Following the well-publicised £40mm screw-up with the West Coast mainline bid and the (unprecendented?) suspension of three senior civil servants at the DofT, head mandarin Sir Gus O'Donnell tries to pull the Civil Service off the top of a very slippery slope:
However, Sir Gus O'Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary, today blamed ministers for presiding over a Whitehall skills shortage and failing to pay enough to get the best staff.They're screwing up! We should pay them more!
Interesting argument, Gus. I wonder how long the three civil servants in question have been working in the Civil Service. Are they part of the famed Civil Service fast stream? My experience with those clowns is that they are somewhat prone to leave a trail of destruction across each department they work with, and end up in a reasonably senior position with a large amount of experience in making mistakes. Either they learn from that and become tolerably competent, or their considerable faith in their own abilities is unshaken and they become positively dangerous.
I'm actually fine with the principle of paying good civil servants significantly more. However I want the overall wage bill to be neutral, Gus. If you want to pay some people more, you have to pay others correspondingly less - or fire them, and not splurge out horrific sums on the overly generous statutory redundancy. Gus seems to be wanting more pay and the current near-total protection from being fired. It is actually possible to fire someone from the Civil Service for incompetence, but it takes co-operation from the HR department and a good couple of years. Hardly the model of dynamic efficiency that Gus is promoting.
Sir Gus, who ran the civil service for a decade, today said mistakes will happen as under-qualified civil servants are forced to run increasingly complex projects.I see a possible solution: stop trying to run complex projects when the department doesn't have the skills. How about that, Gus? I realise this may mean that the DofT has less to do and hence requires fewer staff, but from my point of view this is a win-win. For important projects like the West Coast mainline bid, bring in a small but competent outside team and make sure their financial incentives are aligned with the public's.
So whose fault was it?
He said it was not ceratin [sic] yet whether ministers were responsible for flawed policy or civil servants had wrongly carried out instructions.I'd translate that as "my staff are frantically scrabbling around trying to put together a paper trail that provides cover for the three suspended personnel." Good luck with that, Gus.
Oh, and here come the PCS:
The Public and Commercial Services union, which represents one of the three Department for Transport employees facing disciplinary proceedings over the bungled procurement process, said public servants had been targeted as scapegoats.Well, I guess "held to account for their actions" doesn't play as well to the peanut gallery. I suppose we couldn't expect anything else from Mr. Serwotka who clearly doesn't believe that pissing away a mere £40mm of taxpayer money due to outright incompetence merits suspension (note, not even disciplinary action yet, just suspension and presumably with pay).
The article does give what sounds like a plausible reason for Worst Great Western being allowed to win in the first place; the DofT has had a downer on Virgin for a while:
It [the antipathy towards Virgin Trains] stems from a renegotiation of the west coast franchise in 2006 – the consequence of a bungled upgrade of the route – that left the DfT feeling that it had been outwitted and outmanoeuvred, to the benefit of Branson and to the detriment of subsidy-paying taxpayers.I bet people were happy with the result of the flawed calculation, and no-one wanted to look too closely at the numbers to check them...