News & Views


WHOLE GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE and responsibility for it

posted 7 Aug 2017, 07:49 by Peter Webb   [ updated 7 Aug 2017, 07:59 ]

In August 2017 a Surrey County Councillor emailed: “Council finance is in difficulties but it is Central Government which is causing this by handing out responsibilities without funding”. The ‘Nothing to do with me, guv” syndrome. He is right. Ultimately the Prime Minister, Parliament or the Privy Council is responsible. It is not clear which. Most of funds come in the form of central grants and capped council tax.  Performance must accordingly be judged in the round and as a whole. In fact there is overwhelming recorded evidence of fundamental flaws: 

Politicians’ disinclination to be professionally responsible for the generality of government performance has produced a management void. Disunity between the political and the ‘treasury’ causes uncontrolled debt. This extends to Europe-wide real flaws of principle and in UK downwards to devolution arrangements.   

 The Prime Minister is traditionally not equipped for control of the public finances because not knowing and not managing. The ‘scoreboard is not up to date and budgets are not produced on the same basis. Long out of date figures and suspected qualified audit report have in medieval fashion been withheld  from electors' view during the general election and still haven't appeared. Constant resort to borrowing is not “Living within our means” and weakly suggests a real “magic money tree”. Context for voter understanding is accordingly left blank which is no help to the responsible governing authority. 'Government speak' is confined to a  cash "deficit" only. The true and larger expenditure deficit reflects borrowing from accrued past-service pensions underfunded, and PFI contracts.

 The Treasury and Cabinet Office fail to drive called for method and machinery change. This is as noted by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee report "Accounting for democracy: Making sure Parliament, the people and ministers know how and why public money is spent".  The report opens "The House of Commons is supreme in matters of finance. Parliament can only exercise this supremacy if it understands….." and is fed from below.

 In fact Parliament, the people and ministers don't  know how and why public money is spent! Management accounting is unstructured and open-ended in the management void. There is no budget for comparison. Cabinet Ministers seem not to know what management information they need.  The specification would be properly determined given a fixed Cabinet agenda spot for period Treasury and departmental reports for minuted action or signing off.

 A letter has been forwarded to the Prime Minister stating this case and suggesting a directive to the Treasury and Cabinet Office. At the same time three questions have been forwarded to the Chancellor asking when changes in accounting and reporting will be made.

As the General Election draws near...

posted 2 Jun 2017, 09:40 by Peter Webb

….all the contenders ignore the issue described in the attached published letter. The NAO should call for "special measures".  But as already reported even the HoC Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee can't get the Cabinet and Treasury to "drive change" prescribed. Leadership directives are absent. However sincere the emotive or inspirational rhetoric it  doesn't 'bring home the bacon'.   

We have to play along with the electoral entertainment for now even if Parliament and box-ticking elections are obsolescent. The Cortanas and Siris, Googles and facebook are with Artificial Intelligence taking over our thinking. Amazon is getting better at reading and feeding my mind for personal book choices right now. Cars are talking to each other now. Perhaps it is not a bigger more expensive and unwieldy NHS that we need but one that is allowed to continue to organically evolve without political interference and 'national debates' and 'conversations'. We will get a better all round idea of ourselves  and then for government decisions and machinery. Politicians, your spendthrift and uncontrolled debt days are numbered. You will not be needed for democracy, don't formally account anyway and will get in the way of the golden goose economy. 

Public Accounts Committee former Chair helps state the problem

posted 11 Apr 2017, 02:32 by Peter Webb   [ updated 16 Apr 2017, 03:41 ]

Public Accounts Committee former Chair Rt. Hon. Dame Margaret Hodge’s new book Called to Account draws conclusions from her razor-sharp and fearless examinations of government workings. Taken together with the revelation of a management void which she acknowledges in correspondence (attached) it can be concluded that: POLITICAL LEADERSHIP DOES NOT TAKE PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE GENERALITY  OF GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE. THERE IS A DEFINED MANAGEMENT VOID.  FORMAL DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY IS ABSENT.

