back to article Civil servants 'Sir Humphrey' their way through grilling on UK.gov's digital transformation

British civil servants and ministers have been slammed for a "Sir Humphrey"* performance when grilled by MPs on differences in attitudes to tech across government and progress moving off legacy systems. The Whitehall officials running departments and agencies at the centre of efforts to boost digitisation, along with their …

  1. NorthernCoder
    Coat

    Errare humanum est

    To err is human

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Errare humanum est

      To err is human

      ...but to really screw something up, use a computer.

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Errare humanum est

        Quote

        To err is human

        ...but to really screw something up, use a computer.

        And if you really want to fuck it up beyond the reaches of normal incompetence, just get the government and civil service involved......

    2. John G Imrie Silver badge
      Windows

      Errare humanum est

      But to really fuck things up requires a computer.

      Bollocks, off by one error

      1. Jemma Silver badge

        Re: Errare humanum est

        Only one "bollocks"

        So that'll be HitlerOS then?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Errare humanum est

          Because the other's in the Albert hall? His mother the.....

    3. Killfalcon Silver badge

      Re: Errare humanum est

      Humans are error prone and slow. Using computers, we can now make those same errors thousands of times faster.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Errare humanum est

        make those same errors thousands of times faster

        And blame something else. Win/Win, trebles and knighthoods all round!

  2. davenewman

    Devolved administrtations better

    They should have taken evidence from the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Because they are smaller, their departments work together.

    In NI the close working led to Des Vincent writing the first UK e-Government policy for the whole of the UK.

  3. magickmark
    Paris Hilton

    Is it just me ..

    I kept reading the name 'Cunnington ' with an extra 't' which almost seems appropriate!

    1. Jemma Silver badge

      Re: Is it just me ..

      Nah, it isn't just you. And did you really need to ask?

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Not really Sir Humphrey standard.

    When coming into government Hacker recalled Humphrey before a Committee and said he'd answered all his (Hacker's) questions. "I'm glad you thought so, Minister."

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Yes Minister is (apart from the sometimes loose plots) a masterpiece of British comedy and should be required watching for anyone in the Civil Service.

      Actually, on second thoughts I'd change that to "banned from watching by the Civil Service" on the grounds that it would give advanced training..

  5. Joe Gurman

    Don't pity us

    ....in the US. We've been viewing reruns of Sir Humphreys obfuscations on public TV for decades. Needless to say, extremely popular in the Washington DC area.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Don't pity us

      ..and was reportedly Maggie Thatchers' favourite programme..

      (Unlike Spitting Image)

  6. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    Bring back the crossbow...

    Ask a direct question. Get a weasley worded, mealy mouthed, non-answer anser? Shoot the fucker through the head. Turn to that person's next in command. Lather, rinse, repeat until you get an actual, honest, straight answer. No marketing buzzword bingo bullshit, no misdirection, no evasions. Either a straight answer or a crossbow bolt in the face.

    Sure we'd go through more folks that way, but they would also learn very quickly to stop fekkin' around.

    *Sighs*

    I'll get my coat, it's the one with the pockets full of my medications...

    1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: Bring back the crossbow...

      Those medications - do you have a recommendation?

      1. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        Re: Bring back the crossbow...

        I've got my dried frog pills, M&M's, Skittles, & JellyBabies. I put them in a large ZipLockBag, mix them all up, & just take a handfull of random goodness every now & then. I stopped adding the Bernie Botts Every Flavor Beans after one too many times of finding a shite flavoured gob. *Comical cat gag noises*

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Bring back the crossbow...

          *Comical cat gag noises*

          Not so comical at 3am and coming from under the bed..

          (yes, yes, my own fault for rescuing so many cats! But we only have 7!)

    2. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Bring back the crossbow...

      @Shadow Systems

      Sack them without pension nor perk until they answer the question. For them it would be worse than death.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bring back the crossbow...

      Isn't this simply an extension of "Just a minute", they must speak on the subject for one minute with no hesitation, deviation or repetition :-)

  7. nematoad Silver badge
    Stop

    Hold on a minute!

    "... there's not a need for you to get involved in any one specific... There's no specific area I'd want you to take away and focus on."

    I bet, just in case the truth came out and where would the civil servants be then?

    Oh, and note, it's civil servants not bloody civil masters, so if I was on the end of that little gem I would soon be having a word with the minister concerned about his staff's attitude.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hold on a minute!

