What is the role of a senior Minister?

Constitutional theory has changed a lot about the role and responsibilities of Ministers in recent years. The old idea that the Secretary of State was responsible for every decision of his or her department, whoever had taken it, has long been modified. No-one today thinks the DWP Secretary is personally responsible for a staff member miscalculating a person’s entitlement to benefit, or the Health Secretary is personally responsible for a cancelled appointment by a doctor. The doctrine of implied proportionality has emerged, where the decision has to be large enough to warrant personal intervention by the politician prior to it being taken.

All three parties in power have also developed the doctrine of the accountable quango. Secretaries of State do not accept responsibility for the decisions of the Bank of England or the Environment Agency. These bodies are appointed by Parliament, have budgets and founding Statutes from Parliament, and do things which the government used to do for itself before they were established or had their functions widened, but they are largely independent.

All three parties also accept the Michael Howard amendment to the doctrine of Ministerial accountability. Ministers can now delegate management functions to senior officials, and make them responsible for managing to an agreed policy. If they make a mistake in carrying out the required policy, the fault is their’s and not the Minister’s.

I have sympathy with these evolutionary changes. I do not think, however, they should become a reason to excuse Ministers from responsibility for the things that matter. Whatever the politicians may wish the doctrine to be, the voters regard the government as to blame for the big things that happen in government in its widest sense. It is time to ask what is a Minister’s job? What should we expect of them? Do we perhaps expect too much, when they in turn are very constrained by international law, domestic law, and the complexity and range of tasks of modern government? Or should Ministers take more of a grip over the army of quangos, the EU and international bodies that affect them?

A Ministerial job is a part time job. Ministers are also MPs, and have to do their main day job as well as being Ministers. They are more than Non executive Chairmen, but less than full time Chief Executive Officers in their departments. Unlike the Chairman, they do have to take or approve the CEO type decisions. Unlike the CEO, they are not full time. They do not appoint, promote and reward the staff they rely on. They may well be appointed with little knowledge or technical background in the area of their command. Their tenure may be short. This limits their ability to challenge or to decide on many technical matters.

The Minister is clearly responsible for setting the main policies of the department, on advice from officials and the wider public the department serves. The Minister is solely responsible for repesenting the department in the Commons and satisfying the Commons concerning its budgets and actions. Senior officials can be asked to appear before Committees. The Minister is primarily responsible for representing the department to the wider world through the media, conferences and the like. Senior officials play a supporting role. The Minister is the complaints department, the person who asks the difficult questions if things are going wrong. He will chair the relevant meetings to put mistakes right or change systems to prevent future error.

The Secretary of State is as far as the public is concerned responsible for all the main decisions the department takes. He or she can demand papers and people to cross examine. He or she can speed decisions up or slow them down. They can overturn official advice or ask for a second opinion. Ministers need to show they are prepared to do this when it matters.

Sometimes Ministers are appointed to jobs they know well. Occasionally a Minister is appointed with relevant knowledge and qualifications. That enables the Minister to do more and to make a better contribution to the work of the department.

As we have often said on this site, Ministers collectively need to wrestle power back from the EU, the ECHR and from some quangos. The public wants Ministers who do respond to public concerns and needs, and who have the power to do so effectively. We also need to consider what qualifications and training would Ministers ideally have?

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  1. Nina andreeva
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Come off it John ministers have loads of spare time. How do they find the time to appear on “Have I got news for you” , write their books (like William Hague) and do the glamour shoots for the magazines (like Theresa May)?

    • APL
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      Nina Andreeva: ” .. glamour shoots for the magazines (like Theresa May)?”

      Nigella Lawson, yes. Teresa May, the readers were conned.

      • Disaffected
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

        What happens to the Energy Secretary, and previous ones, when we have black outs because the energy policy has not been thought through properly and there is insufficient electricity for the country, as warned by OffGem today?? Power stations being shut down because of EU regulation on carbon emission targets based on unproven science and no PM having the guts to tell the EU to mind its own business. Why does the taxpayer have to pay and suffer such incompetence by ministers? Canada will not entertain the green agenda nonsense and Obama has done a U turn to promote and support shale gas. What consequences are there for Cameron, Clegg, Huhne, Davey or the rest of the cabinet under collective responsibility etc?

        • APL
          Posted October 6, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

          Disaffected: “What consequences are there for Cameron, Clegg, Huhne, Davey or the rest of the cabinet under collective responsibility etc?”

          You have heard of ‘zil’ lanes?

          What’s the betting we will get government supplied generators at ministers ( and former ministers and privy councilors ) homes.

          Each day this country comes to resemble the Peoples Republic of North Korea.

    • Disaffected
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      It is also quite simple: if you are not up to the job do not apply or put yourself forward. Alternatively, decline the post if offered. No one forces them to be incompetent at a role for which they have no experience nor have any transferrable skills. Ministers appear to be presenters, with undergraduate knowledge on the theory of a subject- their opinions mostly influenced by their lefty tutors because they have no experience of the real world.

      Seriously John, what qualification or training has Cameron received for being PM? He read the theory on a PPE course at Oxbridge? Was an adviser to Lamont and Major when he was very young and, again, what was his qualification or experience to be an adviser? What experience does he have in management of others? From what I can tell he is good at public speaking and has a back ground in PR. I suggest with his liberal lefty tendencies he would be a good BBC news reporter and Osborne a good presenter on the Time Team programme. Clegg could equally be a good European editor for the BBC.

      Perhaps ministers should be barred from holding office unless they have held a job for ten years outside politics. Reading under graduate theory is not good enough.

      I seem to recollect Labour’s Jacqui Smith asking a similar question and admitting she was not up to the job of Home Secretary because she had not received any training, although she was good at filling out expense forms and giving insincere apologies in parliament. No point whinging when it all goes wrong, she could have refused the job.

      Good article from Liam Fox in the DT. Unfortunately he is on the fringes and no one will listen to him. Clarke made it clear on Question Time last night the Tory cabinet ministers are pro European. Cameron is away with the politically correct green fairies and currently considering mansion tax in contrast to his party claiming to freeze council tax because of over bloated pay at the local authorities. Fox forgets his recent inappropriate behaviour also represents what is wrong with politics and he appears unable to get his head around this aspect possibly because it would contradict part of his article.

      The deficit and debt is not caused by over taxation it is spending too much. Not a hard concept to grasp. Nevertheless this seems to escape all ministers of the current cabinet.

      • Disaffected
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        JR, how about a comparative analysis between Sir Richard Branson and Justine Greening? Sir Richard does not have a degree and is in charge of a large successful business. He was asked to make a bid by DoT led by Justine Greening under the terms given by her department, university educated and led by an Oxbridge Tory who has a PPE. Sir Richard submits a bid on Justine Greening’s terms and realises when unsuccessful that something must be amiss. Justine Greening will have none of it and basically says it is sour grapes. Both in charge of a lot people who work for them, both have to make judgments on what they are told, not doing the detail themselves. If Sir Richard gets it wrong his business loses out, if he always gets it wrong his business goes bust. What happens to Justine Greening? Nothing. She keeps her job and income and is shuffled on to a new job to possibly make further bad judgments. Anything happen to her boss with the PPE? No, they all blame the civil service. Did anyone hear Sir Richard blame his staff at any stage?? The excuses about time is a non starter, if not a red herring.

