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Wonks to Labour - go ahead, wash your hands of all responsibility for your actions

Our wonky 'friends' at the ippr have been engaging in a little light kite flying:

"The doctrine of Ministerial Responsibility, which holds that ministers alone are accountable for everything that happens in their departments, should be reformulated so that while ministers remain accountable for policy, resources and strategic decisions, civil servants become externally accountable for clearly defined operational matters and for ensuring that their departments are ‘fit for purpose". Source

Lest there be any doubt as to the agenda of this organisation, note that it was founded by a former adviser to Blunkett, and has trustees including Kinnock, Gavron, Hollick and Marquand. The Adam Smith Institute it is not.

I cannot help but imagine that this report will be seized on with immense enthusiasm by the Labour party, so what in practice would this mean? Firstly, everything - but everything - will be defined as operational, and whenever there is a disaster at the Home Office or elsewhere, a smirking Reid or whoever will eyeball his inquisitors and say 'it's a fair cop, but the civil servants are to blame'. So, having waved goodbye to the resignation on a point of honour (doffs hat to Lord Carrington, the last man to do such), resignations, sackings and the like would appear to be reserved for cases of ministers caught performing armed robberies or committing arson in naval dockyards. As to the mandarins - lucky them. Doubtless no salary hikes, and the chance to play the fall guy for whichever mouth-breathing placeman or woman who is dropped into a department because of successful greasing up to the party leader. I think it unlikely that mandarins will get any credit, public or private, if a ministry actually achieves something.

Compare this to commercial practice. Chairmen are responsible to the shareholders for the performance of the companies they lead, and as with Truman, 'The buck stops here'.

Shameful, just shameful.


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Blogger Mr Eugenides said... 9:46 am

How entirely unsurprising. Of course, they do this at the moment; every time there's a cock-up, Reid (for normally it is he) insists that the gravity of the situation demands that he remain at the helm to steady the ship.

This will provide them with useful cover, however.

God, I hate them.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 9:49 am

Me too.  

Blogger james higham said... 12:44 pm

The principle is not bad - I'm involved with both a Minister and permanent head. But as you say, it will be abused and the buck will be passed back and forth. Definitely retrograde.  

Anonymous verity said... 1:38 pm

Mr Eugenides - I hate them, too, with a cold, unforgiving, compelling hatred.

If Blair or Reid or Brown or Jowell or Beckett had a heart attack and I was the only person in the position of calling for an ambulance, I'd pour myself a large drink, put my feet up, and watch them die.  

Blogger Guthrum said... 4:46 pm

is it not depressing that they can invest so much energy in coming up with ways they cannot be blamed, rather than trying to be effective managers of their departments, the words sweet shop run and could not spring to mind  

Anonymous Anonymous said... 5:33 pm

Lord Carrington? What about Robin Cook?  

Blogger Croydonian said... 6:00 pm

Cook did not resign over something he felt responsible for, whereas Carrington did - over the Falklands.  

Blogger The Cynical Libertarian said... 11:36 pm

Today, many people say "we should have stopped Hitler at Munich".

In years to come, will people say "we should have stopped Brown at the Civil Service Reform Act"? (or whatever silly name they find for it)

Very worrying.  

Blogger Croydonian said... 9:13 am

Now that is a splendid blog title. Way back lost in the mists of time, I was accused of failing to be an anarchist, but rather being 'a cynical nihilist'.  

Blogger Devil's Kitchen said... 3:30 pm

I don't think that I entirely agree with you here.

Whilst I deplore the fact that it allows an "out" for the bastard MPs in charge, I have consistantly called for Civil Servants to be held responsible for the cock-ups in their department.

You draw parallels with the private sector but ignore that fact that in thew private sector, poor managers can be removed; this almost never happens in the Civil Service.

The issue of accountability is just as crucial--in terms of effective operation--in that area as it is for ministers.

Say a minister thinks that a department needs to be changed in order to make it work better (and let us assume that he is correct): a Civil Servant can stall and hinder the process and there is almost no redress, either for the minister or the taxpayer.


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