Scholarship v. fantasy
Two articles for you to consider:
1. Think-tank urges Whitehall shake-up:
The independence of the civil service has become an excuse for zero accountability, finds a report.
2. Statistics show this watchdog is prepared to bare its teeth:
Concern about declining public trust in government in general and official statistics in particular led ministers, with all-party support, to set up an independent watchdog in the UK Statistics Authority [chaired by Sir Michael Scholar], with a tough new code of practice for all public bodies producing any kind of official figures ...
Often, we think that the independence of the civil service in the UK is a good thing. On this occasion, however, the Reform report apparently accuses the civil service of being independent of accountability.
There is some evidence that Reform are right. The Identity & Passport Service (IPS), for example, managed to mislead the public in at least 10 ways in a single press release on 29 January 2009. Some statements made in that press release do not correspond to the facts and there is no statement in the press release of some relevant facts which should be brought to the publics attention. IPS do not respond to repeated notification of these errors and omissions. Instead, they simply rehearse their script. They are in that sense unaccountable.
The virtue of an independent civil service is meant to be that they will tell politicians the truth, they will not be diverted from giving impartial advice by any other considerations. That would be a good idea.
Sir Michael Scholar seems to be taking practical steps to make that idea a reality. He seems to be the only antidote on offer for the disease of IPS. Let us hope that he gets help and that he succeeds.
10 March 2009: Keith Josephs lesson to todays political pygmies:
12 March 2009: Stats should be boring: Sir Gus:
I want [the ONS] to be boring, to put out the plain facts, and nothing but the facts, and on clear, predictable deadlines, he said. It would then be for politicians and government press officers to interpret the figures, he added.
Sir Gus is apparently not convinced by Sir Michaels appeal to reality. The Home Office should presumably be allowed to continue to spin the knife crime figures. And how dare the ONS tell the truth about the employment figures?
Sir Gus also gave his view on a recent report by think tank Reform that argued that top civil servants should be appointed by political leaders (see p7).
It is always amusing to poke fun at the Americans and their juvenile practice of political appointments. We dont need their military protection and the economy can recover perfectly well without their assistance thank you very much. So 10 out of 10 for diplomacy, Sir Gus, but you dont seem to have addressed the question of accountability. Thats what the Reform report is about, apparently, and you have not taken the opportunity to make your views on the matter clear.
So thats two omissions in one statement not what we expect from a boringly predictable, accountable and confidence-inspiring civil service.