The Politicisation Of The Treasury

November 21, 2007 9:53 AM


Just watch the vid. Five months may be a lifetime in politics, but you can't mistake the enthusiasm of Treasury civil servants for Gordon Brown as he leaves them for No 10.

Your correspondent was at the Treasury during the years of Healey and Howe. There is no way such scenes would have taken place then. Still less would the TV cameras have been invited in to broadcast them.

Back then we were naive: we genuinely believed we were somehow above politics. As my first Permanent Secretary (Sir William Pile, now administering upstairs) explained to us new entrants in 1973, our job was to stop the politicians doing anything too stupid.

What's my point?


Brown replaced the top Treasury civil servants with political appointees. Ed Balls was the most egregious appointment, as Chief Economic Advisor, but who can forget the way he got rid of the Treasury press office and replaced them with Charlie Whelan?


It set the tone. Brown wasn't in the market for old-style Sir Humphrey "stop them doing anything stupid" advice. He wanted "can do".


Thus we find ourselves here. Wildly complex new tax systems, HMRC and Inland Revenue banged together whatever, massive staff cuts imposed irrespective, huge new IT systems dropped down from on high at the same time, crackpot new "lean" car factory working methods dreamed up by consultants.


Nobody it seems had the motivation or nerve to point out it couldn't all be done without huge risk. And if they did, they presumably didn't last long.


This catastrophe is the inevitable result of Brown's top-down blunderbuss management style. Surrounded by yes-men, he pushed ahead whatever the consequences.


And now we're paying the price.


PS Later today, we'll do another blog on the Gershon staff cuts. Because this isn't the only case where they've been implicated in masssive and expensive problems.


Just watch the vid. Five months may be a lifetime in politics, but you can't mistake the enthusiasm of Treasury civil servants for Gordon Brown as he leaves them for No 10.

Your correspondent was at the Treasury during the years of Healey and Howe. There is no way such scenes would have taken place then. Still less would the TV cameras have been invited in to broadcast them.

Back then we were naive: we genuinely believed we were somehow above politics. As my first Permanent Secretary (Sir William Pile, now administering upstairs) explained to us new entrants in 1973, our job was to stop the politicians doing anything too stupid.

What's my point?


Brown replaced the top Treasury civil servants with political appointees. Ed Balls was the most egregious appointment, as Chief Economic Advisor, but who can forget the way he got rid of the Treasury press office and replaced them with Charlie Whelan?


It set the tone. Brown wasn't in the market for old-style Sir Humphrey "stop them doing anything stupid" advice. He wanted "can do".


Thus we find ourselves here. Wildly complex new tax systems, HMRC and Inland Revenue banged together whatever, massive staff cuts imposed irrespective, huge new IT systems dropped down from on high at the same time, crackpot new "lean" car factory working methods dreamed up by consultants.


Nobody it seems had the motivation or nerve to point out it couldn't all be done without huge risk. And if they did, they presumably didn't last long.


This catastrophe is the inevitable result of Brown's top-down blunderbuss management style. Surrounded by yes-men, he pushed ahead whatever the consequences.


And now we're paying the price.


PS Later today, we'll do another blog on the Gershon staff cuts. Because this isn't the only case where they've been implicated in masssive and expensive problems.

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