Conservative Diary

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Why the Government is missing deadlines

by Paul Goodman

Oliver Letwin recently told a group of Conservative MPs that the Government's legislation was in good order.  So much so, in fact, that there may be no need for futher laws at all in the second half of the Parliament.  The Cabinet Office Minister was doubtless speaking in his usual hyperbolic way, and in general it's a good thing to have less legislation.  But this morning's papers place a questionmark against Letwin's Panglossian prediction.  The Guardian says that -

"The government's legislative agenda appears to have slipped in the last six months as it publishes business plans showing 87 revised deadlines and targets missed.  The second publication of the government's progress reports - an innovation devised by David Cameron to make government more efficient and transport - shows its business, environment and "big society" projects to be running months behind schedule only six months after their timetables were originally published....The Cabinet Office was the department whose agenda had slipped the most with 17 rearranged targets. Next the business department with 11; education with 10, transport with 9 and Defra with 8."

The paper names delays to plans for a new Public Data Corporation, legislation to allow loans to be paid to people in further education, a white paper to reduce regulatory burdens on industry and the full establishment of the "Big Society" bank.  The Times (£) claims that Iain Duncan Smith has been forced to abandon plans to automate the processing of all benefit claims.  The Independent zeroes in on the effect of delays to the eventual progress of the Health Bill.  Jim Pickard of the Financial Times (£) finds a further twelve promises from the Coalition Agreement that may not be kept.

Three quick points:
  • Obviously, passing bills and hitting targets aren't the same thing.  But some of the items on Pickard's list look to need legislation.  Some of it is bound to be pushed back to the second half of the Parliament.
  • The Government wants not to be like New Labour ...  David Cameron wanted from the start to avoid Blair and Brown's mistakes.  Labour did little early public service change.  This Government has plans to reform welfare, health, schools and the police, not to mention public sector pensions.  Blair enshrined "spin" in Downing Street.  This Government has culled the number of special advisers, and started without a proper policy unit.  Blair liked "Sofa Government".  Under this Government, the place of the civil service has been restored in Downing Street.
  • ...Which is right - but it has over-reacted, which explains some of the delays.  When it comes to Government, two partners are slower than one.  But there are reasons for slow progress in some areas that have nothing to do with the fact of Coalition.  The Government has probably taken on one major reform too many.  The special adviser reduction was the kind of opposition pledge that comes back to haunt a government: its effects have been damaging.  The civil service is in less good order than Ministers hoped: read Benedict Brogan here and here.


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