Friday, 14 October 2011

WrinklesInTheMatrix: Oliver Letwin 1

Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, has been caught by the Daily Mirror throwing state secrets in a rubbish bin in the park:
David Cameron's right-hand man Oliver Letwin has been caught dumping secret papers in park waste bins.

The PM's blundering policy adviser was seen on five separate days throwing away sensitive correspondence on terrorism, national security and constituents' private details.
Now here's a wrinkle – four years ago, Mr Letwin said in the Times that:
Cameron Conservatism puts no faith in central direction and control. Instead, it seeks to identify social and environmental responsibilities that participants in the free market are likely to neglect, and then establish frameworks that will lead people and organisations to act of their own volition in ways that will improve society by increasing general wellbeing.
The suggestion then was that Mr Letwin was just the man to establish the framework within which people would behave responsibly. Now it seems perhaps that he isn't.

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Psychological note: Everyone including Tony Blair had a good laugh at Mr Letwin's "sociocentric frameworks" and "econocentric paradigms" but his article was actually a bit serious and had something to do with "nudging", i.e. getting people to behave properly without passing laws all the time, an unimpeachable objective which somehow becomes sinister in his hands.

Obituary: his article was also intimately linked with the death of the Conservative party.

WrinklesInTheMatrix: Oliver Letwin 1

Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, has been caught by the Daily Mirror throwing state secrets in a rubbish bin in the park:
David Cameron's right-hand man Oliver Letwin has been caught dumping secret papers in park waste bins.

The PM's blundering policy adviser was seen on five separate days throwing away sensitive correspondence on terrorism, national security and constituents' private details.
Now here's a wrinkle – four years ago, Mr Letwin said in the Times that:
Cameron Conservatism puts no faith in central direction and control. Instead, it seeks to identify social and environmental responsibilities that participants in the free market are likely to neglect, and then establish frameworks that will lead people and organisations to act of their own volition in ways that will improve society by increasing general wellbeing.
The suggestion then was that Mr Letwin was just the man to establish the framework within which people would behave responsibly. Now it seems perhaps that he isn't.

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Psychological note: Everyone including Tony Blair had a good laugh at Mr Letwin's "sociocentric frameworks" and "econocentric paradigms" but his article was actually a bit serious and had something to do with "nudging", i.e. getting people to behave properly without passing laws all the time, an unimpeachable objective which somehow becomes sinister in his hands.

Obituary: his article was also intimately linked with the death of the Conservative party.

WrinklesInTheMatrix: Ian Watmore 1

Eight days after the publication of Whose bust is it anyway?, Sir Gus O'Donnell announced that he would stand down as Cabinet Secretary at the end of the year. According to the Telegraph, so it must be true, Sir Gus's job as permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office is to be taken by Ian Watmore:
His third job as permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office will go to Ian Watmore, a former chief executive of the Football Association who is currently chief operating officer of the Whitehall efficiency group in the Cabinet Office.
Now here's a wrinkle – eight months earlier, on 1 February 2011, Mr Watmore appeared in front of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) to give evidence in the Committee's enquiry into good governance and civil service reform. At Q154 he was asked by the Chair to identify himself and said:
I am Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office ...
Does Mr Watmore have second sight? If so, what else can he tell us about the future?

WrinklesInTheMatrix: Ian Watmore 1

Eight days after the publication of Whose bust is it anyway?, Sir Gus O'Donnell announced that he would stand down as Cabinet Secretary at the end of the year. According to the Telegraph, so it must be true, Sir Gus's job as permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office is to be taken by Ian Watmore:
His third job as permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office will go to Ian Watmore, a former chief executive of the Football Association who is currently chief operating officer of the Whitehall efficiency group in the Cabinet Office.
Now here's a wrinkle – eight months earlier, on 1 February 2011, Mr Watmore appeared in front of the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) to give evidence in the Committee's enquiry into good governance and civil service reform. At Q154 he was asked by the Chair to identify himself and said:
I am Ian Watmore, Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office ...
Does Mr Watmore have second sight? If so, what else can he tell us about the future?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Less for more

First Katie worked for James and Ian. Then Ian left and so did Katie. When James left as well, Katie stopped working for Ian and went to work for James. Then James left and Sarah took over. There was no room for Katie so she went back to working for Ian. Until Christine left and now Katie finds herself working for David. Or is it the other way around? Will Ian's will prevail? Just how much are we paying CSC? And for what? How did the Daily Mail get themselves suckered? And where does Andrew come into it?

