Monday, March 19, 2007

BOM Welcomes Another Waste Watcher

Getting his eye in

Yesterday we stumbled across a new waste watcher. And he's certainly picked up on all BOM's old "favorites": NHS cost inflation, simple shopping, the Supercomputer, tax credit fraud etc etc.

But he draws an interesting conclusion we'd missed- that many of these failings reflect the corruption of HM Treasury by its current boss.

In particular, Gordo has changed HMT's role in three key ways:

  • The Treasury has become the principal originator of government policy, rather than an evaluator of policy. Of course the Treasury has always taken a keen interest in policy — and the chancellor has always sat on the most important cabinet committees. However, the Treasury always saw its primary role as a stern critic of the policy ideas of others, rather than the source of the ideas. That way, the Treasury would remain the one ministry focused on value for money.

  • The Treasury [has been shifted] from scrutinising how public money was spent to micromanaging it. The Treasury not only uses its 1,000 targets to direct policy, it also determines exactly how the departments should meet them. So when a department is failing, it is difficult to tell whether the cause is the policy itself or its implementation. This has made it almost impossible for the Treasury to judge poor performance.

  • The Treasury has itself become one of the largest spending departments, with a budget of more than £20 billion a year — bigger than the Home Office. It now administers child tax credit, working family tax credit, child benefit and child trust funds. If scrutinising Treasury policies in other departments is tough, scrutinising Treasury policies administered by the Treasury has proved near impossible.

Our blogger also highlights the collapse of HMT staff morale, exemplified by soaring turnover (50% leave within two years).

It all sounds highly plausible, and you'd have to guess it's been based on input from disenchanted Treasury officials (or ex-officials).
Something should be done soonest.
Obviously it won't happen under Prime Minister Brown, who will presumably entrust HMT to a trusted puppet Chancellor, and carry on as is. But it must be gripped by the new regime in 2010.
What you say sounds right on the money.
But what we need to know now is how precisely you are going to get HMT back to its vital core function of scrutiny and keeping the public purse strings tight.
And we do need to know before you actually get there.
Because you know as well as we do, that once you slip behind that Big Mahogany Desk and survey your marbled inheritance, it may just occur to you that there's no rush.
Which would be the road to an early bath. Because unlike Gordo, you won't have any money to spray around. Forgot the pain-free fantasy conjured up by "sharing the proceeds of growth"; the reality is that anything you want to spend- or even give back to long-suffering taxpayers- will have to be saved from existing programmes. And without a pack of uncompromised old-time Treasury waste bloodhounds at your side, you won't have a prayer.
So long before you get seduced by the mahogany and marble, you should nail yourself to a publically announced plan.

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