Well, Margaret Hodge should know all about this

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the embarrassing and costly debacle exposed flaws in Whitehall processes. She called for \”proper accountability\” to \”raise civil servants\’ game\” and improve quality and standards.

\”The way you climb the greasy pole in the civil service is that you change your job every couple of years,\” she said. \”That\’s a disaster and we need to leave people in post so they take proper responsibility for the very difficult and complex job they have to do.\”

Hmm.

She became a junior minister in 1998 and was made Minister for Universities in 2001, where she sponsored the controversial Higher Education Act 2004, and remained there until 2003 when she was made Children\’s Minister……In 2005 she was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions with responsibility for Work……On 27 June 2007, Hodge was appointed Minister of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport

So, what was that about people being in their job too short a time to become knowledgeable or competent m\’dear?

15 thoughts on “Well, Margaret Hodge should know all about this”

  1. Ms. Hodges owed her rapid promotion to the fact that she was a half-competent woman in a scarcity situation. As David C points out, she is also multi-skilled, being able look after pigeons while at sea.

  2. @JuliaM: More than three years by the look of things:
    “She was educated at Bromley High School, Oxford High School and the London School of Economics where she obtained a *third class* BSc Economics degree in 1966.”
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Hodge)

    Tim adds: A Third? Best degree to get. Since the abolition of Fourths it’s the only one that shows that you were bright enough to get in but did sod all work when you were there.

    True, there is “Pass” but that shows that you were to dumb to be let in in the first place.

    So, given that my degree was the B.Sc. Economics degree from the LSE can you guess which class of degree I achieved?

  3. So our beloved leader is not that good at economics (though God knows what Ritchie’s qualifications are). Just makes me wonder about current Tory (and Blair (2.1) – remember “scars on my back?) complaints about the Civil Service. The Thatcher govt, with some genuinely talented/clever ministers managed to change things. So did Atlee govt (I make no value judgment in either case).

    Are our current leaders on both sides just a bit thick?

  4. our current leaders need to look at the proiposals presented by the civil service and, if they are incomkprehensible, throw them away. IDS’s new proposals for universal credit only make sense if you consider that his department wants to keep their jobs and expand. He should have the sense to reject them.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    Well the British government used to work like the British Army – Upper Class officers might not know how to do their job, but the NCOs did. The Ministers came and went, climbing the greasy pole, but the civil servants stayed and did the real work.

    Now because of Yes Minister, civil servants are expected to be more like the private sector. They move. So our NCOs have become more like our officers. I would suggest that the system can’t take incompetence on two levels so perhaps the solution is for Minister to know what the f&&k they are doing?

    Because poor little Hodge is in a bind – if she wants to climb to the top, she needs competent sherpas. Having destroyed the sherpa culture, what is she to do but carry her own load?

  6. Agree completely with SMFS here. There is nothing inherently wrong with ministerial rotation as long as the ministers are backed by competent and experienced civil servants – the minister’s job in the classic model is essentially oversight, sanity checking, and feeding broad policy objectives into the machine, none of which require specific expertise. But if both the ministers and the senior civil servants are Rotating Managers rather than policy experts, then you have an obvious disaster recipe.

  7. @John B
    Really, you need both minister and civil servants to be working in their area of expertise. If not, the civil servant cannot argue a minister out of a dumb policy mistake and the minister can’t exercise oversight in the policy implementation put forward by the civil servants.

  8. The mistake made by the last couple of comments is to imagine it’s possible to be competent in most of the things governments try to do. It isn’t; we’d be better off if they weren’t trying to guide and manage a health system, education, industrial policy etc. All are too complicated for anyone to manage centrally.

    Rather, the whole of government should be like the officer class as described above, setting vague goals (100% literacy, switch away from fossil fuels, health care free at point of need) and leaving everyone else to figure out how to get there.

  9. Really, you need both minister and civil servants to be working in their area of expertise. If not, the civil servant cannot argue a minister out of a dumb policy mistake and the minister can’t exercise oversight in the policy implementation put forward by the civil servants.

    The answer is for the ministers to shut the fuck up and listen to those with proven expertise in the field, and get second or third opinions when the matter is critical. I’m an engineering manager and have little more than an appreciation of the four or five disciplines I cover, but fortunately I have lead engineers who do and I listen to what they say. The skill is in ensuring that you have not employed fuckwits or those with an agenda in such positions, but once you’ve got confidence in them, then you really don’t need to know much about the subject at all. Indeed, one of the biggest problems with managers in the oil and gas business is that they are very bright discipline engineers who struggle to make the jump to management where you are required to manage the goals, priorities, and interfaces and leave the details to somebody else. Knowing the subject intensely can often be a disadvantage.

  10. Rather, the whole of government should be like the officer class as described above, setting vague goals (100% literacy, switch away from fossil fuels, health care free at point of need) and leaving everyone else to figure out how to get there.

    The problem with this isn’t the theory but the practical politics. The public has the genuinely bonkers idea that politicians can and should be experts in almost everything. The press pick this up, and egg it on. And between them, they contrive to exemplify Mencken’s observation that democracy is the theory that the public deserves to get what it wants good and hard.

    Knowing the subject intensely can often be a disadvantage.

    Case in point: Andrew Lansley.

  11. YES. Lansley was the absolute worst candidate for Health because he had an amateur bee-in-bonnet about it and wasn’t willing to listen to advice from people who’d been there and seen it all before.

    It would be like making me SoS for Transport (which, for the avoidance of doubt, would be a terrible idea), or Michael Gove SoS for Education.

  12. So Much For Subtlety

    Steve Crook – “Really, you need both minister and civil servants to be working in their area of expertise. If not, the civil servant cannot argue a minister out of a dumb policy mistake and the minister can’t exercise oversight in the policy implementation put forward by the civil servants.”

    Not really. The Minister ought to be looking out for ordinary British people. Sometimes he needs to be able to say what a lay man would think. If you leave things to experts, well, they tend to look out for other experts.

    10 Peter Risdon – “The mistake made by the last couple of comments is to imagine it’s possible to be competent in most of the things governments try to do. It isn’t”

    As government has got bigger and bigger that is certainly true. The more they try to do, the more they do badly. They need to return to their core competencies.

    11 Tim Newman – “The answer is for the ministers to shut the fuck up and listen to those with proven expertise in the field, and get second or third opinions when the matter is critical.”

    True. Except when it isn’t. Sometimes the experts are wrong. Thatcher did not listen to her civil servants. The civil servants took the managed decline of Empire approach because all the experts agreed. Largest surrender since, well, ever really. Sometimes we really do need outsiders who will give the experts a good kicking. So they need to listen to lots of people. Which is why I think it is a shame we are slowly banning second jobs for MPs instead of making them compulsory.

    “The skill is in ensuring that you have not employed fuckwits or those with an agenda in such positions, but once you’ve got confidence in them, then you really don’t need to know much about the subject at all.”

    And the problem with the civil service is no one gets fired – and they are not hiring people who give you much confidence these days. No longer Oxbridge types at all, but Ministries are run by people with second rate sociology degrees from Sussex.

    “Knowing the subject intensely can often be a disadvantage.”

    But the great advantage is that the oil industry has a sanity check – either they find oil or they don’t. Either they make money or they don’t. The bureaucracy does not have that so the problem is much worse.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *