The UK civil service is ‘both a component and a product of the UK’s constitutional system’ (Burnham and Pyper 2008: 5). The constitutional basis for UK government is reflected in the role of officials, who are employed by and serve the Crown but are directed by ministers. In line with the traditions of the UK constitution, the principles underpinning the role of the civil service depend to a great extent on precedent and convention. Unlike other countries, aspects of its role have only recently been put on a statutory basis. Many of the principles that are seen to lie behind today’s UK civil service hail from a seminal 1854 report, referred to as the Northcote- Trevelyan report (after its authors). This formalised a system in which there would be a clear demarcation between democratically elected ministers and the permanent body of officials who reported to them, advised on policy and were responsible for its implementation. At the heart of this reform was the principle of appointment on merit, based on skills and experience, in place of political patronage. It solidified the idea of officials’ roles separate from those of politicians and impartial in serving whatever government they served. The core principles of today’s civil service are expressed in different ways to the actual Northcote–Trevelyan report, but are seen to represent the spirit of that reform.
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