FAR FROM being a period of peaceful interregnum, election time is one when civil servants are working almost as furiously as their would-be political masters.
Whoever takes office early next week, they will be confronted with a bulging file containing the civil servants' suggested courses of action for implementing their manifesto promises, drawn up over the past few months as each item of policy emerged into the public domain.
Few civil servants below middle age have served anything other than Conservative governments. And the past 18 years have brought considerable change to the service, including the hiving off of some agencies under the Next Steps programme and the recruitment of outsiders, of whom the Department for Education and Employment permanent secretary Michael Bichard is one of the most conspicuous.
But few of the Whitehall observers and insiders The THES spoke to this week believe that there was any trepidation at the possibility of a change of government within the departments involved in further and higher education. Peter Hennessy, professor of contemporary history at Queen Mary Westfield College and doyen of Whitehall-watchers, rejects any suggestion that the traditional civil service detachment has given way to Thatcherism: "It is difficult enough to persuade a senior civil servant to believe in anything, let alone a political party manifesto. They don't get where they are by not being extremely adjustable."
Indeed some insiders said that there would be considerable disappointment if a Labour government did not get in, especially among junior ranks looking for greater delegation and new ideas.
Those waiting for the new ministers are a uniform bunch. Women are hard to spot; most went to private school and Oxbridge and nearly all have two children.
Some observers said the possibility of David Blunkett gaining office - a blind secretary of state for education and employment - will have provoked thought. But changes over the past 18 years could ease adjustment. A former civil servant said: "There is now greater emphasis on oral communication but 20 years ago advancement depended to a far greater extent on the quality of memos."
Whitehall may be less relaxed about the possibility of the department including two cabinet-level ministers as proposed by Labour: "That has never been easy nor worked well in the past, and I think there would be some unease about that," said Professor Hennessy.
Office of Science and Technology: Department of Trade and Industry
Michael Charles Scholar. Permanent secretary at DTI. Age: 55.
Education: St Olave's and St Saviour's Grammar School, St John's College, Cambridge (classics and modern sciences, BA, PhD); Berkeley and Harvard.
Career: started at the Treasury and moved through the ranks, with a period as private secretary to the prime minister. Moved to Welsh Office in 1993 as permanent secretary. Has been at the DTI since 1996.
Personal: married with three sons.
Prospects: "seen as a very capable high flier, who is "an extremely nice bloke". Described as "down to earth".
Sir Robert McReadie May Chief scientific adviser and head of the Office of Science and Technology.
Education: Sydney Boys' High School; Sydney University (theoretical physics, BSc, PhD).
Career: lecturer at Harvard, then Sydney University. Visiting professor at Imperial College and then the Royal Society research professor in zoology at Oxford University and Imperial College. Appointed chief scientific adviser 1995 for five years.
Personal: married with one daughter.
Prospects: change in post unlikely, though Labour may strengthen the chief scientific adviser's role.
According to one source close to Labour, Sir Bob has spent some time getting used to being in a Whitehall role, but is now doing well.
Professor Sir John Ivan George Cadogan Director general of the research councils.
Education: Swansea Grammar School; Kings College, London (chemistry, BSc, PhD, DSc).
Career: professor of chemistry at St Andrews, followed by move to Edinburgh where he was professor of organic chemistry. Moved to BP in 1979 as director of research until 1992. Director general of the research councils from 1993. Contract has under two years to run.
Personal: widowed, one son, one daughter. Member of the Athenaeum Club.
Prospects: known for his strong opinions. "The research councils spend most of their time trying to fend him off," said one academic . Also described as a "tough guy". "The research councils need a shake-up and he's the man to do it," a colleague from industry suggested.
Generally felt he will see out the two years of his contract, after which the role may be reassessed by Labour.The post may be cut, but others believe someone with executive responsibility for research council budgets will be retained.
Scottish Office Education and Industry Department
Sir Russell Hillhouse. Permanent secretary at the Scottish Office (grade 1). Age: 59.
Education: Glasgow University (maths and physics MA).
Career: began as assistant principal in the Scottish Education Department, moving to the Treasury and Scottish Home and Health Department before returning to SED in 1985; appointed secretary in 1987. Took up present post a year later.
Prospects: under a new government, Sir Russell would have the complex task of reconciling a devolved Scottish administration with the Whitehall machine.
Gerald Wilson Secretary and head of SOEID (grade 2) Age: 57.
Education: Edinburgh University (history MA) Career: began his civil service career in the Scottish Home and Health Department, but was well placed to manage the 1995 merger of the education and industry departments, having been undersecretary of the Industry Department for four years before joining the Education Department.
Prospects: likely to retain post under a new government as a safe pair of hands.
Ed Weeple Undersecretary of SOEID, further and higher education, training and science (grade 3).
Education: Glasgow University (history MA).
Career: joined as an assistant principal in the Ministry of Health, 1971. Was undersecretary in the Scottish Office Industry Department.
Rachel Lomax Permanent secretary for the Welsh Office (grade 1). Age: 50.
Education: Cheltenham Ladies' College, Girton College, Cambridge and the LSE.
Career: joined Treasury in 1968. Posts included principal private secretary to the chancellor, but resigned in 1995 to join the World Bank in Washington DC. She was appointed permanent secretary for the Welsh Office last September.
John Lloyd Director of social policy and local government affairs including education (grade 2). Age: 57.
Education: Christ's College, Cambridge.
Career: assistant principal in the Treasury in 1962. Appointed to post in 1995.
Director of the department of education (grade 3).
Age and education: not available.
