part of a broader programme of civil service reform, which includes measures for greater transparency in certain roles.
Appointment of unelected advisers is an area of government in dire need of scrutiny, as is the role of the civil service. This is exemplified in the recent lobbying scandal surrounding climate change minister Greg Barker, whose relationship with energy consultant and adviser Miriam Maes raised questions about privileged access granted to Maes’s clients.
Barker told Maes he found her “more helpful by miles” than the civil service, and often preferred to have her accompany to meetings rather than civil servants, which is usual procedure. Their relationship blurred the lines between civil service, lobbying and ministerial responsibility.
There is a pressing need for transparency in policy. At present, policy may be disproportionately influenced by unelected officials - the tsars, the advisers, the lobbyists - who make deals behind closed doors. When sent for implementation by the civil service, it may then be further changed. Lines need to be drawn about what is appropriate and what is not, and in order to aid this, we need to know what is going on in the first place.
Information is a necessary step towards change and increased democracy. We’ve written to lobbying minister Chloe Smith asking her to take an essential step towards opening up lobbying. Will you cosign our letter?