Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 11 June 2010

No more ill thought through restructuring, please!

Eamonn Butler has a piece today on The Spectator Coffee House where he suggests that the Star Chamber approach the government is currently taking to help focus scrutiny on departments diffuses responsibilities and may not be the best way to improve government efficiency. He then goes on to suggest that there should instead be one person in charge of reforming government and says Phillip Hammond could be the best man for the job.

Can I just issue a plea though? In the last decade or so there have been numerous restructurings of government. Tony Blair seemed to think it was a sign of political virility to go around changing departmental names and merging or de-merging them. Just five minutes research has yielded: National Heritage became Culture Media and Sport with a widened remit, ODPM had responsibilities given to it and then slowly taken away (and it was renamed/rebranded DCLG), Education was given a remit to include families/children and renamed, The Home Office had some of its responsibilities taken away and shunted into the Ministry of Justice, BERR was conjured from the ashes of the DTI which was itself merged into the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills just a couple of years later (which itself was a spin off from when Education was faffed about with), Energy and Climate Change was spun out from BERR along with some of the old remit of DEFRA, Government Equalities Office was spun out from DCLG and the Department for Work and Pensions came from a merger of Social Security and some elements of Education and Work. Oh and MAFF became DEFRA and was as administratively incompetent as ever if not worse. In fact you would be hard pushed to find many departments that had not had at least one, perhaps two or three major overhauls since 1997.

And what has the result of all of these changes been? Do we honestly think that government is much better run now than it was 13 years ago? Were all of them really needed? I don't think so and I suspect all the upheaval has actually contributed to the problem rather than aided it. That's not to mention the sheer cost of all the constant rebranding, stationery, logos, related HR work and I suspect lost time through people having to adjust to new regimes of responsibility, cross-training, time taken for whole departments to understand what they are now for, loss of cultural memory etc. etc. etc.

When private companies do things like this (mergers, de-mergers, restructuring of departments etc.) it is usually because they have worked out how it will ultimately save them money. If the current government is going to embark on yet more restructuring then they had better be damn sure that it will make things more efficient and cost effective (or that there are other very good reasons in each case). Because if the experience of the last few years has taught us anything it is that change for change's sake is a recipe for the opposite.

Frankly there is no money for vanity projects for new politicians to stamp their mark on government. Unless they can show real benefits from changing everything round again they should just leave the governmental structure alone.


Francesca said...

Often private sector restructurings are done for political reasons (to increase / decrease the importance of particular roles or individuals) or in order to avoid diagnosis of or finding solutions for difficult problems. The consequences are similar to what you describe here for government reorganisations.

Mark Reckons said...

Well in my experience private sector reorganisations have generally been done to streamline things. However I don't doubt that there are some occasions when they are done for the sort of reasons you state.

However if they do that they are wasting their own money. The government is wasting our money and (especially now but frankly always) should only be doing these changes if a very good case can be made rather than as too often seems to have happened in the past, on a whim.