Claims by Tony Blair that the civil service is no longer fit for purpose are being viewed as a game-changer by government ministers, believing they may open the way for a three-party deal to undertake radical reform of Whitehall.
Blair, in an interview in the Times, said the civil service was hopelessly bureaucratic adding: "Time has passed them by."
Senior ministers have been involved in a war of attrition with the civil service over what they regard as their inertia and inability to deliver radical reform. A civil service action plan introduced by the cabinet office minister Francis Maude is regarded as a starting point.
But ministers feel inhibited from venting their full concerns in public partly because they do not wish to be seen to be attacking the bureaucracy on which they depend or making excuses for their own errors.
The intervention of Blair makes the case for reform easier to advance, ministers believe. They say it follows recent criticisms of the civil service by figures such as the former Labour cabinet minister Jack Straw and the former Labour local government minister John Healey.
Maude has also commissioned the left of centre Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank to undertake a study on how outside policy advice can be introduced into the civil service on a routine basis. The involvement of the left in the project is also seen as a way of trying to create a cross-party consensus on the need for reform.
Separately Nick Herbert the former justice minister is to undertake a cross-party project on how to improve relations between civil service and ministers, he said on Monday. The civil service is a monopoly. It has a ring of steel around it. They do the delivery, and the policy advice and you are not allowed to get anyone else to do it".
Privately some Tory sources concede that when Labour made similar complaints in office, the Conservatives did little to help, and instead promised to reduce the number of political special advisers, a move they now regret.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, David Cameron defended the civil service ethos saying : "I have a good relationship with the civil servants I work with.
"I think Britain has a great national asset in the fact that we have a professional, impartial, very talented civil service and it's something we should be very proud of in our country and the people who work in the civil service should be very proud of what they do.
Hilton is known for his informal attire and "blue sky thinking".
"I don't accept the argument that they are incapable of radical change. If you look at what this government is doing, it's a very radical government," he added.
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