GOD Delusion: Pampered Panjandrum Strikes Back

There’s a punchy interview with the departed head of the civil service Gus O’Donnell on the front page of the Indy. The former Cabinet Office bigwig has settled a few old scores with ‘out of touch’ ministers:

“There are still a few out there [who say:] ‘We send our kids to public schools, we have private health care, we travel by car or chauffeur, we don’t go on public transport… There are unfortunately too many people in politics who just don’t get it; who just don’t understand what life on benefits would be like… we need to really care about public services”.

While Guido likes GOD’s idea for primaries, it would be remiss for him not to point out that Gus sent his own daughter Kirsty to Alleyn’s, the private school in Dulwich. He also enjoyed the spoils of the Government Car Pool chauffeur service when in office, and was on a higher salary (and pension) than the PM. Just sayin’… 

Homer’s Odyssey

As the government try to blame Labour and Labour forget they were ever in government, one element of the £224 million Raytheon row is the role of Lin Homer. As regular readers will remember, this is just the latest in a string of successes for the £180,000 a year civil servant, who first hit the headlines in Birmingham with electoral practices “that would disgrace a banana republic.” Then on to positions running immigration where her “catastrophic leadership failure” resulted in a £20,000 performance bonus and a move to Transport. There a disastrous franchise letting process, that cost taxpayers £100 million, qualified her for the biggest executive job in the civil service – collecting the nation’s taxes as head of HMRC. Last year her response to a critical PAC report was described as “woefully inadequate”. Keith Vaz says he will be haul Homer in front of his committee to ask how and “why she sanctioned such a defective agreement”. The warning signs were there…

All Gov Attacks on Labour Sums Must Be Cleared By Treasury

Sir Nicholas Macpherson, the Treasury PermSec, has fired the official starting gun on election season in a letter to Civil Service chief Sir Bob Kerslake. From now until May 2015, any government costing of an opposition policy will have to be signed off by the Treasury and pre-notification of the announcement will have to be given to Labour:

“I have personally committed to sign off all costings before they are provided to Ministers of Special Advisers for public use. Therefore, I would ask that the relevant permanent secretary’s office contact my office as soon as possible if officials in your department are commissioned to cost an opposition policy. They will be able to advise on the correct procedures to follow and the necessary clearances. 

I have also made a personal commitment to the Shadow Chancellor and the Shadow Chief Secretary to give them advance notice of the publication or release of any costing, in line with a similar agreement made to the Conservative party in 2009. This includes any briefing to the press or parliamentary questions. I take this personal commitment very seriously and therefore would ask that you also notify my office at the earliest opportunity if your department receives any FOI requests or Parliamentary Questions that could lead to the release of a costing. You should also be aware, and may wish to make your staff aware, that there are no exemptions under the FOI act which prevent us from releasing a completed opposition costing.”

Government SpAds are kicking off this afternoon, arguing that every time they brief the press about opposition’s spending plans they’re expected to phone up and seek civil service blessing. Though Treasury sources play down the significance of the move, suggesting that the Labour will simply be told it’s happening with no room for them to complain. It would help if they actually had some policies to cost…

£9m Bill for Whitehall Life Coaching

The faceless bureaucrats of Her Majesty’s civil service are the people really in charge of the country, so it’s a tad worrying that they’ve been sent on courses such as ‘Economics for Non-Economists’, ‘Enhancing Your Credibility’ and, particularly appropriate for working in this government, ‘Presenting Difficult Messages’. Sir Humphreys can learn how to ‘Be the Leader You Can Be’, not to mention ‘Going the Extra Mile’ and ‘Navigating the Leadership Labyrinth’. Though penny pinching mandarins could surely do without being trained in ‘Using Social Media’ and ‘Diversity and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Awareness’. If it all doesn’t work out at the end of the day, at least there’s the ‘Getting a New Job’ class to help the men and women in grey suits move on. Obviously the £9 million a year price tag for all this training is on us.

The GOD Delusion

Gus O’Donnell will bore anyone willing to listen about why the Civil Service is the greatest thing in the world, but his latest attempt at a power-grab should be given a wider audience. GOD wants MPs to meet “pre-qualification criteria” before being allowed to stand. Obviously this would involve GOD’s beloved mandarins. What we have here is a former civil servant so convinced of his righteousness and so native in his thinking that genuinely believes that his beloved pen-pushers are superior to the voting public. The electorate is too stupid, in his view, to elect MPs desirable to the permanent representation, so they need to be hand-held into making the right choice. Back off.