      • APL
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

        Disaffected: “From what I can tell he is good at public speaking and has a back ground in PR. ”

        It as the BBC that put Cameron where he is today, they puffed his one rather sad speech at the pre Tory leader election TPC out of all proportion.

        Odd, to see the BBC doing the same for Milibrain.

        One might begin to wonder if the BBC isn’t rather stretching itself, just a little too far.

      • alan jutson
        Posted October 8, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink


        I think JR has just given the very reasons why governments fail.

        We have part time Ministers, who know little if anything about the industry they are put in charge of, have little experience of management or its skills, have even less knowledge of balance sheets, budgets, or how to manage them, are on a known short term contract, and have no ability to hire and fire.

        I could not think of a worse situation to be in, is it any surprise they are out of touch with almost everything that goes on.

        Given the above, I may just be starting to feel some sympathy for them. But then they choose to put themselves in such a position.

        Perhaps it is time to change completely the way things are run.

    • Mark W
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Minsiters have loads of spare time? I would hope so. Surely they are entitled to follow persuits of pleasure and interest in their own time. (I imagine that MPs don’t quite enjoy the down time many of us do).

      In fact I would think as their job is more demanding and more open to minute scrutiny the less they touch reality and broaden their view. I don’t want ministers that are so scared of critism that they are reduced to hiding behind excuses and not pushing boundaries. They need to be human, that means having something out of life for themselves.

      • Electro-Kevin
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

        Mark – I agree with all of that.

        • Electro-Kevin
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

          … though I would prefer that our Ministers have more autonomy from the EU.

  2. lifelogic
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    Their role is surely, to protect the public from the rampant, out of control, tax borrow and waste state sector. They are the only, tiny, democratic input the public really has. Otherwise you get, as we have now, a state sector that simply parasites on the private sector, renders it uncompetitive and kills it.

    If ministers are too constrained by idiotic “Harriet Harmon think” laws, the EU, the ECHR or become mere weather girl announcers for the incompetent state sector (in the Cameron PR Mode) then even the slight democracy the UK still has is no more. The state then surely has no longer has legitimacy to extort taxes. No more legitimacy than any other criminal extortion racket.

    I see the BBC still has time to sign 25,000 contracts that avoid PAYE deductions and save tax one assumes. A bit rich in such a second rate organisation that, at the top, is already over paid and pensioned at about four times the going rate. Also one that tells us endlessly we should pay more tax, have a bigger state sector, more EU, and more expensive green energy while attacking tax avoidance everywhere else.

    Rather in the Prince Charles, do as I say not as I do mode.

    Reply This morning they said a lot of those contracts were for one off appearances by genuine self employed contractors. There are, however, people who should be employees using a company and sub contract format which need changing.

    • Peter Richmond
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      and what is wrong with taking off a 20% withholding tax even from these people?

      • nicol sinclair
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

        Peter Richmond. Indeed. Whilst it remains legal, one is perfectly entitled to take 20% off.

        If the ‘chatterati’ don’t like it, then they must persuade the government to change the law. Simple… Perhaps ban single traders from forming companies. That should do it.

        And, the ‘chatterati’ may not succeed in changing the law.

    • APL
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      JR: “There are, however, people who should be employees using a company and sub contract format which need changing. ”

      I see you are still wedded to the idea of a State Propaganda organ funded by extortion.

      Privatize the whole damn shooting match. Put the BBC archive into public ownership, then let the BBC prove how good it is, rather than the mindless advertisements we are currently subjected to.

      • Jerry
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        @APL: How will privatising the BBC help stop a tax loophole? Duh!

        • APL
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Permalink

          Jerry: “How will privatising the BBC help stop a tax loophole? ”

          Have you considered the ridiculous situation where one arm of the government, for example the HMRC (a), is chasing another arm of government, for example the BBC(b) for tax it should have paid but didn’t because it deliberately arranged its affairs to avoid the tax it(b) would otherwise have been liable to pay?

          Privatising the BBC may not stop a tax loophole, which ‘loophole’ the government in its incompetence created, but it would regularize a rather silly situation.

          • lifelogic
            Posted October 9, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink


      • lifelogic
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        Clearly Cameron is in favour of a State Propaganda organ funded by extortion. He even put Lord Patten in as head of the trustees, just to make sure it keeps pushing the pro EU line, one assumes.

        • Jerry
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

          What about non ‘state’ propaganda media machines, not a squawk from you about them is their, just your usual bovine by-product about the BBC you so detest… If you have a genuine argument it is one regarding regulation and not media ownership.

          • Jerry
            Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

            you = “lifelogic”, NOT our host!

          • lifelogic
            Posted October 6, 2012 at 3:40 am | Permalink

            Clearly just as you can buy which books you choose to you can consume which media you like. With the BBC however you have to pay for it anyway.

            I do not detest the BBC and listen to it a lot. What I detest is their endless, pro EU, green wash, ever more tax, “Harriet Harmon think” enforced equality agenda and their push for an ever bigger state propaganda.

          • Bazman
            Posted October 6, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

            The licence fee is a red herring as you well know. What about other news sources saying the same Not peep about SKY’s subscription is there? You seriously think people just hand over over hundred quid a month or more? Your usual lies and propaganda and crackpot news sources are better than the BBC and this is what we should all believe?

          • APL
            Posted October 6, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

            Bazman: “Not peep about SKY’s subscription is there? ”

            I wouldn’t expect an extreme Socialist to understand the difference between voluntary and compulsory participation in a thing.

            But that is the difference between SKY and the BBC.

      • Bob
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

        I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it, the TV License is an anachronism in the 21st Century.

        We don’t need three and a half billion pound state broadcaster, especially in the light of recent events, pumping out a load of dumbed-down utter rubbish and propaganda over tv, radio and internet, not to mention repeats of programs that were produced and already paid for twenty or thirty years ago.

        Now that Janet Street-Porter and Esther Rantzen have exposed the fact that “a lot of people at the BBC knew what was going on…”, perhaps they could pass the names of those concerned to the police and we can get the whole horrible edifice closed down and save 3.5bn pounds per year.

        Let it sink or swim in the private sector, where the fee income depends of the quality of the product.

        • Jerry
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          No Bob, we do need a state PSB, who else is going to give your beloved UKIP (if they ever become a serious elected party) the wall-to-wall conference coverage that UKIP already wish the BBC would give (and complain about not receiving), it won’t be your beloved commercial or subscription sector – don’t believe me, go find a clue about the whys and wherefores of C-Span in the USA…

          No one more blind than those who choose not to see.

          • Adam5x5
            Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

            Why do we need a state broadcaster at all?

            Any state requirements (emergency broadcasts etc) can be put into the contract requirements when the bandwidth is being sold for frequencies.

            Although, I couldn’t care less that the BBC exists as I don’t pay a licence fee so I’m not funding its bias.

            I do agree with Bob, if the BBC is as loved as it claims, it should not have any concerns about removing it’s funding source being forced under the threat of prosecution to volutary subscription.

          • APL
            Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

            Jerry: “we do need a state PSB, who else is going to give your beloved UKIP”

            Gives us one very good reason why we shouldn’t have a state funded broadcaster.

            Simply because it is prone to be politically active.

