December 23 2013: Politics, scandal, cuts, destruction and chaos. Would anyone working in the public sector actually recommend it anymore?
At the very top is, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary. Will he be prepared to rap ministers’ knuckles or demand David Cameron corral special advisers when they use the machinery of state for party advantage?
Political pundits say the general election of 2015 will be dirty, putting permanent secretaries on their mettle. But the fact that since 2010 none of them have sought a, “direction” from ministers – an explicit order from a minister to pursue action about which they have financial or administrative doubts – suggests they might not erect much of a barrier against politicisation. Civil servants face trial by ordeal – keeping public business (and ministers) honest as politicking hots up, as grave doubts grow about Whitehall’s capacity and ethos. NHS managers will struggle to survive amid resource crisis and the chaos created by healthcare “reforms”. In town and county halls, despair may overcome executives contemplating impossible financial arithmetic while dealing with the latest example of government’s simultaneous bid to control and blame them.
Coalition government has proved a dark hour for council executives and their troubles will deepen. There is no sign of relenting in the pursuit by government of their pay and pensions. Their national organisations, Solace and the Local Government Association, are silent, pale shadows. Bright spots include imaginative rethinking of conurbation governance as councils in Manchester, Merseyside and London come together in new combinations and some shire districts rationalise services.
The professional bodies representing clinicians specialising in emergency medicine say hospitals can neither recruit nor retain staff to work in A&E. In the new year, the Trust Development Authority (the body supposed to help NHS trusts make the leap into foundation status) will report that attracting both managers and board members is increasingly difficult.
If all that paints a gloomy picture of 2014, don’t forget it is meant to be that way. Oliver Letwin, chief policy strategist for the government, embraces, “creative destruction”. Francis Maude says the Tories are deliberately demolishing the state. Justice secretary Chris Grayling and other ministers are powering ahead with the replacement of public by private provision. The calamity that is the NHS was willed by the authors of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act.
Which is not to say that a change of government at Westminster in 2015 would suddenly see dawn’s rosy fingers caressing public service management. The safest prediction for next year (and possibly several years after) is that things are going to get worse before they have any prospect of getting better.
June 6 2014: Labour makes official complaint over use of Conservative slogan in Queen’s Speech
I am writing to express concerns that taxpayers’ money is being routinely used to promote the Conservative Party’s messages. It is, of course, the role of the Civil Service to communicate official government information to the public. However, it is vital that this work is clearly confined to non-party political activity. It would be completely inappropriate for the work of the Civil Service to be manipulated to support party political messaging. The Civil Service Code itself states that civil servants must not, “use official resources for party political purposes”. I believe there are serious questions to be asked as to whether the Code is currently being upheld. I therefore ask that you investigate urgently whether official government resources are being used to promote Conservative Party communications. In particular, I hope you will be able to answer the following questions:
Do you consider the slogan ‘long-term economic plan’ or ‘long-term plan’ to be government brands? If so, do you think it is appropriate for it to be used in the Conservative Party’s political and campaign communications materials?
What measures have been taken to ensure that none of the £290 million earmarked for external communications this year will be used to promote a political party’s message?
What processes have you put in place to ensure that public resources are used only for impartial and official government business?
What processes have you put in place to ensure the Conservative Party will not seek to use official government messaging for party political ends?
What communication has been had with the Conservative Party to ensure that this is the case?
In considering these questions, I would draw your attention to the fact that in 2009 the then Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude wrote to the then Cabinet Secretary seeking assurances that the work of civil servants was not being used inappropriately. He argued that “addressing this issue is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the work of the civil service”. This statement is as true now as it was then. It is essential that the public has clarity and confidence over the proper use of public funds and impartiality of the civil service and as such I look forward to your response. In light of the obvious public interest in this matter I am releasing a copy of this letter to the media. Michael Dugher MP, Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office.
July 7 2014: Treasury has not signed off on Duncan Smith’s universal credit
The Treasury is keeping a very close eye on the universal credit development, the responsibility of work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, after it was criticised by the National Audit Office for its “weak management, ineffective control and poor governance”.
Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, said the Treasury and the Cabinet Office’s Major Projects Authority, “played a very, very clear role in bringing it to the attention” of Duncan Smith that the project was, “way off track” at the start of last year. However, he said it was a good example where the most senior people in Whitehall had, “intervened very strongly” to help sort it out. Heywood also admitted that Duncan Smith’s department had mishandled Atos contracts, which has been responsible for delays in the implementation of a new personal independence payment to the disabled. He said there was an issue about whether the department responsible was, “sufficiently alive to the emerging picture”. “That comes down, in my view, to; first of all, was there, before the thing became a project to start with, before it became announced as a priority of the government, was there a sufficiently hard-headed assessment done at the gateway stage? Secondly, there is the perennial problem of whether we had adequate timely real-time information as to what was going on,” he added.
Universal credit has the support of all the major parties but Labour has pledged to, “pause” and conduct a three-month review if it wins the general election. Chris Bryant, shadow minister for welfare reform, said it was, “more evidence of the chaos surrounding universal credit”. “It raises worrying questions about George Osborne’s refusal to endorse his government’s flagship welfare reform scheme,” he said. ‘It’s time for David Cameron to call in the National Audit Office as a matter of urgency to get to the bottom of the true extent of the chaos surrounding universal credit.” A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted there was no contradiction between McVey’s claims and the admission from Kerslake. “Universal credit is on track to roll out safely and securely against the plan set out last year.