      '..it's civil servants not bloody civil masters'

      Heh, I see you've not quite figured out our master's ironic sense of humour, especially when it comes to the nomenclature of our nomenklatura

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Hold on a minute!

      word with the minister concerned about his staff's attitude

      And said minister would be able to do the square root of naff all about it - unless said UnCivil Serpent actually broke the rules.

  8. Dan 55 Silver badge

    "No need for you to get involved in any specifics, chaps"

    There seems to be an epidemic of that in Whitehall and government lately. I wonder if that has anything to do with the current lamentable state of affairs.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: "No need for you to get involved in any specifics, chaps"

      "There seems to be an epidemic of that in Whitehall and government lately. I wonder if that has anything to do with the current lamentable state of affairs."

      No, it's very long term SOP. See the references to Sir Humphrey and the embedded video. You must be very young :-)

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: "No need for you to get involved in any specifics, chaps"

        I wish.

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: "No need for you to get involved in any specifics, chaps"

        No, it's very long term SOP

        Ever since the Civil Service took over running the Government - in about 1850..

  9. illuminatus

    Isn't it reassuring to know

    That, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, or even in the event of a sort-of deal Brexit, some of these people are going to be planning the (unicorn-flavoured) technological solution for customs arrangements at the Irish border?

    No? It isn't for me either.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Isn't it reassuring to know

      What I would like to know, is why the hell we didn't export a battalion of Sir Humphreys to Brussels 30 years ago?

      The UK would have had everything their own way and the rest of Europe wouldn't know which way was up.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Isn't it reassuring to know

        @Chris G

        "What I would like to know, is why the hell we didn't export a battalion of Sir Humphreys to Brussels 30 years ago?"

        To be honest I thought all the member countries had. I really dont understand how an incompetent government over an incompetent government is supposed to fix government.

        1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

          Re: Isn't it reassuring to know

          To be honest I thought all the member countries had

          It's a bit like setting up a new team at work where all the existing teams have to donate members to make up the new team - no-one is going to donate their good people so all the dross ends up in the new team..

      2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Isn't it reassuring to know

        why the hell we didn't export a battalion of Sir Humphreys to Brussels 30 years ago?

        Because the French and German Civil Servants have their own ways of making sure that Stuff Doesn't Happen.

        Chacun a son gout and all that.

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Coat

    Let's make one thing clear

    Yes Minister was a documentary. A case-by-case educational show in mastering civil servant procedures.

    So why the surprise when they apply the procedures ?

    Mine's the one with the plausible denial examples.

    1. OssianScotland

      Re: Let's make one thing clear

      My parents (both fairly senior Civil Servants (the Bernard level, not up to Sir Humphrey) used to listen to Yes Minister on the radio and on at least one occasion were heard to say "now how on earth did they find out about THAT?"

      Ever since then, I felt the whole show was more of a documentary than a fictional comedy.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    About the lack of detail....

    Quote from official report: "The design of the vote accounts is too coarse to provide this level of the detail in money numbers, and the vote system typically does not deal with activities or resources at a level useful to managers."

    I don't know where I saw this assessment, but it seems to be relevant to this piece of news reporting. It's probably also an official secret! FYI "Vote accounts" are the system of accounts used by parliament.

    So that explains everything.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    Margot James looks to be a bit of sock puppet

    Saying people would have to "Suck it up" looking to introduce ID cards.

    F**k her.

  13. Mark Exclamation

    ""You've just given us bland, general answers," Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton Graham Stringer told Matthew Gould"

    "Thank you, Minister!"

    1. Jemma Silver badge

      To paraphrase..

      Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read Twilight?

      Bernard: Twilight readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big fangs.

      That would explain a hell of a lot.

  14. JDEvolutionist

    “....because replacing functional tech was rarely prioritised over new policy requirements.”

    This is and has been one of the major problems of the modern approach to organisation. Ideas come far faster than our ability to evaluate and implement them. The consequences are potentially disasterous but, unfortunately, are also almost impossible to avoid.

  15. codejunky Silver badge

    Shock

    There isnt much on the line for these people. They wont be sacked, they get nice remuneration for their 'work' and have an endless supply of funds (taxpayers). The banks were too big to fail because of the economic value they provide. Without these lot would anyone notice?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Red5 we're going doen the chute laddie!

    "You've just given us bland, general answers"

    Yes I also attend high level meetings where decisions are made as well.

    I try and never speak but when I do it better be bland and general or else I'll get trunced.

    They don't want details, real world costs or timings, they want something that will get

    them head pats and votes. You get used to it but it's still a few years until I get to sod off so....

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