        • Bazman
          Posted October 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

          You think we are going to accept Fox News right wing bias and SKY quality programmes from middle aged men who do not even watch TV?

          • APL
            Posted October 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

            Bazman: “You think we are going .. ”

            Who is this ‘we’, paleface?

      • nicol sinclair
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

        APL. I note that you are anti-BBC as am I. Why do you think that I now watch Al Jazeera (English of course)? Many of the better newsreaders/presenters have now flown the BBC/ITV coup in favour of the latter. Money may have something to do with it of course?

        • Bob
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          @nicol sinclair

          Are you still funding the BBC?

          • nicol sinclair
            Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            Yes, by means of the TV licence, which is mandatory.

            Sorry but it should have read coop and not coup – careless of me.

          • Bazman
            Posted October 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

            Are you funding SKY Bob?

          • Bob
            Posted October 6, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink


            I don’t have a TV Licence.

            However I do pay tax, some of which unfortunately finds it’s way to the BBC via “soft loans” from the EU.

          • Bob
            Posted October 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

            @nicol sinclair

            Search on YouTube:
            “the great TV licence scam”

          • Bazman
            Posted October 7, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

            The…..crux of …….the ……..film………………………is that…… by ……..by law……that you………..have to …………………..pay………..your ……TV …….licence.
            Had a look on Google and some of the techniques, and for sure money wasted, pursuing TV owners and non TV owners is bordering on big brother.
            The problem being as a person who does not watch TV you seem to be obsessed with this subject. You do not seem to have the same obsession with council tax which is one of the few things you can find yourself in prison for not paying even if you do not have the means to pay. The TV licence is different you will find yourself in prison for not paying a court fine, so don’t try that one.
            You propose to subject everyone who watches TV. You do not remember, to a system similar to SKY, a free fragmented local system like Germanys Astra 19.8. or a CNN/FOX news type set up. none of which is acceptable. A BBC SKY system is not going to be less than 150 quid a year thats for sure. SKY is very expensive and makes few quality programmes or films itself. Take a look. Most of the ‘free’ channels I mean ones not requiring further subscription are a stream of adverts with old films and repeats inbetween.
            My main point is that in order to further you in some ways justified political beliefs you intend to wreck the current quality BBC service by requiring it to be a subscription bases service or funded by advertisements which by default puts it into the pocket of big business which will drive standards down and expect their own politcal view to be aired. Right wing views by default like FOX. Yes it will and you know it. Only the law would stop this and you can be sure this would be you next target.
            The BBC like many other broadcasts and newspapers is guilty of political bias in some quite shocking ways ignoring left and right issues and rights and wrongs of many stories and it could be argued that you are paying for this by advertisement costs and in some ways the companies are complicit in this. Never hear this one though do we? Only your red herring licence fee bleat which you say will save the population from compulsory payment. You seem to believe that the poor just happily pay large amounts to SKY because they do not have to and hate paying the BBC because they do. If they could find a way to watch SKY for free they would and they do try by a number of I suspect non successful methods. Proving that SKY is not voluntary paid for. You propose to put in another inferior system of populist crap that again they will not want to pay for, but can avoid, but not if everyone else is watching and they will be left out unable to join in the popular conversations of the day.
            Why should the majority of the population who enjoy the BBC and it’s wide services which of course they do not like paying for, have these services abolished or polluted by non TV watching pop/specialist music listening, middle class middle aged men with an axe to grind paying ten quid a year to listen to radio3/4? protesting at the number of adverts verses subscription fee? When you can answer this question you will be credible. If you can’t answer this question then just shut up. Ram it

          • Bob
            Posted October 7, 2012 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            I wonder if there’s a verbal equivalent of Imodium?

    • Tedgo
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      It was established long ago in the construction industry that a builder had to deduct tax and NI from payments to self employed workers. Self employed workers need to register with HM Revenue & Customs for the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) otherwise the employer makes tax deductions at emergency rates. To be paid gross, under CIS, the self employed have to pass special tests.

      Unless the self employed can prove they are truly independent from the business they are doing work for, namely providing there own tools, equipment and materials and working their own hours, like a plumber fixing a leak, then the employer has to deduct tax etc.

      The only way round it is to work for an agency, but then again the agency have to deduct tax from payments to you, or have your own limited company. Even with the latter any expenditure which is not genuinely for the business will be seen as income and has to be taxed.

      One of the benefits of working for the likes of the BBC and Civil Service is the gold plated pension schemes. If you are self employed or working for a limited company then you are not entitled to join those schemes. An interesting question which needs asking, are some trying to have their cake and eat it.

    • Timaction
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:31 am | Permalink

      I think the area that needs addressing is management, leadership and strategic decision making. Lets be frank. Your current leadership are hopeless decision makers. Lets take as an example the decision to go to the USA in election year and openly back Obama. No thought given to how this may be viewed by the citizens of the USA or Romney. George Osborne should have been here finalising his budget but preferred to be “hob nobbing” it on the International stage massaging his ego………..only to present a useless u-turn budget. Did he actually prepare and read this himself, or think this through? Then there’s the appointment of Jeremy Hunt to Health after the contraversies of the Levison enquiry. How about retaining the services of the arrogant Andrew Mitchell who on his last day overuled officials to give away millions to a (foreign country-ed)! By implication he slurs the police by denying he called them “plebs”. Strong leadership is needed but not forthcoming from Cameron. He fudges and dithers over everything. In office but not in power.
      He’s on the wrong side of the “green” fiasco when our industry is about to decamp to foreign shores as they impose carbon trading, windmills and solar panels that don’t work, based on unproven science. He’s on the wrong side of the EU referendum debate, foreign aid, EU HCR, mass migration and encouraging Turkey to join the EU so we get more millions here! As a conservative I know that whatever Cameron states as his policy I’ll think the opposite. Unfortunately for the Tory Party and its MP’s, most voters have come to the same conclusion after 2.5 years of dither, appeasement, no action and fudge.

    • lifelogic
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      I see Gus O’Donnell wants to blame a lack of training for the incompetence in the civil service. This is the usual first excuse of the incompetent (as exhibited in £40M down the drain at the DoT west coast fiasco).

      Which civil service staff are responsible for training I wonder? Who is responsible for overseeing this training (and who trains the trainers). It all comes down to incompetence in the 50% over paid civil service and government ministers, even if training is partly to blame as Gus believes. One suspect most of the training they receive is in “equality issues”, “gender and race sensitivities”, “EU laws the regulations”, “the disability acts” and the like, rather than how to do a simple spreadsheet financial computation.

      • Disaffected
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

        It would be interesting to know under FIO if any at the DoT responsible for this fiasco with Greening had a bonus recently and whether this was taken into account before training claims were made by Sir Gus.

      • zorro
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

        It is also because a lot of the Senior Civil Servants do not have operational/practical experience of the departments they lead or where they need to direct investment in training/skills. They have a tendency to reorganise continually throwing all the eggs into the air and hoping that they they don’t smash. They need to focus on their core purpose and ensure that their staff are adequately trained and upskilled in new techniques to deliver it.


        • zorro
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

          When this is combined with ministers with even less relevant experience, it becomes toxic….


        • lifelogic
          Posted October 9, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

          “their core purpose” this seems to be the preservation/justification of pointless jobs and bonuses.

