Thursday, January 15, 2009

They Should Have Had A Whip Round

Not quite so wide-eyed now

Frankly, BOM has never been a fan of Lord Digby Jones (eg see here). But we have to agree with his latest outburst at the Public Administration Committee.

Drawing on his recent unhappy experience as a junior minister at BERR, he rips into our civil servants:
"Frankly the job could be done with half as many, it could be more productive, more efficient, it could deliver a lot more value for money for the taxpayer.

I was amazed, quite frankly, at how many people deserved the sack and yet that was the one threat that they never ever worked under, because it doesn't exist."

Having worked in both the civil service and the private sector Tyler can only nod his head vigorously. Certainly back in the 70s and early 80s, the civil service was wildly overstaffed. Tyler personally witnessed civil servants who routinely spent much of their afternoons snoozing - one even kept a supply of claret in his filing cabinet to help him on his way. Clearly, things have not changed.

But who's to blame?

You can hardly blame the civil servants themselves. They have to eat, and the vast bulk of them are only doing what they've been told to do. They're very small cogs in The System. It's not their fault if they've been assigned to some sub-departmental empire where there's simply not enough work to go round.

Just as it's not their fault if they're working on something that isn't actually needed. Maybe they're in a section that was set up to manage some once vital ministerial initiative subsequently overtaken by some vital new ministerial initiative - Tyler himself once worked for a time in just such a section, fondly imagining his beaverings were of vital national importance.

So does the blame rest with senior management?

Well, yes, you'd think so. But then again senior civil servants are no more than bigger cogs in The System. There's never been much upside or support for a senior mandarin who wants to axe the people reporting to him. And besides, it's a deeply unpalatable activity.

So how about ministers? Surely they must be responsible.

Well yes, definitely.

Except that according to Digby, being a junior minister was "one of the most dehumanising and depersonalising experiences" he'd ever had. He too was powerless against The System.

So it's all down to the head honchos. They're the only ones who can act. The only ones who can order efficiency programmes that can really get a grip on the fat.

Which was precisely why Commissar Brown ordered the Gershon efficiency programme... the programme that has been so useless it may have actually increased overall costs (see many previous blogs).

The reality is that no country's civil service has ever managed to deliver efficiency. It's simply not what they do. Indeed, if Digs is right and our civil service is only 2x overstaffed, I'd say it's doing quite well.

Forget trying to make government efficient. Put it from your mind.

The only real question is how can we radically downsize the wretched thing?

Of course, if Jones's civil servants had just had a whip round to give him a proper leaving present, all this unpleasantness could have been avoided.

PS Just for reference, there are currently 522,000 civil servants. The largest numbers are at the Department for Work and Pensions (116,000), HMRC (92,000), Justice (86,000), and MOD (78,000 - none of whom are men with guns).

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