Monday 19 December 2011

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?

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