Thursday, 19 February 2015

VOTER ENGAGEMENT and ACCOUNTABILITY

This is the third submission to the POLITICAL AND CONSTITUTIONAL INQUIRY
By Peter Webb, FCA retired, Romilly Cottage, 139 Binscombe Godalming Surrey GU7 3QL, 01483 425385; peter@pgwebb.com following the
REPORT ON VOTER ENGAGEMENT IN UK
It follows Edward Faulkner’s personal invitation by email dated 23rd December 2014 which admitted that transparency and accountability of government are not issues the Committee considered to a great extent in their interim report.

THE STORY SO FAR
1.    The Report discovers
·  Lack of belief in the meaning of elections as they are presented.
·  Poor voter turnout is not due to apathy but lack of awareness and information on which to vote.
·   Dissatisfaction with politicians, political parties and UK politics”. 
My first and second submissions give my status and qualification. This one amplifies analysis and known solutions.

2.  Firstly we can conclude that government fails to service voters in the established way of doing things but which it nevertheless expects from those subject to its laws and good practice. A cause would seem to be tardy evolution of governance during growing prosperity allowing lack of stringency. The archaic Treasury is the weakest link (paragraph 34), with the top civil service need of re-skilling and reform dependent in turn on enlightened and insightful political leadership direction. This paper proceeds in logical sequence through the Report’s findings above and concludes with an illustrative parable with “guidance notes”.

BELIEF AND MEANING
3.  I will vote for “none of the above” while my vote can be taken to legitimize government by ‘secret society’ with its risks of totalitarianism. Rights of association and networking notwithstanding Democracy is not served by an organised and disciplined political party  populating Parliament and  organs of the State when it is not itself accountable, and is unconcerned about governance and managerial competence.

4.  We the people are now the paramount authority as ‘shareholders’. This has not always been the case. To choose or support someone with our precious vote we need assured information. This needs consideration of the ‘by whom, to whom, for what and how’ of accountability.

5.  Constitutional and operational evolution has not kept pace in that there is no complete organogram for the hierarchy of accountability, direction and feedback (cf European and UK audit failure). That condition persists with fiscal discipline being seen apparently as an optional choice rather than a necessity. Antiquated accounting means that domestic government is ill-equipped for control, forward planning, policy formation and implementation

6.  A very current piece of evidence is the survey by ICAEW and PwC of 10,000 Europeans finding that only one in five feel that their government provides them with sufficient information about the state of public finances. “There is a wide crisis of confidence …in their governments’ ability to manage public finances, 70% wanted more action ….to reduce the debts of their countries”. There is little understanding among the general public and “despite the introduction of whole of government accounts” UK came fourth in that regard.

ENGAGEMENT
7.  Having placed voters within geographical and/or constitutional boundaries and located them then if engagement is to happen it is necessary to, well……engage. This means addressing them with a question supported by facts and inviting an answer or result.

8.  For this purpose these are three types of question:
·                   That seeking a specific single answer such as “do you wish for Scottish independence, yes or no?”
·                   That seeking periodic approval and democratic renewal such as “do you approve of what we have done and do you authorise my/our continuation in office?” Note that it is easy to stipulate that abstention is to be either a vote of confidence, or not, once notice is given and received.
·                   That seeking support for system change such as “do you wish to vote for X or Y for the new position of Police Commissioner?” Comment: it is reasonable to ask what difference that change makes beyond needing more support bureaucracy, and bearing in mind that no change in accountability has taken place only it’s routing within an overall but disorganised hierarchy.

LACK OF AWARENESS
9.  People will be unaware unless their attention is sought. Proper NOTICE with purposeful agenda is missing. Fulfilment by posted voting card might be sufficient constructive communication if expanded to state:
§     In a sentence what we are summoned/invited to vote for as well as who.
§     A list of official documentation given in evidence. 
§     Hard copy pick up points (and cover price?) and electronic links for downloading.
§     Personal CVs including such as political Party affiliation could be included in this process. 

10.                      Suggested wording, having defined who is accountable to whom in the total government hierarchy is as follows: “I am the appointed/elected leader of your xxxxxx. Here for each of our entitled recipients is our formal Report on how we have performed on our planned objectives outlined a year ago, including facts and disclosures required by law and best practice and with statements  about the outlook and immediate plans”. Then for elected bodies:  “At the forthcoming election on xxxx you are invited to elect a candidate to represent you. In so doing, or placing your X in the box “none of the above”, you will be indicating approval or otherwise of the content of the Report and authorising continuation, or otherwise”.

