11 January 2008
The government should radically slow down the pace of public sector upheaval, a coalition of former mandarins said this week.
The Better Government Initiative said many notorious government failures, including the creation of bodies such as the Child Support Agency, could have been avoided if both ministers and Parliament took the time to make coherent and enforceable legislative decisions.
The BGI was founded last year with support from all three main political parties. It counts former Cabinet secretary Lord Butler and former Audit Commission controller Sir Andrew Foster among its members.
The BGI's January 7 report, Governing well, says that unless the government changes the way it works, legislation will continue to lack clarity, leading to wasted resources and delays in major projects.
BGI chair Sir Christopher Foster said: 'The public deserves a system of government that works. We know what radical action is needed. The urgency is to get on with it.'
He added that ministers too often took their cues from the media.
'Over-concentration on the media distracts ministers from the business of government,' he said. 'It also leads to a flood of instant initiatives which can damage and demoralise those engaged in policy implementation.'
Many of the report's 50 recommendations focus on the need to boost Parliament's power. It suggests that Parliament should set standards for thorough preparation of legislation and have its ability to scrutinise tax and spending proposals strengthened.
For their part, ministers should commit to providing Parliament with full and timely explanations of their legislative and major policy proposals.
A written code of conduct for Cabinet ministers should require them to submit important decisions for collective consideration by the Cabinet or Cabinet committees.