The transcript of a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee last week runs to 18,700 words. Those who are sensitive to abominations of the English language should not dive into this sea of words.
The hearing was into the plans of departments to cut spending.
Saving money doesn't have to be a bad thing. For reformers it's an opportunity to do things more simply and to end the public sector's dependence on big IT contracts and suppliers. It's an opportunity to stop monopolistic suppliers charging extortionately for software changes. It's a chance for the eager adoption of open source.
So who were the earnest reformers - the illuminati - giving evidence to the committee last week? They included two permanent secretaries; the Director General of Performance Management at the Treasury; the Chief Operating Officer at the Efficiency and Reform Group, Cabinet Office (who's a former government CIO); and the director, Implementation Unit, Downing Street.
The language used by "witnesses" at the hearing suggests that their progress will be that of those who mount horses on circus merry-go-rounds.
In the transcript are references, it seems, to everything except change, reform and innovation. It's a masterpiece of Sir Humphyism. Indeed, to adapt a quote from Yes Minister, you wouldn't ask an alcoholic to blow up a distillery, so why would you ask a permanent secretary to reform his department?
The PAC transcript includes these do-nothing terms:
- input and impact indicators
- multiple-choice tests
- new accountability structures
- departments as "outliers"
- outcomes and PSAs
- clear timetables
- keeping bureaucratic tasks to a manageable level
- lining up of impact indicators
- shifting accountability to elected people
- building clarity about what we're trying to achieve
- plans that begin to articulate more clearly the role of Government
- detail on feedback loops
- a monthly report that is published on the No 10 and departmental websites
- full business planning processes and operational planning processes
- planning and management by work programme
- big things on the horizon that are put on the medium-term plan
- moving towards greater transparency in a non-defensive way.
- "The highlighted areas, the impact indicator level in the business plans, is a subset of the 10 that, so far, were judged to be the most useful macrodatasets to give you overall an understanding ..."
Input and impact indicators are what permanent secretaries substitute for reform and achievement. The coalition should not let them get away with it.
Another apposite quote from Jonathan Lynn's website:
."If you are not happy with the Minister's decision there is no need to argue him out of it. Accept it warmly, and then suggest he leaves it to you to work out the details."