Union boss blasts 'bitter' Michael Gove over Whitehall name and shame call

Posted On: 
25th November 2016

A top union boss has slammed "bitter" Michael Gove after the former Cabinet minister said civil servants in charge of failing projects should be named and shamed.

Michael Gove listed a string of botched Whitehall schemes and called for new accountability
PA Images

FDA general secretary Dave Penman accused the ex-Justice Secretary of “pouring bile” on public servants in a bid to reclaim his “moment in the sun” after he was sacked by Theresa May.

In an article for The Times this morning, Mr Gove said taxpayers deserved a government machinery "worth what we pay for" as he listed a series of botched schemes.

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“I’d like to see the names of civil servants responsible for these programmes published, their explanations for failure (or success) recorded and those who’ve failed be removed,” he wrote.

But furious Mr Penman - whose union represents senior civil servants - insisted Whitehall officials are already accountable to ministers and MPs, as he accused Mr Gove of trying to “resurrect his career” as a columnist.

He told Civil Service World: “[It is] disappointing to see a bitter politician pour their bile on the public servants that once served them well, in an attempt to reclaim their moment in the sun".

He added: “I'm not sure anyone really listens to the man who said we've had enough of experts, but as he knows, civil servants in charge of major projects are accountable to their minister and the Public Accounts Committee for their success or failure, under the ever-watchful gaze of the National Audit Office.

“Those same civil servants continue to deliver ever more with ever less, as the Government he was a member of slashed their resources by 20% in the last parliament and then by the same margin again in this one.

“Those are the same civil servants who now have to deliver Brexit, the biggest administrative and legislative challenge in peacetime history, with little or no extra resource.

“Paying lip service to successes whilst simultaneously blaming officials - even for the failings of ministers - demonstrates that this article is more about resurrecting his career as a columnist than any interest in good public services.”


Mr Gove, who branded civil servants a “blob” resistant to new ideas after repeated clashes during his time as Education Secretary, highlighted warnings that the Royal Navy's new Type 45 destroyer will not work properly in warm seas.

"Never mind Britannia no longer ruling the waves, we can scarcely send a ship south of Skegness without the propulsion system going phut and the insurance premiums going through the roof," he said.

"The cost of repairing these latest procurement disasters will be at least £280m. And because of the way the MoD agreed the contracts, the shipbuilder gets off scot free and it’s you and me who pick up the tab."

Other failing projects attacked by Mr Gove include a multi-billion pound new IT system for the NHS, new aircraft carriers which have no planes to land on them, and the St Helena airstrip on which planes cannot land.

The backbencher said: "I welcome the Chancellor’s decision to scrap the tradition of using the Autumn Statement to make new spending announcements.

"In its place I’d like to see not half-yearly but weekly statements — reporting results in the real world rather than promises for the future — updating us on how effective all the public spending that’s already been announced has actually been.

"And alongside these updates I’d like to see the names of civil servants responsible for these programmes published, their explanations for failure (or success) recorded and those who’ve failed be removed while those who can demonstrate clear, measurable, success get promoted.

"I know this concept — let’s call it accountability — may be somewhat revolutionary for our civil service. But as the Prime Minister pointed out in another context, a change has got to come.

"Ministers get sacked from time to time when things go wrong. But the senior civil service survives and prospers, insulated from responsibility for their actions, while the projects they’re supposed to be managing fail and fail again."