Information overload for top civil servant


SCOTLAND’s top civil servant has admitted he  is suffering from “hopeless” information overload and cannot deal with much of the information sent to him.

In an extraordinarily frank confession, Sir Peter Housden bemoans a “massive profusion of stuff” and reveals: “I don’t manage to keep up at all.”

The £180,000-a-year mandarin made his remarks to an NHS conference, a video of which has now emerged.

Sir Peter, who is Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, also revealed his thinking on how to liven up the lot of civil servants.

Peter Housden said he has many DVDs still to watch Pic: Scottish Government


Asked how to keep staff motivated, Alex Salmond’s top civil servant told his audience that he once visited a coal-fired power station, yielding “some very important insights”.

During his talk, Sir Peter was also asked how staff can make government more efficient by sharing information.

He replied: “There is this sort of massive profusion of stuff, and I don’t manage to keep up at all,” he said.

“It’s hopeless isn’t it? It’s completely hopeless random what I get interested in and read and know about.

“There are masses and masses of very important websites that I’ve never been anywhere near, and nor am I likely to.”

He added: “People send me things and I send them things. I read some of them and I don’t read others. I’ve got more DVDs that I haven’t watched than I know what to do with, you know.

“Shocking – the Permanent Secretary doesn’t know.”

Sir Peter also revealed his interest in power stations.

He told the managers to pep up staff by sending them “to do something interesting and exciting”.

“I once went on this thing,” he said. “I wanted to understand how a power station worked so I went to a coal-fired power station, and of course they were delighted. People love talking about what they do.

“And I had a day which, interestingly for me, yielded some very important insights.”

A Labour Party spokesman today branded the civil servant a “buffoon” over the comments.

He said: “These are very peculiar comments. If the Permanent Secretary admits he doesn’t know how to communicate government policy, that is deeply concerning.”

But a Scottish Government spokesman leapt to the defence of Sir Peter.

He said: “The Permanent Secretary was making an important point about information overload, an issue that is common in many walks of life.

“He was urging delegates to concentrate on what matters.”

Sir Peter Housden became Scotland’s top civil servant in July 2010.Originally from Shropshire, he graduated from the University of Essex, and taught at a comprehensive school.

He has faced criticism for ‘going native’ and becoming too politically close to the SNP.

Opposition leaders in the Scottish Parliament have written to Whitehall to express their displeasure with Sir Peter.

In November last year, Sir Peter’s weekly letters to staff were revealed, where he described his struggles on the golf course and ‘cat wars’ with his neighbours in Edinburgh.

He said: “There is a black cat next door, name of Stella (her sister is called Artois), who throws herself at the window glass in an attempt to get at our two.”