Ministers and Mandarins: Time for Change?

The IPPR report on “Accountability and Responsiveness in the Senior Civil Service: Lessons from Overseas” is a welcome contribution to a debate that has been bubbling away for some time now about the fundamental relationship between Ministers and Mandarins in Whitehall. I’m not going to go through the whole report, but just give my reaction to their main recommendations: Continue reading

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How to reduce Government debt by almost a third, at no cost? Sounds mad? Read on..

If it hadn’t come from such a well respected source you’d immediately think this was bonkers. Lord Adair Turner, former head of the FSA, appearing on the BBC R4 World at One suggested a very simple but extraordinary move. But he did it in such an understated way that it seemed to pass by his interviewer. Continue reading

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IPPR report on Minister:Mandarin relations is out – and open for comment here on WhitehallWatch

The Cabinet Office today published the IPPR Report on how senior civil servants are held to account, and their relationship to Ministers, from several other countries – with recommendations for change in the UK. You can also read IPPR Director Nick Pearce’s piece in today’s Times. (And if you want a rather different ‘take’ try this – Dominic Raab, Tory MP, in the Telegraph).

I’ll be making my own comments here shortly, but in the meantime I’m interested in comments from UK experts – civil servants, experts or politicians – the the proposals for changes here.

And I’m also interested to see if any of our international readers have comments on the Report’s ‘take’ on arrangements elsewhere.

If you want to comment anonymously (e.g. you are a UK civil servant) you can always email me and I’ll post for you –


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Spending Review 2013: History Repeating?

As the Spending Review (26 June) draws closer, speculation is rife about whether or not, and how, George Osborne will achieve the extra £11.5 billion in savings from welfare and departmental spending in 2015-16 that he is said to want. So far only about £3.6bn has been agreed, and the rest is the subject of fierce fighting across Whitehall.

In this context I found this fascinating section in a book about the history of the UK Treasury: Continue reading

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Visions of Subsidiarity and the Curse of the British Political Tradition

by Martin Smith (York University), Dave Richards and Patrick Diamond (both Manchester University)

There is little doubt that the previous Labour Administration and the current Coalition Government have discernibly different governing projects.  Despite a rhetorical appeal to the contrary, Labour substantially increased both the size and role of the state, developing a new set of interventions in social policy and significantly increased government expenditure.  The Coalition on the other hand has been focussed on reducing the role of the state, decreasing government expenditure and making cuts of over 50,000 in civil service numbers.  Continue reading

Posted in Local government, Politics, Public Administration, Public Management, Whitehall | 2 Comments

Lies, Damned Lies and Government misuse of official statistics: Select Committee Attacks Government

I reproduce here the Press Release issued today by the Public Administration Select Committee – it speaks for itself.

Here is the link to the actual Report:

Continue reading

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Lord O’Donnell Suggests …. that someone rather like him should be put in charge of vetting government policy. Seriously?

Lord O’Donnell, former head of the civil service, has put forward some ideas for better scrutiny of proposed government policies. According to a report in Civil Service World:

Among ideas to prevent “bad policies” from being introduced, [O’Donnell] said a new Office of Taxpayer Responsibility (OTR) should assess policies, requiring the government to specify their objectives and explain how success would be measured. Continue reading

Posted in Accountability, Parliament, Public Administration, Spending, Whitehall | 2 Comments

UKIP: Building a Party when the “Party” is Over?

UKIPs undoubtedly successful showing in the (mostly) English local elections has left many analysts speculating over whether this is a sustainable political shift to “four party” politics or not? Continue reading

Posted in Political Economy, Politics | 6 Comments

The Scrutiny of Public Spending: Margaret Hodge, Robert Chote, and Amyas Morse, amongst others, to discuss how Britain manages public money.

We are organising a series of debates and discussions about how Britain manages public money. Continue reading

Posted in Accountability, Parliament, Public Administration, Spending, Whitehall | 1 Comment

SR 2013: Why now and what’s it for?

So, it is now official, we are going to have Spending Review 2013.

First, let’s clear up some confusions – as far as we can – about where SR2013 “fits”.

Continue reading

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A Dolittle Budget for a Doing Little Economy?

The Chancellor delivered this year’s Budget with a lot of shouting – but the sound and fury disguises the essentially dolittle nature of his proposals. The main, modest, changes he proposes mostly do not kick in for 2, 3 or 4 years, when most agree what we need is action now to kick-start the economy.

Like the Chancellor’s rather shouty delivery, growth in the economy continues to be choked off and is forecast to continue to be stuttering.

