Opinion: What the Government's job ads don't say

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support

Two of the most highly political jobs in present-day public life have been advertised in The Times: the chief executive of the NHS and the permanent secretary at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

By the time you read this, there could be a third vacancy at the Home Office, such is the media artillery that has been trained on these once anonymous posts.

They are now nearly as high-profile as the politicians to whom they report, and on whom each mutually depends for their professional and political survival. They in turn depend on the massed and mostly nameless ranks of civil servants who actually take the decisions that bring down the wrath of the Mail or the Mirror or the Public Accounts Committee.

The adverts are written in the kind of breathless prose affected by headhunters: driving through this, delivering an inspirational that. More words pour from the Dilbert Book of Balderdash: change management, performance improvement, sustainability, stakeholders, vision, charisma, dynamism, passion, commitment and so on. (I shouldn't be too pious, because ads in the same newspaper for voluntary sector posts are just as full of this funny dialect.) Though it's encoded, both ads make it clear that the jobs are subject to ministerial control, perhaps a deterrent to talented applicants.

Given the Government's powerful commitment to the voluntary sector, it wouldn't be surprising to find that both advertisements place strong emphasis on these important and complicated partnerships. But neither does, although both say candidates could come from the voluntary sector. Presumably it's all in the information pack that can be downloaded from the web.

But it isn't there, either. Buried in a paragraph about culture, sport, tourism and the creative and leisure industries, the only hint I can see in the DCMS brief is about "ensuring the efficiency of bodies sponsored" by the department. "More providers from the private and voluntary sectors" is the NHS's only passing reference to it, submerged in the middle of a nine-page document.

"Ensuring strategic direction is translated into operational outcomes" sounds harmless if it means "doing what we promise". But what underlies the words is vital: what we say represents what we think, and what we think conditions how we act. And if government doesn't even talk about the voluntary sector in its foremost jobs, how will it act?

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