Conservative Diary

See-through government

17 Dec 2011 07:37:51

Francis Maude gets new powers to speed up the bonfire of the quangos

By Matthew Barrett
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MAUDE FRANCIS AT LECTURNThe Daily Telegraph reports today on Paymaster General, Francis Maude's bonfire of the quangos, which followed the Government's review of all public bodies in October 2010. So far, progress has been as fast as expected. The Telegraph says:

  • Of the 199 quangos that were set to be axed, just 53 had been abolished.
  • Only one of 120 bodies which was due to be merged – postal watchdog Postcomm – has been merged.
  • Only a single quango out of another 176 bodies which were set for reform has actually been reformed.

However, the Telegraph's story also contains good news: the bonfire of the quangos has been given some much needed petrol, in the form of the Public Bodies Act, which was granted Royal Assent on Wednesday. This Act (which can be read in full here) was made necessary because quangos that were established by Acts of Parliament needed new legislation in order to reform, merge or scrap them - a process which has now been made much easier. 

Continue reading "Francis Maude gets new powers to speed up the bonfire of the quangos" »

8 Sep 2011 18:08:20

Steve Hilton makes his first public speaking appearance and says...

By Tim Montgomerie
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Stephan Shakespeare of YouGov Cambridge, Government Transparency Advisor Tim Kelsey and Cameron's chief advisor, Steve Hilton at Magdalen College, Cambridge earlier today. Please note the trainers that he took off before speaking!

Steve Hilton hasn't spoken on a public platform since he became the Prime Minister’s chief advisor but be broke cover this afternoon at the launch event for YouGov Cambridge, a new university-based centre for global opinion polling. He didn't say anything very exciting or revelatory but he offered a comprehensive explanation of the government's transparency agenda to an audience of technologists, academics, diplomats, opinion pollsters and a handful of journalists. He should do this kind of thing more often. I always value my occasional conversations with him but Andy Coulson wasn't keen on him speaking to journalists. He should get out and into these gatherings of opinion-formers more often as part of a bigger effort to increase understanding of what the government is trying to do.

Hilton appeared on a panel with other leading members of what I’d call the Government’s Innovation Wing. There was Rohan Silva, Hilton’s right hand man and the PM’s senior policy advisor; Liam Maxwell, until recently the councilor behind much of Windsor and Maidenhead’s landmark innovations and now a new government advisor on IT projects; and also Tim Kelsey, the former journalist and founder CEO of Dr Foster who now runs the government’s efforts to use transparency to improve public services.

Continue reading "Steve Hilton makes his first public speaking appearance and says..." »

30 Jul 2011 08:30:21

Andrew Lansley condemns the "cynical environment" created by Primary Care Trusts limiting patient choice

By Matthew Barrett
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The NHS Co-operation and Competition Panel (CCP) has ruled many Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), which commission operations for NHS patients in England, are restricting patients’ choice over where they can go for treatment. 

The CCP found "many examples of primary care trusts excessively constraining patients’ ability to choose, and providers ability to offer routine elective care". 

Continue reading "Andrew Lansley condemns the "cynical environment" created by Primary Care Trusts limiting patient choice" »

3 Apr 2011 17:07:22

Shining a light on Labour's education failure

Tim Montgomerie

I've argued before that Labour's education legacy can be likened to its budget legacy. On Thursday Michael Gove published a huge amount of information about GCSE results. It's the first phase in a programme that will see the whole education system become transparent for parents. The Labour government kept this information secret in order that they could continue to mislead the public about the true state of our school system.

Transparency By publishing the information, against the fierce resistance of many aspects of the Education Establishment including the teachers unions, Gove has shone a light on the true state of our schools and the extent to which schools were encouraged by Labour to put children into duff courses to manipulate league tables. Gove plans even more radical transparency regarding data in January 2012 when the new league tables are published and there will no doubt be huge resistance to his plans. (It was interesting that Burnham, being caught between the Union hostility to transparency and public support for it, remained silent.)
Having done this, it will be nearly impossible for a future Labour Government to reverse. This is, therefore, one of those reforms that costs barely anything yet will have a profound and permanent impact on the system.

Continue reading "Shining a light on Labour's education failure" »

24 Sep 2010 08:41:44

Conservatives fight back on Council Tax, quangos, and spending control (and fire more early shots at Labour's leader-to-be)

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-09-24 at 07.32.33 As Tim and I wrote recently, the Coalition's "summer of scrutiny" of Labour didn't happen (see here and here).  And the Coalition still doesn't seem to have united on a message to give voters.  But this morning, Conservative Ministers and MPs are making waves.  Indeed, they're fighting back against their critics and Labour like scrappers in one of those old-fashioned episodes of "Batman" -

Zap! 177 quangos are to go.  Ministers have either listened to our advice, taken someone else's or hit on the idea themselves.  The Daily Telegraph leads on the story.  I'd like to see the details, but it's a promising start.

