You are on page 1of 22

MySociety chief to advise Tories

Monday 5th October 2009 at 11:44

An open government campaigner who has advised the government is to help the
Conservative Party, it has been announced.

Tom Steinberg, founder and director of the democracy website MySociety and co-author of
the government's Power of Information report, is to advise the Tories on IT policy.

Steinberg, who has also worked as a civil servant in the prime minister's strategy unit
between 2001 and 2003, has been a committed supporter of agendas such as Freedom of
Information, open source software and open data.

The Conservatives have shown a willingness to commit government to such ideas, with
regular calls for departments to use more open source software, and a promise that any
spending over £25,000 would be published online.

Following media reports of the announcement, Steinberg wrote on his blog: "I have
enjoyed advising this government, and I look forward to advising the next."

His Power of Information report, published in 2007, advised government to interact more
closely with established web communities such as mumsnet.

The appointment, which is expected to be formally announced at the Conservative Party

conference in Manchester, has been criticised by Labour MP Tom Watson, who was
transformational government minister at the Cabinet Office when Steinberg was examining
the issue of public sector information for the department.

Watson, writing on his own blog, claimed that the announcement of the appointment at the
Tory conference is "incompatible with his [Steinberg's] position as boss of MySociety".

He continued: "They’re a non-partisan organisation who rightly, take a dig at all sides when
required. The manner of his appointment will leave an air of mistrust between him and
supporters of MySociety who are not Conservatives. That’s a very great shame for him, but
more importantly, for MySociety."

Steinberg, who expressed his sadness at being criticised by "someone I’ve had such a good
working and informal relationship with", has insisted that MySociety would continue to be
"rigorously impartial, just as it was when I was advising ministers like you [Watson] in the
current government".­news/news­article/newsarticle/mysociety­
Tories set out welfare plans
Monday 5th October 2009 at 11:03

The Conservatives have promised to save millions of pounds by moving people off
incapacity benefit.

The party, which is meeting for its annual conference in Manchester this week, has
announced that its 'Get Britain Working' programme will be a central policy.

Around 2.6 million people are currently receiving incapacity benefit, and the Conservatives
have promised to test every one of them to see if they are too ill to work.

Those who are found to be able to work will be moved on to Jobseeker's Allowance,
meaning a £25-a-week cut in their benefits, and the money will be redirected to helping
people get jobs.

Cameron said: "Some of those people cannot work and must be helped, for we are a
compassionate society and we must look after those people. But many people could work
and there are some who, with some tailored help, could work."

Labour has also proposed a system of "work tests" for claimants, but the Tories claim that
the government has failed to implement the policy.

The Tory leader said: "Labour are now the party of unemployment; I want the new
Conservative Party to be the party of jobs and opportunity, and at the heart of it is a big,
bold and radical scheme to get millions of people back to work.

"It is the big centrepiece of our conference because we recognise that the jobs crisis is one
of the most serious things we face as a country."

Cameron has also promised a "much more aggressive" use of the private and voluntary
sector in the welfare system, as well as additional apprenticeship and training places, and a
scheme to pair young people with sole traders for six months of work experience.­news/news­article/newsarticle/tories­set­out­
MI5 history published
Monday 5th October 2009 at 10:33

A former head of MI5 has revealed her fears that security agencies would not be able to
cope with regular terrorist attacks.

Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, who was director general of the secret service during
the fatal 7/7 bombings in 2005 and the failed attack which occured two weeks later, was
speaking ahead of the publication of the first official history of MI5.

"My recollection of 7/7 was a feeling of 'It's happened', what we half-expected would, what
we had prepared for, what we had trained for, so it was a bad day for everybody," she told
the BBC.

"But the service started immediately doing all the things that it knew it had to do."

It was the unsuccessful bombings of July 21 that caused her most concern, she revealed.
"For me it was worse, although nobody died. Although it was an unsuccessful attack, I had
that feeling that if this is going to happen every fortnight, how are we going to cope with
this? How are the police going to cope?

"It was the apprehension that this might be a continuing problem."­news/news­article/newsarticle/mi5­history­

Data officials launch beta site

Friday 2nd October 2009 at 13:21

Software developers have been asked to help the government test its new open data

TheCabinet Office's digital engagement team has spent the last threemonths working on a
website that will allow members of the public andsoftware developers to re-use
government data.

A beta version ofa site providing access to government data - crime statistics, forexample,
which can be used to create a local crime map - is beingreleased to selected computer

A statement on the government's digital engagement blogannounced the "early preview of

what the site could look like",including more than 1,000 existing data sets from seven
differentdepartments "brought together in re-useable form for the first time".

