Friday 18 November 2011

Whitehall – SNAFU

Sir Richard Mottram will be famous in some people's minds as the Permanent Secretary at the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions when 9/11, Stephen Byers, Jo "It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses?" Moore and Martin Sixsmith all happened at the same time, leading Sir Richard to deliver himself of his numinous SitRep:
We're all fucked. I'm fucked. You're fucked. The whole department is fucked. It's the biggest cock-up ever. We're all completely fucked.
When Sir Gus O'Donnell retires at the end of the year, the three jobs he combined will be split between three successors – Jeremy Heywood, Ian Watmore and Bob Kerslake. That is a Whitehall shake-up.

Sir Richard published an article in Public Servant magazine on 16 November 2011, Whitehall shake-up – not all good news, in which he lists the perennial Whitehall problems:
  • how to improve the efficiency of the civil service and the wider public service
  • how the Cabinet Office can take charge of that improvement in efficiency
  • how the centre (i.e. the Cabinet Office? Number 10? Not clear) can keep control of its satrapies, the various departments of state
  • how the head of the home civil service can have any influence on the Prime Minister if he is not also Cabinet Secretary and permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office
  • how to ensure cabinet government as opposed to Blair-style sofa government
  • how to provide effective career planning/talent management for senior civil servants
  • how to provide leadership for the civil service
Sir Richard believes that splitting Sir Gus's job across three people is "not all good news", it won't help to solve the problems listed above.

He does not confront the fact that the present arrangement, with Sir Gus in charge of everything, has not worked well. It hasn't. Whitehall are not spending £710 billion of public money – this year alone – wisely. Some change is in order. Not necessarily this particular change.

He makes no reference to Bob Kerslake. His article may have been written before the announcement of Sir Bob's appointment.

He does take time out to have what could be interpreted as a bit of a swipe at Jeremy Heywood:
So is this unalloyed good news? For me there are two big reservations. Jeremy Heywood has outstanding personal qualities and skills and unrivalled experience at the centre. Indeed that is precisely where he has always worked, principally in private office roles at every level. So what became of the emphasis on seeking more effective policy implementation by ensuring policy people and delivery people had wider experience?
And, arguably, a swipe at Ian Watmore, who is not a career civil servant, rather a businessman-turned-civil servant:
It is also said that, had the reorganisation included a full-time head of the civil service, ministers would have wanted the post to be filled by a businessman – so, for the civil service, be careful what you wish for.
What Sir Richard is trying to tell us is that we're still all in a bit of a pickle.


Updated 16.7.14

971 days later:
With the removal of Sir Bob Kerslake, the reform of the Civil Service has gathered pace [or possibly slowed down]
The announcement of the brutal restructuring at the very top of Whitehall has brought great sympathy for the able and well-liked Sir Bob, but also relief that Sir Jeremy Heywood is to combine his current job as Cabinet Secretary with being head of the Civil Service. The experiment of splitting the two jobs and of downgrading the latter by making it part time has failed – as many warned it would.

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