Ministers don’t care – Jane Kennedy authorises a letter

When I was a Minister from time to time I needed to write to all MPs to inform them about something. Either I wrote a letter myself,or I adapted a civil service draft so it was relevant to MPs receiving it. Once the letters had been typed and printed, I then topped and tailed each one, writing "Dear Jane (or whoever)…Yours ever John" to show I had taken an interest and wanted to communicate with each of my colleagues.

Yesterday it was Jane’s turn (Jane Kennedy, Financial Secretary to the Treasury) to write to me. She apparently wanted to tell me that "all efforts are being made to ensure that such a loss (of personal data) can never happen again". The "Dear John" was typed in. There was no "Yours ever" or "Yours truly" or "Yours sincerely". The letter ended with a printed version of her signature, Jane Kennedy.

My name at the top of the destination address overprinted the "HM Treasury " that appeared on the headed notepaper. The Treasury’s efforts to keep a slightly long letter on a single page meant it did not fit. It started with the abrupt "You are aware of the Chancellor’s statement to Parliament regarding the serious breach of procedure leading to the loss of personal data…" How couod I be unaware? Had she not seen me at the Statement? Which MP did not bother to go to hear? Which MP has failed to see the headlines in the papers or hear the odd thing about it on the news?

The letter went on to tell me "I am conscious that you may receive enquiries from constituents". She then repeated some information from the statement, and told me I could always ring the Child Benefit helpline.

There was no apology.

What did this letter tell me about this government?

1. The Minister could not be bothered to top and tail the letter herself as she clearly did not think communicating with colleagues mattered that much.
2. I doubt if the Minister wrote the letter or if she spent any time thinking about the draft. if she had, she would have seen that it was not helping MPs do their job.
3. She does not mind how silly the contents are or how badly the letter is set out on the page.

It was symptomatic of all that is wrong with this government. Ministers are not doing the detailed work necessary to provide a good service to the public or to MPs. Jane Kennedy trusted the civil sservice, and the civil service hastened out something to tick the box and hit the target for "communicating with MPs". Public money was wasted on a useless letter, and any MP who read it should see it confirms the low standards we now expect from this regime.

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6 Comments

  1. Yogi
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Dear John,

    I fully agree with your sentiments. Unfortunately the old fashioned sense of courtesy and politeness is something that is alien to New Labour and I am not surprised at the attitude shown by Ms Kennedy. Then you also have to consider that the woman and the rest of her colleagues are on the backfoot trying to defend the indefensible.

    Best Regards,

    Yogi.

  2. markinchiswick
    Posted November 22, 2007 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    perhaps, she was too busy finding out what happened at HMRC and helping put it right rather than worring about your ego? Just a thought…

  3. Bazman
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    Whatever I stand for. I hate this bigtime. I was automaticaly directed. http://zoomclouds.egrupos.net/tag/JohnRedwood/abo

  4. Carroll Powell
    Posted November 23, 2007 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Dear John,

    Even more than the casually rude reply you received is the fact that no-one in Government has come up with any possible solutions to the problem which they have created for us. I am a parent of three children who now faces the very real prospect of their (and my) identity being stolen and all the Government has said is (a) be vigilant over your bank accounts; and (b) ring a helpline which will tell me damn all and put more money in their pockets. Pathetic and insulting.

    I want answers to the following questions. Perhaps you could ask them since whatever I write to a Minister will just get the usual sod-off reply.

    1. What steps are they going to take to ensure that the birth certificates of our children are not handed out to whoever now has these discs? As far as I can tell anyone with the name and date of birth can simply apply for a copy of the birth certificate and have it sent to another address. Is anything going to be done to stop this?

    2. What steps are they going to take to stop passports being issued in our childrens names? This is a very real risk if someone has the birth certificate.

    3. Why can't they cancel the NI numbers which have now been compromised and issue new ones? It's no good saying that this can't be done. This is an exceptional crisis which will impact our children for years and so exceptional measures are needed.

    4. Will the Government provide automatic insurance against identity theft for all the people affected?

    5. Will the Government pay for the ongoing credit checks which we will now have to have not just for ourselves but for our children for years?

    6. Why can't they give us the option of receiving Child Benefit in cash as they used to?

    Also, I'm told that banks are not going to bear the cost of ID fraud as a result of this government error. Does this mean that I will or that I will have to get into an argument with the bank and the Government? Why the hell should I given that none of this is my fault?

    I do not believe that we have been told the truth about this matter so keep digging.

    Finally, I do not intend giving an iota of personal information to the Government ever again. They can huff and puff and bluster and pass as many laws as they like but ID cards and the ID database are dead in the water. I would like an absolutely watertight commitment from Mr Cameron on this point.

    Nor will I agree to any personal details going onto the Childrens' Database or to the NHS Central Database nor am I going to hand out personal information to any old official before I go on holiday. I may as well leave my front door open. The fact that Ministers are still proposing this authoritarian rubbish and haven't even begun to address any of the questions I've raised shows that they're living on Planet La-La. They are woefully underestimating the fury I and others feel at what has happened.

    Good Luck!

  5. mikestallard
    Posted November 24, 2007 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    No, Martin, that just will not do. If "little people" are disregarded because you are too busy, things get bad very quickly.
    My own MP – Malcolm Moss, North Cambs – replied by return post when one of my students had his passport lost by the Home Office. Because of this, he was able to go home for Christmas to Lithuania. The letter I received was courteous, top and tailed and written on House of Commons notepaper. Where are you spending Christmas yourself?
    We had trouble at our local Comprehensive and the same, courteous and understanding tone was there in the letter. What is more, the MP knew the people involved and also what was going on. Where are your children going to school?
    Two examples of how "little people" matter. this is not dismissable as "ego".
    Think about it.

  6. David Whelbourn
    Posted November 27, 2007 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Carrol Powell has hit the nail on the head these are exactly the points that need to be made in open parliament so that everyone understands the consequences of the loss of personal details.

    John please get this message out so it is reported widely.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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