Yet Members of Parliament place themselves 'above the law and best practice',  sit in judgement of others in Select Committees and employ quangos. 

To resolve this a royal Commission would take too long. No new knowledge is needed. Suggested is a specific command from the Prime Minister to the Cabinet Secretary, preferably supported by the Monarch under the Constitution, for a standard Cabinet Meeting Agenda fed by Management Information and upward reporting. Additional observations are:

 Political science is dedicated to explaining politics. It hasn't much to offer the execution of policy and its management. It disjoints operational hierarchies ('Keep out. This is political').

 Politics seeks a happy populace by buying the vote with its (our) own money plus borrowings and accrued liabilities and obligations. Those unrecovered costs convert to  taxes or borrowings when falling due. Total liabilities including borrowing at 31st March 2015 of £3,558 billion are on a rising trend. They are out of control in the sense that government doesn’t  know what they were at 31st March 2016 or at the end of 2016-17. There is no plan (budget) going forward.

 The"economy" is the word used to imply a 'good' but only  to maintain activity by circulating money.  By default, policy has been for a 'lossful' economy(deficit). Printing money without value to match is not an option. "Quantitve easing" has unproductively channelled into inflated asset values, enriching some too easily. For the necessary objective of a gainfull economy with productive growth we have to trade and  manage the currency in competition. That produces infrastructure investment funds and reserve strength. Stop pussy-footing round “the economy” and go all out for resourcing and profit as is normal and healthy.

 Political and media  led public conversation over 'brexit' reveals how little understood even in high places is the business of running a country, or anything. Talk of a divorce settlement to be met by taxpayers may be partially relevant but so far forgets the normal course of dealings and work in progress which are continuous. There are liabilities and obligations which are what they are at any given moment.  There is  talk from Germany of a "calculation" and audit when what they mean is a conventional balance sheet. Politicians don’t do balance sheets. They don’t think beyond 'overnight' borrowing in fear of  "the markets". Presumably there is to be a difference between accrued liabilities and unassigned EU budget contributions. The settlement sum would simply 'fall out' of proper Accounts on departure day.

 Our WGAs (Whole Government consolidated Accounts) are immaturely claimed to lead the world. But we still await those for 2015-16. That delay certainly isn't the right example for the world outside government. And there is still no WGB for performance against budget as the primary management tool and policy adjustment prompt for the Cabinet.

As Budget Day on 8th March approaches with its proposals for tax

posted 24 Feb 2017, 11:35 by Peter Webb   [ updated 8 Mar 2017, 04:08 ]

 it is reasonable to ask what management information is available to the Chancellor. There has been news of an "improvement" in government borrowing (£1,680 bn) hinting at a loosening. But there has also been as if quite separate and a media hyped threat from Europe  news  of liabilities to be settled at or following brexit.

 But there is no difference  between the Chancellor's hand to mouth borrowing, whether on target or better, and the liabilities constantly building up by spending deficit and in the normal course including those due for settlement in Europe post-brexit.

 In both cases Whole Government Accounts might give the inconvenient truth but they are late and accounting is DEFINITELY not government's strong point. We don’t know of any estimate to 31st March 2017 or even the actual results back to 1st April 2015, when total liabilities were £3,558bn, as would be necessary for any industrial board meeting to decide the operating budget.

Surrey CC want a 15% increase in council tax

posted 21 Jan 2017, 13:43 by Peter Webb   [ updated 21 Jan 2017, 13:44 ]

WHO CAN DECIDE WHAT ?: Apparently, if it goes to a referendum, we decide either for the increase, or for "cuts". But it may not come to that if Surrey Leader David Hodge's threat of a referendum as  a negotiating ploy is successul and VAT and Income Tax is used instead of council tax. SOME MORE POINTS:

 Surrey Tax Action Group (STAG) was born some 14 years ago when Surrey Council tax last 'exploded', by 19%. Here we go again ! The main underlying feature was and is again a change in the balance of funding between central and local.  Last time Labour was in power. The  system has long been  riddled with nonsenses and needs to be sorted and simplified so that the facts can be made clear at all times. The more it goes unreformed the more it is corrupted by such as tax  base changes (like the increase in students in rented accommodation).  And Parliament or someone needs to sort itself out so that reform and redesign can be got on with for the longer term. Our MPs seem to look away all the time. How we the people can get action short of a payment strike  I am not sure.

