Weekly Blog - 16 June 2024 - Civil Service


Appreciating the civil service

This week in Arise’s weekly blog, we take time to consider the importance of the civil service.  In the context of the current UK election, it is crucial that whichever party comes into power respects the independence and integrity of the civil service.  In recent years civil servants in many long standing democratic countries have faced criticism and pressure from their own governments when they have stood up to them and explained hard truths and decisions that have to be made, and insisted the law is followed.  But, a professional, neutral and accountable civil service is a vital element in any free democracy.  It is one of the crucial checks and balances.  Any attempt to undermine it and hollow it out is extremely dangerous.

A major report from Arise, The Arise Manifesto, looks in detail at what standards for democracy, human rights and good governance countries should have.  As Christians, we read in the Bible how God wants all governments, everywhere, to rule well, with justice, fairness, impartiality and integrity (Arise Manifesto, pg 79 – 85).  As it says in the Book of Proverbs, “By justice a king gives a country stability” (Prov 29: 4).  And we see how Israel’s great king David was praised for doing this, for “David reigned over all Israel, doing what was just and right for all his people.” (2 Sam 8: 15)  In our modern world, democracy has been one of the most effective ways of making sure this Biblical principle is put into practice.  Democracies have a much better track record of governing well and effectively with justice, and good standards of human rights, civil liberties and basic freedoms than autocratic states do (Arise Manifesto, pg 102 – 108). 

The UN Secretary-General’s 2009 Guidance Note on Democracy, a key document for the international community, says, “Democracy needs strong, accountable and transparent institutions of governance, based on the rule of law, and including an accountable executive, an effective legislature and an independent and impartial judiciary”.[1]  And to support these key institutions of democracy, a highly professional, competent, educated and committed civil service bureaucracy is required with a strong culture of public service and autonomy to get on and implement government decisions as directed by, and accountable to, the executive (Arise Manifesto, pg 104).


Why a good civil service is key

There are a number of reasons why an effective civil service is crucial.  Firstly, as well as accountability and justice, another key element of governance is competence, experience, and expertise.  Governments need to rule effectively as well as justly, so they can actually get things done.  A professional, well-trained civil service is a crucial element in helping to provide that experienced, competent and effective government, supporting elected officials who may themselves have very little experience of direct large-scale governance.  Secondly, a good civil service with a spirit of public service and professional neutrality combines that competence with being accountable to the properly elected government who make the decisions.  The role of the civil servant is to advise and to follow the policies and implement the decisions of those elected officials in the most effective way.  Thirdly, this neutral, professional civil service enables a degree of continuity and smoothness in governance in the shift from one elected government to another.  The overall direction of policy and the big decisions might change (and the civil servants are there to implement that change), but the basic smooth running of governance systems, reporting, implementation and lower level decision making needs some stability and continuity.  Ripping out the entire civil service and replacing it with an entire new one every time there is a change in government would be a recipe for chaos.  Finally, because they are neutral public employees, not elected officials, civil servants are free to just get on and focus on implementing policy in their area of responsibility as objectively, fairly and effectively as possible, without allowing that area to become distorted because they are looking over their shoulders worrying about re-election. 

For all these reasons, and many more, a competent, effective and neutral civil service is an essential part of any free and fair democracy.  All governments can always do much better on human rights, social justice, reducing poverty, tackling climate change, and in many other areas.  However, it is worth taking the time to appreciate the dedication and professionalism of the civil service, which in many democratic countries generally does a good and important job.  Let’s keep on challenging governments and civil servants for greater justice, whilst also understanding the important role the civil service plays.


Find out more

Find out more about how God is at work in the world, and the role we all have to play in that work, in the Arise Manifesto.  This report is Arise’s big picture, researched, Biblical, holistic and practical vision for a better world.  It looks at what the Bible says, and what we can learn from the best data and the world’s leading experts on the five major areas of evangelism, discipleship, social justice, development and the environment.  It then draws these lessons together into a practical road map for the changes we need to see in our world, which the Arise movement campaigns to achieve.

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[1] Guidance Note of the Secretary-General on Democracy, (UNDEF, 2009), p. 5,​​​​​​

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