All of that and more – including Sir Anthony Blunt – in the latest edition of the long-running programme, Whitehall in control ...

Like a lot of people in Whitehall, Katie Davis used to be a partner at Accenture.

She left in 2005 to join the Cabinet Office, home also to Ian Watmore at the time. Mr Watmore, of course, is a former managing director of Accenture.

In 2007 she moved to the Identity & Passport Service (IPS), where she was appointed Executive Director of Strategy. After three years of her strategy, IPS imploded. They left their offices at Globe House and retreated to the Home Office mother ship in Marsham St. The Chief Executive, James Hall, previously a managing partner of Accenture, retired and was replaced by Sarah Rapson, never worked for Accenture, ex-American Express, MBA from the London Business School.

Five directors of the IPS board were cleared out at the same time and so it came to pass that Katie found herself back in the Cabinet Office with the title Executive Director, Operational Excellence, working for Ian Watmore's Efficiency & Reform Group (ERG, previously OGC). The quiet life of operational excellence there beckoned but was soon rudely interrupted when Christine left.

Christine Connelly was the Chief Information Officer at the Department of Health. She was for years the most articulate and impassioned supporter of NPfIT, the NHS's £11 billion+ National Programme for IT. In June 2011, she resigned.

There had been a few problems.

By this stage in the career of NPfIT, there were only two contractors left. Accenture had pulled out with losses of over $450 million. Fujitsu also had pulled out, and are still thinking of suing HMG for £700 million. Leaving only BT and CSC.

CSC – Computer Sciences Corporation – are an American software house. They took over Accenture's NPfIT contracts. As part of the deal, they inherited iSoft, the software house that developed Lorenzo, the package on which NPfIT depends.

iSoft got into financial problems. The market took a dim view of their habit of booking profits based on nothing more than vague promises that someone might at some stage in the future possibly buy a copy of Lorenzo or not. CSC had to take them over to keep them afloat.

Lorenzo continued to perform badly, causing CSC to miss certain important milestones in their delivery plan for NPfIT. What with that, and a minor misunderstanding in the US with the Armed Services Board which cost them $250 million, their shareholders were getting edgy and CSC asked Christine Connelly to sign a contract guaranteeing them £3 billion. They also offered a discount. How about we take 25% off the price, CSC asked, but only deliver 50% of the services?

Less for more. An attractive proposition as anyone would agree.

At least, Christine Connelly thought it was attractive and she was minded to sign. Not so fast, said Richard Bacon MP, a hero. Not so fast, said Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MBE MP, a hero. Not so fast, said, Ian Watmore, Chief Operating Officer of ERG, whose motto, devised by Lord Brown of Madingley, Chairman of ERG and previously Chairman of BP and the Gulf of Mexico, is "more for less".

Even David Cameron asked Ms Connelly to stay her hand. For months, it looked as though, with the support of her boss, Sir David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS, she was going to tell the lot of them to take a running jump. A power which, it may come as a surprise to those who believe we live in a polity where politicians control Whitehall, she had. Then she was gone.

Had Ian Watmore at last managed to assert his authority over the Department of Health? Who knows. But one way and another, Christine Connelly was replaced by Katie Davis.

That was back in June. On 22 September 2011, the Daily Mail carried this front page headline:
£12bn NHS computer system is scrapped... and it's all YOUR money that Labour poured down the drain
Their heart was in the right place but the story was false. The Department of Health agree that NPfIT has a few problems (mutt) but according to Sir David Nicholson, to paraphrase, we all owe our very existence to the genius of NPfIT (jeff), which will go on. And on. Until we've spent all the money we're entitled to. And then we may need some more. Firm up on that one later.

This is Sir Gus O'Donnell's Whitehall. He has been head of the home civil service since 2005. He leaves at the end of the year. We shall miss his deft organisational powers. Public administration in the UK may never be the same again. With any luck. GOD retires from top job – to be replaced by a new trinity, as they say in yesterday's Times newspaper.