July 31 2014: The hunt for a new BBC Trust boss has become a mess
Two more leading candidates have pulled out of the race to become the new head of the BBC Trust amid accusations that the process has descended into a “mess”. Sir Howard Stringer, the former Sony chief executive, and Michael Portillo, the former Conservative defence secretary, were both approached about the role but decided not to apply. A total of nine candidates have now pulled out including Lord Coe, the Olympics chief who had been the Prime Minister’s preferred choice, Dame Marjorie Scardino, the former chief executive of Pearson, and Sir Peter Bazalgette, chairman of the Arts Council. Despite the setbacks Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, will begin interviewing the remaining shortlisted candidates today. Sajid Javid, the Culture Secretary, believes that the shortlist remains “strong”. However Greg Dyke, the former director general of the BBC, said that the job is “unattractive” because the trust is likely to be abolished under the royal charter review in 2016.
June 25 2014: David Cameron’s judgment in the dock after phone-hacking case – Labour claims he ignored warnings – Why was he not vetted
Miliband also raised again the issue of why Coulson was not given the highest security clearance – something that would have required him to be deep vetted, including a months long investigation into his private life. Cameron insisted that the initial decision not to seek the highest-level clearance for Coulson – in contrast to the six previous press secretaries – was made by the then Downing Street permanent secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood. It has been previously reported that Sir Jeremy made the decision on the basis of cost saving, but Labour is to ask the commissioner for public appointments, Sir David Normington, to look into the procedure.
June 9 2014: David Cameron no longer scares his ministers
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, is damaged by an unspoken element in the public feud between Home Secretary Theresa May and Education Secretary Michael Gove. It is that his ministers do not fear him. Cameron’s continuing, baffling reliance on fingers-in-every-pie Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, is in evidence yet again. Heywood was asked by the PM to conduct a ‘review’ of the May-Gove spat — over whose department was to blame for Islamic extremism in schools. Afterwards, Heywood told Cameron he must take firm action against Gove and Ms Cunningham. This turns out to be Gove having to say sorry and Ms Cunningham getting the sack. Neither Gove nor Mrs May can be sacked. That would imperil Cameron’s own position. But the unfortunate Ms Cunningham is deemed dispensable.
Gove started the row by criticising Mrs May and counter-terrorism boss Charles Farr in remarks he made in private over lunch to cronies at The Times. Ms Cunningham, who is romantically involved with Farr and an often aggressive supporter of Mrs May, made public a private letter the Home Secretary wrote to Gove accusing him of failing to act on concerns about Islamic activity in schools. Leaking private communications between ministers is deemed to be very bad form. But why do ministers write complaining letters to each other if the intention is to keep their contents secret? They do so in order to put on record their grievances. So, if disagreements boil over — and there’s an inquiry into the matter — they can produce their letters as evidence. Ms Cunningham acted prematurely, that is all. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2652454/PETER-MCKAY-Why-Dave-no-longer-scares-ministers.html
March 5 2014: Patrick Rock arrest: Sir Jeremy Heywood’s reply to Labour letter
I will try to respond to your specific questions but, as you recognise, in doing so my overriding concern must be to avoid doing anything to prejudice or undermine an on-going police investigation. Downing Street became aware of a potential offence relating to child abuse imagery on the evening of 12 February. I was immediately informed of the allegation and the Prime Minister was also briefed. Officials then contacted the NCA to seek advice on how to report suspected criminality. Our subsequent actions were driven by the overriding importance of not jeopardising either their investigation or the possibility of a prosecution.
Patrick Rock resigned on the evening of 12 February. His resignation was not made public as we judged it was inappropriate to make an announcement while the NCA investigations were continuing. A few hours later he was arrested. We also arranged for officers to come into Number 10 to have access to all IT systems and offices they considered relevant. There has been no contact from officials with Mr Rock since his arrest. Mr Rock was cleared to the standard SC level which was appropriate for the classification of material to which he needed to have access.
You ask a number of questions about a separate sexual harassment allegation. Let me start by saying that we regard our duty of confidentiality to staff who make complaints as extremely important. Confidentiality is essential if we are to ensure that people feel able to raise issues freely, and without fear of subsequently being identified. I am therefore not in a position to provide any information that might breach our duty of confidence or allow an individual to be identified.
On the specific questions you raise in relation to what you describe as “an allegation of sexual harassment”, again let me make clear that as you would expect we take any issue raised by staff about behaviour very seriously indeed. The complaint was acted upon immediately at a senior level and in accordance with Cabinet Office HR policy. The issue was resolved with the consent of, and in consultation with, the individual who raised the complaint. Both civil service and special adviser line managers were involved. I was briefed on the case and concluded that the matter had been dealt with appropriately. The Prime Minister was also made aware. You imply that the member of staff who raised the complaint was moved to another Government department against their wishes. This is completely untrue – no member of staff was moved as a result of the case. I am not aware of any other complaint about Patrick Rock’s behaviour while he was working at No 10