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Is our civil service fit for purpose? Michael Coolican takes John Reid’s damning statement about the Home Office as his point of departure for a comprehensive overview and evaluation of the machinery behind the government and the people who make public services work on a daily basis.

Beginning with Henry VIII’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell, Michael Coolican takes us on an odyssey through the history of the British civil service, starting with a time when public positions were sold and traded through Royal Warrant. Coolican examines the radical reforms of the Victorian era which entrenched a culture of elitism, misogyny and distrust of high-quality data as a basis for decision making, that, in some areas, persists to this day.

A former high-level civil servant with forty years of experience, Coolican has produced a pithy and, where necessary, ruthless analysis of the civil service and its relationship with government, especially at Cabinet level, bringing to bear detailed and extensive research informed by a true insider. 


“This trenchant, no-holds-barred account makes plain how, for two centuries, anyone wanting to see a modern ethos of management and customer service in the civil service has been up against a long history and entrenched culture of prejudice, institutional inertia and Oxbridge privilege that (almost literally) provided ‘jobs for life for the boys’. Compelling reading.”

Peter Furtado, editor of History Today 1998–2008

“This gritty and controversial book raises important questions about today’s civil service, and whether lessons can be learned from the past.”

Anthony Seldon, historian and author of The Cabinet Office 1916–2016

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  • eBook
  • ISBN: 9781785904578
  • 20 November 2018
  • £16.99

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