Michael Gove and Civil Service Reform – Talk, Decisions, Actions …. and Consequences

This is a cautionary note for all those people taking Michael Gove’s speech about “The Privilege of Public Service” seriously.

One of my favourite books on organizations is by the Nils Brunsson, the Swedish organization theorist. My late friend and colleague Christopher Pollitt and I used to spend many pleasant sessions, drink in hand, discussing how it applied to public policy.

And although it was written 30 years ago but its argument was never more relevant than when listening to Michael Gove talking about public and civil service reform.

The book is called “The Organization of Hypocrisy” and the subtitle is “talk, decisions and actions in organizations.”

It’s argument, in a nutshell, is that organizations are subject to contradictory pressures resulting in inconsistent talk, decisions and actions. But they like to tell rational stories about themselves so they invent an “organizational hypocrisy” – a story everyone knows is not true but that everyone pretends is.

A classic example Christopher and I used to discuss was a policy initiative which was launched, coincidentally, in the same year Brunsson’s book appeared (1989).

It was called “Working for Patients”. Continue reading

Have Virus, Will Travel?

Colin Talbot

After Dominic Cumming’s Rose Garden press conference I tweeted this.

I was astonished it went so (semi) viral with over 2 million views.

But I have since realised I hadn’t really thought properly why, and crucially how, travel is so important in the current crisis. It just seemed obvious it was a bad idea.

Then I remembered something that happened nearly 2 decades ago – the foot and mouth crisis in 2001. Continue reading

The Covid-19 Shield Wall has been ripped away by the Government

I’ve been shielding since before we started calling it that.

By the start of March it was obvious to me that people with conditions like mine are highly vulnerable to C-19.

So from 4 Mar I started taking measures to isolate myself, as much as possible.

Suddenly, this weekend (May 30/31), we have been told we are free to go out like everyone else, just maintain social distancing. No warning, no explanation of why, or how.

Continue reading

Letter to Jeremy Hunt MP

To: Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP

Chair

Health and Social Care Select Committee

 

Dear Mr Hunt,

I am writing to ask your Committee to investigate one very specific aspect of the way in which the Corona-19 outbreak is being managed: the protection of the most vulnerable to the disease.

I have to declare an interest as I am one of the 1.9m who have, apparently, been designated as being in the most “at risk” group.

But I am writing primarily as an expert with experience in the scientific, engineering and social science fields – mostly the latter and particularly the study of government and public agencies, including health for over three decades. Continue reading

Government: Centralism and Localism in the Covid Crisis

By Colin Talbot

In a crisis the default response of the British state is: command and control, centralise power, organize everything on a big scale, impose ‘one size fits all’ rules.

It happened on a massive scale in the two world wars, and it is happening again, on a lesser scale in the current crisis. Continue reading

Advisers, Governments and why blunders happen?

By Colin Talbot

In democratic government the general rule is supposed to be simple: advisers advise, ministers decide, civil servants do.

In the UK system, that emerged fully at the beginning of the 20th century, the civil service were both the advisers and the doers.

Top civil servants told ministers what options there were to achieve what ministers wanted. Ministers chose, and the civil service went off and “made it so”.

Lots of people challenged this cosy and rather naïve view, not least the ever popular ‘Yes Minister’ series. In reality there have always grey areas on the boundary between elected politicians and permanent civil servants. Continue reading

Plugging the Energy Gaps: The (Small) Nuclear Option?

By Colin Talbot

I was recently asked to provide some comments on the issue of Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMRs).

These are small reactors built in a factory and shipped to where they will be used. They can be shipped back for decommissioning when the fuel runs out.

Below are the questions I was asked and my replies. This is a conversation we should be having, but aren’t.

 

Q: What are your perceptions, hopes and concerns about the development and use of advanced nuclear technologies (including SMRs)? Continue reading

The Home Secretary allegedly pushes senior civil servant out of the Home Office – is there a parallel with an earlier Home Office crisis?

The nearest (only?) parallel to the Sir Philip Rutnam affair was the sacking of Derek Lewis as Director General (DG) of the Prison Service in 1995.

This was another case of a Home Secretary and a senior Home Office civil servant falling out, and the latter ending up without a job.

The Prison Service (of England and Wales) was, back then, part of the Home Office. It has since moved to the Ministry of Justice.

Derek Lewis was brought in, an executive in Granada TV, by Ken Clarke, then Home Secretary. He was tasked with running the Prison Service which had newly been established as an ‘Executive Agency’ within the Home Office.

Continue reading