Talking of which, when the Times look at NPfIT, they say:
The history of the NHS computer system is one of criminal incompetence and irresponsibility
Whereas when Sir David looks at it, he says:
We spent about 20% of that resource [the £11.4bn projected total spend on the NPfIT] on the acute sector. The other 80% is providing services that literally mean life and death to patients today, and have done for the last period.

So the Spine, and all those things, provides really, really important services for our patients. If you are going to talk about the totality of the [NPfIT] system … you have to accept that 80% of that programme has been delivered.
Sir Anthony Blunt was the world expert on Poussin. Standing in front of an obvious fake once, he declared it to be authentic. Why? Perhaps Sir David Nicholson could tell us.

The quotation immediately above is due to Tony Collins, the award-winning investigative journalist, one of the few people on the planet who know what's going on NPfIT-wise, and a hero. Andrew Lansley? Admittedly Secretary of State for Health but, when it comes right down to it, just a politician. Not sure. Katie Davis?  At least she's sort of a mandarin and a former Executive Director of Operational Excellence, but even so – not sure.

The sun never sets on Sir David's empire. Now a group of American investors are suing CSC in a class action. They clearly don't think Lorenzo is kosher either, any more than Richard Bacon, Margaret Hodge et al. Somehow, mysteriously, the shareholders have got hold of internal CSC reports going back to May 2008 saying that Lorenzo could never meet the NHS's requirements and that the package is on a "death march".

Not the sort of march you want a health service to be on. But then what has any of this £11 billion of public money got to do with health?

Less for more

First Katie worked for James and Ian. Then Ian left and so did Katie. When James left as well, Katie stopped working for Ian and went to work for James. Then James left and Sarah took over. There was no room for Katie so she went back to working for Ian. Until Christine left and now Katie finds herself working for David. Or is it the other way around? Will Ian's will prevail? Just how much are we paying CSC? And for what? How did the Daily Mail get themselves suckered? And where does Andrew come into it?

All of that and more – including Sir Anthony Blunt – in the latest edition of the long-running programme, Whitehall in control ...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Efficiency and reform, Whitehall-style

Take a look at this CV:
Managing Director (age 42) of the UK arm of a global management consultancy – Chief Information Officer of the UK government – Head of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit – Permanent Secretary at the Department of Innovation Universities and Skills – Chief Executive of the Football Association – Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office – Chief Operating Officer (age 52) of the Efficiency & Reform Group – and it’s not over yet.
Enviable. By any lights, that is a successful career.

Or is it?

In 2000, Ian Watmore was the Managing Director of Accenture UK. Take a step back. Before having a Managing Director, Accenture UK used to have a Managing Partner, James Hall.

Now take a step forwards. When Tony Blair and Whitehall decided in 2002 that the National Health Service should be computerised from end to end, a new project was born, NPfIT, the National Programme for IT.

NPfIT looks like costing over £11 billion+ of public money. Watmore and Hall negotiated contracts which would have seen Accenture running the NHS in two of the five regions into which NPfIT divides England and Wales. The course was set for Accenture to earn billions.

Their cause was further favoured when, in 2004, Ian Watmore left to become the UK government’s Chief Information Officer. As far as Accenture is concerned, there’s nothing so useful as having your alumni occupying influential positions in the government machine.

And in 2006, more of the same. James Hall left Accenture to become Chief Executive of the Identity & Passport Service, placing him at the head of the Home Office’s £6 billion National Identity Scheme, the cocktail of ID cards, ePassports and biometric visas/residence permits so beloved of Tony Blair and Whitehall.

In the event, how much of the projected £17 billion+ harvest did Accenture reap?

None. The National Identity Scheme expired worthless in 2010. And earlier, in 2006, we had already learnt that Accenture’s NHS losses grow as NPfIT delays mount:
Accenture, the leading management and technology consulting firm, announced a provision for a further $450 million of losses against its contract to deploy IT systems on behalf of the English NHS.
Leaving his previous employers with a bill for $450 million+ makes something of a dent in Ian Watmore's CV. But let's draw a line in the sand and move on to his next employers, the Cabinet Office.

