IfG counts cost of government policy changes

14 Mar 17

Constant upheaval and changes of direction in government policy are hugely costly in both human and economic terms, the Institute for Government warns in a paper published today.

All Change looks at three policy areas that have been subject to almost continual upheaval in recent decade – further education, regional governance and industrial policy.

For instance, over the last 30 years there have been 28 major pieces of legislation relation to further education led by 48 secretaries of state, the paper says.

This leads to confusion among students and employers who are faced with an ever-changing set of qualifications, and no certainty that their qualification will endure.

Meanwhile, over the last decade alone, there have been three industrial strategies, the IfG notes.

Creating a new department to take forward a key policy is also expensive, costing around £15m in the first year alone.

Longer-term costs in terms of disruption to business are likely to be “substantially higher”, the think-tank says.

“The sheer scale of change to these key government policy areas is astounding – not just because of the costs incurred, but also the effect on people’s lives.

“Government can and must safeguard against more wasting time, money and resources on endless changes that result in little progress,” said IfG programme director Emma Norris.

“This churn is not simply a result of changes in government. It highlights persistent weaknesses in our system of government: the tendency to change and to recreate rather than commit to stable, well-evidenced policy.”

Among the think-tank’s recommendations is greater use of digital tools in Whitehall to ensure departures have a reliable record of what they already know and don’t have to start every project with a blank sheet.

Gathering evidence about previous reforms should also be standard practice when new policy is being developed and select committees should use their scrutiny powers to require government to include a statement of the evidence behind policy decisions as a routine part of inquiries.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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