Sunday, July 23, 2006

Civil Service Corruption

Outside Lunar House, Croydon

British Civil Servants used to be world famous for their incorruptibility. They took pride in it. A John Poulson might corrupt a Home Secretary or those low-grade local government officials up North, but Her Majesty's Civil Service was pretty well immune.

No longer. Today we hear that the sex for visas scandal in the Immigation and Nationality Directorate is not just "isolated incidents of unprofessional behaviour", as we were assured in May, but a full-scale breakdown in the basic integrity of the operation.

It turns out that in 2004-05 alone there were 703 cases of alleged corruption, among just 15,000 employees. As usual these days, the numbers are confused, but we do know that "31 employees have been referred for prosecution and 79 for disciplinary action. Hundreds of cases are still under investigation."

Note this is not a problem of under-resourcing, or poor operational management. This is a problem of British Civil Servants who think it's perfectly OK to demand sex and cash in return for granting applications. Something that might always have been expected at a Nigerian roadblock, but not until recently in Croydon.

It is an outrageous situation, confirming our worst fears about the deterioration in Civil Service standards.

How on earth has it happened? How has our once incorruptible Civil Service come to this?

Could it perhaps have something to do with the watering down of entry standards to meet Labour's ethnicity and gender mix targets?

Pick up any departmental report and you will see how important these targets have been since Labour came to power. In fact, the number of pages devoted to explaining how the department has been getting on with them can easily exceed the coverage given to the department's actual real functions.

And on the Home Office specifically, David Green of Civitas says:

"In 1999 the Home Office was set a target to ensure that 25 per cent of its work force in London was from ethnic minorities by 2009. It exceeded the target by the halfway stage in 2004 and ethnic minorities now make up more than 38 per cent of head office. However, the Home Office "milestone report" also drew attention to an unwelcome side-effect.

Members of ethnic minorities have not performed as well as white staff in Civil Service examinations. Civil servants who hope for promotion attend "assessment centres", where they take written tests, carry out exercises and are interviewed. The pass rate for minority ethnic staff was "lower than for white staff".

The poor results were despite the efforts of "the Network" - the Home Office network for minority ethnic staff - which arranged additional training. It was taken for granted that the "disappointing" pass rate was the result of "adverse impact" and consultants were brought in to recommend how to reduce it. Measures included "reducing the number of skills to be assessed" and "allowing candidates more time for the exercises". In other words, the pass rate was to be increased by making the exam easier, even though extra tuition was already being given."

Many officials, police officers and others have watched in stunned disbelief while recruitment on merit has been discarded to meet ethnic targets. They quickly learnt that it was best to keep quiet, and staff who spoke up in favour of fair procedures found themselves in hot water for "inappropriate behaviour".

Yeah. Sounds about right. In chasing after yet another half-baked "equality target", they've screwed the Civil Service.

And now we're paying the price.

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