Monday, 6 August 2012

The whiff of cordite in Whitehall 2

They spend about £700 billion of our money every year, much of it wasted. Whitehall's mandarins exercise the prerogatives previously reserved to Stuart kings. Their harlot power is jealously guarded, while all responsibility is taken by more or less hapless ministers. Challenges come and go. They're usually seen off, the politicians give up and we the public carry on paying.

You may as well know that the whiff is back, there is once again cordite in Whitehall. Francis Maude thinks that if ministers are to take responsibility, then they really ought to have some say in which officials manage the political initiatives and the associated budgets. The Guardian has the story – Ministers to be given say in civil service appraisals. So does Public Servant magazine – Ministers are to manage the Civil Service:
Maude's preference now is that ministers be involved in Civil Service appraisals and be given powers to hire and fire staff. And expert advice on how to ensure maximum efficiency should be sought from beyond Britain's shores if necessary.
Francis Maude v. the massed ranks of the senior civil service?

Good luck, Mr Maude.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Political will (if any) trounced by Dame Helen Ghosh and the Whitehall ancien régime

Trust the Home Office.

Last year's annual report and accounts to 31 March 2011 said that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) reduced its staff by about 1,900 during 2010-11 and planned to reduce it by a further 3,500 by 31 March 2015. These reductions would all be achieved by "efficiencies".

So there they were, dutifully implementing government policy, cutting staff.

Barclays (ouija) board says "non nein" to O'Donnell

According to Robert Peston, the BBC's chronicler of the credit crunch:
From my conversations with senior Barclays sources, I have learned there is a favoured candidate for each of its top vacancies.

The former head of the civil service, Lord O'Donnell, is the board of the bank's preferred choice as new chairman ...
Barclays faces the same problems as other banks at the moment – PPI, swaps, LIBOR, capital adequacy, maybe a bit of money-laundering thrown in, investigation by the US authorities, ... – with the added complication that it has to replace both its Chairman and its Chief Executive.

How likely is it that the board would choose as their new Chairman Sir-Gus-now-Lord O'Donnell, the architect of the credit crunch?

Saturday, 14 July 2012

The next Governor of the Bank of England

Who will succeed Sir Mervyn King as Governor of the Bank of England?

Way above DMossEsq's pay grade, this is the sort of question for which one turns for an answer to the Thunderer.

Camilla Cavendish, said in the Times on 12 July 2012, Wanted: one governor, two different skill sets:
Gus O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary and bookies’ favourite, would be a shrewd manager with Whitehall knowhow, but he would need a strong cabinet of deputy governors with commercial track records.
But according to the next day's leader, The Short List:
Lord O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary, has the economics but no commercial experience and surprisingly weak support in the Treasury.
Whitehall – SNAFU
What makes Ms Cavendish think he's a shrewd manager?

Whose bust is it anyway?
What makes the leader-writer think that the economics Lord O'Donnell "has" are the economics we need?

And why is his Treasury support weak?


12 August 2012: An unworthy suitor woos the Old Lady
  • Dominic Lawson considers the technocrat Adair "Widmerpool" Turner an unworthy suitor for the Bank of England, he doesn't mention Sir-Gus-now-Lord O'Donnell and trails the merits of Martin Taylor, sometime chief executive of Barclays
12 August 2012: Wanted: governor for wealthy Old Lady
  • "Many of those who could have done the job have now been tainted by scandal. Remaining applicants have been told the post will be advertised in the autumn in a number of publications and that they should register an official interest then."
18 August 2012: The next Governor
  • Adair Turner and Gus O'Donnell attract more flak, this time from the Spectator editorial, which floats the names of Glenn Stevens (Australia) and Alan Bollard (New Zealand). We might add – these names are not floated by the Spectator – Tim Congdon (England), Terry Smith (England) and John Moulton (England).

8 October 2012: O’Donnell withdraws from BoE race
  • "Gus O’Donnell, former cabinet secretary, has decided not to apply to become Bank of England governor, restricting the already short list of candidates for one of Britain’s most important public appointments."

  • Mark Carney has been named as the new governor of the Bank of England by Chancellor George Osborne ... Mr Carney, the governor of the Canadian central bank, will serve for five years and will hold new regulatory powers over banks.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Whither the accountability of civil servants?

