Tag Archives: Whitehall

Prepare to sift the substance from the sewage in the Chance(llo)r’s Autumn Statement

131203autumnstatement

[Picture: Vox Political reader Al Reading]

How long has it been since Labour was deemed the party with no policies and no direction? Now it seems the Conservatives have taken up this undesirable label and applied it to themselves (excuse the choice of words) liberally.

Labour’s stand on energy prices sent the Tories scurrying away to find an answer, after they finally realised that baldly claiming nothing could be done was not going to cut any ice.

When they finally came up with something, their answer was to “Cut the green crap” and reduce the environmental levy on energy firms – a u-turn within a u-turn for the party that once proclaimed to the nation, “Vote Blue – Go Green”.

This week they have also u-turned on cigarette packaging – for a second time within a matter of months. Before the summer, the Conservative vision was to safeguard children from smoking by removing packaging for cigarette packets. Then – after coincidentally hiring fag-company lobbyist Lynton Crosby to run their campaigns for them – they decided that the packaging could stay. Now – in the face of a possibly Lords rebellion – they are reversing their position yet again.

This is the context in which Boy Chancellor George Osborne will make his Autumn Statement – and he has already put himself on a sticky wicket before going in to bat.

Remember David Cameron’s massive error of judgement at the Lord Mayor’s banquet a few weeks ago, when he stood behind a gold-plated lectern that could easily be sold off or melted down to help pay of the interest on his government’s ever-increasing borrowing burden, and said austerity was here to stay?

It seems Gideon was eager to follow in his master’s footsteps, stumping up £10.2 MILLION (including VAT at the 20 per cent level that he imposed on us all in 2010) on new furnishings for his Whitehall HQ, from exclusive designers Panik, Ferrious and Senator. One Treasury insider, according to the Daily Mirror, wondered “why we couldn’t have just bought new furniture from Ikea”.

Good question! It is also one that is especially pertinent after it was revealed that Osborne has been calling for last-minute spending cuts from the Home Office and the departments of Justice, Defence, Business and Work and Pensions (yet again), because he will not be able to fund the £2 billion of giveaways announced during the conference season without them.

These include scrapping a rise in petrol duty of almost 2p per litre, free school meals for pupils aged five-to-seven and rewarding marriage in the tax system.

It seems clear that these measures were all unfunded when they were announced, putting the lie to Conservative claims that they have any kind of plan – and ruining their claim that Osborne’s schoolboy-economist austerity idiocy has done anything to improve the UK economy.

Like him or loathe him, Will Hutton in The Guardian had it right when he wrote: “The recovery is the result of the upward swing of the economic cycle finally asserting itself, aided by policies informed by the opposite of what Osborne purports to believe.”

Hutton went on to state that Osborne decided to “borrow from the Keynesian economic locker… never admitting the scale of the philosophic shift, and then claimed victory”. In other words, Osborne is the biggest hypocrite in Westminster (and that’s a huge achievement, considering the state of them all)!

Result: “The public is misinformed – told that austerity worked and, as importantly, the philosophy behind it works too… Thus the Conservative party can be protected from the awful truth that Thatcherism fails.”

Labour MP Michael Meacher is much more scathing (if such a thing is possible). In a Parliamentary debate, quoted in his blog, he told us: “We do have a recovery of sorts, but one that has been generated in exactly the wrong way. It has been generated by consumer borrowing and an incipient bubble, and it is not — I repeat, not — a real, sustainable recovery.”

In other words, the – as Hutton describes it – “eclectic and spatchcocked Keynesianism” employed by Osborne, while superficially useful in the short-term, will cause immense damage over a longer period because he doesn’t understand it and only used it in desperation.

Both Hutton and Meacher agree that a sustainable recovery can only come from what Meacher describes as “rising investment, increasing productivity, growing wages and healthy exports”, none of which are supported by Osborne’s current behaviour.

And yet, according to the Daily Telegraph, Osborne will fulfil another of this blog’s long-standing prophecies on Thursday by telling us all that “Britain can no longer afford the welfare state”.

From a member of the most profligate snout-in-trough overspenders ever to worm their way into public office and then inflict a harm-the-defenceless agenda on the nation, that will be the biggest lie of all.

Vox Political is funded entirely by donations and book sales.
You can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Alternatively, you can buy the first Vox Political book,
Strong Words and Hard Times
in either print or eBook format here:

SWAHTprint SWAHTeBook

Frustration as MPs say calls to government departments are ‘too expensive’

[Picture: This Is Money]

[Picture: This Is Money]

That’s frustration for the Coalition government, not the public (for a change).

If you’ve ever had to telephone a government department, you probably know that it is about as hard as the private company operating the service can make it. This is to enable that company to screw as much money as possible out of you before you have said a single word to a government employee.

The system is set so that there is only a small number of rings before a machine picks up – this is when they start charging you – and a recorded voice lists a series of options, from which you may choose. Then you wait.

