Thursday 23 January 2020

'We want weirdos in No 10,' Johnson adviser says as 'seismic' change looms

Job description: Dominic Cummings wants talented weirdos to apply for civil service jobs. Photo: Reuters
Job description: Dominic Cummings wants talented weirdos to apply for civil service jobs. Photo: Reuters

Sam Blewett

Boris Johnson's leading adviser, Dominic Cummings, has called for "weirdos" to apply for jobs in Downing Street.

Mr Cummings posted an apparent job advert in his blog, saying that Number 10 wants to hire an "unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds" as special advisers and officials.

But a civil servants' union expressed serious doubts about the policy, saying staff are recruited on merit and "because of what you can do, not what you believe".

The blog post came amid reports the prime minister is planning "seismic changes" to the civil service in the UK.

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Mr Cummings, a former Vote Leave director, said he hopes to be made "largely redundant" within a year by the recruitment drive.

He called for "weirdos and misfits with odd skills", data scientists and policy experts to apply to a Gmail account if they think they fit the bill.

He says the need for change comes with Brexit requiring large policy and decision- making structure changes and when a government with an 80-strong majority has "little need to worry about short-term unpopularity".

Under a subsection on hiring "super-talented weirdos", Mr Cummings, educated at public school and Oxford, writes that the government needs "true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole".

His' post came after Rachel Wolf, who helped draw up the Tory election manifesto, said civil servants could be made to take regular exams to prove they are up to Whitehall jobs.

She also said civil servants are "woefully unprepared" for sweeping reforms that Mr Johnson is planning.

The general secretary of the FDA union Dave Penman, who represents senior civil servants, said Mr Cummings had not clarified how new recruits would be selected or what their role would be.

He told BBC Radio 4 'Today': "The civil service is recruited on merit. You are employed … because of what you can do, not what you believe.

"If you surround yourself with people who are recruited simply because they believe the same as you believe … is that the best way for the civil service or advisers to speak truth unto power?

"I don't think it is, and I think some of those approaches are quite dangerous as well."

The former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake warned changes cannot be achieved overnight, but that the civil service "should be open to challenge, improvement and change".

"My point would be governments come in at this situation and the biggest risk for them is hubris - they think because they've won an election they can do everything and change everything overnight and it isn't like that," he said.

Irish Independent

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