Measure it if you want to manage it

On Tuesday I raised the issue of management information with the Chancellor of the Duchy, the Minister in charge of the Cabinet Office. It’s an unusual subject for Parliament, as it is sadly neglected. Political argument often proceeds based on a few statistics. The numbers become friends and enemies to the disputants, and may be imperfectly understood or even misleading.

Large departments of government like big companies need managing. The CEO or Permanent Secretary needs a few general figures to monitor the main trends and outcomes. the numbers need to accurate, consistent and informative. In the Benefits department figures on delays and error rates for example matter and should trigger action from the top when they wander too far from decency. In the NHS success rates for treatments and waiting times are an obvious couple of concerns. Value for money also should figure with a way of capturing unit costs.

This high level information is also important for the Cabinet Minister in overall charge. Government produces masses of numerical information . The. Art is finding within it the relevant information for any person’s level of responsibility.

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  1. Adam
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 5:46 am | Permalink

    Without measurement, performance quality remains unknown. Targets are vital. If the few essential ones are met, most other requirements shape into effect.

    In contrast, the Blair Govt method was to set measurement target points against every minor action, which resulted in sloppy tick box incompetence and disguised waste. Conservatives tend to be more sensible and efficient.

    • Hope
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      JR, you are so wrong. The sentiment is correct but has been used so inappropriately by govt inspectorate bodies for the public sector. Have you not seen the useless jobs advertised by NHS during lock down highlighted by Guido and others? Immigration figures over ten years JR?

      Public sector since Blaire has created so many bean counters in hospital, police, local authority etc over diversity, inclusive behaviour and climate change. Back room administration now held more important than front line delivery.

      How many useless ministers are there in non important irrelevant departments? Start with equality and women minister, litter minister. Climate Vhange scam,etc ed How has the target system worked for overseas aid other than to spend it on anything to get rid of it! Like public sector accounting spend your budget before March to ensure you get at least the same budget next year. If you mangage properly and keep within your budget is cut! FFS when will any of you MPs have a proper insight for what goes on. Better still when can the public expect conservative mission, vision and values implemented? When can we expect Johnson’s Marxist social engineering to stop, read Kathy Gyngell in Con Woman yesterday.

      • Narrow Shoulders
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 7:25 am | Permalink

        Yes, measurements to people in power become the opportunity to impose and empire build.

        Careful what you wish for Sir John, your sentiments are correct but the implementation is key

    • Original Chris
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      The target culture has resulted, in some cases, in manipulation of data by those responsible for the input of said data, simply in order to meet a target on paper, particularly if a lot is at stake, financially. This statistical gymnastics is often simply a game to outwit the system, but it can also be an expression of contempt for what is perceived to be a farcical system. An abuse of the system, yes, but it happens, and that has to be acknowledged when developing a new more meaningful system.

      In order to meet targets, the result is very often detrimental to the situation, and not actually contributing to solving a particular solution e.g. quotas in job applications. Politically correct quotas mean that selection is not based primarily on merit and skills for the job. If you want to solve problems/have a job well done, you need those with the necessary skills/expertise.

      With regard to academic tick box job applications, there is a very important Executive Order which President Trump has just passed with regard to academic versus practical skills/on the job experience in job applications in the Federal sector i.e not having a particular academic qualification should not disqualify you from a job in the Federal sector. This is in an attempt to improve the quality of the work force in the Federal sector which will undoubtedly have a positive effect, but may be less easily measurable in terms of managing job applications, than simply a tick box academic qualification list. Not everything can be measured neatly using figures.

      • Narrow Shoulders
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        I hope that Sir John is asking for better data to make decisions rather than box ticking and diversity statistics.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Conservatives tend to be more sensible and efficient.


      • Hope
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        Deceitful and dishonest I think most of us believe i.e. Balanced Structural deficit, then changed when target not met after years to compare with GDP! Ten years on and utterly failed. This being their proclaimed central economic plank to get elected! Well JR selective or……

    • Peter
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Numbers matter but they are only one aspect of management.

      There is no substitute for good people on site who know the business and walk the job.

      Look at Marks and Spencer. They started to believe their hype and got dazzled by their share price. A move into food was successful – but when profits dropped their answer was to source goods overseas and maintain margins. St Michael and the ‘90% Made in the UK’ boast went out the window. All OK from a cursory glance at the numbers. What was missing was attention to detail. Quality and Value for Money to the customer declined – but nobody noticed until sales and footfall disappeared. Then it was too late.

      It is the same in many areas. We all know how to tick boxes and meet targets. I am sure many will have had occasion when this was just a displacement activity that delayed them from doing the good job they were employed to do. The skill is in wise, informed and experienced oversight.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:16 am | Permalink

        Hardly any of the same size skirts in M&S were the same size, sometimes a 2 inch differential, so you had to try everything on. Gone the days when you could get the basics secure in the knowledge they would fit, in 10 minutes.
        M&S, like the Government, lost sight of value.

