Tuesday, August 08, 2006
The Institute for Public Policy Research is notorious for being Tone's fave leftie think-tank. But like monkeys and typewriters, sometimes they come up with something vaguely sensible.
Yesterday's report on the Civil Service ran through many of the problems we regularly blog here: poor performance, amateurism, and lack of accountability. All good stuff, underlining a key point: the Civil Service is simply not capable of implementing the kind of Big Government espoused by people like the IPPR.
So what of their proposed "governance" solution?
Companies have been wrestling with such problems for years, so let's return to top ranking Tesco. Shareholders elect the Directors to manage Tesco in their interests. The Directors elect Sir Terry Leahy as CEO. Well, OK, in practice, the formal voting process is a bit of a charade, but the key point is that Big Shareholders hold Sir Terry to account for Tesco's overall performance and he knows it.
Now suppose he says to them "look, I've devised this great new governance structure whereby I set the strategy, and then I hand over implementation to the guys that run the shops and stuff; that way you can hold me to account for the strategy, and them for delivery".
Hmm, say the shareholders, what if something goes wrong? How will we know whether it was crap strategy, or crap delivery?
Well, says Terry, I can tell you my strategy right now: we're going to double profits in the next 12 months by having even more excellent products, cutting costs even further, and attracting even more millions of customers. There, that's my bit done, and is that a great strategy or what?
Er...yesss. Pity the poor managers who somehow have to spin the actual gold.
But that's pretty well what the IPPR is proposing as its new "governance structure" for government. They want to make Ministers responsible for strategy, and Civil Servants responsible for delivery:
"The convention of ministerial responsibility should be revised, so that, while ministers remain accountable for policy, resources and strategic decisions – including decisions about the role and structure of the civil service – civil servants become externally accountable for clearly defined operational matters."
How they think such a distinction could be defined is a mystery. But more fundamentally, electing the politicos is the only sliver of control we've got over the entire wobbly edifice. They're the ones who make all the promises and they're the ones we hold to account for non-delivery. Just like Terry.
Posted by Mike D at 11:10 am