Thursday, March 29, 2007

Power Without Responsibility... Or Competence

Incompetence personified- (2005 Defra team L to R) still in post, promoted to Schools Minister, promoted to Foreign Secretary, sacked (but still an unelected Lord ruling over us), sacked

We've blogged the fiasco at DEFRA's Rural Payments Agency many times (see all blogs gathered here). And the appalling wriggling of Margaret Pass-The-Buckett, who presided over the whole thing, but sidestepped all responsibility.

Now the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has issued its own damning report. And most unusually, memebers have actually stepped up to the plate and placed the blame squarely on named individuals at the top:

"If accountability is to mean anything the position of others must now be seriously questioned.
When a department fails to deliver a key programme right at the heart of its fundamental responsibilities the ... secretary of state should not be rewarded with promotion but its reverse. New ministerial guidelines should now be drawn up to make it even clearer that if individuals are prepared to accept the glories that come with high office they also know what to do if departmental failure occurs."

It also calls for the head of Sir Brian Bender, then permanent secretary at Defra and now the senior civil servant at the Department of Trade and Industry. "If a failure to deliver on such a scale had occurred in a major plc, the chairman and the senior operating executives would have faced dismissal from post. With this in mind the committee continues to be astonished that Sir Brian Bender continues to hold the rank of permanent secretary. If he does not tender his resignation the head of the home civil service [Sir Gus O'Donnell] should explain why a failure such as this results in no penalty."

Here at BOM we believe in Tesco government (see this blog). Had such a shambles taken place at Tesco, it is inconceivable that shareholders would have allowed Sir Terry Leahy to continue. And his replacement would have carried the cull down further.

But of course, such shambles happen much less often in big successful private sector companies anyway. For one thing, people don't get to the top unless they've already proved they know what they're doing. And for another, there is never any question of power being divorced from responsibility.

This Committee's report underlines once again why we need Tesco government.

PS Let's hope somebody more competent than the horse lady is working on extracting our marines from Iran. If it's left to her, they'll still be there this time next year. Maybe we could swap her for them.

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