*** Bonfire update ***
My attention has been drawn to the the Twitterfeed of the Secretary of State at CLG. Folks are bemused that Cabinet Ministers seem to think that claiming credit for the largest number of folks put out of a job is a good thing. Not much ‘cruel necessity’ about the CLG list they say.
So having stacked the useless quangos on the bonfire, poured on some petrol of verbal vitriol and tossed on the match politicians have now stepped back to admire the handiwork.
Up to yesterday thousands of public servants had thought, not without reason, that they had been doing work that the state needed to have done. But of course they, like me, were merely victims of a mass psychosis that gulled us all into thinking that. What of course we have all been doing is disgracefully frustrating the will of the sovereign people, wasting their money and whooping it up on terms and conditions that are thoroughly undeserved.
Now I am not daft enough to believe that everything in Quangoland or the public more generally was operating so well that some reform wouldn’t have been a good idea. Nor am I daft enough to think just because some politicians are venal, self-deluding narcissists with the humanity of a stoat that all politicians are like that. But it seems to me and other public servants I speak with that wholesale butchery like we saw yesterday is to reform as Strictly Come Dancing is to dance competitions – more informative in their differences than their similarities.
Many of us old hands at government reviews of this, that and the other thing chuckled a lot when the tests for assessing whether a quango should be retained were outlined. As with any piece of pseudo science – like a certain Chancellor’s Golden Rules – they were obviously designed ralgex-like for external rather than internal consumption. What was always going to trump any attempt at rationality was the WMD test.: What the Minister Decides.
Being on the inside of the developing cuts story has taught me some useful skills though. For example fact is malleable and truth is a squidgy thing like liquid soap. The whole experience has been thoroughly dispiriting and undermined the last, frail threads of belief I had in the integrity of key parts of our public life.
Many of us out here far away from the Neverland bubble in which policy decisions appear to be happening were struck by the shifting of the government’s ground yesterday on the reasons for the bonfire. In the programme for government it said that the number and costs of quangos would be reduced as part of the plan to tackle the deficit. But yesterday the Cabinet Office Minister said he didn’t know how much the changes would costs let alone save. And any, he went on, this was now all about improving accountability as part of the government’s devolution and localism agenda.
Any seasoned public servant will tell you that tucking executive functions into central government departments is a novel way to promote localism and accountability. Those of us who are grumpy and sceptical might be beginning to wonder whether some of yesterday wasn’t more about worried senior officials bolstering their chances of survival by swallowing up bits of organisations currently outside Whitehall.
However, among the many things I have learned in 20 odd years of administrative law, good decision making and trying to be frugal with the public purse is that decisions by public officials have to be reasonable. Sounds a bit pernickety I know but this means taking into account all the relevant and material facts before taking a decision. When you are spending public money that’s really a non-negotiable starting point. Or perhaps I’m just too old fashioned.
So when a government appears quite happy to embark on a costly, but currently uncosted, course for reasons that have shifted about and are still not quite clear I get a bit worried. Not just because I’m early in the unemployment queue but because I do hope to continue to be a taxpayer.
Would any successful private sector organisation take decisions in that way? Hoping Micawber-like that the savings will ‘turn up’. Or would they insist on old fashioned option appraisals, due diligence and having full and accurate facts?
Now where’s those marshmallows? I think I’m ready to toast.