And wait.

They provide music for you to… enjoy, but this is interrupted at 20- or 30-second intervals by another recorded voice telling you that all operators are busy but your call is important.

After a non-specific length of time, a human being comes on the line and tells you that they can’t deal with your problem but will put you through to someone who can. Then its back to the music, interrupted by the recorded voice.

I have no idea what happens after that. I do not have the disposable cash to pay through the nose for the privilege of listening to ‘The Four Seasons’ being ruined. If I want to hear classical music, I’ll get Spotify or – Luddite that I am – spin a CD.

Currently, whenever I receive correspondence saying I should telephone a government department, I respond with a letter. Now that Royal Mail is privatised, I suppose I shall have to find another alternative when prices start to rocket.

Fortunately, it seems Margaret Hodge and the Commons Public Accounts Committee have taken note of the problem and action is being proposed, after it was revealed that people have been paying around £56 million to speak to government departments on premium rate phone lines.

How did they find out? Was it brought to their attention because of the high volume of ‘abusive’ messages from clients who had been told their calls were being recorded, but who still ended up screaming that they had been waiting forever, the call had already cost them the national debt of a small developing country and their spouse and family had given up and left them – most probably for a telephone company executive?

Sadly, this isn’t even news. It was reported in December 2012 that calls to HM Revenue and Customs had left customers paying £33 million a year. Somebody calling from a mobile would have spend £1.92 if they waited the average length of time on hold – and that is before anyone dealt with their query.

According to the BBC, the committee found that one-third of Whitehall numbers used by the public were higher-rate – including those for benefit, victim support and tax inquiries.

This higher rate means calls can cost 10.5p per minute. With the average call costing 56p, this means calls from landlines can last around five minutes and 20 seconds and we can deduce from our own experiences that most people are unlikely to have actually spoken to anybody human at all.

It seems possible, therefore, that the government telephone system – certainly that used by the DWP – is designed, not as a service to “customers” (their word), but as a means of keeping them away. Not only that, but it also seems designed to fleece them of as much money as possible while doing so.

“Customers of government services should be able to contact those services easily and cheaply,” the BBC article quotes Mrs Hodge. “Charging customers higher rates… is not acceptable, especially when the customers are often vulnerable people.”

There was also criticism that calls took too long to answer.

In response, the Department for Work and Pensions has said it will offer a choice between 0845 and 0345 numbers, allowing callers to choose the cheapest line. I’m willing to bet it won’t tell callers which line that is. Also, it will be massively over-used, leading to longer queues, so people will end up paying just as much.

You’ll have noted that nothing was said about cutting down waiting times.

Consumer group Which? wants public bodies and companies to provide either freephone or local rate numbers for customer service and complaints lines, saying it is “ridiculous” to force a huge bill on people, especially when they have to wait on hold.

It isn’t ridiculous if the phone service has been contracted out to a private company, though – as seems to be the case with the DWP, at the very least.

In that circumstance, it’s a money-spinner – one that is about to peter out, if Mrs Hodge gets her way. That’s why this is frustrating for the government.

How many Conservative MPs have financial interests in the Telecoms industry?

Blaming the Civil Service for Coalition policy failures will do more harm than bombs

The idiot: "A person lacking professional skill, having bad judgement in public and political matters, characterised by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private, as opposed to public, affairs."

The idiot: “A person lacking professional skill, having bad judgement in public and political matters, characterised by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private, as opposed to public, affairs.”

“If Universal Credit is a flop, then it will prove our current Whitehall set-up is failing. But if it succeeds, it will be no thanks to the Civil Service either.”

So says a Spectator article apparently examining why Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship policy has received an Amber/Red status warning from the Major Projects Authority.

If it works, the government will take credit; if it fails, the government will blame the Civil Service. Never mind the fact that the plan is trying to make three incompatible computer systems work together, in real time. And we haven’t even discussed the pros and cons of what the government wants that system to do, what it will mean for people who will be forced into it, or what it signifies for the wider economy (in one word: trouble).

No – because this is the Conservatives’ latest wheeze, in case they don’t get elected in 2015: Blame the Civil Service for everything, cut it back, and leave the actual mechanics of government unusable by anybody who follows them.

So let’s put a few things straight right now: The British Civil Service is the most well-developed, professional and able government organisation on this planet. Its officers are highly competent and are able to provide expert advice and assistance on any project to which they are applied. I know this because I have worked within a government department where they did not take incompetence lightly and they knew how to weed out underachievers – the same government department responsible for Universal Credit, as it happens.

The ministers responsible for foisting this unworkable policy on these professionals, on the other hand, are a group of amateurs from an organisation that treats politics as a game. They have no prior training in their jobs, other than perhaps expressions of interest in Work and Pensions, at the same level as a hobby.

