“It is not always wise to cut”

The following correspondence has come into my hands. I am sure it is meant to be confidential, so please be careful with it. If we do not publish it, there might be more where it came from. It appears to be internal correspondence amongst senior officials in  government departments  I cannot trace .

Dame Lucy Doolittle,


Unit for co-ordinating cross cutting initiatives and partnerships

Whitehall SW1

Dear Lucy,

            I was relieved to hear your Unit has survived the reorganisations. I had feared that as its title seemed redolent of the last government you might be a casualty. I understand you successfully deployed the arguments that you will be needed for a bit to wind up old cross cutting initiatives and to supervise the reorganisations, spreading best practice. I suspect new Ministers will soon come to see how handy cross cutting is as a means of blurring responsibilities and creating a sense of joined up government. Your unit, after all, has launched a thousand press releases on its own.

                I need your assistance  for our Division of Miscellaneous Projects. So far we are OK. We have pointed out that capital spending is a necessary part of any economic growth strategy. We were greatly helped by the decision to increase transport capital spending compared with the previous government’s figures. We have been able to argue that as capital overall is not taking such a big hit it would be a false economy to wind up a Division which has so much general expertise at project management.

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† ¬†However, we are getting some probing questions about past performance over cost and timing. As you will be aware, special factors in recent projects displaced the original understated¬† budgets and optimistic timetables. We were of course asked to bid low to ensure they passed the Treasury tests, and to set tight deadlines to meet media requirements. ¬†I wondered if you had done any work on best practice for Ministerial submissions to adjust base costs and original timetables for more realistic figures without having to say these were errors or upward revisions? What is latest thinking on real cost bases, price escalators and raw material adjustment factors, for example? Should we introduce a devaluation of the pound factor and say the original estimate was based on sterling translated¬†to¬†an SDR equivalence, given how much of Special Project materials and work is imported these days? That way we could add back in the devaluation of the pound. Wasn’t it always clear that timetables did not include reaching the final tollgate on the project when it was up and running, but were internal and partial targets for norm referencing complex projects?

¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬† We also need policy guidance on overseas procurement. We do of course comply with the full range of EU requirements, and have explained to new Ministers that these in themselves increase costs. There is, however, a trickier issue about advertising for a main contractor outside the European Area and the European Journal space as well. What do you think the new government would say if our new procurement for better value scheme which we are working on resulted in substantial procurement from Emerging Market contractors? The scheme is already 170 pages long and will entail some increase in bidding costs as we seek¬†full compliance with global standards ¬†in the documentation and auction process. We need to decide how many languages each tender invitation should appear in, and may need to hire some additional language speakers to complete each set of documents. It is most important not to discriminate against smaller countries with less well known languages. We will of course keep the Overseas¬† Aid and Trade people fully informed of progress. We do wish to support the new government’s India and China trade initiatives.

                I did think the recent senior businessman  review was most helpful. The conclusions in favour of more centralised purchase and decision taking are just what we need. I have started work on how we might co-ordinate the buying from all departments better, and am designing suitable forms and procurement requests for everything from paper clips to vehicles. I will make sure I give full weight to security issues in the light of the recent dreadful ink cartridge discoveries.



Dr Roy Spendlove

Deputy Secretary

Division for Miscellaneous Projects

Whitehall SW1


  1. lifelogic
    November 5, 2010

    So much of Government would not even be noticed if it was closed down so cutting it down should be very easy. First reduce redundancy pay to staff to say £4,000 maximum (they get very good pensions anyway) and they will all be far happier when they get a job doing something useful for a change.

    Start with the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to send the right message.

    November 5, 2010

    Good to see The Great Satirist back on-site!
    If only it were not mainly true to life….the chief Exec of the EU next perhaps?

    Off to the Red Sea for 2 weeks so blogging may be light but will be watching between cocktails!


  3. alan jutson
    November 5, 2010

    Wow, the Private Sector could do with some of this original thinking !

    Fred Hadenough-Taxation.

  4. lifelogic
    November 5, 2010

    Quite a pleasant change not to have the usual left wing/big government mood music from BBC radio 4 this morning. I see John Simpson compares the recent trivial cuts at the BBC to water boarding torture for them. I assume he think private industry in comparison has all been shot at dawn.

    Roll on a BBC/state sector pension tax say 90% of everything over £20,000PA.
    Thus addressing the state sector pension black hole and rebalancing it with the private ones mugged by (save the world) Gordon Brown and also just to annoy all the smug overpaid Guardian “thinking” BBC staff.

  5. BrianSJ
    November 5, 2010

    From the website http://www.publicsectortravel.org.uk/
    ‚ÄúThe change in the rail formula will in time lead to potentially significant fare increases for business travellers, particularly for ‚Äėwalk-up‚Äô tickets. This will likely prompt more companies to consolidate their rail bookings within a managed travel policy compliant purchasing environment.”
    Jon Reeve, Trade Relations Director, Evolvi

    Going forward, we have been reviewing the localism dimension to a managed travel policy compliant purchasing environment, as there seem to be some synergies there.

  6. startledcod
    November 5, 2010


    Even worse, there are some Whitehallers reading this who won’t spot the satire.

    Utter despair.

  7. Steve S
    November 5, 2010

    I very much hope there will be more of these ‘leaks’ in the future.

  8. English Pensioner
    November 5, 2010

    This is more or less what happened thirty something years ago when the Civil Service Department in which I worked was made a “Government Authority”.
    The staff were transferred en-bloc, but we now gained, in addition, a board with all the necessary support, together with a liaison department as the interface with the sponsoring government ministry. The ministry, also grew a similar department to “manage” the Authority.
    Reduction in Civil Service jobs (for which the Minister took credit) – around 5-6,000. Increase in overall employment – possibly 100. Reduction in cost to the tax-payer – negative.

  9. John Barton
    November 5, 2010

    Cutting should start with the Humphrey Appelbys of this world.

  10. MarkJ
    November 5, 2010

    John, could you please tell us what is happening about the potential efficiency savings that were mentioned in the report by Sir Philip Green? Are the Coalition going to be looking at better contracts and suppliers for Government Departments, saving many Billions of pounds? Or is this report something else that has been commissioned and will not to be looked at seriously.
    Reply: The Cabinet Office is meant to be doing this

  11. Rose
    November 5, 2010

    Oh dear, Mr R, this is too candid by half. There isn’t enough colloquial bureaubabble and far too much plain English idiom. I suspect you have been had.

  12. Iain Gill
    November 5, 2010


    seems the americans are waking up to the indian outsourcing movement and will not be a soft touch, about time we starting doing likewise

  13. Steve Tierney
    November 6, 2010

    Layer upon layer upon layer of bureaucratic, impressively-titled, paper shufflers would be a horrible way to run anything. Isn’t it lucky this is just parody and not … uh … real. : (

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