        • Original Chris
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

          Absolutely, LA. Some very basic requirements that M and S thought they could ignore. I bought two jerseys, same style, same size,different colour, but made in different countries, which turned out to be actually a whole size difference in reality, and one far poorer quality than the other. This inconsistency and selling of sub standard goods have been the case for a long time, and yet M and S seemed to ignore what their customers were telling it. That equals arrogance. They were punished by their customers accordingly.

      • a-tracy
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 9:39 am | Permalink

        No M&S buyers in the last ten years weren’t up to the job. Fashions were stale and old they didn’t appeal to my 70+ mother as they were ‘too old fashioned!’

        They should have engaged George Davies or Ray Kelvin to plan the ranges but that would have cost them, or both the first for children and the latter for mid-aged females/males. It would have cost them but saved their reputation. They also ignore their customers, I provide feedback each year all just completely ignored especially with problems with their male shoes.

        • Original Chris
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

          Quite right, a-tracy, they seem to ignore their customers. They have suffered the consequences.

    Posted July 2, 2020 at 5:59 am | Permalink

    Yes, but they don’t want to manage it, they only want to spend it and spend it for entirely political ends.

    It now makes sense why most politicians despise Margaret Thatcher and her emphasis on reducing State spending and extracting maximum value for the taxpayer.

    Margaret Thatcher’s approach reduces considerably the options for both political parties to bribe the electorate and to finance an expansion of their parties especially putrid Labour who use the taxpayer to prop up its entire Client state

    • Lifelogic
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:04 am | Permalink

      Alas Mrs Thatcher did not reduce the size of the state very much despite her efforts.

      JR says:- Large departments of government like big companies need managing (as do smaller ones).

      They are but like most tentacles of government they are managed not for the public interests but for the interests of staff (and often for politicians trying to buy votes). Browns Baby Bonds for example. I am looking forward to my daughers 18th birthday party the the taxpaers will be paying for.

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        No, because she and her thralls were obsessed with centralising power away from councils, in order to prevent them from being able to demonstrate how public undertakings can be very convenient and effective for the people whom they serve.

        • NickC
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          Martin, It was the Councils who demonstrated how badly they could run local public services. Unfortunately Thatcher failed to prevent them posturing about everything else.

    • Mike Wilson
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Still allowed a massive credit boom followed by a bust that saw hundreds of thousands lose their homes.

      • Fedupsoutherner
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

        Yes I was one.

      • Martin in Cardiff
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        Allowed? Forced upon the country you mean.

        It was the restructuring which replaced confidence based on job security with that based on loose credit, secured against ever-inflating property “values”.

        • NickC
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

          Martin, The 1991 bust was mainly caused by the EU’s ERM scheme. If Thatcher was so bad why didn’t Labour subsequently correct the problems? They had long enough. The 2008 bust was during 13 years of Labour.

  3. Nigl
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Absolutely spot on and about time. Surely when a ‘bid’ is put on for money, how much, what it is to be spent on and in what time frame, are included. Setting up a ‘spreadsheet’ capturing the cash flow out should not be difficult or allocating responsibility to a project manager who in turn performance manages the delivery team.

    Other Departments, again spend against budget plus key measures.

    Finally the ‘improvement/change projects’. Simple. Every bid should include numbers of outcomes again easy to measure. Governments/politicians think that just spending the money is good, maybe but with management could it be better/done more efficiently? Also crowing about intervention numbers is vanity. What actual improvements have been made.

    Large companies like Amazon, vodafone etc use AI and measurement leading to cost and delivery efficiencies that are in every aspect of their being.

    The Civil Service has never had to do this because their Political masters only think about how much they spend. KPIs and management, cost benefit analysis etc are foreign words to them. No surprise when you look at their backgrounds and experience.

    Ministers should get mandatory training and you should change your candidate recruitment profile. Less lawyers, PPE. .

    • Narrow Shoulders
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      Quite, however political expenditure is driven by the public sentiment metric and not by output of efficiency.

      Until that changes our money will continue to be spaffed

    • glen cullen
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink


      The creation, communication and control of KPIs is king

      But never more than 10 per department overwise its becomes un-manageable

  4. Steve
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    How about some accurate figures for covid deaths? No silly me, how could they have when there is no real test for it and no autopsies are performed.

    • bigneil(newercomp)
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:17 am | Permalink

      It has been a VERY useful stick to beat us into submission with. Total control marches on. New guidelines and emergency laws will NEVER go away.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      No CV19 stats for the U.K. yesterday at all!

  5. Mark B
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Starve the Beast ! Slimmer, lighter more nimble departments with fewer managers reporting to other managers is what is needed.

    I mean, who the hell needs, Chancellor of the Duchy, the Minister in charge of the Cabinet Office ?

    • Nigl
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:22 am | Permalink

      Superfluous layers of management will run through government like letters through rock. A classic waste of money and a way of avoiding responsibility. Unlike the private sector the government doesn’t have to respond in terms of efficiency/taking out cost because reduced income is never a driver.