      • lifelogic
        Posted October 6, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

        Team building “holidays” seem very popular in the Civil Service too I note.

        • Bazman
          Posted October 6, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

          They are very much part of private enterprise too. All these jollys, special canteen and cars are never available to the average employee. MCSSS again.

  3. Robert K
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    My takeaway from your comment is the last paragraph, which sums up the Sir Humphrey syndrome. One of the many reasons that I feel disenfranchised is the sense that even if I elect an MP who represents my interests rather than those of his party and that MP ends up in a ministerial post with policy ambitions that align with mine (both of which are very long shots) the chances of him or her implementing those policies are profoundly constrained by the Whitehall machine.

  4. Leslie Singleton
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:31 am | Permalink

    This railway franchising fiasco is intriguing. Has the make-up of the £40 million been provided? There were mistakes, right?, not vast omissions or even anything wrong in concept best I understand so why cannot the mistakes just be rectified? So what is the £40 million? Presumably it is a marginal cost of some kind because the civil servants will just be doing their day job. Don’t tell me it is for further consultant and merchant bank fees. Or is it payment for a duty of care to the bidders? If so why wasn’t it made clear at the outset that bids were invited at the bidders’ own risk? After all, three of the four, all big boys, were not going to get any joy on any basis. And if the answer is that the £40 million is purely to redo the work with the mistakes in it, said mistakes must have been colossal and again one might have thought would have been noticed, given even a modicum of management and control.

    Reply: I think it includes compensation for the very expensive bidding process undertaken by private companies which turned out to a waste of their time and money.

    • Alan Wheatley
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

      I think in due course we will find out the extent of the problem within the DfT is much wider and fundamental than has so far appeared in the public domain. The bits of information we do have do not correlate.

      We should also remind ourselves that this is the same department that thinks HS2 is a good thing and has said their analysis of the data supports their claims; plenty of credible sources have disagreed.

      We should further remind ourselves that this is the department with a flawed policy on road safety (read their current public consultation on “setting local speed limits” for a rich source of muddled thinking) due in part to failures of numeracy.

      • Alan Wheatley
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        I am pleased to see the Tax Payers Alliance have picked up the significance for HS2, and have written to the Minister making specific and pertinent points concerning the DfT’s credibility in its evaluation of the HS2 case.

      • Mark
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        It’s not just a lack of numeracy. It’s a lack of imagination, and a belief in control and rules as the solutions to problems, and failure to consider knock on impacts, instead of seeking to find the self-organising solutions and intelligent approaches that harness technology and economics to help drivers, not to fine them or charge them.

    • Leslie Singleton
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      Reply to Reply–Yes, thanks, but I don’t follow how the bidders are worse off than they were before (tongue in cheek, three of them are better off because they are back in with a chance!). Are they being asked to re-present their bids? If so how come, because there has been a falling over themselves to make it clear that the bids smelled of roses and that the problem was confined to mistakes in the Department? Can’t have it both ways. I realise that we are only talking millions rather than billions and only about the government wasting our money, which comes easy to them, but £40 million is a lot of money to me.

      • Leslie Singleton
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        In reply to reply, perhaps I didn’t manage to make it clear that as I understand matters the bidders do NOT have to do any more work, in that their bids are pure as they stand, so surely they remain in statu quo?? In other words why cannot the Department just rectify its mistake and proceed on basis of bids as they stand?

        • a-tracy
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps the compensation is all for First Group and Virgin’s legal fees!!

    • nicol sinclair
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Reply to reply.

      Spot on, Mr Redwood. If the prospective bid has been cancelled due to errors on the side of the DfT, then absolutely no cost should be to the account of the bidders and they should be reimbursed with the (estimated?) cost of preparing their bids, which would have been huge for such a procurement. Indeed, in this instance a huge waste of their time, energy and cost…

      • Leslie Singleton
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

        Dear Nicol, As I have tried to explain above, the bidders have not lost anything (except perhaps by reason of a short delay, negligible in a franchise lasting decades). If it is not the case that they stand in exactly the same position now as before the ballsed up awarding of the contract, could you please explain in what way their position is different? More like the Government reckons it needs to sweet talk the bidders in to not walking away in disgust.

        Reply: The losing bidder if he should have won has clearly lost. The winning bidder, even if he should have won, has also now lost as there will be delay in award of the proper contract. As the competition has apparently to be re-run all bidders have wasted a lot of their money so far.

        • Leslie Singleton
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

          Further reply to further reply–I guess I do not understand what is going to be “re-run” and why. Seems to me that without any re-running, the Department just evaluates the info that has already been submitted but this time correctly. Are you saying that bidders have to rebid? If so, in what way and why because the stress has been that there was nothing wrong with the bids only the evaluation.

        • Alan Wheatley
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

          On the BBC Radio 4 PM Programme today their correspondent was introduced as now having a lot more information about what went wrong. I do not think he added much.

          But to the extent of what was said the issues, as described, are to do with the evaluation of the bids. If that is the case then why are we being told that the bid process needs to be re-run.

          If new tenders are required then that indicates that there was an error with the Invitation to Tender, but of such we have heard nothing.

          I still think there is a lot more to come out into the public domain on this shambles.

    • A different Simon
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      After the Bombadier / Siemens rolling stock fiasco no company other than an EU preferred supplier could afford to prepare a bid unless they were compensated for the effort spent preparing it .

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      £40 million for a bidding process that didn’t used to happen under BR.

      (It will work out a lot more expensive than that after it’s done. )

      The WCML got a lot better after taxpayers’ money was thrown at it post privatisation.

      How could such an excellent and well regarded company such as GNER (the flagship of the privatisation scheme) have failed ?

      Network Rail (and its losses as previously mentioned) is a nationalised organisation but it should be mentioned that Network Rail is not BR.

  5. Pete the Bike
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    These days ministers take responsibility for nothing. Even when they get caught out for their own actions they still evade the consequences whenever possible and if they do have to resign they just wait a while and then return in another post, no doubt having sworn undying loyalty to the PM. There is no integrity in government, not surprising when you consider the criminal nature of the trade.

    • lifelogic
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Ken Clark, on yesterday’s Question Time, seemed to agree fully that ministers should not look at all at major (or minor) contracts and he would advise them not to even look. Needless to say, no one on the panel, was a real Tory with a sensible outlook (though we did have Jacob Rees-Mogg last week). What then is the point of Ministers – just hire some cheap actors to read the lines out they would do it better.

      The only point seems to be a superficial and largely false, appearance of democracy.

      • Brian Tomkinson
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

        I bet Clarke hasn’t even read the 1992 Maastricht Treaty yet that he thought was so vital to the UK. The man is typical of so many politicians all talk and no substance!

        • Lindsay McDougall
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

          Ken Clarke has read neither the Maastricht Treaty nor the Lisbon Treaty. Who said so? He said so, almost boastfully.

        • APL
          Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

          Brian Tomkinson: “all talk and no substance!”

          Unfortunately his is quite substantial, a very considerable fraction of it paid for over the years, by us saps.

  6. Alan Wheatley
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    Some big issues. So back to basics.

    Everything should be run with the correct mix of the four mandatory ingredients: Responsibility; Authority; Resources; Accountability.

