She called for an overhaul in career structures and a change in mindset to help the government force through its ‘levelling up’ agenda.
The intervention, in an article for the Bright Blue think tank, suggests Lady Finn has been handed the mantle of civil service reform that was held by
Her comments prompted an immediate backlash from union bosses who claimed she was ‘insulting the very people you want to reform’.
Meanwhile, Downing Street repeatedly refused to say whether Boris Johnson agrees with Lady Finn, with the PM’s Official Spokesman saying the premier has ‘huge admiration for the civil service’.
Lady Finn, an ally of Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove as well as Mr Johnson’s fiancee,
Her appointment came at the same time as a former aide of Mr Gove, Henry Newman, was also handed a No10 role as her assistant.
The pair have worked together before and were in Mr Gove’s team when he famously betrayed Mr Johnson in the 2016 Tory leadership contest.
They are reportedly often invited to the Downing Street flat by Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds.
Baroness Finn, who became a Tory peer in 2015, is now Boris Johnson’s deputy chief of staff
Pictured left to right: Baroness Simone Finn, Henry Newman, Dilyn and Carrie Symonds
Lady Finn is an ex-girlfriend of Mr Gove and they were reportedly an item when they left university.
She also hosted Ms Symonds’s 30th birthday party in 2018, which was attended by both the Prime Minister and Mr Gove.
Ms Symonds, Lady Finn and Mr Newman also campaigned together in the 2019 election in Wales.
Ms Symonds is said to have played a role in bringing Lady Finn and Mr Newman into their new No10 roles, with a source telling The Times earlier this month: ‘This is her tribe, these are her people.’
Lady Finn worked with Mr Newman for just under five years while David Cameron was in power. She also knows Mr Johnson well after running his fundraising campaign when he stood as Mayor of London.
Writing for the Bright Blue think tank, Lady Finn said: ‘In the Brexit referendum of 2016, overlooked families and undervalued communities expressed their discontent with a political system they regarded as aloof, arrogant, remote, and centralised.
‘A key part that the civil service can play in drawing together a renewed sense of common purpose is making sure that it draws on all the talents of every part of the UK, and ensuring that decision makers are acquainted with the challenges faced by those outside the metropolitan bubble.’
Oxford-educated Lady Finn, who has been a member of the House of Lords since 2015, said the Government needed to ‘address the lack of capability in the civil service to deliver successful projects across the UK and create the right enabling environment’.
She suggested Whitehall currently was too closed off to new ways of thinking and working.
‘The civil service needs to become more open to new ideas and decision making, more commercially aware, and less risk averse,’ she said.
‘It is not enough simply to relocate jobs. Those leading the civil service also need to think harder about cognitive diversity.
‘Levelling up means not only geographical diversity, but respect for and inclusion of different voices and life experiences.
‘This means breaking up the current career ladder, welcoming people into the service not just for secondments but for periods of two years or more, so that the civil service can gain from people whose expertise is in, for example, renewable energy.’
Lady Finn said she welcomed the Treasury changing its Green Book – the rules which are used to assess the value of government schemes – but said more needed to be done.
She said: ‘This is a welcome development as the rules have traditionally favoured investment in London and the South East.
‘Equally importantly, the civil service lacks the right approach when it comes to investment and the allocation of project resources.
‘The Government must be allowed to take on genuine risk and invest at earlier stages when the risk cannot be fully quantified and would therefore be out of bounds for early-stage venture capital.
Lady Finn said the Government must ‘address the lack of capability in the civil service’
‘There could be a high failure rate, but our universities are spread nationwide and provide ample opportunity for the state to invest and commercialise the IP.’
The PM’s Official Spokesman was repeatedly asked at lunchtime if Mr Johnson agrees with Lady Finn’s assessment of the civil service being seen as ‘aloof and arrogant’.
The spokesman said: ‘The PM has huge admiration for the civil service and is immensely proud of the amazing job they have done throughout the pandemic.
‘The civil service is always seeking to improve and the reforms we have already set out are part of that ongoing effort to deliver the best for the people of the UK.’
Asked again if the PM agrees with Lady Finn, the spokesman said: ‘As I say, I am happy to repeat the point, the PM has huge admiration for the civil service and as I say he is immensely proud of the amazing job they have done throughout the pandemic.’
Lady Finn’s comments prompted a furious backlash from the FDA union for civil servants.
FDA boss Dave Penman told Politico that civil servants have been ‘working their socks off’ during the pandemic response.
He said: ‘If this government is serious about civil service reform, it needs to learn about leadership: Insulting the very people you want to reform — who are already working flat out for a civil service that’s internationally recognised as the best in the world — is entirely self-defeating.’
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