    • JoolsB
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      And why the hell do we need a Department for Scotland, Wales & NI with Secretaries of State for those Departments when the devolved nations have already got their own Governments/Assemblies and their own First Ministers? Especially when the largest part of this so called union and only net contributor has nothing – no representation whatsoever. And why do we still have 117 PART TIME UK MPs sticking their noses in and voting on matters that relate only to England? This Tory Government like Labour before it is taking the p—-s out of England.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:13 am | Permalink

      About half of government does little of value much of it does far more harm than good. Must be a similar proportion of university activity too. Just fire 50% of the state sector and let them get some real and productive jobs. It would work wonders for the exonomy.

      Also why is it that the state sector get pension so much more than the people who pay for these pensions. Address this too.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        That’s exactly what JR did when he was Secretary of State for Wales.

  6. Nigl
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Ps. So another 3 million people are going to be allowed to cone here. Talking of measurement where are going to put them, house them provide services, nhs education etc. You cant support the current population.

    Are you mad? Where is your democratic authority? You have dissembled on border control for over a decade. This just goes to or prove this was so much BS.

    • Peter
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:47 am | Permalink

      Indeed. The public don’t want three million. The country cannot handle them anyway.

      Boris’ honeymoon period is over. He no longer enjoys approval for simply not being Theresa May.

      Brexit crunch time is looming and there is a nagging doubt that it is all so much theatre. A dreadful compromise agreement(sell out) may be foisted upon us instead of simply leaving on WTO terms.

    • Glenn Vaughan
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:51 am | Permalink


      They may choose to stay in Hong Kong and live under authoritarian Chinese rule as a more attractive option than coming here.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:19 am | Permalink

        …. and living under authoritarian British rule with much higher taxes!

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      They have a majority of eighty.

      The British Constitution says only one thing – Parliament Alone Is The Law.

      You won.

      Get over it.

      • czerwonadupa
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

        Four years later we are still waiting for the Remainers to “get over it” after losing the Referendum, EU election & general election much to their chagrin. Instead of acting like adults and accepting the results they’ve been acting like spoilt children after having their toys taken off them.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

        You are WRONG, the Govt is bound by the Constitution.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 7:31 am | Permalink

          Quote that, please.

      • NickC
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:11 pm | Permalink


        They have a majority of eighty.

        The ‘British Constitution’ does not say only one thing – and Parliament is not alone the law.

        You lost.

        Get over it.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 7:32 am | Permalink

          OK, Einstein, state a law that cannot be overturned by Parliament in the UK?

          • NickC
            Posted July 3, 2020 at 5:53 pm | Permalink


          • Fred H
            Posted July 3, 2020 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

            Funnily enough Einstein hated politics…

          • Fred H
            Posted July 3, 2020 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

            Two things are certain – – Death and Taxes.

      • steve
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:13 pm | Permalink


        “The British Constitution says only one thing”

        Please can you tell us where exactly it is to be found ? I ask because most of us have difficulty reading something that is not, and never was written.


        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 7:39 am | Permalink

          My understanding is that it was incorporated into the Coronation Oath as part of the Glorious Revolution in 1688.

          No, this country does not have a written constitution, but that fact is taken as the foundation of its constitution such as it is.

        • Lynn Atkinson
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:24 am | Permalink

          OF course te Country has a written Constitution! It’s just not a ‘codified’ Constitution. It’s in a huge number of documents, like Magna Carta, The Bill of Rights, the Queen’s Oath of Allegiance Etc etc. It’s called ‘the Glorious Constitution’ and it’s flexible, unlike a codified constitution. So if the political class breach a weak spot, like using the Royal Prerogative to abolish the Royal Prerogative (as they did when they constrained the Constitution with Treaty law ECA 72) we can respond and set it right, as we have done with regard to reestablishing Democratic authority over our own Parliament.

          • Martin in Cardiff
            Posted July 3, 2020 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

            That is often claimed.

            However, none of those laws or conventions enjoy the protection, of articles forming parts of what, by modern international standards, are now generally accepted as written constitutions.

            They do not require the calling of a Convention or super majorities etc. to overturn by Parliament, for instance.

          • NickC
            Posted July 3, 2020 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

            Lynn, Exactly right.

        • Matthew May
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          The constitution is uncodified not unwritten. There is a difference.

          • NickC
            Posted July 3, 2020 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

            Matthew, You are correct.

      • Edward2
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

        No the law is the law unless Parliament change it.
        And even then the Supreme Court can rule against it.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 7:43 am | Permalink

          Thanks for the obvious truism yet again.

          Your second point re Statute is plain wrong.

          The Supreme Court can only overrule earlier common law, declared in lower courts. It cannot reword Acts of Parliament.

          • Edward2
            Posted July 3, 2020 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

            Wrong again
            It can reinterpret them and they can use EU law to do so.

          • Martin in Cardiff
            Posted July 4, 2020 at 6:41 am | Permalink

            Did you make up all the answers in your school exams too, Edward?

        • Lynn Atkinson
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          I should add that normally all new statutes that completely or partially contradict older statute laws, IMPLIEDLY repeal them. This seems obvious, but Italy for instance does not do that so it has contradictory laws in force, which is why you can pay a Judge to hear you case under the law that will exonerate you.
          Constitutional Statutes must be EXPLICITLY repealed in the U.K. when a new law contradicts them.

