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War Economy

Government Administrative and Other Services

Government Administrative and Other Services

The task of administering the war effort and bringing about the necessary diversion of resources away from civilian use fell almost entirely on state servants who were responsible for carrying out the Government's policy.

Special wartime control procedures, rationing, manpower direction, bulk purchasing arrangements on behalf of the United Kingdom Government, defence construction, supply and a host of other new functions were administered by government departments during the war.

The Government became very active in promoting new industries which could produce supplies for war or manufacture essential civilian goods previously imported. Much war production was arranged on a contract basis, but the Government often supplemented this by actual participation. For example, the Department of Agriculture grew vegetables for the Services Vegetable Production Scheme and the railways workshops made munitions.

Formidable volumes of administrative work were involved in the defence construction programme, the shipbuilding programme, and the making of munitions by industries normally engaged in civilian production.

The greatest part of the burden of administering the stabilisation scheme fell on public servants, who advised on financial policy page 436 and carried out price, wage and cost controls.

Special war taxation, war loans and war expenditure all placed an extra load on government departments.

The intensity of the war effort necessitated government participation or influence in most economic activities, and comment on one or other government department is included in every chapter of this book.

In April 1939, 17,200 people were employed by the Government, apart from those in the Railways Department and the Post and Telegraph Department.1 Under pressure of extra wartime responsibilities, the number rose to 30,600 by April 1945. Long hours were often worked, and in many departments the regular working week had been increased to 44 or 48 hours by the end of 1942.

Over these years there was a very marked change in the quality of staff employed in the public service. In spite of several years of quite rapid expansion before the war to cope with the Labour Government's public works, housing, and welfare programmes, the public service was, in 1939, still predominantly a staff of permanent officers who had been recruited as cadets in their teens.

In 1930 a fifth of the staff had been temporary employees, but the need for rapid recruitments to cope with increasing government functions after 1935 had raised the proportion of temporaries to over a third by 1939. A much more sweeping change was to come. After six years of war, temporaries would outnumber permanents and make up 56 per cent of the staff.

Recruitment for the armed forces created difficulties in public service staffing, as it did in many other activities. By April 1942 6000 were serving, and the number rose to a maximum of 7400 in May 1943, when it represented more than a quarter of the total staff.

Extra staff had to be found, to make good losses to the services and for the wartime expansion of government activities. Generally the policy was to make temporary appointments as replacements for men in the services. The intention was to release these temporaries at the end of the war, together with those who had been required for the special wartime agencies. However, with the continued expansion of state activities, a fair proportion of them were retained.2

page 437

1 The staff in the latter two Departments were outside Public Service Commission control. Railways Department staffing was discussed in Chapter 15. Post and Telegraph Department staffing is discussed later in this chapter.

2 One of the problems facing the Public Service after the war was to find a satisfactory basis for absorbing into the permanent staff large numbers of temporary public servants who had been recruited during the war.