The FDA's Alternative White Paper - Delivering for the Nation: Securing a World-Class Civil Service

A world-class civil service is critical for delivering world-class public services and efficient, effective Government.

It matters because it forms the bedrock of our democracy, it makes Government work, makes policy real and changes people’s lives. It is hugely important for us all that our civil service works effectively in the national interest.

Although the current civil service is under severe pressure, it is not broken. Neither is it perfect. The FDA is not resistant to change: we share the aspiration of a better civil service - a world-class civil service. But we think an approach based on learning from experience and continuous improvement - not a stark choice between radical reform or no reform at all - is the way to achieve that. This is the approach we advocate in this paper.

All too often the debate about modernising the civil service is framed within negative headlines. There have been suggestions of obstructionism and a considerable part of the recent Parliamentary debate has focused on the issue of permanent secretary appointments and accountability of the most senior officials.

Meanwhile, in the day-to-day real world, the civil service is made up of dedicated and highly skilled public servants who are really committed to ‘Delivering for the Nation’. In the real world, civil servants are operating in an exceptionally challenging environment of diminishing resources, radical change, and pay levels that have fallen dramatically behind the market.

Speakers-at-the FDA-Delivering-for-the-Nation-campaign-launch-event                                   

Speakers at the FDA's Parliamentary White Paper launch: Labour spokesperson                                                          
for the Cabinet Office in the House of Lords, Baroness Hayter; former                                                
permanent secretary Lord Bichard; FDA General Secretary Dave Penman;
and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude


Civil servants are not “faceless bureaucrats” but real people striving every day to serve the Government and the public.

They include those who stop tax evasion, prosecute criminals, improve the performance of schools, represent our national interests abroad and protect our borders. These are just a few of the key public service occupations the FDA represents as well as those who provide support and advice to Ministers, the “Mandarins” as the press love to describe them.

The FDA, the trade union to which 19,000 of these senior public servants and professionals working in Whitehall and throughout the UK belong, is keen to ensure that there is a longer term, more strategic debate about reform of the civil service, that is built on a shared analysis of the challenges facing the civil service and which looks at building political consensus on what needs to be done to achieve effective civil service reform.

Our White Paper proposals are designed to deliver improvement and progress on a range of issues.

We advocate a considered evolutionary approach based on three core principles, which we hope can secure support across all political parties: 
  • the starting point for reform must be a proper appraisal of the challenges the civil service faces, the skills that are required and the resources required to deliver policy commitments;

  • that we must learn from experience and expertise and build on the many examples of success rather than focus on occasional failure; and

  • that the process of reform can only really succeed if there is respect on both sides: respect by civil servants for the extremely difficult and changed role of Ministers, and respect by politicians for civil servants’ unique and complex role in policy development and implementation.

I very much hope that you will read the FDA’s alternative White Paper with interest, and take part in the debate over the coming months about how together we can secure a world-class civil service that truly delivers for the nation.

Dave Penman
FDA General Secretary

Read the FDA's alternative White Paper here

Join the FDA here

Take part in the debate at