www.yesprimeminister.co.uk has gained access to top secret memos! Sir Humphrey Appleby, Cabinet Secretary, is writing secret memos to Bernard Woolley on how the Civil Service should be handling proposals made by Jim Hacker's new government.

We shall continue to print these classified memos as a public service until prevented by the Official Secrets Act

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Addressing Ministers

From: Sir Humphrey Appleby

To: Bernard Woolley

Subject: Addressing Ministers

This is a problem that often arises with a new administration. Nevertheless when ministers ask us to address them by their Christian names (or ‘first names’ as I suppose we have to say), it is absolutely imperative that we demur and continue to use the title of their offices eg ‘Yes, Secretary of State’, ‘Yes, Chancellor’, ‘Yes, Minister’.

It is not just a question of convention; it goes much deeper. We absolutely have to preserve the fiction that these people, as elected representatives, are running the country. It is of course obvious to even moderately informed observers that they cannot be doing so. They do not have the training or the experience, and the system denies them the opportunity to acquire it. They do not have the continuity – the average minister’s tenure is about eleven months. And they do not have the security of office; they face the sack every five years or less, with the result that securing re-election takes precedence over all other considerations. And their selection process is laughable.

We in central government, on the other hand, are rigorously selected and spend thirty or more years learning the business of our departments. There are half a million of us controlling a budget of six hundred billion pounds, compared with a handful of temporary political incumbents whose parties struggle to raise a few million, mostly from dodgy millionaires. Obviously, therefore, the governance of the country is in our hands. Whether this is a good or bad thing may be debatable; what is beyond question is that it is so.

This is not to say that the politicians are completely useless. Their preoccupation with re-election gives them a sensitivity to popular opinion and a skill in handling press and public relations which can be helpful to us. They are, if you like, our marketing consultants who can tell us the best ways of presenting our actions and decisions, and occasionally suggest changes in policy. But they are temporary. Every five year they have to pitch for our business and may lose it to a rival agency, while we enjoy continuity and permanence.

Clearly the British people must be protected from exposure to these realities of modern governance. They need the fiction of democratic government and popular sovereignty, and it is our job to see that they retain it. This means that we must show the deepest possible deference to their elected representatives, provide them with large offices, chauffeur-driven cars and a staff of high quality. We must exalt them. We must present them as superior beings, as our masters, and behave like self-effacing minions in their presence. It is a small price to pay for the privilege of running a great country. But it means that any idea of addressing them by their first names runs the risk of exposing the illusion and must be resisted at all costs.

Humphrey Appleby

(Sir Humphrey Appleby KCB CVO)

© Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, 26 August 2010

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Think tank report on University Reform

From Sir Humphrey Appleby

To: Bernard Woolley

Subject: Think tank report on University Reform

Your enthusiasm for this report is touching but misplaced. We have known for a long time that if university courses were reduced from three years with long vacations to two years with just three weeks holiday a year, huge sums could be saved without any impairment of instruction.

And we have also known that if all but the top ten percent of students were to live at home and go to their local college, further huge sums could be saved. And of course I share your agreement with the report’s conclusion that we are turning out far too many graduates with worthless pseudo – academic qualifications and far too few with usable craft skills. We produce ten students who can write essays on the history of catering for every one who can cook a decent meal.

All of this, however, has one disastrous and quite unacceptable implication. If the practice recommended in the report were to be adopted it would be impossible to stop our two genuine universities being forced down the same route. It would indeed be excellent if the broad mass of students were to leave higher education with usable, employable skills, but the country still needs a few people at the top level of all its major national institutions who have had the broad and deep education in the humanities that you and I received at Oxford and which, I am credibly assured, is also available at Cambridge. There is of course a need for science, engineering and maths graduates for specialist functions, but only an elite collegiate university with a three-year course can give the best of our young people the time and the leisure to absorb the depth of culture and develop the breadth of intellect that will fit them for the leadership of a great nation. If you look at the top of the great institutions – not just Whitehall but also the Cabinet, the media, the church, the law, the financial system – you will see that they are dominated by the powerful minds and refined sensibilities formed at Oxford and Cambridge. They have made this country what it is today – such a jewel in Britain’s crown cannot be put at hazard just to save a few billion pounds a year.

We should therefore give these proposals the especially enthusiastic welcome we reserve for reports whose recommendations we shall reluctantly find to be unworkable in practice. We should then re-circulate with appropriate revisions and updates, the document we used when this idea came up in 1998, 1980, 1971 and 1965, demonstrating that reducing university courses by a year would add half a million to the unemployed register. That knocked the proposal into the long grass on all the previous occasions, and can be confidently trusted to do so again.

