Sunday 9 October 2011

Efficiency and reform, Whitehall-style

Take a look at this CV:
Managing Director (age 42) of the UK arm of a global management consultancy – Chief Information Officer of the UK government – Head of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit – Permanent Secretary at the Department of Innovation Universities and Skills – Chief Executive of the Football Association – Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office – Chief Operating Officer (age 52) of the Efficiency & Reform Group – and it’s not over yet.
Enviable. By any lights, that is a successful career.

Or is it?

In 2000, Ian Watmore was the Managing Director of Accenture UK. Take a step back. Before having a Managing Director, Accenture UK used to have a Managing Partner, James Hall.

Now take a step forwards. When Tony Blair and Whitehall decided in 2002 that the National Health Service should be computerised from end to end, a new project was born, NPfIT, the National Programme for IT.

NPfIT looks like costing over £11 billion+ of public money. Watmore and Hall negotiated contracts which would have seen Accenture running the NHS in two of the five regions into which NPfIT divides England and Wales. The course was set for Accenture to earn billions.

Their cause was further favoured when, in 2004, Ian Watmore left to become the UK government’s Chief Information Officer. As far as Accenture is concerned, there’s nothing so useful as having your alumni occupying influential positions in the government machine.

And in 2006, more of the same. James Hall left Accenture to become Chief Executive of the Identity & Passport Service, placing him at the head of the Home Office’s £6 billion National Identity Scheme, the cocktail of ID cards, ePassports and biometric visas/residence permits so beloved of Tony Blair and Whitehall.

In the event, how much of the projected £17 billion+ harvest did Accenture reap?

None. The National Identity Scheme expired worthless in 2010. And earlier, in 2006, we had already learnt that Accenture’s NHS losses grow as NPfIT delays mount:
Accenture, the leading management and technology consulting firm, announced a provision for a further $450 million of losses against its contract to deploy IT systems on behalf of the English NHS.
Leaving his previous employers with a bill for $450 million+ makes something of a dent in Ian Watmore's CV. But let's draw a line in the sand and move on to his next employers, the Cabinet Office.

In 2005, Sir Gus O’Donnell became Cabinet Secretary. He wasn’t asked to lead on national security. That job was given to Sir David Omand. Sir Gus was asked by Tony Blair to concentrate instead on delivering “joined up government”.

The result was a November 2005 Cabinet Office paper, Transformational Government Enabled by Technology, written in the unmistakable language of the management consultant:
To lead the transformation of groups of services to customers, especially for those which cut across organisational boundaries, the Government will appoint Customer Group Directors, each reporting to one Minister responsible for that customer group. Key responsibilities of a Customer Group Director will be to sponsor customer insight and research into the needs of that customer group; to lead the design of services including overall channel planning, joining-up of presentation and delivery, branding and communication, and service improvements; to track and communicate performance against customer related targets; and to represent the interests of their customers as necessary in existing inter-departmental governance and in the governance of this strategy.
In English, Transformational Government meant sacking all the frontline public servants and replacing them with computers. It meant issuing everyone in the UK with an electronic ID. And it meant that all the big departments of state would share their data. That way, the Whitehall computers could deliver the right benefits to the right people (or “customers”).

There are any number of reasons why Transformational Government could never work. One of them is that the big departments of state have no intention of sharing their data. Ian Watmore could call all the meetings he liked at which the Home Office was meant to lie down with DWP and HMRC and the Department for Children Schools and Families and the Department of Health but, as the BBC’s File on 4 told us, they simply didn’t turn up. The writ of the Cabinet Office does not run wide.

Nothing ever came of Transformational Government. But once again Ian Watmore had moved on before his employers found out, becoming in January 2006 Head of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit. There are no known deliveries made there by Mr Watmore and no known innovations introduced as a result of his subsequent tenure at the Department of Innovation Universities and Skills.

There followed an embarrassing nine months or so as Chief Executive of the Football Association. After which, Human Resources at Whitehall found Ian Watmore's CV once again on their desk. What transferable skills of his could they possibly find attractive?

A good question. Whatever the answer was, Ian Watmore was reinstalled, this time as Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office. Among others, he now enjoys the title of “the Government’s Chief Operating Officer”.

And all those failed projects? Zombies, all.

They’re all climbing out of their graves now, sightless and rotting, lurching around Whitehall and threatening to devour public money by the billion. The transformation or reform of Whitehall is to be based on a lot of schemes that have already failed. That, supposedly, is the way to improve efficiency.

NPfIT limps on. Giant data centres are to be built at which all departmental data will be shared. There is to be a Civil Registration Act and everyone will be bar coded through a resurrected Identity Assurance service. Access to public services will be “digital by default”. Frontline public servants will go, to be replaced by G-Cloud – the Government Cloud – i.e. the web.

What does Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, know of the difficulties of ensuring security over the web? Or David Cameron – what does he know? Or for that matter, Sir Gus O'Donnell.

It doesn’t matter. Whitehall wants a G-Cloud and Ian Watmore is the man to deliver it – just look at his CV.

And we the public will pay for it. In every sense.


Updated 16.4.16

The generally excellent Charles Moore has an article in today's Telegraph newspaper, Beware the incestuous, unaccountable empire-building of civil servants.

It's a curate's egg.

One of the less impressive passages reads as follows:
Now that Sir David [Normington] is retiring, his job is being split again. The leading candidate to replace him as First Civil Service Commissioner is Ian Watmore. And guess what Mr Watmore did until, rather against his will, he left in 2012? He was a civil servant – permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office. And guess who wants him to be the First Commissioner? Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary. Mr Watmore left because the then Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, was not satisfied that he was doing the job he asked of him. It is a fair bet that a returning Mr Watmore would be able to exact the subtle, carefully meditated revenge against elected people at which mandarins excel.
Mr Moore seems to assume that Ian Watmore is a life-long civil servant. He isn't. Please see above. He came into the civil service from a very senior job in the private sector. And that bit about Ian Watmore exacting "the subtle, carefully meditated revenge against elected people at which mandarins excel" just doesn't ring true – you'd lose your bet.


Anonymous said...

I am certain that if such a person ever held shares in either "Accenture Services Ltd" or "The Accenture Group" these were sold off long ago, if only to ensure that no ill informed person scanning shareholder ownership lists would see a potential conflict of interest.

David Moss said...

A – there's the public interest

B – there's the interest of the big departments of state to maintain their empires and the interest of their staff to keep their jobs

The conflicts I see are between A and B.

I lead a very quiet and sheltered life and I have never seen any share-related conflicts of interest.

Anonymous said...

You only know half the story:

- Gill Ryder appoined as head of HR for civil service - you guessed it, personal friend of Watmore, 28 years, and an old accenture flame.

- Watmore appointed Katie Davies - you guessed it Accenture - old flame of his and Jams Hall and Bill Coruthres. When Watmore left and came back guess what he did, promote Davies again - no interview, no open competition

- James Hall appointed Bill Coruthers - you guessed it Accenture. Hall and Coruthers appointed 26 other accenture people as civil servants but grossly inflated salaries

- Guess who renegotiated the accenture contract for Maude.... Coruthers... bet they didn't give much money back

Guess who was appointed government cio - nelson, and where was he from? you guessed it accenture

Guess who was appointed head of procurement? Collington, and where did he hail from? accenture

Guess who got charged with bullying? collington. Guess who swept it under the carpet? Watmore....

shall I go on?

David Moss said...

shall I go on? – yes please, keep going till you get to the bit where you tell us why Watmore had to go

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