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster was Cabinet Secretary between 1979 and 1987. He's the one who came up with the phrase "economical with the actualité" in connection with the Peter Wright/Spycatcher business.

Great wordsmith that he is, he's done it again – here's his vintage encapsulation of Whitehall wisdom, a gem, one to treasure, quoted in yesterday's TimesMandarins’ warning over Civil Service ‘politicisation’:
Lord Armstrong insisted that calling civil servants before committees to blame them for the failure of major projects would not accord with the principles of “natural justice”.

The Home Office – what do they do all day?

5 July 2005 – the UK wins the right to host the 2012 Olympics©®™. 12 July 2012, 2,564 days later, Olympic security contractor G4S told ministers only yesterday it could not fulfil brief:
On Monday, the Home Secretary assured the House of Commons that she was "confident" that the private company would be able to deliver out its commitments in full.

Labour accused the Home Office of presiding over a "shambles," after it emerged that 3,500 additional troops would now be needed to fill in for a shortfall in the number of security guards that G4S had been able to recruit.
We have had five Home Secretaries in the past seven years and they have a huge retinue of officials whose job it is to manage the arrangements for the Olympics including security.

Officials must have had the odd progress meeting with G4S. What else can they have done for the past 2,564 days? What did they discuss at these meetings? "Are the security arrangements all in place?" seems like one of the more obvious topics to broach. But no, if the headline above is to be believed, the Home Office only discovered the day before yesterday that there is a problem.

"The disgraceful state of public administration in the UK" – where have we seen that phrase before?

Monday, 9 July 2012

Francis Maude and the economies of scale

"A seven-year government efficiency programme has backfired and increased costs for the taxpayer by hundreds of millions of pounds, a public spending watchdog said ... Whitehall departments have spent £1.4 billion in an attempt to save £159  million by sharing "back-office" functions such as personnel and procurement ..." – Telegraph readers and followers of DMossEsq have known all about this since March.

Any 12 year-old management consultant can make the case that sharing services saves money. It stands to reason.

Except that it's not true.

And now the Public Accounts Committee have a few words of advice for Francis Maude and the Cabinet Office:
Committee chair Margaret Hodge said: "Shared service centres have failed to deliver the savings they should have. They cost £1.4bn to set up, £500m more than expected, and in some cases have actually cost the taxpayer more than they have saved. I welcome the Cabinet Office's ambitious new strategy for improving shared services. But unless it learns from the past it will end up making the same mistakes again."
Will Mr Maude listen to Parliament? Or to the agile 12 year-olds touting shared services in the G-Cloud?

Biometrics – don't ask, don't tell

Police forces all over the UK are introducing mobile fingerprint equipment. Result? Approximately 20% of the criminals who would otherwise have been taken down to the station will now be asked politely to go on their way. That's what we were saying back in May.

Don't ask
DMossEsq wrote to his MP asking about this matter. Would Nick Herbert, the policing minister, care to comment? Or the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA)? Could they explain why public money is being wasted on technology that doesn't work?

And thanks to his MP an answer has now come through from Chief Constable Nick Gargan, Chief Executive of NPIA.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

It's the way he tells 'em

Woody Allen: "This guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken. The doctor says, Well, why don’t you turn him in? And the guy says, I would but I need the eggs".

DMossEsq: "This permanent secretary goes to a politician and says, Minister, biometrics don't work. But we keep spending money on them. The politician says, Well, why don’t you lock up the cheque book? And the permanent secretary says, I would but I need an identity assurance system".

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

GreenInk 8 – LIBOR and Whitehall

Let's see if the Times publish this letter:
From: David Moss
Sent: 03 July 2012 19:05
To: ''
Subject: Roland Watson and Patrick Hosking, 3 July 2012, Brown and Balls to face grilling on bank scandal


Government policy, including the "light touch" regulation of the City, is designed partly by politicians and partly by Whitehall. Mr Tyrie's enquiry is due to take evidence from Messrs Brown and Balls. For completeness, it should also call as witnesses officials from HM Treasury, including Sir Gus, now Lord O'Donnell, who was permanent secretary at the Treasury before becoming Cabinet Secretary.

David Moss