Thoughts on the Civil Service Vet scandal…

The NICS Code of Ethics outlines the core values of the Civil Service: Integrity; Honesty; Objectivity; Impartiality. It describes the standards of behaviour expected of existing civil servants against each of these four values.

As a retired Civil Servant I know that this is a Code that applies to everyone, however it applies more to the senior ranks than it does to others, they are the ones regularly in the spotlight, the ones responsible for leadership and those who are the owners of the Code. It is therefore very concerning to read about the atrocious situation concerning veterinary staff in the Department of Agriculture. It is clear the veterinary inspection side was set up on a regional basis and therefore a lot of responsibility would have rested on the area managers. This is not unusual and these area managers would be referred to as “professional staff”, meaning they did not come through the same ranks as admin staff. These “professional” staff would have been direct entrants from veterinary colleges or from private practice. The key competencies required of these “professionals” are rarely the same as those expected of admin staff. They are mostly employed because of their professional competencies and therefore the core values are often not seen as important to these staff. They often create a “closed shop” approach to how the organisation is run with promotion etc normally restricted to internal candidates and to fill “dead man’s shoes”. This applies not only in Agriculture but in other parts of the Civil Service

It is therefore imperative that proper checks and balances are in place, and in place at the right level of management. In the case of veterinary staff, these checks and balances appear to be missing. In my experience, this is not unusual. It is also not unusual for the likes of these “professional” staff to reach fairly senior management positions without having gained any management or leadership training. So this was a situation waiting to happen.

The other thing that concerns me is the lack of response from the permanent secretary for Agriculture. Yes, they have now said there will be a speedy review, however, the case appears to have been going on for around 5 years, and the department had decided to appeal an original decision that went against it. So leadership in the department must have felt they had done no wrong. If that is the case then the decision by the recently appointed Head of the Civil Service not to intervene is curious. It would make you think that the core values don’t apply to those at the top or to “professional” staff, fundamentally this is what will need to be addressed.

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