Passport row sapped Home Office staff morale, survey finds

Department responsible for law and order, immigration and security is most demoralised in government

The Home Office is Whitehall’s most demoralised and discontented department, the first independent survey of civil servants’ views of reforms has found.

More employees in the department responsible for Britain’s law and order, immigration and security said their organisation was poorly equipped to cope with the uncertainties and challenges of the future compared with elsewhere in government.

They were also highly critical of colleagues they said were “incompetent”. Two-thirds of the civil servants said the department’s overall performance was being harmed because poorly performing staff were not identified quickly enough and disciplined or offered sufficient support.

This compared with just over half of staff across all government departments. Only the Ministry of Defence scored higher, with 73% of civil servants saying recruitment and retention of suitably qualified staff was a serious problem.

More than 14,000 civil servants, including 500 senior staff, took part in the biggest ever public survey of civil servants on civil service reform.

Matt Ross, editor of the Civil Service World, the independent newspaper that carried out the survey, said: “We consistently found Home Office staff are the most negative about their office’s capabilities, and the most angry and demoralised.”

Home Office staff also admitted fears that coalition reforms would further undermine their efforts to carry out government policy on security-related issues including drugs, counter-terrorism and ID cards.

Ross said the findings showed the Home Office had been undermined by last year’s passport checks fiasco, which saw Brodie Clark, head of the UK Border Force, step down after the home secretary, Theresa May, blamed him publicly for relaxing entry checks at airports to reduce queues.

Clark’s claim that May “destroyed my reputation” and his lawsuit for constructive unfair dismissal was settled in March with a £100,000 payout, although the government refused to admit fault.

But, said Ross, the survey showed that morale at the department had not recovered. “We can see the results of Brodie Clarke being hung out to dry directly in these findings,” he said. “Clarke tried to be innovative by testing out risk-based ideas and was turned on by Theresa May.”

More than 70% of civil servants in the Home Office said they were unable to persuade ministers to accept innovative policies, compared with an average of 57% across the rest of government. The main sticking point was, they said, “a tendency for ministers to have fixed ideas about the policies they want to see implemented'”.

A third of those in the department said ministers refused to take “well-judged risks” because of their reluctance to “approve spending that might be wasted, for fear of attracting criticism”.

The survey also revealed that more than 50% of civil servants in the Cabinet Office and the Department for Education and Skills felt colleagues had been employed on the basis of their connections to the Conservative or Liberal Democrat parties. This compares with 26% in the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions. Almost 40% are concerned the government’s cuts, reforms and policies will affect the civil service’s ability to focus on the public good in the face of competing political and financial priorities.

Two thirds fear they will lose the ability to “provide impartial, honest and open policy advice to ministers”.

Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the civil service, admitted incompetent staff were not being challenged. “We have to put our hands up here and say, whilst there has been some improvement, generally we’ve got to be more consistent and more robust about performance management,” said Kerslake.

“The consistent message back is that we need to tackle people who are poor performers,” he said. “I absolutely share and agree with that view, as do ministers.”

Fewer than one third of civil servants felt their department is equipped to deliver the coalition’s priorities in tackling the deficit and delivering service reform. They say they are seriously concerned about this failing. In the Home Office, that rose to 43%, with just 41% saying they felt they felt positive about the future.

About half of all civil servants feel alienated and ignored over reforms, rising to 58% in Revenue & Customs. Over 40% of employees complain their IT systems are “inappropriate”.

Two-thirds feel the government’s attempt to encourage greater community action by involving the voluntary and private sectors in policy development and delivery is a “flawed” and “poor idea” that is unlikely to work.

A spokesman for the MoD said: “We are transforming defence and as a result we are creating a smaller, more efficient, professional MoD. We are confident we have the best people to do this. They are trained, motivated and supported to deliver for the Armed Forces on operations. These results are not surprising at a time of reform. However, these changes are being introduced for the benefit of Defence as a whole.”


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