    • Peter Wood
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      I have lived and worked in Hong Kong for over 20 years, and I can tell you with a high degree of confidence that VERY few HK residents want to come to UK. For most, there are far more attractive destinations, with better climates. So don’t fret, the Government knows that there is very little risk.

      • hefner
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        Your comment is in live with what a HK resident was telling a Radio4 journalist, that only about 100,000 BNO passport holders would want to come to the UK.

        • Peter
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 7:29 am | Permalink

          Famous last words.

          Remember what was said when the UK opened up to Polish migrants.

      • Fred H
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

        Little risk for our Government, little reward for those that come.

    • Sir Joe Soap
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      I think you’d find they would look after themselves and employ others too.

      There was discussion in ’97 about housing Hong Kongers preferentially in Northern Ireland, which still makes a lot of sense.

    • Everhopeful
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:31 am | Permalink

      No doubt Boris is laughing up his sleeve having pulled the wool for the political class yet again.
      We never learn and now it is too late.
      I wonder how compliant the 3m will be though when they realise they have come to a nascent China and learn that they are expected to behave like downtrodden brits?
      They are built of sterner stuff than us, I imagine.

      • Original Chris
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

        Peter Wood in his comment above makes a relevant point that the HK Chinese are well aware of far better places to go to. I don’t think our politicians realise just how low we have sunk in other countries’ eyes e.g. our NHS is not the envy of the world etc. Of course people will come here to use it if it is free, and access is unfettered but they don’t come because it is regarded as world class. It is just a lot better than where they have come from.

    • JoolsB
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      I don’ think for one minute anything like 3 million will want to move here but at least Hong Kong people are generally entrepreneurial and will contribute unlike the hundreds of thousands currently let in every year who are neither.

    • Andy
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:10 am | Permalink

      Ah, remember – the Brexit you voted for was apparently about creating a Global Britain. Opening us up to the world and allowing plenty more migration from outside Europe. So said Liam Fox, Dominic Raab, Liz Truss and all the others who like to pretend it was nothing to do with xenophobia.

      And the democratic authority comes from people like you. You allowed Boris Johnson to win the election – and, as you all keep telling me, that means he can do what he likes. I am sure you will make your new Hong Kong friends feel very welcome.

      • czerwonadupa
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

        More so than those escorted into the UK by Border Control in dinghies from Calais.

      • Edward2
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        Yes we will.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          Oh. Really?

          Well what was wrong with the Danes, French, Dutch, Germans, Italians etc. then?

          • Edward2
            Posted July 3, 2020 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

            Nothing at all.

      • NickC
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

        Andy, Wanting to control immigration ourselves – rather than outsourcing the decisions to the EU – is what we voted for. How much immigration depends on the politicians we elect after independence.

        Accepting there must be limits to the numbers of immigrants into the most overcrowded nation in Europe (ie, England) is common sense; and has nothing to do with xenophobia. Indeed, of all the nations I have visited England is the least xenophobic.

        • Lynn Atkinson
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:37 am | Permalink

          Control means different things. In the EU it means you check off the passports at immigration, not that you can refuse entry.

    • miami.mode
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Surely you don’t expect politicians to count the cost when a principle is at stake. That’s for other people to consider.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:37 am | Permalink

      I don’t understand where the PM’s authority is derived either. How is it possible that without any consultation, with no funding, he can unilaterally open the door to 3 million alien people. He feels we have an duty’ to them. Does he not have a ‘duty’ To the British people?
      If people around the world want freedom, they have to fight for it as we have done and still do – daily. They can’t all come to the U.K. – especially as the U.K. Government has specifically said it cannot ‘protect christians’ and disallowed asylum on those grounds.

    • bigneil(newercomp)
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      I heard the radio announcement as 3million PLUS their families. How wide ranging does that go? Parents/grandparents/cousins/nephews/nieces etc? And we haven’t even built the 1 million house arc across the country for the other immigrants yet.

      Anyone taking bets for the date when we are full – or when white English become a minority in their own country?

    • Narrow Shoulders
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      1) They won’t all come
      2) These people are British to all intents and purposes so we should look after them and China will not back down. I would rathe offer entry to a people who have helped make Britain great over the years than open borders to the EU

      • Original Chris
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

        I fear Boris will do both, plus he is apparently welcoming those coming across the channel illegally, rescuing them in our boats, and taking them in fleets of buses from Dover to accommodation and “processing”.

      • Fedupsoutherner
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

        Well said.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:39 am | Permalink

        Being entrepreneurial and cherishing capitalism is not being British.

  7. Bryan Harris
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Statistics can be interpreted in different ways to suit those doing the interpretation.
    The more complicated the stat’s the more confusion is entered into any argument.

    Too often we see a slant put on statistics to achieve a consensus on something that makes no sense at all — For example, the alleged wealth-held figures from the ONS showing that the elderly hold the most.
    This is all to justify warping the tax/benefits systems to do a wealth transfer to the younger generations who have not accumulated any wealth….and has nothing to do with fairness.

