Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Talk Is Easy

Unbothered by the ARA

A recurrent theme in BOM is politicos making wild promises which they are totally incapable of delivering. It costs us a fortune.

The National Audit Office has just reported on a classic- the hopeless Assets Recovery Agency. As we blogged last month, this was set up in 2002 amid a typical Blair/Blunkett pie-in-the-sky fanfare about confiscating the proceeds of organised crime. It was meant to be self-financing, but in reality it has been a fiasco, costing us £65m and recovering only £23m.

The NAO report makes some very familiar points:

  • silo mentality- poor integration with the other parts of government which were meant to refer cases- eg four police forces have never referred a single case

  • rubbish information management- "It does not have a single central database of cases and staff refer to different databases that holdcontradictory and incomplete information. We had great difficulty in compiling a comprehensive list of cases and tracking their value and progress"

  • high staff turnover and extensive use of temps

  • pants management- "no effective case management and no consistent use of targets and deadlines to incentivise staff to progress cases"

  • simple shopping- "Receivers’ fees, which are paid by the Agency, are expected to total £16.4 million by the end of 2006-07. In twelve of the seventy nine cases managed by receivers, the value of the fees is expected to exceed the assets managed"

  • wasted training- "at least 30 per cent of Financial Investigators retired or moved on from financial investigation shortly after completing their training"

Every single one of those points comes up over and over again, especially in the context of failing executive agencies/quangos (just to take two recent examples, the Rural Payments Agency and the National Patient Safety Agency).

And as we blogged here, this is precisely why we cannot let our politicos press ahead with their half-baked plans for splitting policy-making from execution. Any fool can come up with "wouldn't it be nice" policy wibble: I can do that for myself. It's making it work that's the hard part.

Which is why government needs to be humble.

And small.

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