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Much Noise Little Music from the Chancellor

posted 1 Apr 2013, 03:47 by Peter Webb

Chancellor George Osborne’s reply to my letter to him of 22nd November is attached. These are my reactions:


1 There is a sense of much going on which has yet to produce meaningful and confidence-building results for the nation beyond  deficit containment.  It strikes me as like the subject of a well-known painting  -   “Much Noise Little Music ”


2 My proposition of “neglect to adapt government apparatus” is not directly addressed. There is no professional study and actual maintenance of the managerial infrastructure to keep pace, unless there lurks un-noticed in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament a Department for the Constitution (see below). The millennial continuum of human evolution from bands though tribes, chieftains, kingdoms, states and now supra-national government makes governing performance and democratic process ever more problematic………….., and bankrupting.   


3 Following on from 2 there is failure to acknowledge that “The treasury is the weakest link”.  Superimposed now is the ERG (Efficiency and Reform Group) in the Cabinet Office. This, like the OBR, gives reducing confidence that the archaic Treasury itself is still alive, kicking and modernised. And within the Treasury are other acronym offices such as the OTS (Office of Tax simplification) – now said by George Osborne to be “independent” – whatever that means in Westminster/Whitehall.  Are all these activities any better directed, motivated and co-ordinated than before ? And while it is clear from Committee Inquiry that deep disquiet exists in Westminster at a breakdown of the Minister to Mandarin relationship, with Ministers looking to some Civil Service reform for a solution, there is only much talk and little ‘do’.


4 There is no reference to government accounting and reporting. I had commented on WGAs and the still absent WGBs (see also the Auditor General’s NAO letter of 18th December). I had also wondered at his view corresponding to the European Court of Auditor’s assessment of 86% spending as inadequately controlled. He (the AG) made  reference to this in his paragraph 4 of 18th December.


5 There is no answer under WGAs about  the need for “investment value for future payback” to be portrayed. News reports and pronouncements often report steps to get public or private money into new measures. The implication is left hanging that  taxpayers will (re)pay  later  to an unstated extent from optimistically assumed increased economic activity. But OBR forecasts from time to time seem only to be concerned with the updating of the nation’s balance sheet over future years, ie assets, liabilities and commitments and the like, but little on operations en route. .  


6 The OTS has produced results no doubt but I queried the pace of tax simplification on the grounds that it is not being tackled on a super-project ‘Beeching’  style basis. There is no sign of anything beyond piecemeal tinkering.

Peter Webb,
1 Apr 2013, 03:47