    If we are to use statistics to improve things then they have to be used honestly, and not interpreted by the dogmatic socialist mindset.

  8. Roy Grainger
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    Just on a general point the Covid crisis has shown many sections of the “establishment” to be close to innumerate – the media in particular seem incapable of understanding even simple sets of data and charts and regularly misinterpret things. Too many people at the top level are labouring without even a basic education in science or mathematics. England must be one of the few countries in the world where the chattering classes can boast “Oh I’m hopeless at maths !” and get a chuckle rather than a look of pity. Saying “Oh I’m hopeless at reading !” would get quite a different response. Partly I think it is due to allowing specialisation which excludes a science at A-Levels (Germany doesn’t allow this), partly that the the existing establishment is stuffed with humanities and arts graduates so they self-select for the same type of person.

  9. Sir Joe Soap
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    A few hours spent in the control room of one of our F1 teams on a race day would blow these peoples’ minds. It might also focus them on how quickly information can travel from hundreds of sensor points, and how quickly it is reacted to.

    We have massive skills in our engineering side which could very well run data in this country, at a fraction of the civil service cost.

  10. Cynic
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:44 am | Permalink

    How can politicians be expected to make sensible, rational decisions about running their departments when they cannot see the evidence that Hs2 and renewable energy are a waste of money!

  11. Walt
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    Please measure our water companies: the raw sewage that all nine of them continue to dump in our rivers (see the front page of today’s Guardian); the executive remuneration and reward schemes; the payments to shareholders. Compare with the amount re-invested in treatment works and improving infrastructure.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

      And the continued use of lead pipes by the water companies.

      • hefner
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:47 am | Permalink

        Building regulations were changed in 1969. Since 1970 the use of lead pipes by water companies has been illegal.
        Many houses built before 1970 still have lead pipes within the property boundaries. Outside it is likely to be either copper or plastic pipes.
        One can have these internal pipes replaced if requested but to the property owner’s expenses.

  12. Anonymous
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Quite obviously we are going to get a million or so of the worst from Hong Kong. The middle class and capable with assets will go elsewhere.

    There is no point in counting, measuring or planning anything.

    The country is being run by a dishevelled eccentric who flips and flops on just about everything.

    • Anonymous
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      May we please re-run the referendum, scrap the UK Governments and institutions and be run by Germany ???

      PLEASE ???

      • steve
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:03 pm | Permalink


        You failed mention letting the french plunder our resources, and making us subservient to SNP bigotry.

      • NickC
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

        What, with dieselgate and Wirecard? Give me a break.

        • margaret howard
          Posted July 3, 2020 at 7:04 am | Permalink


          What’s that got to do with Germany? It’s like saying Britain is responsible for the terrible action by BP for polluting the environment and being fined £19b by the US for doing so.

          Or British doctors being tainted by the actions of a Harold Shipman.

  13. jerry
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    “The. Art is finding within it the relevant information for any person’s level of responsibility.”

    Yes, its called manipulating the state to suit the argument, that is why no Govt, no Minister, want raw data placed in the pubol9ic domain as it should be.

    • jerry
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      OT; The govts plans to get all schools back to full time education in Sept, what a load of Whitehall gobbledygook, probably written by bureaucrats who send their children to weekly (if not full term) boarding schools no doubt!

      What is the point of having class/year ‘bubbles’ [1] when any class might have the sibling(s) of children not in their bubble, perhaps not even at the same school, and even if the schools can keep all these bubbles apart during the school day the children are free to meet up and mix when out of school (and are far more likely to do because of attending school). Just how is school transport going to work, is the govt really going to fund separate buses for all these ‘bubbles’, or perhaps the govt is to fund ride-along mask police on school transport when year groups can not be segregated! Further I read media speculation about separate start times for different classes/year groups, how will that idea pan out in the real world with the parents, and employers, will a parent be allowed to be on full furlough/SE support if due to state diktat they need to be home longer in the morning and back earlier in the afternoons but their work needs to have someone working the usual hours?

      [1] rather than social distancing within the class/form/year

  14. ukretired123
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Information is the lifeblood to running everything from business to wars as demonstrated by Gordon Welchman of Bletchley Park in WW2. The role of technology via Turing added intelligence both complimentary to a powerful mix.

    However most of this has been monopolised by the Civil Service who despise the digital world and have a track record of magnificent IT projects failures. NHS also have a poor expensive record on IT projects too.

    Information based on data and data analysis using advanced math and AI is the future and bypass humans frailties esp speed of this vital resource. Fortunately Britain is well placed to benefit from this given its rich historical innovations in this side area. It thus beggars belief that the Public Sector is so out of synch with the Private Sector and continues to waste time and taxpayer’s money not getting it right.

  15. Maj
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Agreed that measurement is essential but beware – you get what you measure. Does the originator decide what to measure, in which case the measures set are likely to be easily achievable, or should perfomance indicators (PIs) be set by an independent outside agency?
    An example is company directors setting their Bonus PIs at an easily-achievable level to maximise their bonuses.
    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – who guards the guardians?

