Friday, 30 December 2011

GreenInk 4 – Private Eye blinks, misses a scoop

From: David Moss
Sent: 30 December 2011 10:39
To: ''
Subject: Brodie Clark


While the Eye joins in with the establishment rubbishing of Brodie Clark – in your case by quoting the ineffably smug Michael Mansfield – you ignore the improvised explosive device Mr Clark detonated when he gave evidence* to the Home Affairs Committee. The fingerprinting technology wished on UKBA is the least reliable identity/security check made at the border, Mr Clark said, it is the ninth and bottom priority and, if any check has to be suspended, it is "very sensible" to suspend the fingerprint check. It is presumably of no interest to you that the Home Office want to replace hundreds or even thousands of Border Force staff with a technology that might work in Hollywood films but certainly doesn't at Heathrow.

David Moss

*, listen between 12:18 and 12:24.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

GreenInk 3 – did Sir Gus O'Donnell abolish boom and bust?

From: David Moss
Sent: 22 December 2011 10:23
To: ''
Subject: Sir Gus O'Donnell, 21 December 2011 -- It’s risks, not rules, that must point the way


Sir Gus O'Donnell quite rightly alludes to his influence on Gordon Brown's decision for the UK not to join the Euro.

What other decisions did he influence?

Sir Gus co-edited two books with Ed Balls. One of them, in 2002, congratulated Gordon Brown and celebrated the end of boom and bust. The other, in 2003, congratulated Gordon Brown for providing opportunity to all.

Sir Gus, by then, had been our man at the IMF and the World Bank. He had been Director of the UK's macroeconomic policy and Head of the government economics service – every economist in HMG reported to him. He had been responsible for the UK's fiscal policy, international development and EMU. And he had become Permanent Secretary at HM Treasury. Gordon Brown had been none of these things.

David Moss


1. Reforming Britain's Economic and Financial Policy: Towards Greater Economic Stability,

2. Microeconomic Reform in Britain: Delivering Opportunities for All,

3. Whose bust is it anyway?,

Monday, 19 December 2011

Festschrift: Sir Gus O'Donnell 3

GOD retires at the end of the year and the eulogies have started. We should be grateful according to the Times:
Prime ministers’ spouses these days, he thinks, require more official help. “They have some support. I suspect it probably should be a bit bigger ... we need to recognise that the role is a broader, more public role these days. The media pay more attention to them, what they’re wearing.”

So would he like a dress allowance for spouses for public events and more staff support? “It would be good to get the spouses together and it would be good for there to be cross-party agreement on this sort of thing.” He doesn’t want to prescribe whether they need a cook or hairdresser. “It’s one of those things you’d have to think quite carefully about. Different people might want to handle it in different ways.” And he doesn’t want their retinue to grow too large. “Keeping prime ministers grounded in the real world matters a lot.”
What a nice man. He thinks of everything. This new way of being generous with other people's money is his parting shot. A warm feeling to remember him by.

That's not how Sir Richard Mottram will remember Sir Gus. Sir Richard identifies seven problems which beset Whitehall:
  1. how to improve the efficiency of the civil service and the wider public service
  2. how the Cabinet Office can take charge of that improvement in efficiency
  3. how the centre (i.e. the Cabinet Office? Number 10? Not clear) can keep control of its satrapies, the various departments of state
  4. 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
  5. how to ensure cabinet government as opposed to Blair-style sofa government
  6. how to provide effective career planning/talent management for senior civil servants
  7. how to provide leadership for the civil service
Six of those problems – all except No.4 – were there before Sir Gus's arrival. He hasn't solved them. They're still there.

But at least the idea has been floated at last that the prime minister's spouse should have a hairdresser  or a cook paid for by the taxpayer.

Festschrift: Sir Gus O'Donnell 2

GOD retires at the end of the year and the eulogies have started. We should be grateful according to the Times:
“There’s not a government that’s come in and said, ‘I want to increase child poverty’. They all want to save the planet. The ultimate goals are good, they just have different ways of going about them.” It sounds rather like Yes, Prime Minister with the civil servants running the show while politicians come and go. “No, we have this very clear view that we advise, they decide,” the Cabinet Secretary insists.
Officials advise, politicians decide? Is there anyone left on the planet who believes that?

We have a wide choice on this blog of examples of how officials have wasted money on NPfIT, FiReControl, ID cards, G-Cloud, midata, ePassports, C-Nomis and Libra, and how there seems to be nothing politicians can do about it.

Consider midata. BIS – the department of Business, Innovation and Skills – wants to spend our money on getting people to store all their personal data in PDSs, personal data stores. They get the minister, Ed Davey, to put his name to a BIS blog post. It is in that sense that the minister has decided. That's on 3 November 2011. The point of midata is that individuals will have control of their data once it's in a PDS. Several commenters ask the same question over the following few days – how? How will people be able to control what happens to their data?

46 days later, today, and there's still no answer. The minister hasn't responded. Either he doesn't know how to respond or he can't be bothered. He's obviously not in control.

