John Rentoul in the Independent looks at the working of the Cabinet Office Implmentation Unit – the successor to Sir Micheal Barber famous Delivery Unit (‘Deliverology’), after the Prime Minister said ‘all he did all day’ was attend meetings
where I just go through the programmes we’ve set out … making sure that the Government is delivering on things we said we would do.
Those “top-down targets” that the Conservative derided in opposition: many of them, and many new ones, are now called benchmarks. You cannot sensibly run modern government without them.
The DCLG itself does not publish any ‘benchmarks’ at all just ‘indicators’ The indicators are just just 7 in number and are attached to the DCLG Business Plan.
It includes net additions to the housing stock (annual) by ‘local housing authority and regional levels‘ So no regional targets just eeerrrr regional indicators. But the fact that a target is going up or down does not indicate things are getting better. You need to have a target or benchmark, call it what you, will for that. That could be whether household formation based levels are met, performance against the annual level of the last government (a very bad benchmark as household formation levels have changed) whatever but you need some kind of ‘benchmark’ to make sense of it.
Now the Implementation Unit does not publish any list of ‘benchmarks’ just a structural reform plan indicating what policies should be delivered by which department. These are then set down in departmental business plans.
So does David Cameron get to see any list of ‘benchmarks’ which measure if policies are working, take for example housing. There are three possibilities.
1) There is a secret list of benchmarks designed to avoid the accusation that the government is target driven (FOI requests at the ready);
2) Grant Shapps is such a golden boy that he is exempt from having benchmarks measuring housing completions
3) The Government is so incompetent that the Prime Minister doesn’t actually access DCLG and Ministerial delivery on home-building by having no benchmark whatsoever.
So what do you think it is?
Know if you were a government based on evidence and not ideology you would in the arena of deficit reduction set down benchmarks based on your economic theory that the act of reducing government borrowing will lead to increased business formation – that for example if business investment had increased (because it is supposed to be no longer ‘crowded out’) or new business formed (genuine new start ups not the unemployed doing the same job as contractors – they are not entrepreneurs) – so are there any such benchmarks? Can any civil servant take a volume of benchmarks and go to a minister and say – sorry minister but on the evidence of the last two years we can clearly tell this ‘plan a’ programme is not working or is proving counterproductive? Of course not. Indeed in the housing field you might for example measure how many new housing sites cam about through neighbour planning as opposed to local plans. That isnt measured at all. Indeed the two sites mentioned in the commons as examples of this – Dawlish and Thame – were already proposed in core strategies. So the theory that abolish regional plans and replacing delivery of allocations bottom up has no evidence gathering or research programme to test if it is working at all. Indeed the government wont even be able to tell if the NPPF results in any more up to date plans but it no longer keeps a local plans database. Indeed from the many requests I receive it seems I am seen as the person now fulfilling this function!
Sadly this shows that if a politician claimed this was the most incompetent government of modern times neither ministers or civil servants would have the evidence to hand to show otherwise. It is a bit like John Redwoods time as Welsh Secretary. We cannot tell if he improved housebuilding or not as he stopped measuring it as an anti-‘red tape’ measure.