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Home Office bureaucracy condemned by its newest leader (24 May 2006)

Rarely is an organisation characterised in its publicly perceived ‘true’ light by its leading officer. Only public accountability can actually produce such a situation where the fear of the electorate is greater than the fear of the consequences of inaction. Thus judged John Reid, the newly appointed Home Secretary, on 23 May when he reported to the Common Home Affairs Select Committee.

The Home Office provides the most remarkable contemporary example of this situation. After only two weeks in post the Minister reported to this Committee in public session that his department is “not fit for purpose” and further that “It is inadequate in terms of its scope. It is inadequate in terms of its information technology, leadership, management systems and processes.”
 
Referring to the quality of information made available to him he said “I have found that not every fact and figure given by the Home Office exists 24 hours without revision.” Ironically within hours of this presentation to the Committee he had to apologise in writing to its Chairman for having presented figures that also had been revised shortly thereafter by his advisers.
 
As with all government departments the Home Office is managed by the Civil Service, not the Minister. The role of the Civil Service is to carry out the practical and administrative work of government through its civil servants. Civil servants are politically impartial and work to carry out the policies of the government department they work for under the control of elected Ministers.
 
As Minister for the Civil Service, the Prime Minister is responsible for central co-ordination and management of the Civil Service. He is supported by the Head of the Home Civil Service, who chairs the Civil Service Management Board. The Cabinet Office oversees the central framework for management of the Civil Service.
 
Significantly however, over the weekend preceeding John Reid’s testimony, the Prime Minister had been criticised by Sir Alistair Graham, the person he had personally appointed in April last year “to play a vital role in overseeing the standards of all who work in public life."
 
Sir Alistair Graham as Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life criticised Mr Blair for thinking standards a "minor issue, not worthy of serious consideration".  He told the press that he was frustrated with the lack of support from Downing Street. "I think it's a major error of judgement," he said. "We would have preferred more support from the Prime Minister. We suspect he is pretty lukewarm to the work we do," he said.
 
Thus sails onward the ship of state in foggy waters . . . .