Thesite is "still a work in progress", the announcement admitted, askingtesters to indicate

what additional features and data sources wouldimprove it.

"We want developers to work with us to use the datato create great applications; give us
feedback on the early operationalcommunity; and tell us how to develop what we have into
a single pointof access for government-held public data," the statement continued.

Developers have been asked to advertise the beta to colleagues with the Twitter hashtag
#opendata, and there have already been enthusiastic reviews.

HarryMetcalfe, managing director of a web company called The Dextrous

Web,congratulated the Cabinet Office team on a "massive achievement" in ashort space of

"This is such an encouraging thing to see," he wrote on his blog."No expensive

procurement exercises for clunky, bespoke sites: instead,we have the right tools for the
job, joined together. Simple thingsthat do one job well, combined to form a more complex

Thesite was "not perfect", he noted, but development of functions such asan organised way
to browse data sets is being developed

"This is how all government IT should work," Metcalfe said. "They’ve got a plan, and it’s a
good one."

Other commentators have been less complementary, with one visitor to

the Cabinet Office's digital engagement blog criticising the fact that "a call
for open data developers is to join a closed google group".

A spokeswoman for the Cabinet Office, who said the data website was
part of the government's commitment to increasing transparency, insisted
that it was common practice for the number of people using a site to be
moderated when it was at a "preview release stage".

She added: "Google Groups is a proven, existing technology platform that

is free to the taxpayer. When the service is ready to accommodate
unlimited use, the need to register will be removed."­news/news­article/newsarticle/data­officials­
Darling announces pay freeze
Tuesday 6th October 2009 at 10:16

Senior civil servants have been told their salaries will be frozen as pay deals are ripped up.

Chancellor Alistair Darling announced last night that the three-year pay deal for the senior
civil service, not due to expire until 2011, will be scrapped before then.

In a letter to the chairmen of the salary review boards which advise the government on
public sector wages, Darling also said there should be no pay rise for judges, senior NHS
managers or GPs.

The three-year pay deals for non-civil servants will be respected, but the government
wants sectors without an agreement to take a rise in line with the private sector, from zero
per cent to one per cent.

Darling has not included the armed forces in his plans.

Treasury secretary Liam Byrne said there had to be "tough but realistic decisions on pay" if
the government was to halve the deficit over four years and not take money out of
frontline services. "That means leadership from senior groups and realistic increases for
other workforces," he explained.

Unions such as the FDA, which represents senior civil servants and public sector managers,
have been highly critical of the chancellor's move. General secretary Jonathan Baume told
Sky News: "For the government to turn around at this point and say that pay is frozen
despite the previous commitments it has given is extremely disappointing indeed.

"We were not expecting five or 10 per cent increases but we did think that the modest
increases that would have been due under the settlements already announced were ones
that were well deserved.

"It will be these senior managers in the NHS, these senior civil servants, who will be
charged over the next 18 months to two years with taking forward the government's very
difficult programme of austerity across the public services, and managing change if a
different government is elected next May.

"This is a very poor signal to them given the work and motivation that is going to be
required in this very difficult economic circumstance."

Baume said the average senior civil servant or NHS manager was paid about £75,000 a
year, an amount he described as "quite a modest salary given the scale of the jobs that
people are undertaking".

It was going to be a very tough period in coming years, he added, and "that's the period
when you need to engage with senior managers, you need to give them some motivation,
and zero per cent pay increase is no motivation at all".

Baume's anger has been echoed by the British Medical Association, with a spokeswoman
expressing disappointment and concern about morale.

"What we had asked in terms of pay increase for all doctors was two per cent," she said. "A
pay freeze won't help with recruitment and retention. GPs are potentially being singled out.

"Given the responsibilities GPs have and the level of training needed, we don't feel that's
the way to proceed."

Darling's proposal has been welcomed by the British Chambers of Commerce, which urged
the government to go further, but Conservative leader David Cameron has described the
timing - the night before shadow chancellor George Osborne speaks at his party's
conference - as "slightly cynical".

He added: "It is rather insubstantial in its content and it is not part of an overall approach."

Osborne is due to unveil a "comprehensive" package on pay, pensions and benefits to

tackle the state deficit, he told GMTV.

Tories to 'slash NHS bureaucracy'

Tuesday 6th October 2009 at 10:15

The Conservatives have unveiled plans to cut NHS bureaucracy by a third, claiming that
£1.5bn will be released for frontline services.

Speaking to the party conference on Monday, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said
the cuts could be made by 2013-14 and would be focused on administration - leaving
frontline health spending untouched.

