Targets, what targets? Now Perm Secs targets are “published”

Both the parties that make up the current Coalition government had great fun at New Labour’s expense criticising their “target culture”. All that time-wasting, box-ticking, form-filling, behaviour-distorting, nonsense would be swept away if they were in power. How did that work out then? Continue reading “Targets, what targets? Now Perm Secs targets are “published””

Measuring Leviathan redux: Public Spending Myths (furthering the debate, I hope)

In a previous post – Measuring Leviathan: Big Government and the Myths of Public Spending – I tried to explain and explore some of the mythology that has grown up around public spending and – probably more importantly – put forward some ideas about how we ought to think about public spending. I used the past 50 years or so of UK public spending to illustrate my points. It especially showed some things that people generally find very surprising about the last Labour government.

An academic colleague posted a response, which I quote in full below. I have chosen to respond in full because this comment rather helpfully illustrates many of the problems I was trying to clarify. So apologies to my colleague if this seems like an ‘attack’ (or strictly speaking ‘counter-attack’) – it is meant in a constructive way and to further the debate. Anyone else is welcome to join in. Continue reading “Measuring Leviathan redux: Public Spending Myths (furthering the debate, I hope)”

PASC Takes PM to Task Over Ministerial Inquiries.

It’s couched in polite terms, but today the Public Administration Select Committee issued what amounted to a bruising attack on PM David Cameron.

The PASC said the PM was wrong to ask the Cabinet Secretary to investigate the Andrew Mitchell ‘plebgate’ affair, wrong for not to using the Independent Advisor on Ministers’ Interests instead, and wrong for ignoring a previous report of the PASC and resolution passed by the Commons.

For a Government supposedly committed to openness, transparency, accountability and taking Parliament more seriously, this is a pretty devastating critique. Continue reading “PASC Takes PM to Task Over Ministerial Inquiries.”

Measuring Leviathan: Big Government and the Myths of Public Spending

The political debate about public spending in the UK is bedevilled by myths and spin about how much we actually spend. So I thought it was time for a little myth-busting primer, with some pretty diagrams, about how we should be discussing public spending….  Continue reading “Measuring Leviathan: Big Government and the Myths of Public Spending”

Top Twenty Whitehall Watch blog posts

Here’s the top twenty Whitehall Watch blog posts (so far) and the number of views. This doesn’t include numbers for posts that have been republished by Public Finance, Public Servant, LSE Policy and Politics and the Huffington Post. Continue reading “Top Twenty Whitehall Watch blog posts”

This Wine Has Been Corked! The More Whitehall Changes, the More It Stays the Same

By David Richards and Patrick Diamond[1]

As another year ends and a new one rolls in, it is somewhat apposite to reflect on the launch of another PASC inquiry into Whitehall which seeks to take stock of the Coalition’s Civil Service Reform Plan published in June last year.  From Fulton onwards, ostensibly Whitehall appears to have been in a state of almost permanent revolution.  The list of initiatives by various governments in the intervening years is exhaustive, but any highlights programme would include: The Reorganisation of Central Government; Rayernism; FMI; Next Steps; Continuity and Change I and II; Modernising Government; Reforming Public Services; Transforming Public Service and The Governance of Britain.   It is therefore of little surprise that the first question posed by this new PASC inquiry is deceptively simple – Is the Civil Service in need of radical reform?   Yet, scratch below the surface and the answer to this small conundrum is by no means straightforward.  For in many ways, the modern history of Civil Service reform can be characterized as Janus-faced. Why? Overtime, all governments have adopted a common default setting in their approach to this subject: on the one hand, a tendency to caricature the Whitehall machine as something akin to a ‘Rolls Royce’; while on the other, deriding its culture and organizational practices for constraining effective policy making, in terms of formulation, implementation, or both. Continue reading “This Wine Has Been Corked! The More Whitehall Changes, the More It Stays the Same”

Some more figures for you: “We have got the deficit down by 25%” – really?

Here’s one worthy of BBC radio 4’s “More or Less”. According to the Coalition government they “reduced the deficit by 25%” – this mantra has been repeated over and over again by Ministers. But is it true?  Continue reading “Some more figures for you: “We have got the deficit down by 25%” – really?”

Dave says we’re headed in the right direction, what do you think?

PM David Cameron claims we are ‘headed in the right direction’. Below are the latest headline figures from the Office of National Statistics website on the state of our national finances (so all their words, not mine, I’ve just added a few helpful highlights):

Latest figures (Nov 2011)

  • Public sector net borrowing was £17.5 billion in November 2012; this is £1.2 billion higher net borrowing than in November 2011, when net borrowing was £16.3 billion.
  • Public sector current budget deficit was £15.8 billion in November 2012; this is a £1.0 billion higher deficit than in November 2011, when there was a deficit of £14.8 billion.
  • For the period April to November 2012, public sector net borrowing (excluding the capital payment recorded as part of the Royal Mail Pension Plan transfer in April 2012) was £92.7 billion; this is £8.3 billion higher net borrowing than in the same period the previous year, when net borrowing was £84.4 billion.
  • In 2011/12, public sector net borrowing was £121.6 billion; this is £4.4 billion lower than the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasted net borrowing for 2011/12 of £126.0 billion.
  • Public sector net debt was £1083.6 billion at the end of November 2012, equivalent to 68.5% of gross domestic product (GDP).

As far as I can see the only ‘positive’ in this is that public sector net borrowing was less than the OBR forecast, but it was still higher than the previous year.

The UK in 2013: A Failing Economy or a Failing State?

Maybe I’m being a bit overdramatic (and simplistic) with that headline, but I wanted to pose a question rather sharply – are we busily focussing on a failing economy in the UK when what we should really be worried about is a failing state? Continue reading “The UK in 2013: A Failing Economy or a Failing State?”

Restructuring the Social Sciences? What do you think?

My attention was drawn to this article by the head of Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. Some commentators have been highly sceptical, pointing out the massive recent failures of the queen of quantitative social science, economics, for example.

My own initial reaction is that whilst King’s claims may be somewhat overblown, and they do minimise the problems, both within social sciences and between social scientists and policy makers, they do point to some very interesting developments and possibilities in the development of social sciences. I am wondering what others think? Comments welcome!

Restructuring the Social Sciences
Gary King* January 1, 2013

The social sciences are undergoing a dramatic transformation from studying problems to solving them; from making due with a small number of sparse data sets to analyzing increasing quantities of diverse, highly informative data; from isolated scholars toiling away on their own to larger scale, collaborative, interdisciplinary, lab-style research teams; and from a purely academic pursuit to having a major impact on the world. To facilitate these important developments, universities, funding agencies, and governments need to shore up and adapt the infrastructure that supports social science research. We discuss some of these developments here, as well as a new type of organization we created at Harvard to help encourage them — the Institute for Quantitative Social Sciences. An increasing number of universities are beginning efforts to respond with similar institutions. This paper provides some suggestions for how individual universities might respond and how we might work together to advance social science more generally.

Click to access iqsss.pdf