HS2 Boss Resigns Following Contract Fiasco

HS2 has announced the departure of its Director-General following the £170 million cancelled contract debacle. David Prout, the civil servant who had overall responsibility for the entire project for the last four years, has resigned and will take up a position at Oxford University in September. A major blow…

Guido also understands the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport, Philip Rutnam, is leaving. He will join the Home Office. The man in charge of HS2 is out, and the most senior DfT mandarin is off too. Problems growing for HS2 ahead of what will be a fiery Transport questions for Chris Grayling this morning…

80% of State Bureaucrats Will be Replaced by Robots

Britain’s bloated public sector could save £4 billion-a-year over the next 15 years by replacing 250,000 human civil servants with more efficient robots, according to a study by the wonks at Reform. Chat bots and other web AI could all but wipe out administrative roles, while drones and robots will take over policing and medicine. This would streamline the sector to its essential human core: the 20% of strategy-setting top minds. Reform said the changes would mean:

“The NHS, for example, can focus on the highest risk patients, reducing unnecessary hospital admissions. UK police and other emergency services are already using data to predict areas of greatest risk from burglary and fire.”

Robots – in the form of AI driven software agents – also have the advantage of not going on strike and making fewer mistakes than humans in critical processes. Today’s study is the latest in a slew of similar reports: Oxford University predicted 850,000 jobs could go to robots. The data-driven, automated public sector would wipe out the government’s budget deficit…

Government Cake Tsar is Labour Sponge-Lover

The killjoy civil servant behind the Whitehall anti-cake edict can be revealed as a Labour-supporting dessert aficionado. Despite warning her colleagues to refrain from sugary treats, Liza Pawlowska has proudly posted social media snaps showing a large, half-eaten sponge cake topped with whipped cream, and another of a tray of sausage rolls. She also displays her support for Remain campaigners Labour in for Britain. While unashamedly flaunting her love of cake online, Pawlowska warned her colleagues “to be more mindful… of those who have difficulty resisting“. She really is trying to have her cake and eat it…

Civil Servants Asked Not to Take Cake to Office Because It’s a “Public Health Hazard”

Civil servants have been asked not to bring cake into work because it could be a “public health hazard” to “those who have difficulty resisting”. The Civil Service Twitter account this morning asked: “Could your office cake culture be a public health hazard?”, linking to a post on the official Civil Service blog by a member of the Treasury’s “Wellbeing Workstream”, asking colleagues to be “mindful” of the snacks they bring to work:

I do think we need to be more mindful of what is on offer in the office (not just during Ramadan), and of those who may suffer from or be susceptible to diabetes, of those who have difficulty resisting, or of simply not putting a spanner in the works of your colleague’s New Year’s resolution.”

The article goes on to say civil servants can bring cake in to the office “every once in a while”, but adds “perhaps the treats shouldn’t always be of the processed or sugary variety”. Ironic that this warning about bloated civil service fat cats perfectly highlights the problem of bloated civil service fat cats…

BEIS Civil Servants Forced to Embrace Brexit

leave

Yesterday Guido revealed how civil servants at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy had sent out a press release discussing what will happen “if the UK leaves the EU”. Well, the press release has now been updated to end the uncertainty and make clear there is no “if” about Brexit. Did Downing Street have another word with Sir Humphrey? 

Sir Humphrey Keeps Forgetting Brexit Means Brexit

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-23-30-15

Shortly after Theresa May became Prime Minister, her team stressed to the overwhelmingly Remain-supporting civil service that Brexit must be at the centre of all decision-making, that there must be no equivocation: we are leaving the EU. Panjandrums were told they must include a commitment to Brexit in all of their “write rounds”, the regular Whitehall memos circulated to ministers, sub-committees, the PM and the Cabinet Secretary. Alas, Europhile mandarins have defied this order, repeatedly omitting the Brexit commitment. Forgetfulness or a vain act of dissent? Downing Street are taking no chances – whenever they receive one of these incomplete write rounds from civil service Remainers they add the words “We are leaving the European Union” and send it back, reminding the sore loser responsible of their duties. “You will remember next time, won’t you Humphrey?” “Yes, Prime Minister…”

Victoria’s Secret Lingerie and 5 Star Hotels: Welsh Govt’s £7.5 Million Credit Card Spend

VICTORIAS SECRET

The Welsh government spent £7,508,490.17 of taxpayers’ money on credit card transactions over the last Assembly, including purchases from lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret, iTunes subscriptions, Yachtwear, and items from IKEA, as well as stays in luxury five star hotels. A Freedom of Information response reveals that in total, ministers and civil servants spent an average of £1.5 million a year, with an average spend of £5,893.50 per card last year alone – more than double the UK average.