  16. James1
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    Please don’t measure it, and please don’t manage it. Just get huge moribund swathes of the public sector out of the way. We don’t need to create more useless tasks so that a whole new layer of bureaucrats can have jobs ticking boxes.

  17. George Brooks.
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    ”The numbers become friends and enemies of the disputants and maybe imperfectly understood or even misleading.”

    You have had a classic example doing the rounds for nearly two weeks before any member of the government made an attempt to explain the figures and rebut the argument. PMQs, week before last, Keir Starmer attacked ‘test and trace’ stating that only 5 to 6000 out of 33,000 with CV19 had been contacted. The 33,000 figure clearly wrong footed the PM and you could see it in his facial expression. His answer was inconclusive and Starmer scored.

    Whether it was poor briefing or the PM just did not click on the figure of 33,000 we don’t know but I have been staggered that it has taken over a week before anyone has explained how misleading Starmer was and in fact he tried to extend this false argument in PMQs this week.

    The media ran with story and countless ministers failed in subsequent interviews to explain both the figures and exactly how ‘test and trace’ works. The fact that the 33K was an ONS guesstimate based on a survey was well known and the argument could have been killed within hours with the true facts explained.

    This reluctance to explain and put the opposition and the media straight at the first opportunity needs to be reversed. The test and trace app is another glaring example where some rotten advice was given and the government has been taking the flack ever since.

    Apple’s dominance in the phone market and it’s refusal to let a third party have access to it’s software has been known for decades so why did it take such a long time to admit that you got a ”bum steer”. Within a couple of days of the Isle of Wight trial starting this problem would have come to light and it would appear that several weeks were lost in fruitless talks with Apple

    This is where senior management ie the minister needs to grip a situation as it would in the private sector. Lower levels of management would not be allowed to perpetuate and cover up their mistake and waste more time and money which is happening all too often

    • hefner
      Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      Sorry but your 6th paragraph is wrong.
      1. From MacWorld 08/02/2019 ‘iPhone vs Android market share’, iPhone had a 22.85% market share, Android 74.45%, and others 2.70%. So Apple is not such a dominant position at all.
      2. Then Apple and Google had teamed together in April 2020 to provide the background track & trace code on which countries could define their own country-dedicated app (announcement on 10/04). So not strictly a problem with Apple.
      3. The first announcement of UK (NHSX) app to be tested on the IoW appeared on 4 May and the official launch was on 18/06. The main problem all along was the NHS (i.e. UK government) wanting to get a centralised system while the Apple-Google one is ‘decentralised’ (keeping the history of contact information on individual phones).

      Who had decided to go for a centralised system is not clear (PM? minister? NHS?).
      A centralised system is not better per se. Look at the present problems around Leicester when so-called Pillar-1 and Pillar-2 information streams have not been made available on time to the local authorities.

      • a-tracy
        Posted July 5, 2020 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        Perhaps Hefner he was talking about the U.K. “Market share of mobile device vendors in the United Kingdom (UK) 2010-2019. Apple claimed a majority share of the mobile device market in 2019, with a 49.24 percent share of the market. 2018 marked the first time Apple held more than 50 percent during the reported period, with a previous best of 49.04 percent in 2017.” Statista

  18. Dave Andrews
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Here’s another thing to be measured. What proportion of the population washes their hands regularly? Like after visiting the loo and before eating. Even hospital staff stats are worryingly below 100%.
    Do the analysis on a town by town basis and correlate it with the incidences of Covid-19 outbreaks.
    All this fuss about safe-distancing and face masks is looking in the wrong direction.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted July 3, 2020 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      What was that noise? It was a bit high pitched.

      Maybe the dogs can hear it?

  19. glen cullen
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    In other news

    What will the UK achieve by bringing in 3million people from HK

    How will that change things in HK ?

    Jester politics again, if we really want to challenge China/HK stop all trade

    • steve
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:59 pm | Permalink


      “What will the UK achieve by bringing in 3million people from HK”

      Hmm, more housing shortage, more flu related viruses, more tax fiddling takeaways than only accept cash.


      • glen cullen
        Posted July 3, 2020 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        I meant in terms of our UK foreign policy with China

  20. Fred H
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    An indication of measurement of organised crime :-
    BBC newsflash:-
    A top-secret communications system used by criminals to trade drugs and guns has been “successfully penetrated”, says the National Crime Agency. “Iconic” crime figures were among 746 arrests after messages on EncroChat were intercepted and decoded.
    More than two tonnes of drugs, several dozen guns and £54m in suspect cash have been seized, says the NCA. The NCA worked with forces across Europe on the UK’s “biggest and most significant” law enforcement operation.