“They spend a total of £4.5bn a year in administration every year,” he told delegates. “So
we will cut that bill by £1.5bn within four years.”

He complained that primary care trusts were spending 81 per cent more on administrative
staff than in 2004, and the cost of the Department of Health’s arms-length bodies had
risen by £140m in the same period.

Returning the budgets of both to 2003-04 levels would save £850m annually, Lansley said,
adding that savings would also be made in strategic health authorities and the department

“All this from the back office to the frontline,” he said. “We will tolerate no waste. No
inflation. No poor value for money in NHS budgets.”

But he renewed the party’s pledge that health spending would still go up in real terms
during the next Parliament, despite the pressure to reduce the deficit in the public finances
with spending cuts.

Speaking later on Monday at a fringe event on public services, Lansley said: “The thing I
want to be clear about is that tackling Labour’s debt crisis is not going to be at the expense
of people’s healthcare.”

And he added that although the increase in health spending under Labour had been
welcomed by professionals, much of the money had been wasted on bureaucracy.

During the course of the event, news emerged that Chancellor Alistair Darling is writing to
the various salary review bodies to request that the pay of 750,000 senior public sector
staff be frozen next year.

When asked if he agreed with the proposals, which would include many NHS managers and
senior clinical staff, the shadow health secretary declined to endorse the policy but said
that many senior staff within health had already privately accepted the need for pay

Charity starts at Cabinet Office

Monday 5th October 2009 at 17:25

Cast-offs from the prime minister and his wife helped to turn the Cabinet Office's atrium
into a charity shop today.

The stunt was part of the 'Donate Don't Dump' campaign which aims to improve the quality
of donations made to charity shops and to encourage more people to give.

Prime minister Gordon Brown's donations included a tie, while his wife donated dresses.
Third sector minister Angela Smith and cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell were among
the many people who donated clothes to create the charity shop over a lunchtime.

Charity shops have been affected by the recession - although the number of customers has
risen for most shops, the number of donations has fallen, with some shops taking lower-
quality donations than in the past.

Mary Portas, the presenter of the BBC's 'Mary, Queen of Shops' show who is now
presenting a three-part series aimed at boosting the fortunes of charity shops, said: "When
you get the civil service behind your campaign and the minister for the third sector, it
takes it to another level. This is just what we need."

The money raised is to go to Age Concern and Help the Aged after staff voted for their
favourite charity.

Osborne defends spending cut plans

Wednesday 7th October 2009 at 11:08

George Osborne has denied Labour claims that his proposed pay freeze for
middle-income earners will fund tax breaks for millionaires.

The shadow chancellor revealed plans to introduce a one-year pay freeze that would save
£23bn at the Conservative conference in Manchester on Tuesday.

Osborne's plans would mean middle-income families would lose child trust funds and child
tax credits.

The Tories plan to save £130bn over 10 years by raising the age of retirement to 66.

The shadow chancellor also said he would lift inheritance tax thresholds to £1m by the end
of the next Parliament, claiming it would encourage saving.

His plans came in for criticism from Labour, which said the Tories wanted "to hit hard-
working people in their fifties and still cut inheritance tax for millionaires' estates".

Unions warned of industrial action if the plans were implemented.

And Liam Byrne, chief secretary to the Treasury, said: "The Tories were expected to set out
a credible budget policy that could match our plan to halve the deficit in four years. Yet all
we got was a chaotic U-turn on the retirement age and a speech that cost even more than
it saved.

"The shadow chancellor had an opportunity today to show he was serious. Instead we got
chaos and cuts that hit the mainstream middle class to fund tax breaks for Britain's richest

But Osborne defended the package on Wednesday, rejecting suggestions that public
servants were paying for the inheritance tax reduction.

He told GMTV: "Changes to inheritance tax to help people who want to save and leave
something to their children come later in the parliament. The first priority is dealing with
the debt."

Osborne claimed the pay freeze will help protect 100,000 jobs in the public sector, while
higher-income earners are to share the burden as Labour's new 50p income tax rate will
not be changed.

And he was unworried by suggestions that his grim analysis of the next few years would
scare off voters, saying: "Whoever wins this election is going to have to take some very
difficult decisions, but I would rather people knew that before the election than after the

Bradshaw criticises BBC 'bias'

Wednesday 7th October 2009 at 11:07

Culture secretary Ben Bradshaw has accused the BBC of giving Conservative ministers an
easy ride in interviews.

Bradshaw used his Twitter account to accuse the publicly-funded broadcaster of bias after
Radio 4 Today host Evan Harris interviewed shadow chancellor George Osborne.