    Responsibility: what is the extent of the task, its scope. The PM is responsible for everything.

    Authority: those charged with the responsibility have to have the authority to carry out the task.

    Resources: the task can only be done if the necessary means are available.

    Accountability: those charged with the responsibility must be accountable outside their authority. The PM is responsible to the electorate.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I note that “intelligence” is not a mandatory ingredient.

      • Alan Wheatley
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

        My four ingredients define an organisational structure.

        Successful implementation requires its own “ingredients”.

      • Adam5x5
        Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

        I think “Intelligence” would come under resources.

        Is your resource capable of completing the task?

        • Bazman
          Posted October 6, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

          Is your resource capable of completing the task? Do what? Witless under manager speak. I’ll run it up the flagpole…

          • Bazman
            Posted October 6, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

            Forgot to add that I’m laughing at you! LOL! Your sacked. This is relevant by the way.

  7. peasant
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    “implied proportionality”

    Please use plain English – this sort of language is always camouflage!

    • Electro-Kevin
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      ‘disguised’ surely ?

  8. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Rather than being either Chairmen or Chief Executives, most ministers appear to be no more than PR Executives – and not very good ones at that. This week we have seen two revealing examples of how ministers are failing but no doubt still retain the Prime Minister’s confidence. Greening told media and Parliament that the tendering process for the West Coast main line had been “robust”. We now know from Channel 4 and the press that, five days before the contract was awarded, the Department for Transport was handed an independent report highlighting the flaws in the West Coast rail franchise bid process. Greening and Villiers, who apparently signed off the deal, have new cabinet jobs so it is even less likely that they will lose their jobs than if they were still in the Transport department. Indeed it makes you wonder if they were moved to save their skins.
    On the Panorama programme about NHS tourists, the recently appointed Health Minister displayed a breathtaking degree of complacency when confronted with the misuse of NHS funds. If these people are no more than mouthpieces for their departments and civil servants then why have them? There are many more Press and PR Officers employed in every department of state why have another bunch? Just as the case with civil servants, if no one loses their job when they show their incomptetence then what signal does that send to the others? Unfortunately, the man who appointed them in the first place will do nothing as he tries to hide his own incompetence.

    • zorro
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      The ministers’ lives are run by their staff, including PPS, diary staff, researchers, SPADs, and speech writers, not forgetting the civil service apparatus from PS downwards……. One does wonder how much original thought/direction/action they bring to the role.


  9. JimS
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    One area where ministers should take back responsibility are those vile-named Offices of Regulation.

    The public is conned that they are just the (occasionally) visible ‘regulator’ when in reality they are the vestige of the government department they were hived off from.

    But what do they do? Who are they responsible to? They don’t serve the public at all. They are just a vehicle to insulate the minister and parliament from their responsibilities.

  10. Jeremy Shiers
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    John you write

    All three parties in power have also developed the doctrine of the accountable quango. Secretaries of State do not accept responsibility for the decisions of the Bank of England or the Environment Agency. These bodies are appointed by Parliament, have budgets and founding Statutes from Parliament, and do things which the government used to do for itself before they were established or had their functions widened, but they are largely independent.

    This means bodies such as DEFRA Environment Agency and Natural England are in unaccountable to anyone. In principal they are accountable to parliament but in practice which mp has the time, energy and interest to hold these bodies to account.

    One consequence DEFRA, EA and NE have accepted on behalf of UK IPCC’s flawed projections of global warming and at least 2m sea level rise by 2100. Their response to this is Shoreline Management Plan 2, which details how they plan to combat rising sea levels by knocking holes in sea walls now. It sounds better if you call it managed realignment.

    My mp wrote to me

    I would have very little time for anything else if I was to challenge the consensus on climate change“.

    Is that holding DEFRA EA and NE to account?

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      Your MP sounds completely useless; but there again that seems to be the default position for the majority of the House of Commons.

    • forthurst
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      “One consequence DEFRA, EA and NE have accepted on behalf of UK IPCC’s flawed projections of global warming and at least 2m sea level rise by 2100.”

      It is important that projections for temperature and sea level are examined independently. That is because the extrapolations from the former to achieve the rise in sea level may be as flawed as the deductions of temperature due to CO2.

      Ii is extremely complacent of the government to go with ‘the science is settled’; it most certainly is not.

      Here is a commentary in the Register on an original paper, which is available in full on the internet, in which the the consequent sea level changes as a result of a presumption of man made global warming are calculated using a new methodology.

      “Thus it is that the Professor Huybrechts and his colleagues, in new research published yesterday, estimate that even in the worst-case-possible situation the maximum rise in sea levels in 2100 will be approximately 30cm, well down at the low end of the IPCC range and less than twice the rise seen last century. More probably, the result will be lower and the 21st century will be much the same as the 20th in terms of sea levels.”


  11. a-tracy
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t each Ministerial department have about four MPs working within that section plus additional SPADs and all sorts of full time parliamentary assistants to those part-time ministers?

  12. a-tracy
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Most business people would recognise this dilemma. As you grow you appoint people to take responsibility for sectors of your enterprise, if you’re smart you take the time to give them a comprehensive job description and you sort out the person specification form to ensure the person you hire as the desirable skills to perform the tasks. If you’ve been in business a while you learn that you need procedure files because expecting common sense of appointees is dangerous to your business. As you get bigger you need more rules writing down and more procedures, then you have to appoint someone to check that all rules and procedures are being complied with. You have to change and adapt these procedures as the government add extra burdens, legislation and costs every year without fail, so keeping on top of all of this extra legislation/regulation/potential for fees and fines becomes virtually your full time job, so you have to appoint someone else to ensure the business is moving forward and selling your services/products. Difference is that in government you are just spending other people’s money not generating it.

    If you don’t do this in Business the buck stops with you, the person at the top, and ultimately you and the shareholders have to pay either financially or by losing your enterprise or job.

    • Adam5x5
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      There is an alternative model and method for a company, like the one used where I work.

      Hire intelligent people who are motivated and capable.
      Leave them to it.

      We are trusted as professionals to do our job well, safely and time manage. There are effectively no managers telling you what to do. If something needs doing, you do it and projects are wholly your responsibility from pre-conception through to post-completion.

      It’s a brilliant way to work as there are minimal overheads – HR is non-existent, no H&S department, accounting minimal (we place our own orders for example, approve invoices, check goods, etc).

      You do have to be able to trust your staff to work independently though, so recruiting is very hard.

      Must say it’s an amazing place to work – much better to be in than the way you describe. Though I couldn’t see it working everywhere…

      • a-tracy
        Posted October 6, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

        Appreciate what you’re saying, does this mean that you are personally responsible for all potential governmental compliance failures, is it yourself in court if you miss a piece of legislation? Or is there an unseen level you’ve not mentioned? A legal person perhaps who could step in, if you want to, can you tell me what industry you’re in and how many people you’re personally responsible for?

        How many people do your actions affect if a decision you make goes wrong?

      • a-tracy
        Posted October 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

        Adam I did hire an intelligent man several years ago, made him a Director of one of our Companies, we trusted him and gave him purchasing ability. Lets just say it ended badly, both in bad management of the business and (allegations of theft-ed), fortunately we audited the business after one year and limited our personal losses, his deceptions were very clever and his lawyers even more so because we were naive and trusting.

