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Mandarins on sale

Sunday Telegraph: Mandarins on sale

Sunday 22 May 2005

Labour and Tory leaders have desperately tried to people the civil service with private sector execs in the naive belief that their mere presence would unleash dynamism in the engine-room of government.

What has happened, in fact, is that the mandarins are taking over the FTSE100. Apart from the appointment of Lord Burns, a former Treasury permanent secretary, as Marks & Spencer’s chairman, Lord Kerr, a former head of the foreign office, is senior non-exec at Shell and is overseeing the search for the oil giant’s new chairman.

Lord Wilson, a former head of the home civil service, is on the BSkyB board and had a role in trying to make it look a little less Murdochish. Sir Peter Middleton – Burns’s Treasury predecessor – chairs Camelot, having been a stylish chairman of Barclays. And Sir Steve Robson – also ex-Treasury – is a Royal Bank of Scotland non-exec.

What’s going on? Well, first of all, the fonctionnaires are not quite the dunderheads that Blair and Thatcher believe them to be. And second, having been civil servants all their lives, they’re not insulted to be offered a few tens of thousands of pounds in remuneration as a non-exec, when all the private sector titans see only the hassle and stress of taking these posts. The mandarins are cheap and available.

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