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Civil Service Bosses Rightly Panned for Ill-Judged Thatcher Tribute

18/04/2013 18:21 BST | Updated 18/06/2013 10:12 BST

Being the head of the civil service is a difficult job and you probably have to take your friends where you can find them.

It is disappointing then that Bob Kerslake seems determined to make enemies of the 450,000 civil servants who work for him.

Eyebrows were raised when, after George Osborne's latest budget imposing further cuts to civil service pay, he wrote on his blog that this reflected "the tough economic circumstances facing the country". This sailed too close to a political line, best left to the politicians as a matter of debate and controversy.

So his decision to write, jointly with cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood, a flattering piece about Margaret Thatcher has compounded these concerns and rightly earned a slapping down by Paul Flynn MP.

Thatcher's record on "civil service reform" hardly needs repeating - mass redundancies, privatisation and the gross politicisation of social security in denying support for miners' families.

It is clear that some people do not see the civil service as the hundreds of thousands of dedicated public servants who work day in, day out providing vital services across the country, but rather as a cosy clique at the centre of government.

When Kerslake and Heywood write, "Instead of setting herself up in conflict, [Thatcher] found allies for reform within", many rank and file civil servants will naturally draw parallels with today.

We have repeatedly asked Kerslake to sit down and talk to us about the massive cuts to civil servants' living standards and working conditions being imposed by the current Tory government. If he continues to refuse he will merely be helping Tory ideologues, such as Francis Maude, to stoke levels of industrial unrest unseen since Thatcher's time.

This is neither sensible nor desirable, from both a practical and professional point of view. You can't run world-class public services if you have lost the trust and support of your staff.

So this article is ill-judged, deeply unhelpful and risks doing damage to the civil service and our already fragile industrial relations.