        I’ve also had people that had been doing a good job in areas of a business, but their lack of legal knowledge left us open to law suits. Been there, done that, learnt the lessons.

  13. Martin Ryder
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Perhaps this issue should be looked at in merchant navy terms. The Ministers represent the owners (the taxpayers) of the ships and the Permanent Secretaries and Quango CEOs are the captains of the ships. The owners dictate the routes that the ships have to take, who/what they will carry, how much money will be spent on running them, etc, whilst the captains are responsible for carrying out the owners’ orders. If the ships run aground, get lost, fail to meet the agreed schedules, the crews mutiny or fail to carry out the duties expected of them, etc, then the captain gets the chop. Of course if any of these problems are caused by the orders from the owners being neither clear nor acheivable then the owners must accept the blame.

    I do not believe that you can put senior ministers with little or no experience of strategic management in charge of vast, complex and expensive organisations and expect them to manage them. That is what the senior officials are for. They should have developed the management skills needed before taking up their positions. The problem nowadays is that the people at the top, both ministers and civil servants, are chosen not for their abilities but because of the perceived need for political, gender and ethnic balance around the cabinet table and in the upper reaches of the civil service.

    Also the political system selects ministers from amongst 650 people who have been elected not to command the heights of the government machine but to represent the concerns of the locality from which they come. Okay many of these are parachuted into the locality by their party but even then I doubt that their selectors are interested in them as potential ministers but as people who will be loyal to the current party bosses.

    The local voter has no choice but to vote for the party’s choice, another party, which might not suit, or stay at home. It would be far better if governments were elected separately from local representatives and potential prime ministers were to tell the electorate before the election who is going to be in charge of each government department. They should also tell the electorate why they are chosing them and spell out what their experience and abilities are.

    One last point, I doubt that our ministers and civil servants are any worse than their counterparts overseas. This is not a British problem it is a Human Race problem. In many ways we are more fortunate than most of the Earth’s population.

  14. The Prangwizard
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    There needs to be some change. We need a lot less of the raw politics of lies, party and person before country and so on of course. As for Ministers trying to run a department, it seems to me they get hounded too much. Thick skins are a necessity and I couldn’t handle it myself, could the many of us who criticise? How for example do they cope with being moved about? It was good to see that IDS, as an example, didn’t want to move this last time, but how can a new Transport Minister say get to grips with what’s happening in his department, and answer questions in the House after a matter of days sometimes? He must have to rely totally on officials in the early days, but in any case it is not possible to know everthing about everything, and shouldn’t have to face the vitriol that is sometimes thrown at him or her. It can’t be good for them or the country.
    I think we must accept that the Civil Service has been politicised over recent years, by stealth, and thus is not dispassionate in all things as is claimed. My guess would be more by the Left than by other views but obviously I don’t know. How do Ministers get through obstructionism in all its forms? It will happen and no doubt does. The time has come maybe to give Ministers the some powers of hire and fire. Such would need to be done publicly though. And just what is likely to be done with those in the bureaucracy who fouled up with the WCML issue? There must be a case also for shining some lights into hidden Civil Service personnel, processes, competency and decision-making. My impression is that the country is almost ungovernable because of the power of vested interests everywhere, large and small, often very small. Maybe too much democracy, dare I say? And everything seems to be open to legal challenge. No wonder we are falling behind the progress of the rest of the world.
    I would like to think that attempts are being made to fix this, but it is barely noticeable, and is too little and too slow. We need a strong leader who leads, sets an example, and doesn’t try to be ‘all things to all men’.

  15. oldtimer
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    No wonder we are in the mess we are. You paint a picture of ministers in the grip and control of the Civil Service. No wonder the Labour party has no discernible policies. In today`s world they are not needed because they are, to all intents and purposes, the same as the other two parties and will anyway continue to be determined by the Civil Service.

    What a government, worth the name, should do (before it is elected) is set out its policy objectives, why it thinks they are relevant, how they are to be achieved and where the cash is coming from to pay for them. Thus the direction and speed of travel along its road map is set out. Once elected the ministers job is to ensure that his or her department makes that journey. If course corrections are needed, or the pace of travel must change, the minuster is accountable for explaining and convincing Parliament and the rest of us the reasons why. If they fail to do so, they should resign or be sacked. If their officials wilfully obstruct policies they should be sacked. If officials fundamentally disagree with the policies they are asked to implement, then they should resign and give the reasons why.

    The most glaring gap, in present circumstances, is the growing and unsustainable gap between income and expenditure – marked by the deficit and the national debt. On present evidence, none of the three main political parties is fit for office for none has produced a credible plan for getting a decisive grip on this problem. It is no surprise that fewer and fewer people are willing to vote for any of them.

  16. Andrew Johnson
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    As someone who was involved in large contract negotiations with both the private sand public sector, I wrote to several blogs pointing out that the bottom line figures of the preferred candidate for the rail contract were suspect to say the least.
    The problem is professional politicians who have no real business experience. Having a PPE from Oxbridge does not give you business experience, neither does it mean you have that oh so rare commodity amongst the political class – commonsense.
    The minister could have shown the bottom line figures to anyone at the rail station and my guess is most would have queried them.
    I don’t know what the role a a senior minister is, but given that the EU is making most of our laws and increasingly attempt to control every aspect of British finance, trade and commerce, I wonder if it is that important? Aren’t all major decisions made in cabinet?
    Of course the senior minister could have shown the figures to you and then this very expensive public exercise in gross incompetency wouldn’t have happened would it?

    • Adam5x5
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

      Common sense these days is not just lacking in the political class. It’s so rare it should be a superpower akin to flight or x-ray vision.

  17. Adam5x5
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Sometimes Ministers are appointed to jobs they know well. Occasionally a Minister is appointed with relevant knowledge and qualifications. That enables the Minister to do more and to make a better contribution to the work of the department.

    Why wouldn’t a minister try to learn as much as possible about the subjects they are supposed to be monitoring? Learning the basic theories and practices of the subject of the department shouldn’t take more than a week or two of concentrated effort.
    By that I mean they should read a range textbooks, not just rely on advisors to tell them what to do. Or would a basic understanding of thermodynamics, physics and material science be too much to ask from someone who is supposed to be the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change? (for example)

  18. Tedgo
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Once the top civil servant in the Dept of Transport has sorted out what went wrong and sacked the individuals concerned, he himself should be sacked without a golden goodbye. He is responsible for the supervision and workings of his department and £40M is a lot of tax payers money.

    Uanime5, yesterday, posed the question that if the people responsible hadn’t been properly trained, they should not be sacked. I would maintain that if people are not trained and qualified to do the job, they should not be doing the work in the first place. Selecting incompetent people reflects badly on the managers who hand the work out, just as much as a Prime Minister selecting incompetent Secretaries of State and Ministers.

    Some point out the Miss Greening had an economics degree so should have known better. Having a qualification is only a start, what really matters is experience, commonsense and being proactive.

    Real, wide ranging, experience is hard to come by, there is a difference between 11 years experience and 1 years experience 11 times over. (I always think Gordon Brown at this point).

    Sadly commonsense cannot be taught, you either have it or you don’t. Being proactive is essential to search out the facts and ensure others are pulling their weight, such that the end result is worthy of your efforts.

