The Civil Service in Britain and France

By William A. Robson | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
THE REFORMS OF 1854 IN RETROSPECT

By The RIGHT HON. SIR EDWARD BRIDGES G.C.B., G.C.V.O. ( Permanent Secretary to the Treasury)

LET us suppose that by some curious mischance all copies of the Northcote-Trevelyan Report had been lost, and that it had only been rediscovered in this centenary year of 1954: and that we could read it today for the first time. What effect would the report make on us?

We should be struck at once by its unlikeness to the blue book of today. It is far shorter--only some 23 quarto pages. And it is not written in the cautious, balanced manner of our present-day reports. Although the style is official, the tone is that of a man speaking with utter conviction in the absolute rightness of what he says: determined only to set out what he has to say as clearly as possible, and persuaded that once the truth and logic of his view was understood, it would certainly prevail.

Next, I think we should be impressed by the number of measures of first-rate importance contained in a small compass. And, springing from that, would come certain reflections. First perhaps that important as the measures are they have a certain obviousness. On that account we might tend for a while to underrate the report. But then we should recognize that the reason for this apparent obviousness is that all the important proposals in the report have long since been put into effect, and become part of the accepted, familiar order of things. And, last of all, it would be borne in on us that much of the character of the Civil Service of today derives to no inconsiderable extent from the Northcote-Trevelyan Report.

What were the main proposals in the report? (That is, perhaps, a more accurate expression than the convenient phrase 'The reforms of 1854'. For, as is well known, the report encountered strong opposition, and it was some twenty years

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