Making a rare statement to the Commons yesterday, Oliver Letwin explained the Government's Business Plans for every Whitehall department and why they were being published transparently. Highlights below:
Targets do not work: "The evidence of the past 13 years shows that targets and short-term bureaucratic interventions simply do not work. Despite all the new learning strategies in schools, the gap in educational achievement between the richest and the poorest widened; despite all the NHS targets, cancer survival rates in Britain were among the lowest in Europe; despite all the police form-filling and bureaucracy, there were more than 10,000 incidents of antisocial behaviour every day."
A "horizon shift" to the long-term: "The previous Government caught themselves repeatedly on the hook of trying to achieve a result on Wednesday that they could show the public by Thursday. Often, the upshot was to achieve nothing whatsoever. We are saying that we will try to achieve things in the long term without trying to achieve publicity goals on the way, which is an important change."
Every Whitehall Department has today published a transparent plan of action and priorities: "Today, taking into account the results of the spending review, we are publishing the final departmental plans, setting out the vision, priorities and structural reforms of each Department. These plans are a key part of our transparency agenda. They do not set out hopes for what we might achieve by micro-managing all the public services. They set out what we need to do, to manage the Government properly."
Departments will produce monthly updates on progress: "The publication of the plans will bring about a fundamental change in how Departments are held to account for implementing policy commitments, replacing the old top-down systems of targets and central micro-management with democratic accountability. Every month, Departments will publish a simple report on their progress towards meeting their commitments."
The difference between Labour's targets and the Coalition's "Milestones": "A target is an effort by a Government, of which there were many under the previous Government, to determine what the whole of the public service would achieve through micro-management. Such targets were often not met. What we are talking about are actions that lie under the direct control of Government and which it is absolutely right that we should manage ourselves."
If Departments miss milestones: "In the first place, a report will be made, which will be available to everybody-no Minister likes to see such a thing appear in public. Secondly, the Minister involved will find himself having a discussion with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary and me to explain what has occurred... The second thing that will happen is that the Minister will meet the Chief Secretary and me, and the permanent secretary will have a conversation with the head of the civil service. Finally, if the problem is still not resolved, the Secretary of State in question will have a meeting with the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. This is a serious set of incentives; if one thinks about what it was like under the previous Government, or any previous Government, one realises that Ministers do not wish to go through that process and will therefore try to meet their objectives."
More in Hansard.
It's nice that New Labour haven't scrapped the splendid title Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Yesterday saw questions to the Chancellor and the Cabinet Office.
Shadow Deputy Secretary of State for Wales David Jones asked about the impact of the recession on charity:
"The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Kevin Brennan): The Charity Commission recently published its second economic survey of charities, which showed that just over half of the charities surveyed are feeling the impact of the downturn. While 30 per cent. of those surveyed have seen their incomes decrease, 32 per cent. say that they have already taken steps to combat the impact of the downturn. The full results of the survey are available in the Library of the House.
Mr. Jones: As the Minister has indicated, the economic survey revealed that charities were feeling the impact of the downturn, but 20 per cent. of them reported that they were experiencing increasing demand for the services that they offer. Given the increasing importance of the third sector in delivering what are often core services, can he say what the Government are doing to help ensure that those services are maintained in the downturn?
Kevin Brennan: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question. Although the survey showed that 5 per cent. of charities reported that they had had to cut services or were holding off new services as a result of the downturn, only 2 per cent. reported that they had had to reduce staff during the recession. We have introduced our “Real Help Now” recession action plan to meet the demands of organisations in the third sector, as they have made it clear that they are worried about the increase in demand at a time when it is possible that their income will fall. The package includes a modernisation fund to help charities meet the challenges of the recession and a fund to help charities in the front line that are working in the most deprived areas, as well as schemes to increase social enterprise and volunteering."
Questions were put to the Cabinet Office / Duchy of Lancaster yesterday. Members were swift to express their deep sympathy to David Cameron and his family over the death of Ivan. I add my own.
Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Nick Hurd posed a question about charities. (Naomi House, to which he refers, is a children's hospice in Hampshire.)
"On behalf of the Conservative party, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary and other hon. Members who have expressed sadness at the death of Ivan Cameron. His was a tragically short span of life, but one filled with a great deal of love. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) will draw strength from the House’s condolences.
Until now, the Treasury has done nothing for a significant number of charities, which have lost money in the Icelandic bank failure, so charities such as Naomi House face having to cut back their good work just when it is most needed. Let me make the Parliamentary Secretary an offer. We support the principle of a short-term Treasury loan fund to help sound charities, which face genuine hardships as a result of lost bank deposits. Will he work with us to develop cross-party consensus on a measure that will have minimal cash-flow impact on the Treasury and deliver real help to a vital sector of society?
Kevin Brennan: I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s interest in the matter, but we need to separate the budget from the issue of help in the short term. I have already made it clear that there are attempts in the case of Naomi House to look at brokering a local solution. Those discussions are ongoing and we will be carefully monitoring the situation of charities more generally."