"Another wholly feeble and biased Today programme rounded off with a fawning interview
with a Tory pundit!", the culture secretary said.

Osborne's appearance on the programme, discussing his plans for cutting spending by
£7bn a year, was followed by an interview of ex-Tory MP Michael Brown, who praised the
shadow chancellor's conference speech.

The BBC has traditionally been accused of having a left-wing, or liberal, bias. Most recently,
last month, shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said "one of their problems is that
people who want to work at the BBC tend to be from the centre-left" and called for them to
"actively look for some Conservatives to be part of their news-gathering team".

It is not the first time that Bradshaw, a former BBC journalist, has criticised the Today
programme. On Monday he complained, again on Twitter, that Harris's interview of shadow
schools secretary Michael Gove was "disgracefully feeble".

Ex-Army chief to advise Tories

Thursday 8th October 2009 at 12:36

Questions have been raised over the possibility of an ex-army chief becoming an advisor to
the Conservatives.

Party leader David Cameron is expected to announce today that General Sir Richard
Dannatt will be put forward for a peerage and advise shadow defence ministers.

Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have questioned the wisdom of the appointment, and
even a Tory minister has inadvertantly criticised the move.

Sir Richard regularly criticised the government's defence policy while he was chief of
defence staff and has continued to be as outspoken since he stepped down in August.

Most recently he claimed the prime minister refused to send an extra 2,000 troops to
Afghanistan because it was "too expensive". On Wednesday he said he would
"theoretically" be interested in joining a Tory government.

Speaking at the Conservative conference in Manchester, Cameron described Sir Richard as

"a man of great talent and ability".

He said: "I have spoken to him on previous occasions, as well as recently, about his views
about how we improve our armed services and support their families and make sure we
rebuild that military covenant, how we successfully pursue what we are doing in

"He has been a great public servant and I think he has more to do."

The Conservative's announcement has been marred by the reaction of shadow home
secretary Chris Grayling who, mistakenly thinking it was a Labour appointment, suggested
it could be a "political gimmick". He told the BBC: ""We've seen too many appointments in
this Government of external people where it's all been about Gordon Brown's PR."

Sir Richard's speedy move from impartial public servant to political adviser has been
criticised by other MPs, with former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell calling it a
"profound disappointment".

He said: "By convention, our senior military are non-political, and an assertion of political
allegiance so soon after leaving the Ministry of Defence will break that convention."

Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock said the move confirmed his suspicions that Sir
Richard and the Tories had been working "hand in glove" to criticise the government while
the general was still head of the army.

"I think it is unprecedented for a serving head of the Army to make critical statements
about the Government that he is there to serve," he told the BBC.

"I think there is very strong circumstantial evidence that he and the Conservatives were
working hand in glove."

Labour MP Eric Joyce questioned whether a four-star general would have taken instructions
from opposition politicians, but he did express concern over the timing of the appointment.

"I think some senior officers will be disquieted about it happening so quickly after he's
retired," he said. "It certainly will surprise people, the speed at which this has happened."

Lateral thinking
Thursday 8th October 2009 at 12:51

Our online debate on cross-government working shows that civil servants are keen to
break out of their silos, reports Ruth Keeling. With the cabinet secretary on-side, the
enthusiasm exists; now we need some action

Public perceptions of civil servants often hold that they are conservative (with a small c),
naturally bureaucratic and resistant to change. However, a recent online discussion about
the way the government delivers public services has the potential to destroy that myth,
with civil servants publicly putting forward some radical ideas – the use of technology to
allow members of the public to vote directly on spending plans, for example – and urging
action, not procrastination.
The debate, which has been running on one of Civil Service World’s sister websites, Civil
Service Live, for the past two weeks, was kicked off by cabinet secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell.
In a piece penned for the website, he asked whether cross-departmental budgets for
government’s pan-departmental responsibilities – such as tackling climate change,
stimulating economic recovery or reducing obesity – would improve delivery of services.

“We’re not talking about additional money,” he wrote. “What we’re talking about is
removing barriers to cross-departmental and cross-agency working and using budgets to
drive collaboration; cut duplication; target funding and resources more appropriately; and,
ultimately, achieve better results for everyone.”

It is not the first time Sir Gus has put the idea forward – he has mentioned pooled budgets
in a number of recent speeches – but it is the first time that so many civil servants have
publicly had their say on the idea. And the verdict is: let’s get on and do it.

