Reducing waste…

I was having a discussion the other day with a senior Civil Servant about the impacts of Primary and Secondary Legislation on workload in government.

Historically Government has always distrusted minor errors creeping into administrative areas even when it can be shown that their incidence is very small, paling to insignificant. The response has mostly been to add additional legislation requiring more layers of bureaucracy, checking and Rules – often to little overall effect. This reminded me of the work of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments last year. Lord Filkin, the past chair, pointed out that there is an “optimistic belief … that something would happen in the way you thought it would” when legislation was drafted. The Committee also went on to comment that “they [Government Departments] are weak on really thinking through if this is the best way to get what they want.”

All this ties together when you realise that vast areas of government administration are bound by such oft-misguided law. What if we could release some of the workload? Better government or at least as good as now but with less effort – leading to efficiencies.

Therefore – as we approach an Election wherein the topic of savings to the economy are at the forefront of everyone’s mind – maybe now is a good time to question whether there might not be a better way of legislating for administrative matters. At least there ought to be rather more trust of the workforce to do the right thing, coupled with accountabilities when things occasionally go awry.

The current mechanism that relies on leaving things to internal Policy Units is fatally flawed – they simply cannot write a rule for every occasion and the lack of allowed discretion in the Public Sector these days is strangling effectiveness at birth. Policy statements should set out an ethos to be followed. That kind of guidance is much more flexible when dealing with the occasional curved ball.