My father was a “pre-Armstrong” Civil Servant who used to lecture on the duties of an accounting officer at the old Civil Service College. He told me that making policy was akin to herding sheep: closing off options over time so that there is only one gate left open when the “something must be done” panic occurs. OGC gave EURIM permission to use an uncaptioned cartoon at the bottom of the first page of its note on Good Practice in procurement. The cartoonist had apparently sat in on meeting of Permanent Secretaries but the caption was “redacted”. I was told it showed the work of the sheepdogs being undone by a Ministerial initiative to launch a new external “something must be done” review by “experts” from “industry” with no relevant professional or policy background.
The National School of Government has just withdrawn its course on Making Policy that Happens . Instead it recommends that students attend a two day course on current Gvoernment priorities and the policy skills to help make them happen. That leaves open the question as who actually makes policy – now that the sheep dogs have been put out to grass and the training programme for new sheep dogs has been withdrawn.
Over the next month or I will be looking to see if there is the industry support for serious policy studies on some of the topics that the new government will have to address and that the conventional Think Tanks have found too boring or too controversial:
- What needs to be done to ensure that the UK/EU is a competitive location for industries (like financial services, high tech or content) that could be based anywhere is the world with a good skills base and business-friendly government? (i.e. how do we stop them being driven off-shore by well–intentioned but ill-judged regulatory and planning initiatives?)
- How do we ensure that well established good practice in using ICT to help deliver better public services and low cost is followed? (i.e. how do we stop impatient ministers listening to a new generation of gurus and snake-oil salesmen selling the grandiose “answers” that will employ armies of lawyers and consultants whether or not anything is ever delivered?)
- What is good practice in managing information and identities in the on-line world and who should be accountable to who for following it? (i.e. how do we get government to listen to those who have been handling transactions electronically “between those who have never meet” for over 150 years and not to those who claim “the Internet changes everything”?)
- How do we enable market forces to deliver world class broadband across the UK as part of the rebuilding of the UK instructure (communications, power supplies etc.) as a whole? (i.e. how do we get politicians and regulators to listen to how city analysts and corporate planners decide what to recommend to fund managers and finance directors?)
I hope that most of the work can be done on an all-party basis via the Information Society Alliance (EURIM) working in partnership with its members – but this will require exercises on a larger and more ambitious scale that anything since the EURIM-IPPR study into Partnership Policing for the Information Society – still the only serious look, anywhere in the world, into how to address on-line crime.
I am therefore going to have to ration my blog time