The Cabinet Office has recently published a White Paper on social mobility - entitled New Opportunities - in which it expresses regret that:
"In certain high-status professions, the chance for individuals to access opportunities can be frustrated by traditional cultures, established recruitment processes and inflexible career pathways. These often longstanding practices and processes can make it hard for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to break into certain sectors, despite having the skills needed to be successful."
Notwithstanding the ghastly New Labour language, the passage above outlines an admirable aim. But yesterday Francis Maude, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, exposed the hollow nature of the Government's rhetoric in spectacular fashion:
"It is great to see the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster here, filling a gap in his schedule between his cappuccino and his soup. Yesterday, he published a White Paper that made much of the aim, shared by everyone, of removing barriers to opportunity for people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Why, then, are half of all civil service vacancies published only on a secret website accessible only to existing civil servants? Is that not exactly the sort of barrier to opportunity that should be swept away? Is it not a modern-day closed shop?
Mr. Watson: Yes, the right hon. Gentleman is right: internal vacancies are naturally advertised internally to colleagues, but we are doing a lot of work on this and I very much hope that civil service jobs will get a wider audience in weeks and months to come.
Mr. Maude: Is not the real reason for keeping this information secret from the public the fact that there is now a proliferation of public sector—state sector—jobs? Just this week, the Cabinet Office alone is recruiting for a chief psychologist, a Downing street butler and a change manager. Is not the solution to the recession caused by Labour not a change manager but a change of Government?
Mr. Watson: No, none of that is right. We have the smallest civil service since the second world war, and we are targeting £5 billion of efficiency savings. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right about the specific question. We do need to improve how people access vacancies for civil service jobs, and I hope to announce more measures on that in months to come."
(Anyone wondering about the remarks about cappuccino and his soup should read this.)
Eric Pickles (Shadow Communities Secretary) uncovered last February that nearly 3,000 civil service jobs are not advertised to the public online:
"To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how many and what proportion of Civil Service vacancies have been advertised on the (a) public and (b) Civil Service and accredited non-departmental public bodies staff-only sections of the Civil Service recruitment gateway website in the last 12 months. 
Mr. Watson: Government Departments are responsible for ensuring that their vacancies are publicised on the civil service recruitment gateway. Data is not collected centrally on the total number of civil service and NDPB vacancies at any given time.
From 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2007, 5,727 vacancies were advertised, of which (a) 2,916 were advertised on the public part of the site and (b) 2,811 on the civil service and accredited non-departmental public bodies staff-only section of the civil service recruitment gateway website."
This is Opposition at its best. Well done to both Mr Maude and Mr Pickles.
Whilst some jobs in the civil service will be best suited to candidates who are already civil servants, the application process should surely be far more open than it is currently. Indeed who is to say that a successful business person (for example) should necessarily not go straight into a senior civil service role?
If that appears unthinkable, bear in mind that both the last Prime Minister and the probable next one had no ministerial experience (although David Cameron has worked in Whitehall).
Francis Maude is now Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. (I'm sure he's confident enough not to ask people to call him "Shadow Chancellor" for short!) Yesterday he raised the extremely important issue of data security.
"Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): The Cabinet Secretary’s report on data handling and security, which was published back in June, admitted that urgent action was needed to improve data security across the Government. Three years earlier, back in 2005, the Walport report, which came from the Government’s own council on science and technology, had already recommended a series of changes to Whitehall practice in order to protect people’s personal data. Why did the Government not even bother to respond to the report, let alone introduce any of its recommendations for action that were proposed three years ago?
Mr. Watson: The right hon. Gentleman and I have rehearsed this argument over a number of months. The Government have put in place a series of strong measures to tighten down on data loss, which I think compares very favourably to the private sector. We do penetration testing from user-friendly hackers; we restrict access to removable electronic devices; and encryption is now the norm. I say again that, compared to the private sector, where a third of companies do not even know when data loss has happened and 60 per cent. refuse to tell their customers when there has been one, we are leading the way in the public sector. I know that one of the right hon. Gentleman’s second jobs is as a banker—and banks are notorious for not revealing data losses—so I hope that he is not trying to set one rule for the public sector in his day job and another rule for the private sector in his secondary-income job.
Mr. Maude: I remind the Minister that his responsibility is for data security across government. He will know that one of the recommendations—or, rather, requirements—of Sir Gus O’Donnell’s report was for all Departments to introduce privacy impact assessments so that threats to data security could be considered properly. Why, then, has the Home Office refused to provide such an impact assessment for the identity cards project, why has the Department of Health refused to draft one for the NHS Spine project, and why has the Department for Children, Schools and Families refused to provide one for the ContactPoint children’s database? How can we trust the Government to protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens when they systematically ignore their own requirements?
Mr. Watson: We have achieved a staggering amount of progress in making data safe in government. We are changing day by day, and thousands of people have been involved in the training project. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to take advice from his hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), who has a secondary job as a consultant for a corporate social responsibility firm that trades under the maxim “Public reporting has become fundamental to a company’s trustworthiness”—
The Government's spectacularly poor record on this matter is a cause of huge concern, and also further undermines the case for ID cards. Perhaps the minister would have been well-advised not to make cracks about Tory MPs having second jobs when Labour have taken their collective eye off the ball so wantonly - especially now that he has direct responsibility.