Government ‘gifted but misguided’

A fundamental weakness of the UK government’s transformational government strategy is the lack of will among top civil servants to give up control of their autonomous departments, according to a leading academic.

A fundamental weakness of the UK government’s transformational government strategy is the lack of will among top civil servants to give up control of their autonomous departments, according to a leading academic.

 

Speaking at the IT Directors Forum last week, Joe McDonagh, director of executive education at Trinity College Dublin, said, “The British administration is deeply gifted but profoundly misguided.”

 

He posed the question that if transformation was critical to the government, why did its competency framework for senior civil servants, issued earlier this year, have nothing to say on the subject?

 

“The reality is that the government is asking one thing but rewarding something else, and what gets rewarded gets done,” he said.

 

McDonagh criticised the influence of IT suppliers on government IT, and pointed to the government’s inability to coordinate and integrate technology with organisational change.

 

“Typically 20% to 25% of the cost of change programmes is the technical change, and 70% to 75% of the cost is on organisational change. People see the 25% of the money for technical development, but the real cost of change, the 75% for the social side of change, is marginalised and ignored,” he said.

 

McDonagh also expressed reservations about efforts of technology-focused groups to address this problem.

 

“Everyone means well, whether the Office of Government Commerce, Cabinet Office, British Computer Society, Intellect or the National Computing Centre, but they are the wrong people. The problem is not around the technology, it is around the political system and leadership, the executive leadership, of permanent secretaries,” he said.

 

“The point of intervention is the executive team. If you cannot win commitments at that level, you have lost the game.”

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