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Last updated 22 Mar 2021
Civil Servants are non-military servants of the crown, paid wholly and directly by money voted by Parliament, excluding the holders of political or judicial office. This definition, by the Tomlin Commission in 1931, excludes the armed forces, who are called the military, local government officers (paid by councils), government ministers and judges. “Servants of the crown”, in the above definition, actually means “servants of the government of the day”.
There are around 440,000 civil servants in the UK, working in a variety of government departments and agencies. They are deployed throughout the country, and the work of most of them is highly routine. This is why there are sometimes called the ‘bureaucracy’.
Politics students are particularly interested in the senior civil service, of which the latest count is around 3,700. These people are sometimes called ‘Mandarins’ and are mainly based in Whitehall in Central London. At the head of the Senior Civil Service are the “Permanent Secretaries” and, ultimately, the Cabinet Secretary, and the Head of the Home Civil Service.
Senior Civil Servants are in everyday contact with ministers. Like France's graduates of the "Ecole Nationale d'Administration", they are a PERMANENT élite, carefully selected on the basis of high academic qualifications and proven administrative ability. (“Some of the cleverest people I’ve ever met” - Michael Foot). In contrast, America's top civil servants change with each Presidency, and have little expertise or status.