INFORMATION ON WHICH TO VOTE
11.                      See above and below. For elections for democratic approval and renewal the conventional prime functioning document is the Annual Report which is already defined by government for government use. Its timeliness is important with each day of delay in publication to addressees wastefully reducing its value. It makes no sense for local Annual Reports, when produced, for the period ending before the election to become available weeks after the election.

DIS-SATISFACTION WITH POLITICS
12.                      That may extend to the outdated nature of domestic public decision-making, organisational and reporting hierarchy and formal communications. If a politician’s wish for “vibrant (local) democracy” means passionate but poorly informed argument without executive conclusion then it needs to be challenged.

13.                      There is undoubtedly mistrust now of the ‘Establishment’ by the people. Communicated information of a trustworthy and politically unspun nature would help alleviate this. Real mistrust is engendered by the example at paragraph 32.

14.                      It is also noticeable that much duplication and wasteful activity is built in to the system in order to protect us from politics. A perfect example is the creation of the “independent” OBR (Office of Budget Responsibility) to by-pass an archaic and demonstrably deficient Treasury. Another example of muddled thinking is given at paragraph 33.

15.                      The question, for your Committee perhaps, is whether politics is now fit for purpose for decision-making and control. If “all is politics” as the air we breathe then we should move on and think managerially. We understand that limited resource allocation is difficult but inconclusive partisan argument is wasteful of time, effort and money. Perhaps government now needs its own professional leadership cadre.

16.                      Belief in elections can be restored by the above measures and adaptation to them because feedback, if formalised, would suggest evolutionary amendments to the process and of course to the quality of governance. These are surely ongoing concerns for your Committee? The Ship of State has no Chief Engineer – Systems.

THE PARABLE OF THE SAFARI PARK
17.                      There is a giant safari park in this country. It contains prehistoric animals (political governors) attended by primitive tribes (Party people), still hard-wired for killing strangers from the other side of the forest, led by Chief Ponzi and Chief Madoff. There are guides and invisible in the background are groundsmen and servants (civil servants). Visitors and sightseers are welcome on pain of taxation.

18.                      Every so often visitors can assemble in the clearing to watch and pretend to take part in a Ritual (election). Formalised games are played and a tribesman is chosen as winner according to the colour of the adornment they wear. Some wear red feathers round their waist, some blue feathers in their headdress. Why? Its origin is lost but it is fun.

19.                      A visitor asks “how do they know when to assemble for the Ritual?“  A great cry goes up from the governors in their long house which tribespeople just know is The Call. They wait for the sun to rise seven times and on the 8th day they come together.” Came the day when dawn was inconvenient so they all stood about until the sun’s shadow was at its shortest.

20.                      It was thanks to a visitor (the man from the Taxpayers Alliance) that they were introduced to the idea of the clock. So now they have all been presented with a little bag full of tiny metal shapes and pieces of glinting gem-like things (spending details on line). This they were assured would tell the time and keep them amused and be a great step forward for mankind. But it didn’t, it didn’t, and it wasn’t.

21.                      The governors hit on the idea of rule by TLA (three letter acronym) and changed the Counting House to the OBI (Office of Budget Irresponsibility)(Treasury).

22.                      The Governors were troubled when their people grew up, became restless and began to ask questions. “What do you do that we should dance for you and bow down in the ritual? “ “What happened to those promises made earlier?” “Why is your music not rhythmic and harmonious (method and systems)?” “What do you do with the tax money?” “How is it that the water (money) hole is empty?” “We’ve done the rain dance (the economy) for you and we’re knackered.” “Why should we vote for you again?”

23.                      On the verge of extinction the governors heard at the back of the group of tourists the words “what you must do is to prepare for the Ritual with a nourishing feast (Annual Report) that will satisfy all those hungry questions!” But they weren’t listening because busy trying to work out why the clock pieces wouldn’t tell the time: they debated what the time might be without executive conclusion; the economists looked for statistical correlations between the metal shapes and gem-like things inside the clock-case; and the Party people believed they knew best what the time was. The accountants assembled the clock, waited to be asked what the time was and why it wasn’t something else, and announce what it would be 10 minutes hence and whether that would be a good time to dance. A tiny group in the Counting House were not allowed to simplify tax because someone believed complexity to be job-creating and necessary for “fairness” of punishment.

EXPLANATORY NOTES FOR GUIDES (Comment and explanation)
24.                      It seems to be outside government’s mind-set to deal in information communicated for a purpose when it comes to its democratic responsibilities to its citizens for stewardship, service performance, and explanation of managerial objectives and so on, and electoral renewal.