Expenses cleared on the cards included:

  • £103.91 at Victoria’s Secret, whose website describes the brand as having “The world’s best bras. The sexiest lingerie. The most beautiful Supermodels.”
  • £377.31 on iTunes subscriptions.
  • £370.70 on Yachtwear from high-end provider Yachtshop.
  • £2191.43 at IKEA, and a further £279.90 at Toys R Us.

Luxury hotel trips were also thrown in, including £1,450.76 on the £313 per night (cheapest room) on the five star Hotel New Otani, and £9043.79 on the five star Raffles, Beijing. They even totted up 842.99 on a jolly in Cannes which included bills for the four star Hotel Belle Plage and the prestigious beachfront restaurant Plage le Goeland. Most amusing of all is the officials’ £1569.10 expenditure on Welsh Cakes, including a single spend of £808.35. Living it up while the Welsh NHS collapses. They’ve literally had their cake and eaten it…

Amber Rudd’s £1.3 Million Bonus Bill

DECC logo bonus bung

You’d think after a year of subsidy slicing, the Department for Energy and Climate Change would run a very tight ship. Not so…

New figures show Amber Rudd’s department blew a total of £1,299,729 on “Non-consolidated performance related payments”, aka bonuses, in 2014-15. A whopping £284,586 was earmarked for just 108 “Senior Civil Servants”, meaning these departmental mandarins hooked themselves a median average of £9,800, with some payouts going as high as an austerity-busting £14,700. This is despite an average salary of £109,490 per year. The average private sector bonus for UK workers last year was just £1,500…

Don’t Bother Cummings! Vote Leave Uninvited From Civil Service Summit

DOMINIC

Guido has been passed a very amusing email chain showing how the civil service uninvited Vote Leave’s campaign director to give a talk about the referendum. The civil service had asked Vote Leave for a representative to speak to fast-trackers about Europe next month:

From: Thomas Barker, Civil servant
Subject: Invitation to EU conference
To: Vote Leave

I’m writing on behalf of a group of civil servants organising a conference for early February 2016. We would like to invite you, as a principle actor in the referendum debate, to take part in a discussion on the UK membership of the EU.

Vote Leave happily accepted the offer, and put forward Dom Cummings to speak on their behalf:

From: Vote Leave
Subject: Re: Invitation to EU conference
To: Thomas Barker, Civil servant

I have spoken to Matthew and our campaign director, Dominic Cummings, and they feel that – having worked in government before – Dominic would be better suited to address the leadership conference. Dominic would be delighted to participate on 9th February from approximately 4-5.30pm. I trust this is ok.

All sorted, then?

Alas not. For some strange reason, the civil servant then replied apologetically explaining that, actually, they had suddenly changed their programme and thus wouldn’t be needing Dom’s input after all:

From: Thomas Barker, Civil servant
Subject: Re: Invitation to EU conference
To: Vote Leave

Thank you for your offer to have Dominic Cummings participate in our panel discussion, following my invitation to Matthew Elliot in December. I’m conscious of Dominic’s seniority and so particularly grateful for the offer.

As the programme for the two days of the conference has come together in recent weeks, and taking on board feedback from ticket holders, we have decided to change our programme slightly. While the referendum is of interest, the organising team have decided that the programme for day one should more clearly deal with the history, context and procedural issues associated with the European institutions. This would then set the scene more clearly for day two where we will focus on specific areas of policy.

Given that we will now not have a referendum focused panel session I am writing to let you know that we can release Dominic from his obligation to speak.

I apologise for any inconvenience this change causes and not being able to get back to you sooner,

Tom

Why could the civil service possibly not want to hear what Cummings had to say? Surely nothing to do with his multiple highly scathing criticisms of… the civil service. They don’t want to hear the truth…

Mandarins Given New Labour Holiday Reading List

Bored civil servants have been handed a helpful memo on how to fill up their time until a new government has been selected by those pesky voters:

The bit that really caught Guido’s eye was the pen pushers’ idea of “a range” of recommended reading on governmental matters:

· Michael Barber, ‘How to run a Government’
· Tony Blair, ‘A journey’
· Alastair Campbell, ‘The Blair years: extracts from the Alastair Campbell diaries’
· Anthony King and Ivor Crewe, ‘The blunders of our governments’
· Damian McBride, ‘Power Trip: a decade of policy, plots and spin’
· Chris Mullin, ‘A view from the foothills: the Chris Mullin diaries’

Hardly an impartial list…

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 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…

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.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner:

“We have no plans to write off existing student debt.”

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