Michael Hudson

The Debt owed by the Government Operational Research Service to the OR Society...

By the 1960s, Operational Research had achieved notable success in defence and industry.  However, with few exceptions, notably the Home Office, there was little activity in civil government.  Stafford Beer, among others, argued for OR groups in such departments and wrote to The Times in 1964 “We need Operational Research teams of outstanding ability working on problems of decision and control.”i 

In 1964, Harold Wilson asked Lord Fulton to examine the structure, recruitment and management of the Civil Service, and to make recommendations.  Fulton gave his name to the committee and its 1968 report.ii 

The OR Society saw an opportunity to promote the cause of OR, and its council decided it should give evidence to Fulton.  A memorandum, drafted by Rolfe Tomlinson and Tony Flowerdew, was presented to the committee by the president of the society, Roger Eddison. 

The society recommended the creation of a central group to contribute OR resource to national and regional planning problems, and to contribute to problem solving at departmental levels.  They recommended its location in central government. 

The Civil Service Department was established on 1 November 1968 to implement the report. 

An OR team, headed by Ken James, was placed within a Management Services directorate with disciplines such as Organisation and Methods.  By 1970, it had recruited about 20 Operational Research Analysts, including myself, and used several consultants. 

Operational Research had a good friend in Sir William Armstrong.  He was very enthusiastic about OR which he believed could achieve a lot in the Civil Service and encouraged the analysts in CSD to take every opportunity.  He had risen to become Joint Permanent Secretary of the Treasury in 1962, and later headed CSD. 

In 1967, the leaders of Treasury’s Management Services Division went on a fact-finding visit to the Defence Operational Analysis Establishment.  They were sufficiently persuaded of the value of OR to recruit the establishment’s deputy director, Ken James, to the Treasury. 


Ken arrived in time to join Sir William at a meeting to discuss the OR society’s memorandum with Roger Eddison, Rolfe Tomlinson and Patrick Rivett.  Since he had become convinced of the value of OR, this was a very successful meeting and a key step in the establishment of a strong OR group in CSD.  This outcome was more or less what the memorandum recommended. 

In the coming years, Ken’s team spawned OR groups throughout government and can be seen as the origin of GORS, a resource in 2023 of over 1,200 OR analysts.iii