It makes my life easier if the Government abides by a consistent set of principles. When Members ask me what they Government’s doing, or likely to do, I can sort of guess. They don’t have to be ideological principles, they don’t necessarily have to be sensible or coherent. Just something. Obviously that’s harder with a coalition, and obviously when theory meets reality, things fray around the edges.
I get that localism will run into its limits when Councils are doing something that a Minister can get some brownie points on the right for attacking (having a newspaper, paying the going rate for a Chief Executive, paying a lobbyist for advice on how to influence the Government), and that’s fair enough. I get that a passionate commitment to spending cuts in general will fall by the wayside when specific cuts need to be made in Ministers’ constituencies. That’s the game.
What I don’t get, is pretend principles. If you think something is a good idea in a specific case, do it. If you don’t, don’t do it. But don’t invent an overarching principle to justify it if you don’t in fact hold to such a principle. Which is a roundabout way to say that I have been wound up today by trying to reconcile the following.
The Government believes policy advice should be carried out by Departments, not arms length bodies, which makes one wonder what the Office for Budget Responsibility is, since to produce the fiscal numbers that underpin government policy one must assume a certain influence over that policy is inherent in the numbers one produces, but also the Government believes that to provide assurance that the Regional Growth Fund is being put to best use, it is necessary to establish an Independent Approval Panel to advise Ministers on allocations of the Fund.
I suppose it’s potentially a squareable circle, if you separate the policy process rigidly into analysis of the facts (independent), operational decision making (independent) and pure policy decisions (Ministerial/Departmental) – in which case the CRC’s failing was to be set up with an advocate rôle, as well as an evidence-gathering and “rural watchdog” function – its reports not only stated the facts, they made suggestions as to how improvements could be made, and they made them in public.
Of course, deparmental civil servants will also advise Ministers, the only real difference is that they will be more ‘realistic’, more bound into prevailing Government thinking, and, oh, we won’t necessarily find out what they said. Which I suppose I can live with, though it doesn’t seem very ‘open source’. Nor does it help me look wise in front of Members. I could encourage them to spend more time with their MPs, I suppose…