LISTEN: Former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell Calls HS2 a “White Elephant” That Should Never Have Been Approved

Following yesterday’s publication of Michael Gove’s merit-based Civil Service reforms, former Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell has responded by claiming the report still won’t stop the approval of “white elephant” projects like HS2, and laid into the government for focusing on “the delivery of targets that miss the point” of achieving optimal outcomes.

Speaking on the Institute for Government Live podcast, O’Donnell said:

How do we stop someone approving HS2 when on the basis of cost estimates that everyone knows is wildly optimistic…this document is quite heavy on the responsible owner part, which I think is a good thing, but you can be the responsible owner but can be dealing with a project that should never have gotten started. And my god, we end up with some big white elephants…

Guido’s inclined to agree

O’Donnell’s also on the money when it comes to government targets. Too often Ministers prioritise input rather than outcomes – like upping the number of police officers rather than trying to reduce crime stats – which, as the Institute for Government’s own report shows, “can create a culture of compliance that discourages innovation and prevents adequate services from excelling“. Gove’s reforms are a start, though there’s still clearly a way to go…

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