Monday, July 20, 2009

Rule By Amateur

Keep them well away from this

As we've blogged many times (eg here), despite more than a century of promised reform, the governance of Britain remains firmly insecurely in the hands of bumbling amateurs. For reasons that defy all logic, we continue to entrust our security and half our national income to a bunch of incompetents we certainly wouldn't trust to run the family whelk stall.

In the last couple of days we've had two further prime examples.

First, our late grate Home Secretary confessed she was never up to the job. She told us she'd "never run a major organisation" before being appointed, and that her relevant job skills were so poor she'd operated "more by luck than by any kind of development of those skills".

More broadly, she reckons the constant reshuffles make it impossible to pick up the skills and knowledge on the job, so that cabinet government is "pretty dysfunctional in the way that it works".

At least she now recognises her own shortcomings. But the big question is why anyone ever thought it was OK to put her into the job in the first place? Tesco wouldn't dream of appointing a CEO who knew nothing about running a big organisation - let alone someone who also knew nothing about the supermarket business.

The answer is staring us in the face - Jacqui's story is simply par for the course. In government it's perfectly normal for cabinet ministers to be heading large complex organisations without having a clue how to run them. Or having a clue about their business.

No other walk of life would or could operate like that.

But government does.

And then there's the case of Trevor Philips at the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

As BOM readers will know, Philips presides over a £70m pa superquango that is a complete and utter shambles (see previous blogs, eg here and here). And now, not only are his head honchos resigning in droves because they can stand no more, but the National Audit Office has refused to sign off the accounts.

The NAO says the Commission failed to follow due and proper processes in the matter of re-hiring as consultants seven senior staff members it had previously made redundant from the permanent staff. A matter that seems to have cost taxpayers around £1m.

None of this comes as a surprise to BOM. After all, Philips is clearly not someone any of us would trust with a £70m budget - even in the unlikely event we wanted to retain the EHRC (another one for George's list).

But as we pointed out when he first got the job, as a longtime Labour insider (Mandelson was his best man) he can count on support in all the right quarters. And in those quarters it doesn't matter that he is organisationally inept - he's one of them.

So what's the answer to rule by amateur?

It's certainly not what My Lord Digby-Jones proposes, which is to put Britain in the hands of highly experienced super-managers such as... well, such as his good self. If we're going to have anyone ruling us, I'd like to be able to kick them out, thank you very much.

No, the only viable long-term solution is to reduce drastically the area over which these amateurs hold domain.





PS His Grace Bishop Snow was in outstanding form this evening. His opening line was "C4 News has learned that the Prime Minister Gordon Brown intervened personally to secure Nissan's new battery plant for Britain!" He then proceeded to open his pulpit to My Lord Mandy so that the good Lord could "make no apology" for achieving such a miracle of deliverance for Sunderland. Here endeth the lesson. Praise be to the Lord.

PPS The 40th anniversary of the first moon landing? Nah, it can't be... why, surely it was only yesterday, wasn't it? Anyway, it's reminded Tyler of another feature of life as a junior civil servant at the old Department of Education and Science back in the early 70s. Just a few years after that historic landing, Tyler and his fellows were able to sneak off down to the basement of the DES for a game of Lunar Lander on the department's mainframe ICL computer. Nobody ever seemed to mind (or even check), though we sensed it wasn't quite what the huge and expensive contraption had been purchased for. The only problem was that you had to input all your landing moves via punched tape, which then had to be transmitted over a landline to Darlington where the beast was housed. Its mighty brain then had to crank up - draining large parts of the National Grid in the process - until eventually it calculated where your moves had placed the lander relative to the lunar surface. Then it had to dial up the phone in the London basement to activate the teleprinter, which then printed out the answer. You then had to repeat the entire process again and again as you attempted to land. Fun though it was, the game did lack a certain immediacy. And Tyler never did manage to land succesfully. Wonder if it still goes on.

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