“For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible”
Regardless of Party or big-issue policy debate, we need better domestic government. Aside from its ordering of civil society it needs to look to the design of its own management, process and delivery. Politicians, capable of radical thought but not radical action, are helpless in the face of a civil service that can be reluctant or inept and wrongly skilled. At least one 72 year-old body of professionalism, Operational Research, seems still beyond their ken.
Here are just seven compelling pieces of evidence:
- ”This is the big dirty secret that politicians scarcely talk about, an all-party fact of life. The machinery of government is breaking down. Nobody knows what to do about it” (former government special adviser in three departments of state Katherine Raymond, Sunday Times, 28th may 2006)
- The extreme complexity of the over-engineered taxation system is evidenced by the unwieldy length of the annually updated official Tolley guide (the page count nearly doubled in 6 years recently to over 10,500 (larger print equivalent)). Also the individual taxpayer is denied an answer to the question “where has all the money gone ?”.
- In 2012 HM government produced its first-ever proper and consolidated annual accounts, but with a qualified audit report. Apart from what they contained, some of which was bad enough, they took 16 years in gestation, and another 20 months to publication date after the event. The late evolution and execrable performance standard characterises a Treasury failing a nation in dire need of financial management.
- The local government funding system does not allow real local control and accountability. Many abortive or tinkering attempts over decades to resolve its contradictions and ‘Heath Robinson’ machinery, have been money down the drain. Similar remarks apply as in 3 to the failure cleanly to resolve the local and central divide in decision competences, and given the existence of more modern money seeking and financial management concepts. (My personal diagnosis was developed during close experience of the ‘many attempts’, coupled with relevant experience in a UK conglomerate with global reach, small HQ, sophisticated non-interfering management and key figure financial control).
- The announcement of an academy for training senior civil servants eg in big project management is long overdue and comes only now in 2012.
- Over-use of legislation as the instrument to solve operational problems (alluding to remarks by recently retired Head of the Civil Service, Lord O’Donnell). Red-tape is spawned, creativity and personal responsibility inhibited yet overpaid for limited risk.
- Evidence for proper public accountability is absent. Government excuses itself from disciplines that it legislates for compliance by others. The once only Annual Report for 1999-2000 released on to the high street, was presumably thought too brave an idea.
That no progress has been made is amply evidenced by continuing media reports of red-tape and lethargic bureaucracy over many years. The language is almost word for word unchanged. One exception to this thanks largely to the TaxPayers Alliance, is that money is now recognised as deriving from taxpayers rather than being a different currency called “government money”.
The solution lies in:
- The establishment of a small System Architect’s Department of State headed by a ‘Chief Engineer’ for the ‘Ship of State’, to give intelligent design impetus to all machinery and processes.
- The Crown appointment of a person of Beeching-like strength to head a ‘polaris’ project for the simplification of tax and reduction in number of the different levies. Re-stated primary objectives for taxation as a whole, and implementation-ready end-date would be established before commencement of project planning.
- Attention to financial discipline as called for by the National Audit Office
- Implementation of a new local funding system as offered personally to Sir Michael Lyons in 2005, and others, which would resolve the anomalies described in 4 above, This would be simple to implement without conflicting with 2 above.(The Local Government Select Committee’s consideration in 2006-07 included evidence submitted by me (ev111) which was clearly reflected in the conclusion drawn that a return to the drawing board was necessary. This was ignored by government.)
- Delivery of timely narrative audited annual reports to discharge accountability (for public money). This with 6 below will be transformational.
- Provision to individual citizens of a tax share statement or calculator, linked to the national accounts, and printed on the back of existing documentation such as coding notices and council tax invoices.
Peter Webb 17th February 2012