Many commentators pointed out that there are plenty of examples of cross-cutting budgets
already out there: the Directgov website, the Olympics, and ring-fenced funding directed to
local-level partnerships such as the Supporting People programme for services for
vulnerable people were all mentioned.

Another example is local crime-reduction partnerships; as Home Office civil servant Punita
Goodfellow noted, “we expect frontline services to collaborate, pool budgets and people so
that they can provide a seamless service to customers”. The failure to do the same thing at
the centre, she said, is “getting in the way of faster, improved service delivery”.

One of the places where cross-government working is in progress is the Tell Us Once
programme: an attempt to ensure that members of the public registering a birth or death
aren’t forced to contact many different departments and authorities.

The scheme is currently funded solely by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP),
and programme director Lyn McDonald was concerned that the long-term funding of the
project – which saves a large number of different departments and government bodies
time and money – has not been settled. “I also worry because the solutions being talked
about are old-world solutions”, she said, adding that new funding models will be needed; a
“big rethink” is required, she concluded.

Colin Anderson, from the Government Office for the East of England, was similarly sceptical
about current systems of splitting financial responsibility. When various units’ budgets are
‘top-sliced’ to form a pool, he said, agencies expect to draw from that pool a similar sum to
the amount of their contribution. “If an area used to receive an £80,000 teenage
pregnancy grant, then that is the amount they base their delivery plans around, so there
was never any real change,” he said.

McDonald’s “big rethink”, she suggested, could mean redesigning government departments
around functions rather than fields of policy. She was not alone – many commentators
focused on how different IT and HR systems prevent closer collaboration between
departments because of incompatibility problems.

Major reforms are being piloted, with the Total Place initiative asking 13 local authorities to
calculate all the different public funding streams in their area and identify overlapping
services (see news, p3). But it is difficult to see central government embarking on a mass
reorganisation or ordering a pan-departmental IT system; the cost, and the potential for
another IT disaster, are probably too great.

Anyway, as one commentator pointed out, the cabinet secretary’s point was not about
structures, but about how you could encourage cross-government working in the current
system. Indeed, Cabinet Office policy delivery official Paula McDonald argued that while
“radical reform of government structures looks at first like the best option”, it would simply
become “a ‘department for everything’ and within it, we would still get silo-ed behaviour”.

Moving away from structures, civil servants visiting the blog repeatedly pointed out that
one major barrier to cross-government working is the civil service’s incentive and
performance structure. Ministry of Justice permanent secretary Suma Chakrabarti said that
accountability and incentive structures “place a premium on competitive rather than
cooperative behaviour and fail to resolve genuine trade-offs between policy objectives”.

Directgov chief executive Jayne Nickalls noted that “there are no penalties for the ‘non-
corporate’ behaviour”, with departments often replicating each other’s work and thereby
increasing costs to the taxpayer. One possible solution, put forward by Jamie Knights, a
human resources official from the Cabinet Office, would be for all permanent secretaries to
share accountability for all spending and all public service agreement targets.

A number of contributors thought the front line has a better grasp of the need to join up
services: many of the people delivering services understand very well that departmental
boundaries mean nothing – and are often a nuisance – to members of the public. The
Home Office’s McDonald suspected that “there is more informal, ad hoc joining up of
resources by frustrated, committed staff than we give credit to, and they do this in spite of,
not because of, the constraints they work within”.

Read the blog and, while there are no easy answers provided, you’ll find clear evidence of a
can-do attitude, with civil servants inviting others to contact them if they want to try and
get the ball rolling. Several pick out some very real obstacles, however. For example,
Ministry of Defence official Tim Rayson wrote: “We would like to [run a pilot], but I’m not
sure that other departments are ready for it as they are busy protecting their existing –
and... reducing – resources.” Similarly, HM Revenue and Customs official Anne Roper felt
the front line was ready: “What’s needed is a step change in our leaders”.

But with leaders as senior as Chakrabarti, Nickalls and O’Donnell engaged in the debate,
what is the hold up? There has been lots of talking; everyone seems ready for a rethink.
Now is the time for action.

Tories to cut MoD costs

Friday 9th October 2009 at 10:47

A Conservative government would cut the running costs of the Ministry of Defence (MoD)
by 25 per cent, the shadow defence secretary has said.

Speaking at the party's conference in Manchester on Thursday, Liam Fox suggested that a
major review of defence capabilities - to take place alongside a strategic defence review -
would lead to a rebalancing of the numbers of civil servants and operational personnel.

"When Frederick Duke of York was preparing for the Napoleonic threat between 1792 and
1804 he increased the size of the Army from 50,000 to 500,000 - and he did it with 38
staff in Horse Guards," Fox said, dropping strong hints about cuts in numbers of civilian

"Now we have 99,000 in the Army and 85,000 civilians in the MoD. Some things are going
to have to change and believe me, they will."