In 2005, Sir Gus O’Donnell became Cabinet Secretary. He wasn’t asked to lead on national security. That job was given to Sir David Omand. Sir Gus was asked by Tony Blair to concentrate instead on delivering “joined up government”.

The result was a November 2005 Cabinet Office paper, Transformational Government Enabled by Technology, written in the unmistakable language of the management consultant:
To lead the transformation of groups of services to customers, especially for those which cut across organisational boundaries, the Government will appoint Customer Group Directors, each reporting to one Minister responsible for that customer group. Key responsibilities of a Customer Group Director will be to sponsor customer insight and research into the needs of that customer group; to lead the design of services including overall channel planning, joining-up of presentation and delivery, branding and communication, and service improvements; to track and communicate performance against customer related targets; and to represent the interests of their customers as necessary in existing inter-departmental governance and in the governance of this strategy.
In English, Transformational Government meant sacking all the frontline public servants and replacing them with computers. It meant issuing everyone in the UK with an electronic ID. And it meant that all the big departments of state would share their data. That way, the Whitehall computers could deliver the right benefits to the right people (or “customers”).

There are any number of reasons why Transformational Government could never work. One of them is that the big departments of state have no intention of sharing their data. Ian Watmore could call all the meetings he liked at which the Home Office was meant to lie down with DWP and HMRC and the Department for Children Schools and Families and the Department of Health but, as the BBC’s File on 4 told us, they simply didn’t turn up. The writ of the Cabinet Office does not run wide.

Nothing ever came of Transformational Government. But once again Ian Watmore had moved on before his employers found out, becoming in January 2006 Head of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit. There are no known deliveries made there by Mr Watmore and no known innovations introduced as a result of his subsequent tenure at the Department of Innovation Universities and Skills.

There followed an embarrassing nine months or so as Chief Executive of the Football Association. After which, Human Resources at Whitehall found Ian Watmore's CV once again on their desk. What transferable skills of his could they possibly find attractive?

A good question. Whatever the answer was, Ian Watmore was reinstalled, this time as Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office. Among others, he now enjoys the title of “the Government’s Chief Operating Officer”.

And all those failed projects? Zombies, all.

They’re all climbing out of their graves now, sightless and rotting, lurching around Whitehall and threatening to devour public money by the billion. The transformation or reform of Whitehall is to be based on a lot of schemes that have already failed. That, supposedly, is the way to improve efficiency.

NPfIT limps on. Giant data centres are to be built at which all departmental data will be shared. There is to be a Civil Registration Act and everyone will be bar coded through a resurrected Identity Assurance service. Access to public services will be “digital by default”. Frontline public servants will go, to be replaced by G-Cloud – the Government Cloud – i.e. the web.

What does Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister, know of the difficulties of ensuring security over the web? Or David Cameron – what does he know? Or for that matter, Sir Gus O'Donnell.

It doesn’t matter. Whitehall wants a G-Cloud and Ian Watmore is the man to deliver it – just look at his CV.

And we the public will pay for it. In every sense.

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Updated 16.4.16

The generally excellent Charles Moore has an article in today's Telegraph newspaper, Beware the incestuous, unaccountable empire-building of civil servants.

It's a curate's egg.

One of the less impressive passages reads as follows:
Now that Sir David [Normington] is retiring, his job is being split again. The leading candidate to replace him as First Civil Service Commissioner is Ian Watmore. And guess what Mr Watmore did until, rather against his will, he left in 2012? He was a civil servant – permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office. And guess who wants him to be the First Commissioner? Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary. Mr Watmore left because the then Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, was not satisfied that he was doing the job he asked of him. It is a fair bet that a returning Mr Watmore would be able to exact the subtle, carefully meditated revenge against elected people at which mandarins excel.
Mr Moore seems to assume that Ian Watmore is a life-long civil servant. He isn't. Please see above. He came into the civil service from a very senior job in the private sector. And that bit about Ian Watmore exacting "the subtle, carefully meditated revenge against elected people at which mandarins excel" just doesn't ring true – you'd lose your bet.

