Monday, May 29, 2006

Don't 'Ave Any More Mrs Marr

33 years ago, when Tyler joined the Civil Service (true I'm afraid), he fondly believed he was climbing aboard the purring Rolls Royce of State. It soon became clear that was a tad optimistic, but it was at least the Mk II Ford Cortina of State- broadly serviceable and would eventually get you from A to B.

Sadly, today's Civil Service is no longer even the Trabant of State, and even such Big Government luminaries as Mrs Marr are railing against it:

"The government system is riddled with poor management, cost overruns, failing IT systems and bad service. Sometimes it is the NHS, or the Probation Service or the Ministry of Defence. Even HM Revenue & Customs, meant to be a bright bunch of bunnies, have messed up the tax credit system."

Jackie, welcome to the real world. But what to do?

"There desperately needs to be a change in the rules of the game. The days when the civil service was a badly paid, understaffed operation are long gone. The people in charge of major departments are well-paid managers with excellent pensions and job security. Why shouldn't they bear responsibility when things go wrong? Everybody else does. If a journalist makes a mistake, she doesn't expect the editor to be sacked. If a shop manager loses billing information, the chief executive doesn't resign."

Well, we certainly agree with accountability, as we've blogged many times. But your solution- taken from your old friends at the IPPR- is yet more centralisation:

"Ministers should be clearly accountable for policy, but civil servants must take the rap for operational performance. There should be a new prime ministerial and cabinet department, what they call a Whitehall West Wing, giving government a strong centre."


Let's set aside the sad fact should we put this gently...the West Wing doesn't actually exist Jackie. Think of it like Doctor Who. That doesn't exist either.

There are two major problems with the IPPR plan.

First, more top-down, one size fits all, centralisation is the very last thing any of us need (see virtually any post on this blog).

Second, that neat theoretical distinction between policy and implementation: you really think that would work, huh? If I'm a politician I say '"Ok, our policy is to abolish unhappiness. And now I've done the difficult stuff, Sir Humphrey, all you've got to do is the implementation. How hard can it be? Oh, and if you fail, I'll sack you."

That approach is the very reason our public services are collapsing. It's dead easy for our pie in the sky politicos to dream up any number of half-baked "policies" The problem is that nobody
can make them work. And would you really want to work for an organisation that was going to hold you accountable for the inevitable failure?


I reckon Jackie shouldn't have any more brilliant ideas. She should get back to ironing Andy's shirts.


PS For some reason I've only just realised that Jackie is a member of the Ashley Labour dynasty.


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