I was all set to write about aid and development this morning after the excellent Conservative Friends of International Development event with President Lord (Michael) Howard and Tim Montgomerie but I think I’ll save that for another day because there is a far more pressing annoyance this morning.
I’m afraid it comes back – once again – to the fact that the government’s communications are generally rubbish. Bernard Jenkin’s Public Administration Committee has published a report saying, basically, that governments are not sufficiently strategic and long-term. Governments do tend to do things with at most 5 year horizons because that is the electoral cycle. When they DO try to address serious long-term problems (pensions, climate change, infrastructure…) everyone complains and votes against the proposals. But by the way, media, his argument is not just about this government but about all governments.
But that’s not my point today. My point is that this annual Statement of National Strategy is a possibly good idea but rather than reinventing everything and starting from scratch, we could use existing information and add to it in a meaningful way.
Start from the Manifesto*. Add the Departmental Plans. Publish the progress reports. Publish what every department is spending on what and why they think it’s necessary (as an aside, I am completely taken aback that departments don’t regularly submit financial statements to the Treasury – of course they should do so). Regularly assess and publish the progress each department is making.
All of this is basically being done. But as so often, someone wants a Big Project to work on and a Big Document (and secretariat, and website) to maintain. What needs to happen is that the work that is already being done is regularly updated and made public. That it’s easy to find and look at as a whole. And that the process is continually questioned – are we spending on things that are pointless, do we need to do that, can someone else do it better, can we improve the way this delivers the outcome that we want?
Perhaps the most important thing is the regular updates. I’ve just checked a few bits and pieces; no Ministerial meetings have been updated since July 2011 (despite this on 29 March)
Gus O’Donnell is still apparently Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service despite leaving nearly 4 months ago.
A further thought though. Having spent part of this morning looking at various bits of the departmental plans, they are now largely done, give or take. As I suggested some time ago, the real question is now implementation.
Should the Queen’s Speech in fact be basically about going back and repealing, tidying up, rationalising and removing things that don’t work or have unintended consequences? It would be a refreshing change for a government to say, we understand that just making laws is not enough, we need to ensure proper implementation. Of course it won’t ever happen. But it would show a confidence in their message and their policies, and a real understanding that doing is more important than box-ticking and passing legislation that no-one obeys…
* Somewhat disconcertingly, the Conservatives’ manifesto seems to have gone from the website. Luckily I had saved a pdf…