What GOD’s intervention really highlights is the need for Civil Servants to meet “pre-qualification criteria”. As Douglas Carswell points out over at the Telegraph“Rather than Gus’s idea of civil servants vetting MPs, MPs need to hold confirmation hearings for the appointment of senior civil servants. And, indeed, ministers.” Time to remind these miniature Whitehall megalomaniacs who they really work for.

Another Do’h for Homer

Guido is looking forward to Lin Homer’s appearance in front of the Public Accounts Committee this afternoon. This £180,000 a year civil servant first hit the headlines in Birmingham with electoral practices “that would disgrace a banana republic.” Thence to positions running immigration where her “catastrophic leadership failure” resulted in a £20,000 performance bonus and a move to Transport where a disastrous franchise letting process costing £100m qualified her for the biggest executive job in the civil service – collecting the nation’s taxes as head of HMRC. Here, her “woefully inadequate” response earlier this year to a critical report was noted by the Public Accounts Committee. Next episode begins at 2.30.

 

Margaret Hodge and Streamlined Benefit Payments

Another day and another chance for Margaret Hodge to enjoy some prime-time grilling at the Public Accounts Committee. Today it is the turn of DWP Permanent Secretary Robert Devereux, who is set to be hauled over the coals over Universal Credit. Deveraux’s career rests on whether he can explain why he signed off £34 million on abandoned IT systems and disprove allegations that he oversaw a culture of secrecy at his department that stopped civil servants giving politicians the whole picture. Fingers are being pointed at the mandarin, though Labour are adamant that IDS should be blamed instead. 

Hodge would be wise to remember that her party had problems of their own in government when it comes to benefit reform. In 2006 they cancelled a similar plan to streamline payments through the Benefits Processing Replacement Programme, but only after they had spent £140 million on IT for this “key strategic initiative”. They later had to admit they had somehow managed to spend another £10 million on it after the programme had been cancelled. So who was the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform at the time? Step forward Margaret Hodge.

Knives Sharpen For DWP Permanent Secretary

On Wednesday night Guido revealed that IDS himself had to launch his own investigation into Universal Credit after he suspected the civil service were not giving him the whole picture. Yesterday, little was left to the imagination over who DWP blames for the NAO’s description of a ‘fortress mentality’ and ‘good news culture’ – the civil service. Fingers are being pointed all over the place at DWP Permanent Secretary Robert Devereux, particularly in the Telegraph with Isabel Hardman quoting a Cabinet source putting the boot in:

“You have a permanent secretary who seemed not to know what he was doing and was not willing to admit it, appallingly badly negotiated contracts with suppliers, which you would not expect, and if ministers want to crawl all over that, then there would be a lot of criticism that they should leave it to the civil servants.”

Another ‘observer’ points out “If he had an ounce of shame he should have departed some time ago.” With both Mark Thompson and Devereux up next week, the Public Accounts Committee could be a bloodbath…

War of Words on Universal Credit

The National Audit Office has given IDS’s flagship Universal Credit policy two barrels this morning. It concludes that £34 million has been wasted so far due to ‘weak management and poor governance’. Liam Byrne managed to get his embargoed […]

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Dave Wants Sir Bob Kerslake Out

Looks like the PM has had enough of his panjandrum-in-chief Bob Kerslake. Sir Bob has been a constant brake on Civil Service reform, blocking Francis Maude’s attempts to give Secretaries of State greater powers to hire and fire Permanent Secretaries. […]

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Mandarin’s Mouthpiece Tanks

Sue Cameron’s unrivalled sources were adamant last week, telling the civil service toady that “at least two ministers” have written to Francis Maude “telling him to get his tanks off their lawns when it comes to centralising procurement”. […]

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Whitehall Really Does Waste 7 Minutes Starting Computers

Sue Cameron, the civil service toady, is quick to attack anyone that has the temerity to question her darling mandarins. Last week she put the boot into Stephen Kelly, the former FTSE 100 exec turned UK Government Chief Operating Officer:[…]

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