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Not so elite - except for their pay

Did you know that at the same time that the British Ministry of Defence is sacking service people and cutting back savagely on military equipment, desperate to save money, a senior MoD civil servant, already on £200,000 a year and a chauffeur-driven limousine, received an annual "performance" bonus of more than £85,000, on top of his bloated salary? The bonus alone is worth two or three servicemen's jobs. What can he possibly have done to be worth that? Especially as he works in a Ministry whose incompetence is legendary.


Last year, more than two thirds of all core Civil Service staff received bonuses supposedly awarded only for exceptional performance. I wouldn't mind them being well-paid if they actually were the elite organisation they fancy themselves to be, but they are manifestly not. Just in the last few years we've had Border Agency staff driving a coach and horses through all the rules they are supposed to follow; HMRC getting literally millions of tax bills wrong, every year; the MoD ordering aircraft carriers but cancelling the planes able to fly off them, then spending millions trying to change the design so different planes could fly off them, then cancelling that and going back to plan A after all, having wasted millions; the Home Office Immigration unit deliberately "losing" hundreds of cases to clear backlogs, and even at one point being run by an illegal immigrant; the DWP delegating medical checks for benefit claimants to a company that gets more than half its decisions reversed on appeal; and that's just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. They are truly hopeless at managing any kind of IT project, invariably wasting millions and delivering nothing useable, eg the failed NHS patients records database. And they are so out of touch with the modern world that it is quicker for a minister to find out what is going on by asking his driver, who has a smartphone and a radio, than his civil servants, who think television is vulgar, and don't even know what a smartphone is.

There are some very good ones of course, but as they never fire anybody, there are also an awful lot of bad ones. The only thing they are really good at is hiding more and more civil servants in quangos and local government, and strangling the life out of business with an endless torrent of new regulations. They pass several thousand new or updated regulations every year, which have the force of law, even though they have not been scrutinised by Parliament at all. They just have to lay them on a table in the Houses of Parliament for a few weeks, and if no-one objects, they pass. And no-one does object, because the MPs don't have time to read them, let alone scrutinise them properly. And so businesses have to comply with more and more well-meaning but often expensive and poorly-drafted regulations, which drives their costs up and up, and thus their prices, and thus everyone else's costs and prices go up too, and on it goes. This is why, despite all our manufacturing and engineering skills, large projects have become so ruinously expensive, rather than cheaper. It's like trying to run with a civil servant seated on each shoulder.

In 2007 the Civil Service "improved" the system of Enduring Powers of Attorney, to make it "safer". Now, instead of filling in a fairly simple form you could buy from a legal stationer and getting it witnessed, total cost a few pounds, you need to get a Lasting Power of Attorney, which has to be submitted to a new quango created especially for the purpose, containing no fewer than three hundred civil servants that were not required previously. Who charge £130 and take three months just to register each LPA, and will reject the form and send it back, after a three month delay, if you make the slightest technical mistake, and make you start, and pay, again. Only a civil servant would think this acceptable, or even sane.

Even if you don't make a technical mistake, it doesn't work very well at all. There have been huge numbers of complaints about the new Office of the Public Guardian being slow, expensive and heavy-handed : reportedly they often don't even bother to answer the phone. And as it turns out, their big idea, the shiny new "Health and Welfare" Lasting Power of Attorney that they created, separate from the financial one which replaced the EPA, is entirely unnecessary for almost everyone : an Advance Directive is more effective, and much cheaper, and medical personnel are already required to consult your family about treatment if you become incapable, you don't need to fill in a form for that at all. So basically, since they "improved" it, everyone's costs have skyrocketed, and no-one has benefitted at all except for the extra 300 civil servants, trousering lots of public money. The government could save quite literally millions without damaging anything at all, by simply abolishing the Office of the Public Guardian, sacking the extra 300, and rolling the legislation back to what it was before 2007. Which actually worked just fine, but a lot cheaper.

No wonder the country is broke. Incoming governments always say they are going to do something about it. But they never do, because the only way a minister has to do anything is to tell a civil servant to do it...

Copyright © Jon Storm 2012