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.

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