His spokesperson later confirmed that officials including MoD permanent secretary Sir Bill
Jeffrey had already been told that the Tories would be seeking 25 per cent in
administrative savings, but she was unable to say exactly where the cuts would fall.

"One of the problems we have in opposition is that we don't get to see the detailed
information [on staffing] the department has," she said.

Fox's message on defence bureaucracy was echoed by David Cameron in his keynote
address later in the afternoon.

The Tory leader told the conference that increasing the safety of troops in Afghanistan
would be his "gravest responsibility" if elected and promised the formation of a war baint
made up of ministers and defence chiefs.
"When the country is at war, when Whitehall is at war, we need people who understand
war in Whitehall," he said, referring to the much-publicized appointment of former Amry
chief General Sir Richard Dannatt to act as a defence adviser to the party.

Ex-Army chief to advise Tories

Thursday 8th October 2009 at 17:36

Questions have been raised over the decision of an ex-army chief to become an advisor to
the Conservatives.

Party leader David Cameron announced on Thursday that General Sir Richard Dannatt will
be put forward for a peerage and advise shadow defence ministers.

Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have questioned the wisdom of the appointment, and
even a Tory minister has inadvertantly criticised the move.

Sir Richard regularly criticised the government's defence policy while he was chief of
defence staff and has continued to be as outspoken since he stepped down in August.

Most recently he claimed the prime minister refused to send an extra 2,000 troops to
Afghanistan because it was "too expensive". On Wednesday he said he would
"theoretically" be interested in joining a Tory government.

Cameron used his party conference speech to announce that Sir Richard, who he has
described as "a man of great talent and ability" in the past, would advise his defence team.

The Conservative's announcement was marred by the reaction of shadow home secretary
Chris Grayling who, mistakenly thinking it was a Labour appointment, suggested it could be
a "political gimmick". He told the BBC: "We've seen too many appointments in this
Government of external people where it's all been about Gordon Brown's PR."

Sir Richard's speedy move from impartial public servant to political adviser has been
criticised by other MPs, with former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell calling it a
"profound disappointment".

He said: "By convention, our senior military are non-political, and an assertion of political
allegiance so soon after leaving the Ministry of Defence will break that convention."

Labour peer Lord Foulkes of Cumnock said the move confirmed his suspicions that Sir
Richard and the Tories had been working "hand in glove" to criticise the government while
the general was still head of the army.

"I think it is unprecedented for a serving head of the Army to make critical statements
about the Government that he is there to serve," he told the BBC.

"I think there is very strong circumstantial evidence that he and the Conservatives were
working hand in glove."

Labour MP Eric Joyce questioned whether a four-star general would have taken instructions
from opposition politicians, but he did express concern over the timing of the appointment.

"I think some senior officers will be disquieted about it happening so quickly after he's
retired," he said. "It certainly will surprise people, the speed at which this has happened."

Streamline centre, Bichard tells Tories

Thursday 8th October 2009 at 16:14

A Conservative administration should streamline the centre of government, according to

the head of an influential think-tank.

Sir Michael Bichard, a former permanent secretary whose independent Institute for
Government (IfG) is helping to prepare the shadow cabinet for office, said structures at
centre of government – usually understood to mean Downing Street, the Cabinet Office
and the Treasury – were too unwieldy.

“What kind of centre of government do you want? [At the moment] it’s too large and too
confused,” Sir Michael told the meeting, organised by centre-right think-tank Policy

There have been reports that the party is considering radical changes, with shadow Cabinet
Office minister Francis Maude using an interview with Civil Service World to promise a
“smaller centre” that did not try to “micromanage delivery”.

Bichard told the fringe that any such changes should be carried out quickly, without
allowing senior officials to stall on reform. “This shouldn’t be the subject of long-term
debate within the civil service.”

He also told prospective Tory ministers to give clear direction to permanent secretaries
upon entering office.

“If you don’t have clear visions for departments, permanent secretaries will fill the void,”
Sir Michael said. “There should be clear, realistic targets for the first six, and 12, months in

The ex-education department boss recommended former deputy prime minister Lord
Heseltine’s practice of taking permanent secretaries at his new departments to lunch at a
Mayfair hotel and presenting them with “back-of-the-envelope” lists of priorities.

