Lord Turnbull betrays civil service

Andrew (“Lord”) Turnbull giving evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee (pdf here) (December 15, 2005):

I am going to start like the Vicar of St Anthony’s: my text is the Civil Service Code verses 9 and 13: “Civil servants should conduct themselves in such a way as to deserve and retain the confidence of ministers” and “Civil servants should continue to observe their duties of confidentiality after they have left Crown employment.” You should keep those two sentences in mind all the way through.

The very same Lord Turnbull gives an interview to the FT (March 20, 2007):

In an interview with the Financial Times, Lord Turnbull, permanent secretary to the Treasury for four years under Mr Brown before becoming cabinet secretary in 2002, accused the prime minister-in-waiting of a “very cynical view of mankind and his colleagues”.

“He cannot allow them any serious discussion about priorities. His view is that it is just not worth it and ‘they will get what I decide’. And that is a very insulting process,” Lord Turnbull said.

Comment: I’m with the 2005 version of Andrew Turnbull. Civil servants have no business revealing their views of Ministers and their behaviour – even after they cease to be civil servants. That is part of the job. Turnbull should not have spoken as he did.

Here is what Turnbull said should be the consequences for those who break those confidences:

the strongest safeguard is a sense of professional pride, and Radcliffe was right that the real sanction is that those who flout the guidelines will suffer reputational damage. Your calling witnesses is helpful in signalling that breaking confidences is not without cost.

I wonder if that loss of reputation means that Turnbull will be shunned for the Quangos, Inquiries and non-Executive Directorships that make up the life of a former Cabinet Secretary?

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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2 Comments

  1. Those two quotes speak for themselves really, don’t they? It’s hard to imagine he thought what he was saying would be kept totally between him and the interviewer, he’s not exactly a political lightweight. Huge damage for Brown.

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