Monday, May 29, 2006

Why should ministers pay the price for incompetence?

John ReidJackie Ashley thinks that the Civil Service needs to take greater responsibility for operational cock-ups:

There desperately needs to be a change in the rules of the game. The days when the civil service was a badly paid, understaffed operation are long gone. The people in charge of major departments are well-paid managers with excellent pensions and job security. Why shouldn't they bear responsibility when things go wrong? Everybody else does. If a journalist makes a mistake, she doesn't expect the editor to be sacked. If a shop manager loses billing information, the chief executive doesn't resign.

It's interesting to ponder a regular wholesale change at the top of the Civil Service with political appointees brought in by each new government, as happens in the US. That process of course is not perfect, with the danger of the appointment of cronies such as Michael "You're doing a great job" Brown (the head of FEMA whilst New Orleans sank beneath the waves).

A wider point is that the UK government is so enormous and therefore unwieldy (accounting for 60-70% of spending in some of the UK's regions) that it is effectively impossible to manage competently. Returning power to local authorities and individuals would be more likely to produce an improvement than the cronification of the Permanent Secretariat.

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