 Assuming the referendum question is addressed to "residents" rather than council tax payers, the minority,  the vote  will be unfairly weighted.

 Last time we knew that the Council  was 'overweight' with inefficiency and profligacy. This time I believe it is less so.  It is still shamefully secretive though when it comes down to the 'numbers'.

 The Conservative Council has just confirmed, according to press reports, that it is an undemocratic political  Party  machine by holding secret meetings and making secret submissions including  to Conservative Surrey MPs. Perhaps the referendum threat is a negotiating ploy. If that doesn't work for us we should change the people and Party at the next election in May.

 Has the council considered increases in charges for the increasingly extensive and impressive means -tested social  services provided? If that means sorting out inter-authority arrangements so be it. They could do with a wholesale managerial consolidation and to become more commercially minded.

 An expensive  referendum shouldn't be necessary (How much will it cost?) Given that an election is due on May 4th at much the same time that should be sufficient. But the Council will withhold the 2016-17 Annual Report, which is normally a sort of referendum question, until after the election…..very clever !!!

 I notice that I personally spend each year about the same on council tax and energy with 'homecare'. I feel that the latter gives more direct benefit per pound with choices than does council tax as the  price for local services. But of course that is a national  tax not a price and we shouldn't forget it.


It’s time to update the HOW TO DO GOVERNMENT manual.

posted 18 Jan 2017, 01:32 by Peter Webb   [ updated 24 Feb 2017, 11:43 ]

 We really cannot afford to continue as we are. But following a letter from the Public Accounts Committee (correspondence attached below) it is possible to summarise the post-imperial and post war-footing ‘wrong turning’: Separation of policy making and machinery have left a management void.

Evidence and symptoms as already reported are, briefly:

1.     The standard management cycle for strategic planning and management is absent (NAO on p12  HM Treasury Overview  2015-16)                   
The Cabinet is ‘flying blind’ without management information (a consequence of 1 above)
Policy formation and the machinery are kept separate (Clerk of the Public Accounts Committee). A consequence is confusion and inhibition of system design and maintenance. (‘keep out this is political’ but is ‘method’ a policy or machinery? Surely the latter)
  1. Perpetual European Accounts failure of audit is attributed to the concept of shared management which leaves accountability in the hands of recipients of public funds. (MEP in published letter in 2008). There is no systematic feedback hence no management cycle
  2. The IMF has been criticised for failing to grasp that currency unions require treasur.y and political union or are vastly exposed to debt crises.
  3. UK Developing devolution reveals unconsolidated local financial results and uncontrolled debt-creating deficits (under 1, 2 and 4 above) creating the risk in 5. (Scotland has produced £billion pound deficits over two years; Surrey CC reports moving into deficit in the Autumn of 2016). Whole Government Accounts for 2015-16 are overdue.
  4. Formal accountability has not yet followed the universal franchise (Surrey and other councillors withhold the Annual Report from voters at elections).

 

Further anecdotal evidence is all around us. But why is there no sign of awareness at the top of government? Why do they accept 2 above? The solution could commence at the top of the Civil Service and particularly the Treasury. It’s not ‘rocket science’. 

The costly and debt fuelling flaw or design fault becomes ever clearer

posted 7 Jan 2017, 06:44 by Peter Webb

It is not being tackled because no office door marked  ‘government’  can be found:Two very recent PAC (Public Accounts Committee) Reports are consistent with the observation that (a) there is no proper financial and budgetary  control system in place, (b) the NAO(National Audit Office) is not invited to recommend a Cabinet reporting protocol, and (c) Parliament has not succeeded at that interface to secure antiquated Treasury overhaul.