    As to MP’s sadly the electoral system excludes a significant proportion of the population, that is introverts. To get elected one needs to be an extrovert, able to speak a load of bull dust without blushing. Unfortunately, in my experience, extroverts dislike detail so are easier to mislead.

    • uanime5
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Surely the Minister is ultimately responsible for the supervision of the Department of Transport, not the top Civil Servant. Shouldn’t they be the one to get fired?

      Given that everyone has to be trained in order to do their job it would be nearly impossible to find someone who already knew how to do this job. It’s not like there’s a private sector equivalent for the DoT.

      • a-tracy
        Posted October 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

        Isn’t that part of the problem unanime5, they have no competitors, with no competitors they’re not forced to deliver best service on a budget. The Minister isn’t the only person in this division, there would be an entire team, in fact I’d like to know just he many workers, consultants, MPs, their assistants etc. had there hands in this single contract bid? If you empower Civil service top executives to deliver sound advice to the Minister and their is found to be unsound then they are culpable. Why not take the losses out of their pension savings that’d sharpen them up instead of expecting more taxes to plug the gap.

  19. David John Wilson
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    It is quite simple.
    Authority can be delegated.
    Responsibility can NEVER be delegated.
    Why do ministers even think that they have delegated their responsibilities?

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Because they want the kudos without the hard work!

  20. nicol sinclair
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    “What is the role of a senior Minister?”

    In my view, it is to define policy and it is up to the Civil Servants? to implement that policy. It is impossible for a Minister to know when a junior Civil Servant is ‘picking his/her nose’ to the detriment of government policy.

    We need to get real…

    • outsider
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      Dear Nicol Sinclair, you make a fair point but how can ministers do this successfully if they cannot hire or fire civil servants?

  21. Neil Craig
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    The corollary of accepting that ministersw cannot be responsible for many things lesser civil servants do & thus should not resign is that the civil servant is and should.

    In fact, despite the suspension of 3 civil servants what we normally get is that nobody is responsible and nobody goes.

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

      Which is probably what will happen in this case too.

      • APL
        Posted October 6, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

        Neil Craig: “In fact, despite the suspension of 3 civil servants what we normally get is that nobody is responsible and nobody goes.”

        Don’t worry Neil, ‘Lessons will have been learned’.

  22. Barbara Stevens
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    A Minister is appointed to run a particular department, and the madarins of Whitehall employed to help him do the job. The Minister, is elected by the public has an MP, the mandrins are employed via the government. The mandrins should in effect do as bid by the Minister and the government of the day. Simple. Anyone deviating from this should not be employed in Whitehall. The ‘buck’ should stop at the Minister, who has over all control of his department; the mandrins should do as they are told, and not withhold certain changes has been reported. If they do this then they should be removed; we elect MPs to run the government not Whitehall mandrins.
    It seems within Whitehall there has become a culture ‘of we know best’ and ‘we do as we please’, and whatever any government wants is sometimes ignored. This is not what they should be doing. The problem with the ‘train franchise’, is terrible and will cost the taxpayer millions, but the problem really is the franchise it’s self. You cannot have a national railway, seperated into regions and lines, its asking for trouble. It should be a modern national railway, linked from the top to the bottom of the country with one centre of controll, government, but private systems put into place on running it. We are a laughing stock when we see our railways compared to other countries, who have state control without any problems. They are cheaper as well, to run, and tickets, and people use them because they can afford to. Its time the railways were once more a real ‘National Railway’ and run as one and not fragmented as they are now.

  23. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Wresting back powers from the EU, other international bodies and quangos will involve both legislation and strong ministers, as well as telling the judiciary that certain matters are none of their business.

    The process will be easier if some whole markets are removed from the political area. For example, to what extent does the State need to get involved in Universities? Only to finance gifted pupils with parental incomes, I would suggest. Otherwise, all Universties and Technical Colleges could be wholly privatised.

    If Mr Redwood could find time to write a blog on the future of our Universties, it would be most interesting.

    • outsider
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

      Yes indeed, Lindsay McDougall. You might recall that William Hague, when Conservative Party leader, proposed that the windfall from selling 3G telephone licences should be used to set up endowment funds for universities. A great idea. But procuring independence from government was the last thing that Gordon Brown wanted to spend “his” money on.

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

      Should read ……. LOW parental incomes …………..

  24. Denis Cooper
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never believed that ministers should automatically be held responsible for problems created by their subordinates, especially as:

    “They do not appoint, promote and reward the staff they rely on”.

    It seems unreasonable, and unjustifiably vindictive, to lay personal blame on a minister for errors committed by his civil servants if he has no control over who is assigned to his department’s staff and no effective power to get any of them removed and replaced by more competent or helpful people.

    • Brian Tomkinson
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

      What then is the purpose of the minister? No one in government takes personal responsibility for anything and that is why the country is in such a mess.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted October 6, 2012 at 8:04 am | Permalink

        You seem to be implying that a minister has no purpose other than to take the blame when things go wrong.

  25. Bert Young
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    When someone is offered an appointment they have the right to turn it down . If they have not got an appropriate background to do the job , they should not be offered it in the first place . Once in the job , there should be no half measures – responsibility and accountability go hand in glove . A system that is so worded and constructed to allow the boss to pass the buck , has no place in any organised society . I am very surprised that a man such as you Dr.JR thinks that the role of a Minister can be blurred and that it is open to debate . The best rule of thumb is to keep things black and white .

  26. Idris Francis
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    typos corrected, pls consider this version

    Idris Francis
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    All very clear and reasonable, but nothing alters the fact that the DfT is dysfunctional, incompetent and tells lies from time to time, even at Ministerial level.

    Nor does it alter the fact that as I and others know all too well, letters to the Transport Minister idenditying and exposing serious errors, including those with potentially fatal consequences for road users, are routinely referred for reply to correspondence clerks who know nothing whatever about these subjects but are skilled in being offensively patronising, dismissive and worse.

    My particualar experiences over 12 years have been mostly in relation to speed cameras, a seriously mistaken policy based on laughably incompetent analysis and maintained ever since by systematic fabrication of figures, false claims and utter determination of all concerned to avoid at all costs admitting having been wrong. See http://www.fightbackwithfacts for fully documented details.

    • lifelogic
      Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

      Certainly right on the speed cameras racket.

  27. English Pensioner
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    There are too many quangos.
    These are seen by much of the public as having three main advantages to the Minister concerned.
    1. He is now arms length from any blame and can reasonably claim that any cock-up is not his fault, particularly as he appointed an expert to take charge
    2. The staff aren’t Civil Servants and don’t affect the head count of his Department.
    3. It is very difficult for a member of the public to make a complaint about them. Try complaining about the DVLA for example, you’ll get nowhere!

    How different it would have been if the Transport Minister had had the forethought to set up a quango to evaluate the bids. The quango would take the blame, the man/woman in charge could be fired and the Minister would be squeeky clean!

    I hope, but don’t expect, this fiasco will lead to a re-evaluation of HS2, where they probably made the same (invalid) assumptions.