Humphrey Appleby

(Sir Humphrey Appleby KCB CVO)

© Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, 25 August 2010

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Economy Drive

From: Sir Humphrey Appleby

To: Bernard Woolley
Subject: Economy Drive

Your worries about the forthcoming economy drive are understandable but unfounded. As one who has been through several of these charades, I can assure you that if correctly handled they can in fact strengthen and consolidate our position.

Clearly our first concern must be to ensure that no cuts fall directly on us or our Whitehall colleagues. For this we need the confidence of ministers, so our first response must be to express our unreserved enthusiasm and offer our whole-hearted co operation. We then set about proposing significant economies in the seven areas which do not directly affect Civil Service personnel or resources:

1. People. It is expensive to dismiss established staff, but the recent policy of engaging more and more people on contract and a block on replacing those who have retired make the reductions easiest. If we are having to let too many people go, immediately re-hire them as outside contractors.

2. Purchases. The appetite of schools, hospitals and the armed forces for expensive new toys is insatiable. Cancellation or postponement of new equipment, medication and building work will elicit protests but cause no problems.

3. Contractors. Now that outside companies have taken over so many areas of government work – cleaning, transport, legal and financial advice, redecoration, catering, public relations etc – dramatic reductions here should not be a problem, so long as work for central government departments is not affected.

4. Premises. This is a great opportunity to get rid of some of the expensive real estate currently occupied by the armed forces, and the many unnecessary offices acquired in the regions. Property sales will bring in an agreeable amount of revenue and, if we still need the buildings, sale and lease back arrangements can give a satisfactory illusion of economy.

5. Agencies, inspectorates, regulatory institutions and advisory bodies. A rich harvest here could not only save money but also eliminate some of our most irritating critics.

6. Quangos. We can do without 70% of these; we just have to be careful that abolishing them does not saddle us with extra work, expenditure or exposure to criticism.

7. Local Government. A tighter cap on their expenditure is overdue. It cannot make them more inefficient than they are already.

We can easily demonstrate to ministers that they key to effective planning, negotiating, enforcing and policing these economies lies with the civil service. We shall probably need a modest increase in Whitehall staff and resources to achieve this, and the rewards could be enormous. As a result our departments will emerge from the recession stronger and more secure than before, and better able to serve our ministers when they stop queuing for buses and return to their chauffeur-driven saloons.

Humphrey Appleby
(Sir Humphrey Appleby KCB CVO)

© Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, 23 August 2010

Friday, 13 August 2010


From: Sir Humphrey Appleby
To: Bernard Woolley
Subject: Education

Let us not be under any illusions here: the service is facing a major crisis. I appreciate the efforts that have been made to undermine the new secretary of state by giving him demonstrably false information to announce in the house, but they will not be enough in themselves and cannot be repeated very often. We need a different approach.

The danger, of course, is that people will come to think that schools and colleges can function without close government supervision. I know that the schools where you and I were educated had no government supervision, but Winchester and Westminster parents are sophisticated and discriminating people who know how they want their children taught. The great mass of the public, alas, are different. They need qualified people to make their choices for them. They need educational institutions whose curriculum, standards and examinations are constructed and applied by their intellectual superiors. They need, in fact, a wealthy Department of Education and a network of generously staffed Local Authorities to produce the next generation of voters and taxpayers.

I trust you see the real threat? If this dangerous idea of academies free from state control were to prove successful, there would be irresistible pressure to dismantle the Local Education Authorities and replace the Department of Education with a small Inspectorate, leaving schools and colleges to be run by governors, staff and parents. They would then be subjected to the horrors of competition, and have to compete to provide the sort of education parents want for their children, rather than the sort their superiors know they should have.

But there is a far greater menace. Once politicians discover that they can save money and gain popularity by abolishing departments, who know where they would stop? The whole basis of the civil service would be threatened. So it absolutely must not be allowed to happen. The purpose of this memo is to urge you to demonstrate to the Prime Minister that the academies plan is (a) too expensive, (b) illegal, (c) impracticable, (d) a vote loser, (e) requires an Act of Parliament and (f) contravenes EU directives. I myself have to preserve the appearance of judicial impartiality, but I think you can guess which side I shall come down on when consulted.

Humphrey Appleby
(Sir Humphrey Appleby KCB CVO)

© Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, 18 August 2010

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