Monday, January 14, 2013

 

Ministers and Mandarins in Coalition Clashes

The book written by Robert Hazell and his colleagues on how the Coalition works in practice was based on interviews with participants during the first 18 months of the administration. It reported all was going rather swimmingly within departments. Civil servants were succeeding in working with ministers from two very different parties and all was harmony and agreement throughout the whole gamut of Coalition activity.

Must confess I was a bit suspicious. All those arguments on welfare, AV, the Lords and that tiny little smidgeon of a disagreement: the EU and no problems? All that change mooted to conservative mandarins? Well it was only the first 18 months and civil servants never tell the truth when interviewed but slavishly default to the COI version of our democracy: elected masters and appointed civil servants. But today's Times takes the lid off what has really been going on.
  
The Time’s two page spread collated views from a wide range of luminaries including Tony Blair (advises Asian heads of government not to follow the British model), Andrew Adonis (‘We have a non expert civil service, characterised by very poor training’); Margaret Hodge (‘there’s a pervading sense that it is not their money…they escape responsibility’); Steve Hilton (‘When you try and make change happen, that’s not easy’); Jonathan Powell (‘The Civil Service is much too closed’)  and Peter Hennessy ( ‘There’s too much management speak. If the Sermon on the mount had been written in Whitehall, none of us would be Christian’).

The trigger for much of this occasionally bilious comment was the recent series of mistakes made over the West Coast Mainline Rail Franchise disaster, the errors made in the ‘omnishambles’ 20012 budget and other mishandlings like that of the ash die-back tree disease. And Sir Keremy Heywood- see above in midst of the Cabinet- scarcely impressed with his evidence on his investigation, at the PM's request into Plebgate; seems he scarcely moved a muscle to really find out what went on and his ignorance of all aspects of the case was astonishing.

The Coalition ministers worry that the reputation for incompetence such mistakes have given has tainted the administration unfairly as civil service shortcomings have mostly been to blame.

‘According to the goverment’s own figures’ says The Times, ‘only about a third of major projects have been delivered on time and to budget. Disagreements are simmering about the way in which Britain should b e run and the scale and speed of reform. A breach of trust has developed in some departments between ministers and mandarins.’   Lord (Peter)Hennessy, doyen of Whitehall watchers, said:

 ‘It’s as bad as I’ve ever known it. The governing marriage between th4e civil service and the politicians is in real trouble.’

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