Much of this is as result of the Chancellor’s own actions – by cutting public spending too quickly but also, and even more importantly, by convincing businesses and households that in 2010 we were on the brink of financial collapse, fatally undermining business and consumer confidence.

Mr Osborne continues to blame anyone and anything for the British economies poor performance, except himself and his policies. It is true that world, and especially European, economic performance has been poor – but this is also because of austerity policies Mr Osborne has supported. Other parts of the world not pursing reckless austerity are doing better.

The only real surprise in the Budget is the size of the massive Whitehall underspend of £11bn – including under-spending on investments – are a sign not of good but of very poor control over spending. This money was intended to provide public services people rely on – to fail to deliver them will be a disaster for many.

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New newsfeed partner for Whitehall Watch, and on The Politics of Public Spending too

I have just created two new news feeds using the rather useful *Scoop.It*.

One is a newsfeed counterpart to Whitehall Watch with all the news stories I come across that are worth reading if you are into *Whitehall Watching* and is called – surprisingly – Whitehall Watch:

The other is more narrowly around the topic of *The Politics of Public Spending*, a subject on which I teach, research and advise. You can find that one here:

In both cases this is stuff that I find interesting/useful. Posting stories doesn’t imply any endorsement. If you find them useful, please share.


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Ten ideas for Democratising and Modernising Public Spending in the UK

The Fabian Commission on Future Spending Choices asked me for some ideas about the public spending process in the UK and here are my suggestions for reform: Continue reading

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Putting the Politics back into Public Management – are the times a’changing?

As some of you may know already, I am about to leave a Business School (MBS) and join a School of Social Sciences (Politics) (both at the University of Manchester, so not a big move in one sense). This may be unduly influencing my thinking, but the question I want to ask in this post is: am I part of a trend? Continue reading

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Hospital Failure – How do you change cultures and improve practice ? by Su Maddock

Su Maddock  @sumaddock

Mid-Staffs Hospital is the tip of an iceberg that has been hiding neglect for many years. It is true poor practice was made worse by the target culture, but lets be honest –  abuse, neglect and poor care have a long history . It is not just the abuse that is horrific but equally worrying is the level of complacency among senior staff and their vilification of whistle-blowers.  Challenging complacency is not easy and those that do are often subject to ridicule themselves, many leave because their promotion prospects decline each time they voice concerns. Continue reading

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A Capital Idea George, shame about the implementation (only 1.2% of infrastructure projects completed)

I somewhat mischievously responded to a tweet from Chuka Umuna, the Labour shadow business secretary, that the reason that only 1.2% (7 out of 576) government infrastructure projects was ‘completed’ was because there was no-one left (in the civil service) to implement them.

This was flippant, admittedly, but it is possibly not too far from the truth. Continue reading

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Targets, what targets? Now Perm Secs targets are “published”

Both the parties that make up the current Coalition government had great fun at New Labour’s expense criticising their “target culture”. All that time-wasting, box-ticking, form-filling, behaviour-distorting, nonsense would be swept away if they were in power. How did that work out then? Continue reading

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Measuring Leviathan redux: Public Spending Myths (furthering the debate, I hope)

In a previous post – Measuring Leviathan: Big Government and the Myths of Public Spending – I tried to explain and explore some of the mythology that has grown up around public spending and – probably more importantly – put forward some ideas about how we ought to think about public spending. I used the past 50 years or so of UK public spending to illustrate my points. It especially showed some things that people generally find very surprising about the last Labour government.

An academic colleague posted a response, which I quote in full below. I have chosen to respond in full because this comment rather helpfully illustrates many of the problems I was trying to clarify. So apologies to my colleague if this seems like an ‘attack’ (or strictly speaking ‘counter-attack’) – it is meant in a constructive way and to further the debate. Anyone else is welcome to join in. Continue reading

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PASC Takes PM to Task Over Ministerial Inquiries.

It’s couched in polite terms, but today the Public Administration Select Committee issued what amounted to a bruising attack on PM David Cameron.

The PASC said the PM was wrong to ask the Cabinet Secretary to investigate the Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ affair, wrong for not to using the Independent Advisor on Ministers’ Interests instead, and wrong for ignoring a previous report of the PASC and resolution passed by the Commons.

For a Government supposedly committed to openness, transparency, accountability and taking Parliament more seriously, this is a pretty devastating critique. Continue reading

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Measuring Leviathan: Big Government and the Myths of Public Spending

The political debate about public spending in the UK is bedevilled by myths and spin about how much we actually spend. So I thought it was time for a little myth-busting primer, with some pretty diagrams, about how we should be discussing public spending….  Continue reading

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