  28. outsider
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    Dear Mr Redwood,
    The Crichel Down case, often cited in constitutional textbooks about ministerial responsibility for civil service decisions, was always a one-off aberration. What we expect from ministers is just a willingness to listen to those outside (not obvious in the Virgin Rail case), readiness to apologise and firm action to stop mistakes being repeated. If mistakes proliferate, as so often in the Home Office, then the unlucky minister, like an unlucky general, has to go. Of course, mistakes or errors of judgment give the PM an excuse to get rid of minister they fear or do not like (compare Messrs Fox and Hunt).

    You are right to be sympathetic to departmental ministers. Our part political system seems designed to make them fail. To be successful, a minister either needs experience and success in junior office, running a local authority, company trade union or needs to arrive in office with a carefully worked out programme to drive through the department. Few in the present Government have either. The exceptions shine out .

    The “Quad” makes all the big decisions and none of its members have any experience of democratic government, let alone ministerial office or running anything at all.
    It seems to me that far too much of the time of departmental ministers is used answering upwards: to Number 10, the Cabinet Office and the European Commission. Being a member of the Cabinet is another pointles and time-consuming distraction because a Cabinet of 31 ( 24 voting) is obviously not a decision-making body.
    Nor are ministers even in charge of their own departments. Miss Greening, for instance, was obviously not in charge of transport policy. They cannot choose even their own PPS freely, let alone junior ministers, and the head of the Civil Service chooses their top staff.
    The Department of Transport is a extreme case. It is a junior Cabinet post, often given as a try-out and ministers notoriously rotate at short intervals. Not surprisingly, Transport Ministers rarely know their subject so the civil service would have to run it and take all the long-term decisions, whether they want to or not.
    For instance, the Department has clearly decided that a third runway at Heathrow is needed so ministers can only delay the decision, as they did a generation ago with Stansted. When the decision is finally taken the cipher who is nominally in charge at the time will no doubt praise it to heaven, defend it against all doubters and claim ownership of the policy. Might as well have government contracted out to a good firm of lawyers.

  29. uanime5
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the way Ministers are chosen should be changed. If Ministerial appointments had to be approved by their own party or by Parliament, rather than just being approved by the Prime Minister, we might see these roles going to people with relevant experience instead of those who will obey the PM’s wishes. It would also be useful if Parliament could remove ministers without needing the Prime Minister’s approval.

    Alas these changes are unlikely to occur as they will take power from the executive and give it to the legislator.

    • Lindsay McDougall
      Posted October 6, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      This sounds like a recipe for non-accountability, a bit like an olden day Labour Party Conference.

  30. Rupert Butler
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Mr Redwood

    I am concerned at your report that, in the evolutionary stage now reached, the ministers are “more than Non executive Chairmen, but less than full time Chief Executive Officers”.
    I assumed that, with the civil servants appearing in front of parliamentary committees, we had long ago started the process of establishing the Permanent Secretary as the CEO and that the process is by now complete. If not, why not ?

    Can we look forward to the point when the non-executives on the typical Permanent Secretary’s board of management are moved up, with the Permanent Secretary, to an equivalent board chaired by the minister ? In this way the government department more nearly matches a comparable private sector corporation and the CEO becomes fully (and only) reponsible for getting thuings done.

    Reply: No, I don’t think so. CEOs are responsible for developing and identifying the strategy, subject to the questions and approval of the Board. The Ministers are meant to supply the strategy to their departments.

  31. Rebecca Hanson
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Some senior ministers operate with appropriately devolved power.

    Some clear out all the people with credible experience and replace them with yes men so that they have control of everything and spend plenty of energy writing in the press that they have done this and how brilliant they are for having done it. Or perhaps ‘some’ is an exageration. One in particular…..

  32. forthurst
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    The self-inflicted responsibilites of central government have totally outgrown the system of governance. Parliament still operates in a similar fashion to that which existed when central government was more concerned with foreign policy and general policy concerning the country as a whole, which was reflected through statute rather than hands-on administration. Much of what government does used to be the responsibility of the locales which it effected. Parliament then decided to offload so many of their acquired responsibilites onto self-perpetuating oligarchies, some of which exist outside of the UK and that is extremely undemocratic.

    One has to really wonder whether most ministers are either that interested or that qualified to do much of the work for which they are given responsibility. It is a great pity therefore that those with obvious abilites and interests are not necessarily offered the opportunity to possibly perform better than some of their less talented, though possibly more amenable colleagues.

    Either we stick to our parliamentary model, in which case, parliament needs to offload much of its administrative responsibilites back to the localities, such as health and education, law and order etc and restrict itself largely to statute creation (only strictly where necessary) or it should abandon the system of ministerial appointments from MPs and make appointments from those who would equally be given such appointments in the private sector and would have the ability to run their departments with full authority within overall government policy.

  33. Steven Whitfield
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    The role of a senior minister in Mr Cameron’s cabinet is to ensure that Mr Cameron remains in power. Nothing else really matters – Cameron has no real political convictions or beliefs other than ambition for power at all costs.
    Competence, judgement, hard work count for nothing unless the merde really hits the fan. Mediocrities like Cameron always pick the people they work with carefully to ensure they neither shine too brightly or express any sort of criticism.
    John Redwood would be a far, far more competent chancellor than George Osborne but he would be considered too much of a ‘loose cannon’ by a control freak like David Cameron.
    Nigel Farage hit the nail on the head when he said, ‘we are being ruled by a bunch of college kids’. People are noticing this and are angry – instead of Conservative backbenchers grumbling at the Conference lets see them making a tub thumping speech demanding the party end this madness . If the Conservatives re-engaged with theyre natural supporters on issues like the EU, immigration, welfare reform they could win the next election.

  34. Jon
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Permalink

    Training and qualifications are a good point to raise.

    I think working in the private sector for a while would be good training an essential qualification.

    I think in the background you need a small group of experienced coaches and mentors. Perhaps ex ministers who have implemented policies that shadow a small number of ministers.

  35. Merlin
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    This whole fiasco is summed up very simply there should be

    Less Government

    The whole blog is about internal government process, a private company could do the whole thing so much better.

  36. Merlin
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    What is the role of a senior minister really sums up the whole debate. It assumes that there is this incredibly organised and efficient company that will solve all future problems and if we organise it correctly there will be no problem that cannot be resolved. Nothing could be further from the truth. Once again governments should not be allowed to run anything. To be truthful nothing will change, in fact, it will get far far worse because Goverment will continue to expand exponentially.

  37. Merlin
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    My usual solution and Iam getting terribly sick of saying it is

    Less Goverment

    Less taxes

    Less regulation

    Will this ever happen, of course it won’t but this is the only solution. I will always repeat this mantra, if you do not reduce the size of Government you will eventually get totalitarianism-is this what you want?

  38. Merlin
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    Final point

    Smaller government more association with ordinary people

    Bigger government the opposite

    I would choose smaller than bigger every time.

    Will it happen, of course not, because the individuals in power falsely believe that they know best, which they don’t.

  39. Bazman
    Posted October 6, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Lesson two of the MCSSS. Stick with me kid you’ll go far. Here! Have cigar.
    The government should make me minister. I would take no decisions without say so from the guy above and generally just float sending any problems up or down the hierarchy and creating political problems that I would solve within my department. Knighthood for me and trebles all round. If this is a bit beyond my capabilities I will accept any directorship and as a last resort, chairmanship. What a card, colourful, unorthodox will be many of the labels heaped on me.

  • About John Redwood

    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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