Emerging from all the noise about the role of Special Advisers generated by the Leveson inquiry is a picture of Spads operating largely in isolation, and with little preparation or support. The Ministerial Code and the Code of Conduct for Spads have not proved sufficient to resolve issues about SpAds’ roles and their performance.
One of the commitments in the civil service reform plan is for more interchange with the private sector. But that promise has been made in the past and failed to make real change. Will it be different this time?
Terry Moran, former head of Australia’s department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, was in discussion last night at the IfG with former cabinet secretary Lord (Gus) O’Donnell. There was lots of agreement but it offered some interesting points of comparison as well.
Eric Pickles has announced that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is launching a ‘payment by results’ (PbR) scheme, which will reward councils that help 'troubled families' to 'get children off the streets and back into school; reduce youth crime and anti-social behaviour; and put adults on a path back to work.'
Amidst a flurry of stories of rows, resignations and recriminations, the civil service reform plan is due to be published soon. Journalists and select committees have shown great interest in florid accounts of who shouted at whom and why senior officials resigned.
U-turns can be good for governments, not bad. They show that ministers are willing to learn from mistakes and to correct previous policy failures. They remove a source of complaint. But, as with most things in life, they should not happen too often, otherwise they create the impression of lack of grip and direction, and chaotic decision making, precisely the danger facing David Cameron and the coalition government now. The real question is less the U-turn than the reasons for the original policy failure.
The failure of the government to hold its nerve on pasties and caravans shows little appetite to stick with difficult decisions. It also highlights the anomalies in the way we treat 'tax expenditures'.
David Cameron has said he is spending his time progress chasing in between games of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja. But rather than focus on “shaking things up”, No.10 needs to use the mechanisms it has to drive better delivery, based on a real understanding of the challenges departments face.