Bash! As Harry Phibbs reports today in our Local Government section, Eric Pickles, newly appointed to the Star Chamber to help concentrate the minds of erring spending Ministers, presses his steamroller progress on by cancelling Labour’s plans for a council tax revaluation in England, saving families up to £320 a year, and launching a review into intrusive snooping by council tax inspectors.  He was pressing the fairness angle during a joshing Today interview earlier this morning.  Again, let's wait to see what the review comes up with, but it's a sound initiative.

Screen shot 2010-09-24 at 07.32.48 Whack! As Tim reports in LeftWatch, Matt Hancock is up and at Labour again, pinning the Milibands to the Labour spending scaleback they supported in Government, highlighting their campaigning spending commitments during the last few months...and their opposition to just about every saving the Government's announced.  First of all, they're committed to savings, says Hancock - but won't say how they'd make them.  Next, they're committed to spending - but won't say how they'd fund them.  Labour's sums don't add up!  This is classic Treasury/Shadow Treasury Ju-Jitso of the type that Hancock (and Balls on the other side of the aisle) excel at.

It's heartening to see the Government fighting back.  Oh, and one point from today's push that may be the shape of things to come - namely, that the Liberal Democrats don't seem to have played a part in the assault.  I suspect that the main reason isn't unwillingness or incapacity.  Rather, it's that it's less easy for the two parties, with their different centres of political and ideological gravity, to agree on a line of fire.  When it comes to Labour to account, expect Conservative Ministers to take the lead - as well as when it comes to cutting household bills and shredding red tape.

3 Jun 2010 14:53:30

Andrew Mitchell promises independent assessment of UK aid spending

UKAIDAndrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, has today said that his department - DFID - is by far the best development group in the world but that taxpayers deserve independent assurance that the £7.3bn budget is being spent wisely.

In remarks to a conference hosted by Oxfam, Mr Mitchell said:

"Development is good for our economy, our safety, our health, our future. It is, quite simply, tremendous value for money: the best return on investment that you’ll find anywhere in government. British aid pays for five million children in developing countries to go to primary school every day. That’s roughly the same number as go to primary school in Britain yet it costs only 2.5 per cent of what we spend here. That’s real value for money...

To the British taxpayer I say this: our aim is to spend every penny of every pound of your money wisely and well. We want to squeeze every last ounce of value from it. We owe you that. And I promise you as well that in future, when it comes to international development, we will want to see hard evidence of the impact your money makes. Not just dense and impenetrable budget lines but clear evidence of real effect.”

To this end he is setting up an independent aid watchdog.

Continue reading "Andrew Mitchell promises independent assessment of UK aid spending" »

1 Jun 2010 07:08:19

The pay of the 172 civil servants earning more than the Prime Minister is revealed

Picture 2 As promised yesterday, the era of more open and transparent government begins today with the publication of the salaries of all civil servants earning more than the Prime Minister.

There are no fewer than 172 mandarins and quangocrats taking home more than David Cameron's £142,500, with the table being headed by the hitherto anonymous John Fingleton, who heads the Office of Fair Trading on virtually double the Prime Ministerial salary.

The table of the highest civil service earners on the right is taken from today's Daily Mail.

The Independent, meanwhile, points out that eyebrows will be raised over some seemingly odd anomalies a little further down the list: for example, the revelation that the permanent secretary at the all-important Treasury earns £15,000 less than his counterpart at the Department for International Development.

Click here to download a spreadsheet of the full table.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude declares that people's trust can start being won back with government being open and accountable in this way:

"We are pulling back the curtains to let light into the corridors of power... Openness will not be comfortable for us in government, but it will enable the public to hold our feet to the fire. This way lies better government. Transparency is key to our efficiency drive and will enable the public to help us to deliver better value for money in public spending. Today is just the start of what we plan to do. We are determined to set an example for the wider public sector, and to create a 'right to data' as a core part of government business."

Matthew Elliott 2 Today's move has naturally been given a warm welcome by the TaxPayers' Alliance, which has long campaigned for this sort of transparency. Its chief executive, Matthew Elliott, said:

"Publishing this data is long overdue but is nevertheless extremely welcome. Taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent and anyone earning a large amount of money in government should have their pay packet open to public scrutiny, so people can judge whether they are providing good value for money. This should be the beginning of a process where the pay of people in quangos, local government and the European Commission is also published to help the Government root out excessive salaries and wasteful spending."