His officials are. They have advised. They will proceed, without explaining themselves. And we will pay.

And that's the home civil service for you. The home civil service, of which Sir Gus O'Donnell has been the head for six years since 1 September 2005. Grateful?

Festschrift: Sir Gus O'Donnell 1

GOD retires at the end of the year and the eulogies have started. We should be grateful according to the Times:
At times, the civil servants’ role is to save politicians from themselves. Sir Gus is proud to have been instrumental in stopping Britain joining the euro in 2003 when he was Permanent Secretary at the Treasury. “We did the biggest evidence-based piece of work I’ve ever done. My only regret now is we didn’t get it translated into Greek and send it across. There were a number of politicians who, out of a belief that the politics was the crucial part, wanted us to go in. Imagine what state we’d be in if we’d been in the euro.”
It could have been worse, yes, but just look at the state we are in. During the 10 years of plenty, 1997-2007, public spending went through the roof, much of it wasted, the planned budget deficit this year is £121 billion and the interest bill is £50 billion.

Is Sir Gus "proud to have been instrumental" in that success, too?

Congratulations to Lin Homer

Some misguided readers are under the impression that Lin Homer, the hero of The Adventures of Marsham Towers, is a fictional character.

Far from it, she has now been appointed Chief Executive of HM Revenue & Customs.

Our congratulations to Ms Homer.

Friday, 16 December 2011

The on the spot answer

This is the (draft and subject to change) answer to a comment posted by one Mr Reader:

Dear Mr Reader

Thank you for trying to put me on the spot. I’ve been trying to put myself on the spot for years. And failing.

Assuming that that continues, when the final enquiry report is in at the end of next month, the most likely outcome is that everyone’s reputation will be tarnished – Brodie Clark, Theresa May and Helen Ghosh – but the daily round will revert to its pre-4 November 2011 pattern, the usual dismal calm will prevail in the Dark Department, there will be no more sense of sudden explosions, nasty surprises and unexpected eruptions.

That’s the 98%+ likely scenario. A dirty taste in the mouth, business as usual re-established.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Plus ça change – tax farming

Matthew xviii:17
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church : but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a Publican.
Luke xviii:11
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican.
Presumably schoolboys have been told for 400 years to stop giggling, the gospel-writers in the King James version were not suggesting that everyone who runs a pub is an extortioner or an adulterer, deaf to the church. Rather:
In antiquity, publicans (Latin publicanus (singular); publicani (plural)) were public contractors, in which role they often supplied the Roman legions and military, managed the collection of port duties, and oversaw public building projects. In addition, they served as tax collectors for the Republic (and later the Roman Empire), bidding on contracts (from the Senate in Rome) for the collection of various types of taxes.

Brodie Clark's evidence 3

The Home office has launched three investigations into the Brodie Clark affair:
  • One by Dave Wood, ex-Metropolitan Police detective, currently the UKBA's head of enforcement and crime group. This is a two-week inquiry designed to discover to what extent checks were scaled down, and what the security implications might have been.
  • One by Mike Anderson, an ex-MI6 official, presently director general of the strategy, immigration and international group at the Home Office. This will investigate wider issues relating to the performance of UKBA.
  • It was announced on 5 November 2011 by Theresa May that an independent inquiry would also be undertaken, led by the Chief Inspector of the UK Border Agency, John Vine.
On 8 December 2011, the Home Affairs Committee released new testimony submitted to them by Mr Clark which includes this:
I remain concerned that the only independent inquiry into matters is that of the Home Affairs Select Committee. I took from some of the exchanges in evidence with others that the HASC shares some of my concern. The investigation by Mr Wood is unsafe as he is a participant. He was at the Board meeting referred to above and as the committee noted, Mr Vine is a witness.

ChristmasList: Misfeasance in public office

It was Christmas day in the harem,
The eunuchs were standing round [that's us, the public, we're the eunuchs],
And hundreds of beautiful women [or, at least, £710 billion of our money]
Were stretched out on the ground,
When in strode the bold bad sultan [or mandarin, Sir Gus O'Donnell]
And stared at his marble halls [or Whitehall]:
"What do you want for Christmas, boys?"
And the eunuchs answered tidings of comfort and joy
[viz. charges of misfeasance in public office
being brought against various satraps
e.g. Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS]

Monday, 12 December 2011

Mobile phones – location tracking

Did everyone spot it?

The Killing, Series 2, Episode 7, 17'30".

Raben's father-in-law tells him Special Branch are following him. Raben instantly takes something out of his pocket, fiddles with it and puts it back.

He was taking the battery out of his mobile phone – the only way to be (fairly) sure that it isn't being used to locate/track him.

Him. Or anyone else. You, for example. Your mobile phone is a voluntarily worn electronic tag. Your mobile phone, and mine, is an electronic ID card.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

The case for midata – the answer is a mooncalf

Ed Davey, Minister at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, is promoting the midata initiative. In this, he is guided by a management consultancy called Ctrl-Shift. Ctrl-Shift have recently issued a report which makes the business case for the investment of public money in midata.