Friday, December 11, 2009

House Points: Smarter government

Today's House Points from Liberal Democrat News.

Not credit worthy

You know what people have been saying about this government? How it has centralised everything. How it has set up far too many quangos. How it has tied everyone up in red tape. How it has been paying people at the top ridiculously high salaries.

Well, it turns out that those people were right all along. The chief secretary to the treasury says so.

Liam Byrne came to the Commons on Monday to make a statement on “smarter government”. He promised a 20 per cent cut in civil service costs and that he would personally review salaries over £150,000. He promised efficiency savings, with further savings of £500m to come from a cull of quangos. And there was to be a vast jumble sale of government assets: the Tote, the student loan book, the Dartford crossing, British Waterways.

He wasn’t just proposing to sell the family silver: he was going to see what he could get for the parlourmaids in the slave markets of the Levant.

As Vince Cable said when replying, there is a problem with ministers announcing efficiency savings and expecting to receive credit for it. If they knew there was inefficiency, why haven’t they dealt with it already?

Beyond that, the sense that the approach that has dominated the Blair and Brown has reached the end of the road was palpable. It was puzzling to hear Labour loyalists welcoming Byrne’s new approach: where have they been for the past 12 years?

The Liberal alternative to Labour’s command economy of targets and league table is the local control of services. Labour supporters will tell you that this would lead to inequality and injustice. But when central government accumulates so much power it is bound to be exercised in an arbitrary way. Inequality and injustice are endemic in the current system.

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Hansard back to 1803 now being available on the net. I said the website was owned by “a company called Millbank Systems”.

It turns out that Millbank Systems is not a company but a site where a group working within Parliament tries out new web projects. If they are all as useful as this one, then it will be worth watching.

4 comments:

Sam Tarran said...

As Vince Cable said when replying, there is a problem with ministers announcing efficiency savings and expecting to receive credit for it. If they knew there was inefficiency, why haven’t they dealt with it already?

That's exactly the view I took when a similar story as frontpage spread on one of the big national newspapers.

Anonymous said...

If you follow that logic, Vince Cable should be asking why no-one invented the DVD in 1950.

Things change, new ways of doing things become possible.

Unless Vince has invented a Tardis, which enables him to see problems before they arise.

One of the gains proposed in the announcement on Monday was doing more public services on the internet. That wouldn't have been possible, say, five years ago.

dreamingspire said...

"That wouldn't have been possible, say, five years ago."
Yes, it would, but by the end of 2004 there was a block put on the process, teams were disbanded, volunteer collaborators had no further govt support, and there was no programme to upskill the public sector to think about services operating through the virtual domain - the downward path that started in 1970 continued to be followed. Just after the turn of the Millenium, M Prodi had launched the eEurope programme, but we here didn't build on it (although UK techies did a lot of the work) - among other things, we missed out on export business. OK, some Prodi target times for delivery of eServices were too optimistic, but other countries have gone forward with secure eID and we, led by our dumbo Home Office (and, for a while, led by dumbos in Cabinet Office - but Govt Gateway was moved to the much more competent DWP once Brown took over), went nowhere.
This morning I hear that Darling has finally discovered that the current UK ID card is nothing more than a plastic shrunk version of the passport, so he can save money by killing it. It should be an eID card for online use, with digital signature as well as ID - but we mess about with thinking that chip&PIN can be pressed into use for general on-line service authentication.

Phil said...

Akin to Cable's parliamentary remarks, I recall an anecdote about Hanson Trust's acquisition of Imperial Tobacco.

A marketing exec was asked by Hanson or White whether costs could be reduced by a million pounds a year. The exec explained that it was impossible and went away. Three months later the exec returned to the board with a cost reduction plan for a million pounds, by ditching iconic but unprofitable brands such as Players Weights.

The board accepted the report and sacked the exec on the spot. "If the money was so easy to save, you should have worked it out three months ago."

A harsh judgement, but not one that applies to a government that has been in office for 12 years.