  21. Caterpillar
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    I do sometimes wonder whether some Ministers have really thought about what numbers they need and why, or whether they have discussed this with their civil servants and advisors. I presume all Permanent Secretaries and Ministers are literate.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      At a trivial level some areas I feel data can be useful are
      (i) When a system is understood and some numbers relate to the levers that can be pulled and some to the outcome sort (e.g. linking operations metrics through to finance)
      (ii) Where data collection is optimally designed to statistically test pre-formed hypotheses (whether survey, physics expt or statistical process control)
      (iii) Where broad data is collected in an unbiased way to record the status quo or for datamining/knowledge discovery.
      (iv) Where timely data informs cost-benefit analysis in a situation of low risk.
      (v) Where representative types are tracked to inform strategy (e.g. one species to indicate health of an ecosystem, the number of patents of one technology type to indicate broader area etc.)

    • Caterpillar
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      Poor attitudes to data might include
      (i) Data collected within a predefined narrative, this might be the case with criminal data in the U.K. which tends to record the characteristics of the victim rather than the perpetrator or both. USA is better than UK in this case.
      (ii) Data used to fit the parameters of a model without rejection of the model being a possible outcome (I think not uncommon in econometrics).
      (iii) A user expectation that randomness leads to homogeneity (e.g. causes may imply clusters, but clusters may not imply causes).
      (iv) Seeking confirmatory data.
      (v) Retrofitting objectives to measurements.

    • Caterpillar
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      “literate”, I meant “statistically literate”

      • Sir Joe Soap
        Posted July 2, 2020 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        You mean numerate, and they appear not to be.

  22. NickC
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    JR, You are right that weekly or even daily summaries of production and costs are vital for good management. It often comes as a surprise to many managers just where the costs and bottlenecks really are. And that’s not just for CEOs.

    However, bear in mind that sometimes pursuing one figure can be counter-productive – for eg: NHS management have relentlessly tried to increase bed occupancy rates. This has driven down bed numbers, thus losing operational flexibility (hence patients on trolleys), producing poor outcomes and hidden costs.

  23. Jack Falstaff
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    As regards measurable success, I have to say how amused I was to watch the BBC just now, when the presenter was forced to announce the stellar set of US employment figures through clenched teeth.
    This was clearly something that didn’t exactly square with the corporation’s blatant Trump-bashing agenda and its penchant for negative stories or victimhood in all of its manifestations.
    Congratulations to the United States on these great results against all the odds and in such adverse circumstances! A clear victory for the “small man” (as Mr Farage would describe ordinary people) despite the Establishment.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      If Trump loses in November, maybe we can beg him to come and run the U.K.? He’s British after all.

  24. Iago
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    A huge number of criminals have just been arrested, about 740, in connection with drug dealing and associated crime. If these people are imprisoned, the country will need another prison. The management information I would like about this is – who are these people, what are their nationalities? I’m not holding my breath.

  25. auralay
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I prefer the Cowperthwaite approach.
    Don’t measure.
    Don’t (mis)manage.
    Leave people alone to get on with their lives.

    • Mark B
      Posted July 3, 2020 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      You and me both 🙂

  26. Cavewell Man
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    The public sector seems to be hopeless at producing actionable data that accurately and consistently measures the variables that truly influence outcomes. At best we see simply ‘reportage’ of data that is very difficult to use in making decisions. The government has a poor understanding of the distinction between strategy and execution and using these to produce good and consistent on strategy action that can be measured and used to assess performance. A consultation with the very top private sector industry experts needs to be a regular feature of ministerial activity. Why not talk to the top management of companies like Unilever and P&G to learn how to do it?

  27. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    What open government demands is that as much data as possible should be put in the public domain, with concise summaries when appropriate, so that independent (genuinely independent) bodies and individuals can do their own analysis and come to their own conclusions. Let’s have the range of temperatures and their locations every year, for example, so that we can decide how much global warming is going on.

  28. Richard
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Well said Sir John, but that would breach Whitehall’s long-held policy of fiddling the numbers, working backwards from the policy pre-ordained by The Establishment –
    eg the mental gymnastics to justify this Lockdown nonsense are now a cause celebre.

    Government virus testing was akin to testing the sea for saltiness by counting as many salt molecules as possible. The NAO report on 12 June revealed the proportion of positive Covid19 tests had fallen from a peak of 46% on 2 April to 10% and falling on 30 April.
    Since the PCR test is known to give large numbers of false positives, baldly stating the gross numbers was simply a psychological exercise (‘psyops’) in misleading the public.

    This stupid scam is now being repeated to justify the Leicester Lockdown.

  29. steve
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    If you can’t see it, you can’t quantify it, and if you can’t quantify it you sure as hell can’t control it….as my old dad used to say.

  30. Richard
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Talking of working backwards… Professor Simon Wood’s study of England and Wales covid hospital admissions “shows that infections peaked about five days before Lockdown and were in fast decline by the time it was introduced.”

    This evidence agrees with Prof Carl Heneghan’s prediction that UK infections had already peaked by mid-March a week before Lockdown.

  31. Turboterrier
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Pity what is advocated today was not applied years ago to the Climate Change Act, all the green crap spewing out of Westminster in torrents. Acting like a beacon to foreign investors to come in and buy up our companies and make billions whilst this country wallows in all the after- effects of our totally unsustainable energy policies or lack of them.

