New figures from Number 10 reveal how government has lost grip of delivery already

by Atul Hatwal

Uncut analysis shows almost half of delivery targets missed just three months after the launch of departmental business plans.

New figures sneaked out by Number 10 in the past week reveal the extent to which government has lost control of its delivery programme. Just three months after the prime minister personally launched the government’s departmental delivery plans, an Uncut analysis of the latest monthly updates shows that 43% of delivery targets were missed in February.

Looking at the activities due to be completed in February as well as those goals still outstanding from previous months, the department for transport managed to miss its one deliverable and the departments for education, home office and culture, media and sport each missed 75% of their targets.

Vince Cable’s ailing department for business, innovation and skills (BIS) and the gaffe prone foreign office failed on 67% of their targets while the department for health hit less than one in two of its objectives.

The initiative to develop and publish updates for departmental delivery plans was hatched by cabinet office minister Francis Maude, but his own department is among the worst offenders, missing 41% of its targets in February.

The story behind these failings is one of government U-turns and departmental spats derailing delivery.

At the home office, the government’s controversial “prevent” strategy on tackling home-grown extremism has been delayed twice as a result of turf wars with communities and local government and constant rewrites from Number 10.

Now the deputy prime minister has charted a new, more nuanced approach to multiculturalism than the prime minister, confusion reigns on what will be announced next.

At the department for education, new rules to relax planning guidelines for new schools were meant to have been agreed with the department for communities and local government.  But inter-departmental bickering has left these rules unresolved, raising questions over the practicality of Michael Gove’s plans for free schools.

On the economy, government plans to help business are in a shambolic state as rows between the treasury and BIS have led to repeated delays and left businesses waiting in the dark for guidance, or Godot, whichever comes first.

At BIS, chaos over the future of UK trade and investment – the troubled export marketing body which employs Prince Andrew as a trade ambassador – mean the government has put back the launch of the strategy to support exporters till April – almost a year after taking office.

At the foreign office, David Cameron’s much heralded strategy to double trade with India by 2015 will have also waited for almost a year to see the light of day, when it is finally launched in April.

Worries over the competence of the government to deliver on their commitments were quietly raised this week by the new director general of the CBI, John Cridland. He commented,

“We’ve got to make sure that the action lives up to the words. They’ve yet to prove themselves”.

Although these are early days for the departmental plans, to be so far adrift of deadlines so early in the Parliament bodes badly for the coming years.

It paints a picture of a Whitehall machine that is uncoupled from ministers who don’t understand that announcing a policy is not the same as delivering change.

At the heart of the issue is leadership.

Any senior management team, whether in business or politics, reflects the drive and direction of their leader.  David Cameron is undoubtedly a smooth salesman. But there’s a fundamental difference between sales and delivery.  Regardless of the political rhetoric, the delivery results speak for themselves.

The prime minister might be reorganising his policy unit in Downing Street, but shuffling deckchairs won’t matter if he doesn’t change the underlying reason the government has lost its grip of delivery – how he leads.

“I get it” is a favourite phrase of prime ministers under pressure. It’s deployed by PMs, looking to reassure voters that they’ve fixed that thing about their leadership which has caused problems. Brown, Blair and Major all used versions of it.  But in each case, it was after years at the top.

Look out for David Cameron’s “I get it” moment, probably sooner rather than later, and then ask yourself, did the others?

Atul Hatwal is associate editor of Labour Uncut.

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2 Responses to “New figures from Number 10 reveal how government has lost grip of delivery already”

  1. AmberStar says:

    Calling the civil service “the enemies of enterprise” will put a further crimp in DC’s delivery times. Without the help of civil servants, governments can’t get much done.

  2. Good stuff and grist, no doubt, to the mill of those wishing to grind out an incompetence narrative. But becasue these are new metrics, they lack a comparator. It’s rather unconvincing to suggest that it’s entirely down to the leadership of this set of ministers that government departments are failing to meet targets. It’s at least possible to see this as an(other) example of the failure of successive governments to take the machinery of government in hand. (I won’t pin the blame just on Brown’s administration – in fact, the constant reorganisations under the former PM whose name rhymes with ‘bear’ have probably had the most damaging effect in recent years). It is therefore an inherited problem, rather than one of this government’s creation.
    It is fair enough to hold the government to account on this, though: that is why these measures were created. And it may be justifiable to suggest there should have been more progress in improving the organisational culture around some of these departments. The fact of being held to account should help to focus Whitehall minds, in whcih case all well and good.

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