As Gordon Brown gets closer and closer to the threshold of Number Ten, ConservativeHome today publishes a powerful report on the bloated and innefficient public sector that he has created. The report – The Machinery of Government (And How To Reform It) – has been written by William Norton, a regular ConservativeHome contributor. William has advised the Tory frontbench on tax and legislative affairs since 1998 and was a member of the permanent staff of the James Review.
You will also read extraordinary stories of waste:
- The Royal Mint, for example, has conspired to turn coining money into a loss-making activity;
- The Department for International Development has not one but two UK headquarters in order to fight third world poverty; and
- The Assets Recovery Agency costs more money than it recovers from criminals.
William’s most important contribution, however, is not so much the paper’s compelling account of the inefficiency and size of Labour’s state but his analysis of the root causes of why the British state has become so inherently wasteful. Rather than simply adding to the catalogue of criticism and despair, his ideas to reform ‘The Machinery Of Government’ provide a plan to restore efficency and purpose to the British state.
William’s crucial insight is that reform depends upon ensuring that the public sector itself embraces reform. Slimming the state will not be implemented effectively, William writes, in a climate where the departments and agencies (“us”) see the reformers (“them”) as hostile outsiders. Public sector bodies need to be persuaded – internally – of the necessity and merits of reform. William is hopeful that this can be done if there is genuine and consistent support from the Prime Minister:
"Civil servants are just employees. They are not a hermetic order of invincible wizards. They have more generous pension arrangements, and are harder to dismiss, than most employees. They may deliberately see themselves as even more divorced from the interests and objectives of their Board of Directors than most employees. But they are still employees. They have the same propensity to swing the lead as other employees, and the same basic desire to enjoy a fulfilling, satisfying work experience and the knowledge that they have achieved something worthwhile. (In fact, because they work in the public sector, there is an excellent chance that they have above-average levels of public spiritedness.) Above all, they will have middle-managers who want to become senior managers. They will respond to modern change management techniques in the same way that any other group of employees respond (for good or ill)."