Career: joined Welsh Office in 1994 after working in various departments. He has headed divisions in housing, health.
Became director of education this year.
Jon Shortridge Director for economic affairs, including training (grade 2). Age: 50.
Education: St Edmund Hall, Oxford (philosophy, politics and economics), and then Edinburgh University (MSc in urban design and regional planning).
Career: joined Ministry of Housing in 1969, moved to Welsh Office in 1984.
Derek Jones Director of the industry and training department,(grade 3). Age: 42.
Education: University College Cardiff (philosophy).
Career: joined the Welsh Office in 1989, following postings in Whitehall at the DTI and Treasury.
He took up his present post in 1994, which covers the Government's training programmes in Wales, including responsibility for the Training and Enterprise Councils.
The Department for Education and Employment: Key people for further and higher education
Permanent secretary (grade 1).
Education: Manchester University (LLB), Birmingham University (MSocSci).
Career: in the early 1970s he was a solicitor for Reading County Council. After spells as chief executive of Brent (1980-86) and Gloucestershire (1986-90) councils, he became chief executive of the Social Security Benefits Agency in 1990 where he remained until 1995. Former member of the Economic and Social Research Council (1989-92).
Personal: married, three children, and lists "food" among recreations.
Prospects: symbolically important as the first permanent secretary recruited outside the mainstream civil service. Regarded as a technocrat rather than ideologue. Has worked for Labour in local government and is known to get on with Labour education and employment spokesman David Blunkett, whose political career is also rooted in local government as former leader of Sheffield Council.
Further and Higher Education and Youth Training Directorate
Director general, further and higher education and youth training (grade 2).
Education: Hardyes School, Dorchester. Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge (economics BA).
Career: Ministry of Labour in the 1960s. Private secretary to Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1966-70. Chief executive of the Manpower Services Commission's training division in the later 1980s. Joined the Department for Education in 1992.
Personal: married with two children, he has an OBE, and likes tennis.
Prospects: "I think he's a Labour supporter in private, but there's no indication of anything other than political neutrality in the way he behaves in the office," says one academic policy-maker who has dealt with him. Brother Peter is chair of the Christian Socialist Movement, a former GLC member who fought Chingford for Labour in 1992.
Employment and Lifetime Learning Directorate
Director general for employment and lifetime learning (grade 2).
Education: Harrow School, Christ Church, Oxford (history BA).
Career: private secretary to minister for the arts, ie. Jenny Lee, in the late 1960s. private secretary to prime ministers Edward Heath, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan.
Personal: married with three children, and enjoys his allotment, as well as collecting antiques.
Prospects: abrasive, not universally popular. Whitehall veteran says: "He may strike Labour as a bit old-style, but he's a superb professional."
Director of employment and adult training (grade 3).
Education: Hove County Grammar School, Clare College Cambridge (English lit BA, MA).
Career: entered the Department of Employment in 1971 and did a two-year spell in the cabinet office from 1978.
Director of equal opportunities, education and technology and overseas labour service (grade 3).
Education: Berkhamstead School, Oxford (philosophy, politics and economics), politics MA at Michigan, BPhil in management studies at Oxford.
Career: joined civil service in 1970, private secretary to secretary of state for employment.
Director general for schools (grade 2).
Nicholas Sanders Director, school funding and effectiveness and teachers (grade 3).
Peter Makeham Director of school places, buildings and governance (grade 3).
Rob Smith Director, pupils, parents and youth branch (grade 3).
Director of higher education (grade 3).
Education: King's College School, Wimbledon, Pembroke College, Oxford (physics BA, MA).
Career: has been at the Education Department since 1965, responsible for teacher supply through the 1980s and joining the higher education branch in 1989.
Personal: plays golf and has three children.
Prospects: seen as an energetic operator, but reckoned to have been playing more to office imperatives than any personal convictions.
His team: includes Dearing secretary Shirley Trundle, responsible for funding, and Caroline Macready, who holds the higher education quality brief. Jeremy Moore is responsible for student support, and Trevor Fellows has the employability brief.
Director of further education and youth training (grade 3).
Education: St Paul's School, King's College, Cambridge (classics BA), Harvard.
Career: joined the Education Department in 1967 before moving to the Treasury in 1976. He had a spell at the Department of Trade and Industry in the 1980s and returned to the Education Department as an undersecretary in 1988. Key role in creation of grant- maintained schools system.
Personal: married with two children, and likes skiing and opera.
Prospects: "he was highly effective in implementing the grant-maintained schools programme. A Labour government would find him equally effective in turning them into foundation schools, or whatever they want to do with them," says one Whitehall veteran.
His team: Stephen Kershaw, 16-19 qualifications; David Short, FE support unit; Jane Benham, FE funding and governance; Rob Wye, work-based training for the young.
Director for qualifications (grade 3).
Education: Eton College, St Edmund Hall, Oxford (BA).
Career: after graduating, he joined HM Diplomatic Service. Joined the DFE in 1987, and was the man behind the notorious nursery vouchers. Heading the move to parity between vocational and academic paths.
Personal: likes gardening, and has two children.
Prospects: will put the same enthusiasm he put into nursery vouchers into any Labour policy.
His team: John West handles NVQs and work-based qualifications and Chris Barnham covers the Dearing review and the qualifications framework.
Department of Education for Northern Ireland
Sir David Fell
Head of the Northern Ireland civil service (grade 1A).
Education: Queen's University, Belfast (maths and physics).
Career: physics researcher at Queen's before joining the NI civil service in 1969, taking up current post in 1991.
Pat Carvill Permanent secretary of the Education Department for Northern Ireland (grade 2).