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Election 2011, Politics

The role of the civil service

Uncertainty is the only certainty on this last day of election campaigning before voting gets under way tomorrow morning.

That uncertainty may be interesting for people like me and nerve-wracking for politicians, but it’s the civil service for whom it causes a real problem.

They have to be ready to swing into action to deliver a government programme from Friday onwards. Trouble is they don’t know who’ll form that government.

So how have they been preparing themselves?

I’m told there’s been a ‘rigorous process’ by which every party’s manifesto has been combed through to see what each of them is promising.

Department-by-department, civil servants have examined and discussed in detail the implications of all the proposals, the likely costs, the legality or otherwise and other strictly practical questions.

The aim is to be armed with all the facts and figures so that the relevant officials are fully prepared for whichever party or parties the next set of Welsh ministers come from.

What the civil service here won’t do, I’m told, is to play the kind of pivotal role played by the head of the UK civil service, Sir Gus O’Donnell after last year’s inconclusive Westminster election.

In the build-up to last May, Sir Gus had led civil servants in wargaming exercises, working out the implications of different scenarios and then played an active role in bringing the eventual coalition partners together in as binding a partnership as possible.

Officials here have taken the position that they won’t make any assumptions about  possible permutations – so no ‘wargaming’ of different coalition arrangements.

And don’t expect Wales’ top civil servant, Dame Gillian Morgan to act as a ‘broker’ in the way that Sir Gus did.

There’ll be no ‘second-guessing’, I’m told.  Rather, civil servants in Cathays Park see their role as ‘being in a position to enable the democratic process to be run through.’

We’ll get our final clue as to what possible scenarios they might be confronted with on May the 6th in our eve-of-poll poll which will be published later.

I should be able to bring you the headlines of it in our lunchtime bulletin at 1.55pm ITV1 Wales and I’ll update with a link to the details  when we have them.

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About Adrian Masters

By day, Political Editor at ITV Wales. By night, obsessed with music and books.

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