Look how Sue Marsh describes Iain Duncan Smith – the Secretary of State – in her excellent Diary of a Benefits Scrounger: “He went to a council estate once, saw some frightfully poor people and thought he would sort out ‘welfare’ because, well, they couldn’t possibly need all that food and warmth and bedrooms and stuff.

“With his trusty right hand man, Lord Freud, failed investment banker (and yes, related to Sigmund and Lucian), who famously sorted the whole new plan out in three weeks, with no knowledge or experience of social security at all, clutching the Daily Mail as their handbook, what could possibly go wrong?”

Everything. And it’s no surprise to anybody (apart from the Conservative Party, it seems).

These threatening noises are not the first indication of trouble within the Civil Service. It is, in fact, deeply troubled as a result of Conservative – not Coalition – agitation.

Vox Political reported in February on Michael Gove’s for-profit plans to halve the Department for Education’s administration, with 1,000 job losses and the closure of six regional offices. Almost one-third of remaining staff will switch between teams working on time-limited projects, a plan that almost guarantees that these projects will be poorly-executed.

One presumes the Civil Service will get the blame when they are – even though, again, Tory bad planning is the real culprit.

The Spectator article describes the Education situation in the following, stunningly-blinkered, fashion: “Michael Gove owes his success in reforming schools not to the alacrity shown by his department in signing up to his agenda, but to a superstructure of advisers that he brought in to operate above the existing officials.” In other words, he brought his ignorant mates in to force their foolishness on the professionals.

No wonder Vox Political reported in February that “the changes have created an atmosphere of disillusionment across Whitehall, with two-thirds of Britain’s most senior civil servants now so demoralised that they are considering quitting public service, according to a survey by the FDA union.

“How will our public services function if everybody who knows how they work has walked away in despair?”

The answer is, they won’t. The Tories are banking on it.

That is why these dangerous idiots must never be allowed into power again – and when I use the term “idiot”, I do so with reference to Athenian democracy, which describes an idiot as a person lacking professional skill, having bad judgement in public and political matters, characterised by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private, as opposed to public, affairs.

That seems an accurate description of the entire Parliamentary Conservative Party.

Conspiracy of self-interest: Gove attacks public services to boost Tory (and private) coffers

epetitiongoveHow blatant do you want your corruption today?

Education secretary Michael Gove has appointed a partner in a global management consultancy that could bid for government contracts to sit alongside two Conservative Party donors on a committee that will oversee the progress of cuts in his department.

Paul Rogers is a managing partner at Bain & Company, a US firm that could bid for contracts that are outsourced on his recommendation – creating a serious potential conflict of interest.

John Nash and his wife have given nearly £300,000 to the Conservative Party since 2006. The private equity firm he co-founded, Sovereign Capital, once owned British private schools firm Alpha Plus and special needs school operator Senad. Although no longer directly linked to Sovereign, Nash has also invested in academies, private healthcare and care homes. He has already been rewarded for his contribution, with a peerage and a job as an education minister.

Theodore Agnew is a trustee of the New Schools Network, a group run by some of Mr Gove’s closest aides, that helped start his ‘free schools’ project.

The appointments appear to be a clear indication that UK government decisions are now made on the basis of financial gain, rather than the interests of the nation.

The committee they will join is to oversee cuts that will halve the DfE’s administration, with 1,000 job losses and the closure of six regional offices. Almost one-third of remaining staff will switch between teams working on time-limited projects.

The changes have created an atmosphere of disillusionment across Whitehall, with two-thirds of Britain’s most senior civil servants now so demoralised that they are considering quitting public service, according to a survey by the FDA union.

In other words, Gove is attacking our public services on several different fronts.

He is inflicting heavy damage on his own department’s ability to operate properly – does anyone really think expertise can be nurtured in people when they have to hop from one project to another, with deadlines hanging over them all the while?

His attack on civil service morale could create a vacuum where there is currently a large pool of expertise. How will our public services function if everybody who knows how they work has walked away in despair?

And his appointment of people with a clear financial interest in the outsourcing of Education Department responsibilities to the committee responsible for cutting it down to size makes it clear that he is trying to turn our children’s future into a fat little earner for his friends.

It is exactly what my #CleanHouseOfCommons e-petition is about. There should be a law against this.

Gove should not be allowed to give government jobs to Conservative Party donors. The decision seems clearly motivated by financial gain.

Gove should not be allowed to give a government job to a member of a firm that could benefit from his decisions. This is practically an incitement to make corrupt decisions for financial gain.

And he should not be allowed to make decisions that could weaken the British civil service. This could lead to mass outsourcing into the private sector – at huge expense – where no such move should be necessary.

The man is a disgrace to Parliament and an embarrassment to the UK.

But he’ll carry on doing exactly what he wants until YOU tell him to stop.

http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/44971

Sign.

Spread the word.

Raise awareness.

Before it’s too late.