Civil Service History


History of the Civil Service in the 19th Century

Economic changes and the growth of the British Empire in the 18th century made the existing institutions such as the Office of Works obsolete by the end of the century, while staff appointments by patronage and selection were no longer working. With an aim to create a professional body of administrators, the East India Company founded the East India Company College in 1806 but the precursor of modern Civil Service was formed only after the implementation of the Northcote-Trevelyan Report’s recommendations in the mid-19th century. Among other, the recommendations of the Report also foresaw a division between staff that performs routine works and staff that implements policy decisions. On the basis of the Report’s recommendations, a Civil Service Commission was set up and most of the recommendations were endorsed over the following years.

Changes After the Second World War

The so-called Northcote-Trevelyan system was relatively stable for an entire century, mainly due to elimination of corruption, adoption to political changes and effective delivery of public services. After the end of the Second World War, however, the system was no longer able to meet the demands of changing Britain. An average civil servant holding classics or arts degree was no longer able to meet the needs of the time. Unsuitable qualifications of civil servants along with accusations of the civil servants of the “administrative class” being remote to the people led to far-reaching changes of the Civil Service. The Lord Fulton’s committee report in 1968 determined that civil servants lack professionalism and skills for their position as well as that they are really remote to people. Only a small minority of administrative class of civil servants were from the working classes and over 50 percent of those at under- and above-secretary levels came from private schools.

From Lord Fulton to Margaret Thatcher

Lord Fulton’s reforms foresaw professionalisation and rationalisation of the Civil Service but he also transferred its control from the Treasury to the new Civil Service Department that was set up by Harold Wilson in 1968. Since then, the UK’s Prime Minister is also the First Minister of the Civil Service. But despite Fulton’s efforts, the reform has not achieved its objectives. The newly founded Civil Service College did not provide a supply of professional staff and most civil servants continue to come from private universities. Things began to change only under Margaret Thatcher although her reforms did not show results until after mid-1980s.

From John Major’s Citizen’s Charter to the Present-Day

In 1991, Prime Minister John Major launched the initiative called the Citizen’s Charter with an aim to improve the Civil Service by making it more citizen friendly, increase transparency and take measures to motivate civil servants to work better and harder. The initiative achieved some success but it did not manage to eliminate all the weaknesses of the Civil Service. These along with the recent changes, especially in the economic and communication sectors encouraged the current Government to develop and implement Civil Service reform which will reduce the costs and increase its efficiency.