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UK government wants to hire “weirdos” (their words, not ours)

The idea is that hiring different types of people will shake up the civil service and lead to better government policy.

Dominic Cummings, the most senior advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has said that the government is looking to hire “weirdos and misfits with odd skills”, “wild cards” and “people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole”. (He also said that he wasn’t interested in hiring any “confident public school bluffers”.) Cummings’ announcement is presumably part of the Conservatives’ promise to create “seismic” changes to the civil service, who help the government design and deploy its policies.

Plenty of people would be pleased if Cummings’ recruitment drive resulted in a more diverse set of voices and experiences informing government plans. Workers who have first-hand knowledge of 'hell holes' might have a better understanding of how policies can be shaped to help people in need. Similarly, a correction to the over-representation (compared to their share of the UK population) of private school and university graduates in public policy-making may lead to more Britons feeling represented and heard.

However, a senior civil servants union says Cummings' plans will make the civil service worse, not better. They worry that Cummings wants to hire people based on “what they believe” not “what they can do” which may lead to incompetence and group-think. And they also think that the main reason the civil service sees high turnover and doesn’t recruit the best of the best is something the government has completely ignored: pay.

Many specialists or experts working for the public sector earn half of what they could be paid in a non-government job. That gives these people a big incentive to turn down a civil service job or leave as soon as a better-paid opportunity comes up.

Read our explainer on: how do we work our which workplace structure is best?

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