 A PAC Report No 27 of 23rd November 2016 Managing government spending and performance opens with "There has been some progress in the way that government plans and manages business across departments. However there is not yet an adequate approach in place to support achievement of government objectives and safeguard value for money across government. Significant improvement is needed to address the deep-seated problems that prevent government measuring performance and linking outcomes in funding - which is ultimately taxpayers' money." But it is not clear who or what is "government" and who is supposed to direct the necessary "improvement".

The PAC Report no 32 of 18th December 2016  Devolution in England: Governance, financial accountability and following the taxpayer pound is equally critical. It is even reported that in some quarters there is little understanding of what is being talked about. The phrase ‘headless chickens’ comes to mind. Recorded in somewhat formless panel  discussion all at taxpayers’ expense are sprinkled overworked words: “Value for Money” (in reality the opinion of the spender); “scrutiny” (looking for what?); “accountability” (‘reporting up’ with objectives and outcomes to the fore is better).

 Meanwhile wasted time and uncontrolled debt piles up . In many quarters there seems an unspoken awareness of a hapless but untouchable Treasury. Noted on p 309 of The Blunders of our governments  was what was divulged about the Treasury to Anthony King and Ivor Crewe in 2013-14. In 2013 I wrote with pieces of evidence by the hand of my MP to The First Lord of the Treasury Who will mend UK government? But this was intercepted and a different question answered over the signature of the then Treasury Minister Sajid Dravid. 

The dastardly case of the Surbiton Crescent fine trap

posted 7 Jan 2017, 06:35 by Peter Webb

Politicians haven't said so yet but having milked the taxpayer dry and borrowed to make up current spending, "cuts" must extend to central grants. This means that local authorities have to do more with less. It is now deliberate local policy to increase  "other income". There is the question of fines which are avoidable unless, for example. you are caught in the Surbiton Crescent trap.To avoid that you need to know of it, can read the signs and notices or are an accomplished twittering pensioner. 8,055 penalty notices were issued to yield  in one week in November more than £500k in fines. As if one enjoys seeking out fines to pay. This was fully reported in the local press.

Surrey County Council spend more on consultants

posted 7 Jan 2017, 06:32 by Peter Webb

Surrey CC are in the news again for spending £430,000 on consultants since April compared to £305,000 for full year 2015-16.  Quite recently a TV documentary revealed the practice of reward contracts to give consultants a share of such as efficiency savings identified and presumably realised. Whether or not Surrey does this the practice is highly questionable when consultants often develop findings and recommendations by listening to staff and executives.

THERE IS NO (LOCAL) DEMOCRACY

posted 4 Dec 2016, 05:52 by Peter Webb

Next year again (2017) Surrey County Council will withhold its Annual Report on the period ending prior to the election. The universal franchise does not yet extend to formal accountability. The electoral process remains internally with councillors with Party whipping. That flouts the democratic principle honoured in all other comparable bodies. 

Our political leaders choose to ignore this strand in line with the developing disillusion revealed by Brexit, the trump election and across Europe. That attitude is behind this experience of trying to get a ‘just do it’ direction. Efforts to persuade local authorities, concentrating on Surrey County Council, to comply with the spirit of accountability have failed. That is in spite of that sprit being behind much legislation and best practice. Via my MP direction has been sought on standards  from the NAO. They referred this to the Electoral Commission. They in turn gave  a named contact  in the Cabinet Office. Eventually after administrative cock-up the matter was said to be with their constitution group. From there – nothing. A submission was made at their invitation to the House of Commons Inquiry into Voter Engagement which terminated only with registration having so far found but not recommended for –“Lack of belief in the meaning of elections as they are presented; Poor voter turnout is not due to apathy but lack of awareness and information on which to vote;  dissatisfaction with politicians, political parties and UK politics”.  An appeal to the Local Government Ombudsman against the council’s refusal to address the Report to residents has also met with: “This matter affects all or most of the residents within the council’s area and is outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction”. 

See THE CASE FOR FORMAL ACCOUNTABILITY

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