Tuesday, August 19, 2014

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…

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

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…

Monday, March 31, 2014

£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.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

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.

 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

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.

Friday, September 6, 2013

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…

Thursday, September 5, 2013

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 two cents out before the rumours spread of an imminent Labour reshuffle:

“The truth is finally out. Universal Credit is a titanic-sized IT disaster which Iain Duncan Smith has tried to hide with cover up after cover up. Mr Duncan Smith swore blind this benefit shake-up was fine. Now we learn he has completely lost control of his department at a potential cost of hundreds of millions of pounds.  It is now mission critical that David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith swallow their pride and agree to the cross party talks we proposed in the summer. We cannot risk another day.”

A DWP source hits back, telling Guido:

“Byrne’s offer of cross party talks is laughable. After Labour’s tax credits fiasco £2.8bn of taxpayers money was written off and £13bn for their NHS IT system. I really don’t think we need Labour’s help or advice. The point is Iain has actually learnt from Labour’s mistakes and he is prepared to be flexible and change timetables along the way – even though that means Labour will go to the papers to carp about ‘delays’. Surely doggedly sticking to the exact same path you set out on 3 years ago in a bid to avoid tough decisions and negative headlines is the wrong thing to do and he should be applauded for doing the right thing?”

Sources claim that though there have been problems with Universal Credit, especially given its scale, the report is historic and does not suggest that these are problems happening any more. ‘Nowhere in the report does it say we’ll not meet our 2017 end point. That is what we’re working to and we’re still very much within budget.’ As Byrne and IDS square up the blame game shifts elsewhere. Guido understands 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. It’s going to be a very rocky ride for DWP Permanent Secretary Robert Devereux when he faces the Public Accounts Committee next week…

Friday, July 12, 2013

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. His ill-advised Thatcher tribute that drew accusations of “prostituting high office” went down spectacularly badly as well. Then there was his decision to take away two privilege days – where civil servants get extra days off in addition to bank holidays – and add them to their leave. Just the sort of thing to test Number 10’s patience a step too far…

UPDATE:

Friday, June 28, 2013

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”. Which is all well and good apart from the fact that awkwardly for Sue, Philip Hammond then announced an “innovative deal” between the MoD and the Cabinet Office to centralise procurement, in this mesmerising grey-on-grey video. The Ministry literally in charge of tanks inviting Maude’s tanks onto its lawn then. Mis-fire!


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