25.                      Politicians piously profess transparency and open government. But that is a qualitative attitude and passive. It too often means only access to lifeless and historical mass data. It has no primary operational point, only secondary availability for academic research or statistical purpose.


26.                      Accountability on the other hand, which is professed but not practiced by government, is an act of discharge or formal process for a purpose. It is for a chairman, leader, group leader or other proposer to support with evidence and organised data the formation of policy and operational decision. That embraces the total management control system and also democratic discharge and renewal. At root is the transaction which once executed is not informative in isolation. All the Authorities, laws, customs and so on have long defined and prescribed how constitutionally governed bodies should go about this, pulsing annually. Government exempts itself.

27.                        Electoral periodicity does not align with all other connecting ‘heartbeats’, for Parliament, reporting, budgeting and accounting and so on which are usually annual. Moreover untimely information grows misleading and wasteful by the day. Examples are WGAs (Whole of Government Accounts) and the inherently ridiculous performance of local authorities stated in 11 above.

28.                      According to correspondence via my MP Rt.Hon. Jeremy Hunt it is now ruled by the Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government that the Annual Report  should not be delivered because “unsolicited” nor should it coincide with elections to inform voters. Is the council tax invoice with its tax calculation detail unsolicited?

29.                      He goes on to say that “openness and transparency in decision-making is important. That is why Government has required councils to put details of their spending on-line.” “Council publicity must ensure that the public are kept informed, but must be proportionate and cost-effective”. But no data is ‘active’ for this purpose unless communicated. The detail of line by line spending is akin to the notch on stick method of counting which preceded the invention of the balance sheet in 1492 (does government know ?). It doesn’t inform and is therefore not cost-effective. Potholes don’t happen in parcels of £500 nor get filled by let alone costed as individual payments. Since 1492 accountancy has evolved as a tool in keeping with needs. Cost and Management Accounting (CIMA is the professional body) are terms still not yet much in evidence in the government lexicon.

30.                      There is much information and data which as voters we would be confused by and don’t need however “transparent” because we are not and cannot be the deciders and operational users.

31.                      Under current permissive law the Annual Report can be delivered electronically provided the entitled recipient has given consent. The document must include those matters and disclosures required by law such as senior pay scales and much more ( to government inexplicably a separate novelty), but can be split so that an abbreviated version becomes with links a gateway to the more detailed data.

32.                      As reported in the Telegraph on 31st December a Surrey local authority has admitted that six of its elected members have not paid their council tax for three years. Voters are not allowed to know who they are and judge the financial management competence risk  yet other non-payers are pursued even to the Courts.



33.                      A news report (27th December 2014) is revealing: “Town Halls must spend their £21bn stash, says Pickles” referring to the figure (£21bn) of reserves “produced by the Office of Budget Responsibility”. He is talking about reserves which are created by over-providing (in council tax) for expenditure in a later period (not many people know that….it is profit by another name). There are these implications:
·         The source of the information is the OBR whereas the Treasury is supposed to be the National Government’s Financial Department. The latter has only recently started proper Accounts the probable factual source.
·         He is interfering in and second-guessing local financial judgement for which he is not accountable to the local residents concerned.
·         These reserves in aggregate affect the amount of national debt and deficit yet he is not exercising strategic managerial leadership at the level of his Department’s overall responsibility, except accidentally.

34.                      It is by no means assured that current reform of the civil service recognises that the archaic Treasury is the weakest link.  Julian Kelly is the new Director General of public spending and finance and the Review of financial management in government is not yet in force. Mr Kelly is not apparently to be alongside the new Chief Executive John Manzoni in cabinet and the ICAEW (Chartered Accountants) says “.the appointment…does not go far enough”. What are his chances when:
·                One of our interviewees (of Anthony king and Ivor Crewe in 2013-14 The Blunders of our governments p309), after a long and wide ranging discussion, said there was one important issue we had not raised. “What was that ?” we asked. “The Treasury”, he replied. He blamed the Treasury for almost all of Britain’s ills dating back over many decades and wondered aloud why an organisation that had presided for so long over such poor economic performance was still held in such high esteem. The short answer may be that, at least within Whitehall it is less esteemed than feared.”
·                “The archaically named Treasury is demonstrably 50 years out of date, operationally illiterate and backward in its accounting and financial management” (Peter Webb to first Lord of Treasury 13th June 2013, Who will mend UK government ?)

35.                   Therefore the absence of an Annual Report to citizens time aligned for elections is a negligent omission on the part of out-of-date government as has been weak financial management. The manifesto and Queen’s speech commitment might usefully include actions for BETTER GOVERNMENT.


6th January 2015

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