Jonathan Isaby

31 May 2010 07:23:16

The government information and data being opened up to public scrutiny

Yesterday we covered how the theme of transparency was highlighted by David Cameron in his first Prime Ministerial podcast.

Today more details are emerging of how this principle will be put into action as plans are announced for publishing specific government data online, including:

  • The names and salary of all civil servants earning more than £150,000 per year (from tomorrow)
  • Details of all government contracts over £10,000 (from September)
  • Any items of central government expenditure  over £25,000 (from November)
  • Any item of local government expenditure over £500 (from January)
  • Hospital-by-hospital data covering the last three months on the number of cases of MRSA and C.Difficile infection (from this week), with weekly statistics to follow (from July)
  • Street level crime data (from January)

Mr Cameron has written to all government departments, emphasising that greater transparency "is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account."

In time, it is hard not to see the presumption becoming that all information and data collated by the government should automatically be published.

But for now, which other data should be prioritised for online publication and scrutiny?

I suspect we should pay particular attention to the kinds of things which civil servants (through ministers) have historically managed to avoid publishing, when asked through written parliamentary questions, by claiming that such information could only be gathered at "disproportionate cost".

The man to lobby is Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who writes in the Telegraph:

"I will chair a new Transparency Board, which will include experts, including perhaps the Government’s greatest critic when it comes to transparency, Tom Steinberg. Based at the heart of government in the Cabinet Office, we’ll be listening to what the public want and making sure they get the information they ask for wherever humanly possible. And we’ll be working with other departments to develop the public’s legal right to data. We’ll make the changes happen here in central government, and we’ll be expecting to see them across the rest of the public sector too."

Jonathan Isaby

30 May 2010 08:39:00

Are these the seven big ideas of Cameronism?

Lightbulb David Cameron's first podcast as Prime Minister is now online. Listen here. It was recorded on a train journey and the clacketing over rail tracks in the background is very Auden.

The main theme of Mr Cameron's podcast is transparency:

"If there’s one thing I’ve noticed since doing this job, it’s how all the information about government; the money it spends, where it spends it, the results it achieves; how so much of it is locked away in a vault marked sort of private for the eyes of ministers and officials only. I think this is ridiculous. It’s your money, your government, you should know what’s going on. So we’re going to rip off that cloak of secrecy and extend transparency as far and as wide as possible. By bringing information out into the open, you’ll be able to hold government and public services to account.”

Transparency is undoubtedly one of his biggest ideas. What are the others?  The graphics below suggest seven.



Tim Montgomerie

3 Mar 2010 08:46:35

The Tories will force BBC to publish top stars' pay as part of bid to squeeze better value out of licence fee

RevealSalaries"BBC presenters earning more than the Prime Minister will be “named and shamed” within weeks if David Cameron wins the general election," reports The Daily Telegraph.

Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, believes that only full transparency of top pay will force the BBC into renegotiating bloated contracts.

Mr Hunt also said that it was "unlikely" that the BBC would be granted an increase in its licence fee and he refused to rule out a cut.  According to a YouGov survey for The Sun only 28% of voters agree that the £142.50pa licence fee provides value for money. 60% thought the fee offered poor value for money.

In The Guardian, the newspaper which BBC news headlines most closely resemble and from which it recruits, Jonathan Freedland slams the Corporation for yesterday's announcement on the closure of the Asian Network and of 6 Music. Mr Freedland accuses the Tories of following Murdoch's agenda:

"Hold a copy of James Murdoch's 2009 MacTaggart lecture in one hand, and a clutch of Tory policy positions on the media in the other. Then see if you can tell them apart."

Mr Hunt's policy of requiring the BBC to publish the pay of top stars and executives is a key part of the Conservative Party's transparency agenda. David Cameron has said that all state expenditures of over £25,000 should be published. This will mean every taxpayer will be able to see how their hard-earned money is being used. More significantly for cutting costs, rival firms will be able to inspect the government's contracts with commercial suppliers and bid to undercut them when they come up for renewal.

Stephan Shakespeare, who co-ordinates the Network for the Post-Bureaucratic Age, has called for the threshold to be lower than £25,000:

"Why make it apply only to contracts above £25,000? You will instantly see an awful lot of government activity pegged at £24,500. Apply the new rules to ALL contracts. Bear in mind, this need add no scintilla of added bureaucracy or cost (a common excuse for keeping things hidden). Virtually all contracts are already in digital form. Use a simple format with appropriate tags, and make all contracts automatically cc’d to an openly accessible data file. That’s it. A simple rule, and it is done. Stand back and watch as competitors access the files, and as the software guys create apps to allow us to see what’s happening to our money."

Tim Montgomerie