    Please Sir John please advise all the 500 odd greenies in Westminster, Mr Gove and the CCC to read the 30th June entry in the Not Many People Know That blog highlighting the coming out of Michael Schellenberger Leading green activist apologising for all mis- information published by him and other over the last 20 odd years.

    Just a few of a very long list:

    Humans are not causing a “sixth mass extinction”
    The Amazon is not “the lungs of the world”
    Climate change is not making natural disasters worse
    Fires have declined 25% around the world since 2003
    Carbon emissions have been declining in rich nations for decades and peaked in Britain, Germany, and France in the mid-seventies
    Adapting to life below sea level made the Netherlands rich not poor
    We produce 25% more food than we need and food surpluses will continue to rise as the world gets hotter
    Habitat loss and the direct killing of wild animals are bigger threats to species than climate change
    Wood fuel is far worse for people and wildlife than fossil fuels
    Preventing future pandemics requires more not less “industrial” agriculture

    Well worth a read, further proof that half of what we hear and fear, if only they had physically measured it and collected all the data with open minds we (the world) would not be where we find ourselves today.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted July 3, 2020 at 8:44 am | Permalink


  32. Turboterrier
    Posted July 2, 2020 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Yet another process where there has been little or no measurement. But what the heck it has all but destroyed JLR in this unsustainable leeming like rush to go all electric for transport.

    The United Nations (U.N.) announced Sunday the electric car boom will result in a number of devastating ecological side effects for the planet.

    While the shift to electric cars reflects ongoing efforts to reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels, the UN warns that the raw materials used to produce electric car batteries are highly concentrated in a small number of countries and their extraction and refinement pose a serious threat to the environment.

    Yet another little gem from NALOPKT blog. Another good read.

  33. Mark
    Posted July 3, 2020 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    Your title is highly apposite in the light of the resurged epidemic in Leicester. It transpired that we were being given a very misleading picture of cases across the country in the PHE data published on its dashboard (and which I have turned into maps). The first indication was the publication of the official report:

    It can clearly be seen that cases in Leicester have been dominated for some considerable time by Pillar 2 tests, and yet PHE persisted in publishing reasonably data and charts for Pillar 1 alone. So the maps I have been preparing have provided too optimistic a view, and an inadequate guide as to the extent of problems.

    Publication of the Leicester report has it seems forced PHE’s hand, and so they finally published detailed data for the sum of Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 Thursday 2 July 2020 at 9:45pm. It is understandable that as Pillar 2 testing ramped up, it added an element of confusion if it was simply added to the data for Pillar 1, because the latter concentrates on testing in the medical environment – cases presenting at hospitals, key workers, etc. – while the former picked up milder cases and even asymptomatic ones among a much wider population. That can be seen both in the Leicester report, and in the data just published. I offer the following chart that shows the overall total reported cases for England under Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 separately and added together, with 7 day averages to extract the trends from the daily data:

    I also offer a chart that records the 7 day moving average for each Local Authority, breaking down the overall total for Pillar 1+2. Best viewed on a computer, or in portrait mode on a large-ish tablet: mouseover the data stripes. The data can be downloaded via the “get the data” link for those who want to extract the detail for their local areas to give a more focussed presentation.

    The Leicester outbreak is evident, as it is in this map of Pillar 1+2 case rates in the 7 days to 30th June:

    which is not quite such good news more generally as the last map I produced based on the then available Pillar 1 data which you can compare here

    I plan to produce further maps with the new data, showing what Pillar 2 has added to case rates, and providing a weekly history, probably back to early May, by which time Pillar 2 was reasonably well established. But that is for tomorrow. MPs and others will I hope find it useful in helping to hold PHE to account. There are many ways in which better information that should have been made public would have helped to reinforce the need to maintain good lockdown adherence in some areas in particular, and would have aided general management of the epidemic. It is of course possible that decisions about withholding data were made at very senior levels: members of SAGE, senior officials in government and the NHS, ministers and even the PM. But failing to publish the truth when available has simply damaged their credibility should we get a resurgence.

    • Mark
      Posted July 3, 2020 at 2:14 am | Permalink


      PHE should continue to publish Pillar 1 detailed data in addition to the Pillar 1+2 total. Not doing so is once again hiding details that offer important clues. Why do they think we should be treated like mushrooms?

      • a-tracy
        Posted July 5, 2020 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

        Because our media so called journalists allow PHE to get away with it.

    • NickC
      Posted July 3, 2020 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

      Mark, Thank you for your work, it is very informative. Can you label your Y axes? – yes, I know I can infer from the title, but it helps to avoid confusion.

      • Mark
        Posted July 4, 2020 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        Unfortunately the software doesn’t provide that option, or several others I would like to take advantage of. So I have to make do with it as it is.

  34. margaret
    Posted July 3, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    measurements .. many are fabrications or inaccuracies for the sake of political argument .
    It is better to have an overall plan from proper management and let others find ways to accomplish objectives.

  • 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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