Sunday 27 November 2011

PerishTheThought: the public interest 2

In view of the impending retirement of Sir Gus O'Donnell, Sir Richard Mottram conducted a review of Whitehall and identified seven abiding problems, problems which existed before the advent of Sir Gus and which persist still.

One of those problems is for the Cabinet Office to take control of the big departments of state, which currently operate as autonomous fiefdoms or over-powerful satrapies, way beyond the control of politicians and beyond the control even of Sir Gus:
... the coalition government has given increasing priority to improving the efficiency of the civil service and the wider public service under a Cabinet Office group ...
On 21 November 2011, Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, gave a speech on The Crown and suppliers: a new way of working. Mr Maude considers several ways in which Whitehall makes procurement too difficult. Among others, he lights on the use of management consultants:
... too often in the past we have defaulted into a comfort zone of hiring external consultants to run any kind of complex procurements. This has two effects.

It reduces the need and ability for public officials to develop the necessary skills. And it can happen that consultants being paid on day rates have no incentive to get procurements finished speedily, nor to drive simplicity.

Far too many procurements feature absurdly over-prescriptive requirements. We should be procuring on the basis of the outcomes and outputs we seek ...
This practice of hiring management consultants has been followed "too often" to be in the public interest. What's the minister going to do about it?
... we will ensure that in future we focus on outputs and outcomes. And we now forbid the use of consultants in central government procurements without my express agreement.
Forbid? Express agreement? Let's hope so. The minister is quite right. But will the other departments of state seek his permission to hire management consultants? And abide by his decision to forbid it? Can Maude make it stick?
Francis "Glendower" Maude:
I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Sir Humphrey (shame it's not Percy) "Hotspur" Appleby:
Why, so can I, or so can any man;
But will they come when you do call for them?
That is the question.

Hat tips: Tony Collins, W Shakespeare

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