Efficiency and reform, Whitehall-style

Take a look at this CV:
Managing Director (age 42) of the UK arm of a global management consultancy – Chief Information Officer of the UK government – Head of Tony Blair’s Delivery Unit – Permanent Secretary at the Department of Innovation Universities and Skills – Chief Executive of the Football Association – Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office – Chief Operating Officer (age 52) of the Efficiency & Reform Group – and it’s not over yet.
Enviable. By any lights, that is a successful career.

Or is it?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Whose bust is it anyway?

In 1970, when Augustine Thomas O’Donnell started his economics degree at Warwick, Ed Balls was three years old.

Three years for his undergraduate degree and two years for his MPhil at Oxford – then it was off to Glasgow for Gus, for a four-year stint as an economics lecturer. That gets us to 1979, at which point Ed Balls is 12 and Gus is recruited as a Treasury economist.

He puts in six years in the UK and then fetches up at our embassy in Washington, where he is First Secretary of the economics division for four years, before being brought back to the UK to act as press secretary to John Major for five years, one of them at No.11 and four at No.10. At the end of which, it’s 1994 and and the 27 year-old Ed Balls is an economic advisor to Gordon Brown.

There’s a three-year gap after which Gus becomes our man at the IMF and the World Bank. He is the United Kingdom’s Executive Director to both of them.

Back from Washington, he is appointed both Director of the UK’s macroeconomic policy and Head of the government economics service – every economist in HMG reports to Gus. By 1999, he is responsible for the UK's fiscal policy, international development and EMU and in 2002 Sir Gus O’Donnell, waggishly known as “GOD”, becomes Permanent Secretary to the Treasury.

Labour have been in power for five years by then with Gordon Brown and Ed Balls at the Treasury. Does Sir Gus agree with their policy?

We know the answer to that one. In 2002, he co-edited a book with Ed Balls, congratulating Gordon Brown on eliminating boom and bust, Reforming Britain's Economic and Financial Policy: Towards Greater Economic Stability. A year later saw another book edited by the two of them and Joe Grice, again congratulating Gordon Brown, this time for Microeconomic Reform in Britain: Delivering Opportunities for All.

The end of boom and bust? Opportunities for all? Perhaps, like history in 1989, economics had ended. As Francis Fukuyama almost said: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of economic cycles, or the passing of artificial economic constraints, but the end of economics as such”.

And so it seemed for a few years, but by the late spring of 2007 the debt markets had seized up. Our regulators – the Bank of England, the FSA and the Treasury – did nothing. Then in October that year, Northern Rock hit the buffers. Our regulators did nothing. And a year later, having run off the end of a cliff, Lehman Brothers made the mistake of looking down, its little feet stopped turning, and economics was back.

Did Sir Gus agree with Gordon and Ed that you can build an economy on nothing but debt, just as long as you’ve got absolutely masses of the stuff? Or was it the other way around? Did Gordon and Ed agree with GOD's economic dispositions?

Sir Gus was so senior, so experienced, so well-connected, so highly regarded. If he had disagreed with his political masters, he could easily have sabotaged their policy. Whitehall are good at that. He could even have resigned. But he didn’t.

Ed Balls had been a very bright economics student at Oxford and Harvard. Gordon Brown hadn’t.

There are quite a lot of very bright economics students at Oxford and Harvard. There is only one GOD.

Journalists give the credit for Labour’s economic policy 1994-2010 to Gordon Brown, but journalists often write or broadcast what they’re told if it makes a good story to suit a political objective. We have no trouble believing that Tony Blair knew nothing about economics. Why do we believe that Gordon Brown did?

Ask yourself that, and each time you look for an answer, you come back to GOD. GOD, who undoubtedly could argue an economic case, in the UK and on the world stage. GOD, who had command of all the troops. And not just the economists. By 2005, Sir Gus was Cabinet Secretary. He was head of the whole home civil service. He was GOD. He still is.

In fifty years time, will historians include Sir Gus O’Donnell along with Gordon Brown and Ed Balls in the team that caused a generation’s-worth of damage to the British economy? Will the honours be shared? Or will Brown and Balls look like minor players, like most politicians in government, manipulated by a disproportionately powerful and consistently incompetent Whitehall? Have we been looking under the wrong stone? Will it by then be GOD's bust alone?

Whose bust is it anyway?

In 1970, when Augustine Thomas O’Donnell started his economics degree at Warwick, Ed Balls was three years old.