And he renewed his call for senior civil servants to be more focused on delivery of
departmental targets, warning Tories: “Some civil servants still measure their performance
on how well they are managing their departments, not how well their department is

Also at the event, shadow communities secretary Caroline Spelman revealed that as well
as official meetings with departmental bosses, the shadow cabinet had been meeting with
former permanent secretaries at regular breakfast seminars to prepare for a possible
change of government.

Maude pledges pay transparency

Friday 9th October 2009 at 11:17

Shadow cabinet office minister Francis Maude has announced plans for a radical shake-up
of civil service transparency – with a pledge to publicise the salaries and job descriptions of
35,000 officials – and the introduction of fixed-length tenures for top officials.

In his speech to the party conference in Manchester on Monday, Maude said that a
Conservative government would “unleash an army of armchair auditors” by putting online
salary details – though not personal information – as well as detailed staffing breakdowns
of departments and public bodies, and information on all Whitehall spending over £25,000.
He added that all new tenders worth more than £10,000 would be published on the
existing Supply2Gov procurement website.

Maude also outlined proposals for fixed minimum terms for top officials in order to reduce
job ‘churn’ and increase accountability. Asked later by Civil Service World if the
announcement was a concrete promise, he said: “That is our intention. I will want to talk to
Gus [O’Donnell] about it and explore it.”

The likely length of term would be five years, he said, and fixed terms would apply to posts
as permanent secretaries and directors general. “Three years is probably too short, and
would perhaps perpetuate the tendency for senior officials not to remain in post long
enough to ‘eat their own cooking’,” he told CSW.

On transparency, Maude stressed that officials would not be identified by name, and that
the data would be “useful information for the public to have”.

“It’s just enabling people to ask the questions,” he said. “We are going to be in a time
where ministers are going to need to pressure departments to do more for less, and we are
going to need to mobilise all the help that there is.”

Recalling a tactic of former Tory minister Lord Heseltine, Maude also commented that he
will be advising his shadow cabinet colleagues that, if elected, they should demand that
every appointment in their department be cleared personally by them. “It wasn’t about
influencing the actual appointments; it was entirely about getting a grip on headcount,” he
said. “Once you have that sort of discipline, then managers will ask themselves: ‘Do we
really need this post?’”

Reacting to the transparency plans, the leader of civil service managers’ union the FDA
expressed concern over the plans to publish employment details. Jonathan Baume
questioned the rationale for extending the publication of specific salaries and job
descriptions down to those working as grade seven civil servants.

“That takes you down, effectively, to senior executive officer (SEO) level: salaries of
around £45-50,000,” Baume said. “That is seven tiers below a permanent secretary, and
it’s a bit hard to see what the justification is. If you took that into the NHS and local
government, you’d be talking about several hundred thousand people.”

Perm secs 'lack climate knowledge'

Friday 9th October 2009 at 11:12

Many top officials “are unclear or have a thin understanding of” the science and
implications of climate change, the head of the Met Office has warned.

Met Office chief executive John Hirst told Civil Service World that climate change will have
dramatic ramifications for the formulation of policy across government.

But asked whether senior civil servants have grasped the significance of climate change for
policymaking, he said: “When I have conversations in government departments, I find
some people who are immensely well-briefed, with a profound and substantial
understanding of the issues, the science and the timescales – but I find more who are
uncertain or unclear or have a thin understanding of what’s going on.

"There’s a big investment that needs to go in learning and understanding, because the
danger is that without that understanding you can’t make the right decisions.”

Quizzed on whether departments have the expertise and capacity to make the necessary
assessments, Hirst said: “I don’t see enough use of our services to be sure that all the
issues are being addressed.

"I am sure that people are taking a greater interest, but there’s a lot of work still to do to
get this to a level where it’s practically useful."

Read the interview with John Hirst

Carter: measure staff on property

Friday 9th October 2009 at 10:51

Officials who fail to deliver on efficiency targets for estates should be penalised, including
losing out on promotions, according to the government’s reviewer of property.

Lord Carter of Coles, who led the property strand of the Operational Efficiency Programme
which reported at the Budget, told Civil Service World that finance and estates
professionals should be measured against departmental performance by the Treasury or
Cabinet Office.

Carter said that those who are underperforming should be told: “If you are happy being in
the bottom quartile because of your total inefficiency, fine, but you might want to get
promoted one day.”

The Labour peer, who is assisting with the setting up of a special unit within the
Shareholder Executive to lead on property efficiency, said it’s crucial to convince
permanent secretaries of the agenda’s importance.

“Once you get it on permanent secretaries’ agendas, action follows,” he said. “As I go and
talk to permanent secretaries I find some who are engaged and others who are saying ‘I
need to get this.’”

