Her Majesty's Civil Service is a unique part of the political system in the UK. Their role is to carry out the policies that the elected Ministers want enacted. The civil service is the part of the system that actually runs the country. The Ministers say they want something to be done and the civil servants find out how to do it in the best way possible. They are, in essence, glorified administrators (not meant in a negative way).

It is made up of many different departments:

  • Her Majesty's Prison Service
  • Adjudicator's Office
  • Appelate Authorities
  • Civil Service College
  • Civil Service Commissioners
  • Court Service
  • Crown Prosecusion Service
  • Financial Services Authority
  • Her Majesty's Customs and Excise
  • Her Majesty's Paymaster General
  • Inland Revenue
  • Land Registry
  • National Statistics
  • Senior Civil Service

They are also important advisors to the government. Because they are permanent (and not changed like M.P.s at elections) they can inform the new Ministers/M.P.s how the idiosyncrasies of the system work. This is very different from the USA where the administration is changed when a new president gets elected (I believe that to be the case).

The Civil Service acts as the highest form of advisor to the cabinet. They collect information and statistics, research and collect information on an issue from pressure groups if the knowledge is not accessible from within the service. They also (using this new research) give proposals to the relevant M.P.s on what to do in a situation. A sort of multiple choice for decision making.

Because of their high status and access to the Prime Minister, Ministers and M.P.s, pressure groups often try to lobby civil servants inorder to influence policy decisions.

There have been some questions over the possibility for corruption and large amounts of bureaucracy. These remarks tend to be false though since the civil servants recruited into the ranks tend to be of impeccable character and have great loyalty to the country (and the government). However to help qualm fears over beaurocracy the Service is trying to slim down its personnel.

The Civil Service is unique because of the features that the service has. These are permanence, confidentiality, anonymity and political neutrality.

The permanence of civil servants is the central feature of the Civil Service. When the government changes after an election (if it changes) the Civil Service will stay the same, it will not change with the government. This means that the civil servants often acquire a sense of duty to the country because they are not working for the goals of the party in power but are working towards helping the country.
The Civil Service is both protected and protects through secrecy. All the advice that civil servants give to ministers is confidential and so they can be totally frank without fear of reprisal. The minister cannot reveal to anyone the advice that has been given to him/her. As well as this, civil servants are not allowed to disclose anything which the minister decides is secret. The minister can then leak information to the press but the Civil Service cannot. This has been the downfall of a few Civil Service such as the recent Steven Byers scandal and the not so recent Belgrano scandal. Both involved civil servants leaking secret information (though they profess that it was for honourable reasons).
The public does not know what civil servants do. Their specific titles, the work that they do, the committees that they work for are all private. They are not known individually, just as a collective being with the minister as their figure head. The minister is the accountable portion, the Civil Service cannot be held to account either by the electorate or Parliament (except for the Cabinet Secretary who is accountable to Parliament).
Political Neutrality
The civil servants are not allowed to bring their political views into their work. They can't be partisan (be part of a party). If they happen to work with a party they don't believe in they still have to perform to the same standard that they would with their preferred party. They also cannot help their ministers with re-election campaigns, that is party business. They also cannot have their opinions expressed by the media.

At present, the Head of the Home Civil Service (and the Cabinet Secretary) is Sir Richard Wilson. He is answerable to Parliament only.

You may also want to watch the comedy series by the BBC called Yes Minister and Yes Prime minister. These both show the power of the Civil Service as well as the possibility of corruption.
If you are going to do any form of serious study on the UK political system then these programs are a must since the general workings of the system are very accurate.

Civil service is an option for those who cannot fulfill their military service in those countries where the army is based on general conscription. At least in Finland - I suppose this applies to all countries - you have to have moral motivation choosing civil service instead.

An exaggarated view of militarists is that civil service is just way to avoid hard and patriotic duty of national service in the army. Civil service is an option for lazy glue-heads who are likely to be homosexual. On the other hand, conscientious objectors think that civil service is just a punishment for morally superior people.

Civil service takes 395 days in Finland whereas the shortest possible military service period lasts only 180 days. Human Rights Agreement says that civil service shouldn't be more than twice as long as military service. Civil service should be carried out working for non-profiting organization, say state, commune or NGO.

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