Carter’s review recommended annual property savings worth £1.5bn by 2014 and £5bn a
year by 2019, plus £20bn revenue from property sales over the next decade.

Read the interview with Lord Carter

Tories unveil non-exec plans

Friday 9th October 2009 at 10:31

The Conservatives are planning an overhaul of the running of departmental non-executive

boards, with greater involvement from ministers and private sector bosses.

Speaking at the party conference in Manchester this week, shadow Cabinet Office minister
Francis Maude said the party would have relevant ministers chair boards and demand that
a majority of non-executives come from the private sector.

Boards would also be given greater power over the appraisals of permanent secretaries,
and in extreme cases could recommend to ministers the removal of under-performing

“We want big hitters from the business world to step up and help us get more for less,”
Maude said. “Most senior civil servants do a great job, but where there is failure and
under-performance there should be no place to hide. Giving them the power in the last
resort will put everyone, ministers and officials alike, on the spot.”

Speaking to Civil Service World later, Maude complained that the

majority of current government non-executives come from within the public sector. He said
that he did not want to exclude public sector appointees, but insisted that commercial skills
are much more critical in an era of fiscal restraint.

“The key requirement is going to be senior people who are used to running big
organisations in a very tight, efficient way, so it’s going to be a combination – but the
majority are going to be from the private sector,” he said.

Current guidance suggests departments appoint a minimum of two non-executives, but

Maude says his “working” figure is four per board.

Meanwhile, a review of the code of practice for Whitehall corporate governance is already
under way, a Treasury non-executive director has told this newspaper.

Dame Deirdre Hutton, who also serves as chair of the Civil Aviation Authority, revealed that
she is part of a Treasury team reviewing the code of practice in order to address
inconsistencies across Whitehall.

“One of the reasons for this work on the compliance code is that there seem to be very
considerable differences in governance across Whitehall departments,” Hutton said. “It
would be a good idea to look and see whether there needs to be change to help non-
executive governance to improve.”

Dame Deirdre, who joined the Treasury board at the height of last year’s financial crisis,
said she initially found it difficult to understand the point of her non-executive function.

“At the Treasury, most of the people who go on that sort of board start off by thinking:
‘Why am I here? I don’t really understand the function of non-executives on this board.’ As
the past year’s gone by [I’ve seen] that in terms of bringing in advice and outside
perspective, there is a role – it’s just not what you are used to
doing as a non-executive.”

“Do I think it’s valuable? Yes I do, but at the beginning of the year I was less certain.”

Leading e-government news and features for the IT professional
Friday 2nd October

Schools' ICT spending 'will fall'

Spending in primary and secondary schools will drop by 2.2 per cent
Suffolk and Hounslow choose Capita
Capita provides ICT solutions for Suffolk New College and NHS
Brown 'misled' with ID card claims
Prime Minister's promises didn't make sense, claim the NO2ID
DVLA denies selling data to Castrol
The DVLA is investigating Castrol's use of car data to advertise its oil
Obama tactics used by Labour union
It will use electronic communications to target swing voters to help
Labour win
Half a million on ID cards campaign
The Home Office will launch a public information campaign costing
IBM blamed for £24m SCOPE failure
The intelligence services are said to be fighting with IBM to get the
cash back
New VAT tax data rule is a 'threat'
EU plan to share data with states to stop fraud is a 'Brussels power-

7 October 2009

'We will put money back into NHS'

George Osborne claims that efficiencies will be used to support frontline services
'Victims' rights should take priority'
Tories argue Human Rights Act protects criminals but the MoJ denies this is so
Birmingham child protection 'poor'
Largest social services department in country 'not fit for purpose', says report

NI devolution talks move to No. 10

Gordon Brown tries to heal the growing rift between the DUP and Sinn Féin
'Short jail terms should be scrapped'
This would keep 64,000 people out of jail, says Prison Governors Association
Tories plan to extend pension age
George Osborne wants to raise the state retirement age of men to 66 from 2016
Darling's pay freeze could backfire
'We hope ministers aren't playing politics with people's pay,' says FDA's Baume
'Be more radical,' NLGN tells Tories
This tank wants more flesh on the bone on reform of local government finance
'New generation of technical schools'
Tories want to build technical schools in each of the 12 biggest cities in England
PCTs 'poor at monitoring services'
NHS must improve monitoring of out-of-hours GP services, the CQC has said
Whitehall procurement 'works well'
OGC praises Whitehall departments for making 'range of robust improvements'
Civil Service to be 'retirement free'
By 2010 nobody in the Civil Service will have to retire at 65, Sir Gus announces