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Francis Maude: Ready to deliver change

Just in case anyone doubted the depth, breadth and seriousness of our policy review, doubt no longer.  This has been as profound and original a review as this party has ever undergone.  Oliver's led it.  Let no one dare say we're travelling light.

We know that to win trust we need serious policy with depth and breadth and rigour.  But to justify that trust we need to be ready to govern. 

We won't make the mistake Blair and Brown made.  Today Tony Blair openly admits that they were hopelessly unprepared for government.  That huge majority; a vast fund of goodwill; all the brave and radical words about reforming welfare and public services.  All squandered.  What a criminal waste.  For Labour, winning the election was simply to get into office; being in office was simply to win the next election. 

They just didn't get it that government is really difficult.  It's really hard work.  You have to get your head deeply into the detail.  You have to understand the issues and actually make hard choices, not just talk about them.

So what are we doing to get ourselves ready to drive change?  For the first time ever we've a dedicated implementation team, headed by the brilliant Nick Boles, who touch wood will be the new MP for Grantham and Stamford next year.  The team is constantly working with front-benchers to plan how we turn policy into delivery. 

We don't think the plans will be perfect - our guide has been General Eisenhower, that great military planner, who understood that few plans survive intact the first encounter with real action.   Eisenhower understood that it's the deep preparation that counts.

Some people ask: isn't it arrogant to be planning for government when you haven't won the election?  Isn't it presumptuous?  Aren't you taking a lot for granted? 

No, no and no.  Real arrogance would be assuming we don't need to plan.  Real presumption would be thinking you can swan into Whitehall and automatically know how to drive change.  We take nothing for granted; nothing at all.  We know that every day of every week of every month between now and the election we have to earn our way to government.

But we know that if we do earn that awesome responsibility, then delivering the changes Britain needs is going to be really hard.  So planning - careful, measured, realistic, tough-minded planning and preparation: that's not arrogance.  It's the very reverse.  It's humility: the humility of people who understand the scale and seriousness of the challenges that Britain faces; and who know that delivering successful change for Britain needs ministers who have prepared as thoroughly for the task as any athlete prepares for the main event.  And that main event isn't a sprint.  It's a marathon; it starts the day David Cameron enters Downing Street; and it doesn't end until the changes are finally in place.

If we win, I want us to be the best prepared ministers there've ever been.  We'll need to be.  If we win, Dominic Grieve and Alan Duncan will take over responsibility for the disgrace that is Britain's prison system, where two out of every three prisoners re-offend and go back to prison within two years; where you're more likely to come out a drug addict than when you went in; where the odds are so stacked against an offender ever getting into the mainstream of productive society.  The state, over many years, has failed society.  The system needs reform and rebuilding.  It'll take time.  It'll need patience and hard work and, yes, serious planning. 

Here as in so many areas of social policy, where neither the state nor the market has provided solutions, there has to be a much greater role for voluntary organisations and social enterprise.  I'd like to thank my deputy Nick Hurd who's leading our work on how to help the sector to expand to meet the huge demands that society's going to make over the years ahead.
For these will be tough years ahead.  The years of plenty in the public sector are over.  This is the age of austerity and a new Conservative government will need to do things very differently.  Quite simply we'll need to do more for less. 

We'll start with Information Computer Technology - ICT.  The UK Government spends more on ICT than any other government.  If it spent the same per capita as the Scandinavian countries - ranked the best in class - Britain's ICT bill would fall by 23% - a whopping £3billion.

And yet the history of UK government ICT projects is littered with budget overruns, delays and functional failures. Huge centralised databases have been created, with a thoroughly casual approach to safeguarding private data.

We need a fundamental rethink.  We need fewer huge mega-projects; systems that can talk to each other; a level playing field for open source software and smaller suppliers; to buy off the shelf rather than always seeking bespoke perfection; to open up access to government data; and far more effective procurement and management of projects.

We also need a new vision for how government can engage with citizens.  I'm delighted to announce today that Tom Steinberg, director of the ground-breaking mySociety website, is working with us to develop that vision.  Tom has led the way in showing how government can engage with citizens online, and in doing so can stimulate real social innovation and civic action.  It's great to have him on board.

Now, a word about the Civil Service.  Civil servants aren't always the most popular of people. But our tradition of impartial public servants - that's a strength, not an obstacle to be derided.  Brown has treated them with contempt. Politicised and sidelined - no wonder morale is so low. We'll change that.  We'll have the confidence to seek and listen to civil servants' advice. We may not always take it.

But never will we behave as Gordon Brown did over the implementation of his tax credits scheme.  Advised from all sides that his scheme was impracticable, in his arrogance he forged ahead regardless.  The result?  Hundreds of thousands of hard-working families on low incomes, trying to do the right thing, traumatised by a demand to repay thousands of pounds overpaid by the government in error.   Sleepless nights; dreadful anxiety; huge stress; all because of one man's arrogance.

So yes, most civil servants do a great job.  But it's not all perfect by a long way.  The whole of government will have to raise its game if we're to deliver more for less.   Financial management will matter like never before.  And we've made some interesting finds.  We found that the National School of Government runs a course for civil servants in finance and accounting called Managing Public Money.  What does it claim?  It teaches:

  • how to avoid a Department being disadvantaged in the public expenditure process 
  • how to protect the Permanent Secretary's position.

No reference to the taxpayer or value for money.  And would you believe that six government departments, spending £45 billion between them, had no board level finance director?  I even heard about one finance director who couldn't get to talk to the Permanent Secretary.  He was told he might get half an hour on Thursday week.  If that's the priority given to financial management, no wonder we're in this mess.

So in February George Osborne and I published a paper called "It's Your Money".  It's not glamorous.  Don't bother to hold the front page.  It's the nitty-gritty nuts and bolts of real life government in the new age.  It's about boosting departmental finance directors, so they're involved in all spending decisions - astonishingly not the case at present.  It's about introducing for all senior civil servants a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer.  It's about ensuring that senior officials get judged on their financial performance.

We can do more.  We'll strengthen departmental boards.  They're a really good idea, to create accountability, and bring together political and official leaders.  But they're woefully under-used.  Ministers rarely attend.  Non-executive board members are themselves mostly from the public sector.  These boards frankly look a bit marginal and toothless.

All that will change.  My colleagues will chair their boards.  A majority of the non-execs will come from the commercial private sector.  The board will agree a business plan so the department can be held to account for its success in delivering ministers' policy objectives, and crucially their success in delivering efficiency savings and value for money.  There'll be a senior non-exec with access to the Prime Minister, meeting other departmental non-execs regularly to track progress.  We want to attract really big hitters to these boards, to bring serious commercial experience to bear on officials and ministers alike.

And to ensure that these have teeth, the non-execs will be able, in the last resort, to recommend to the Head of the Civil Service and the PM that the Permanent Secretary should be removed.  In this new world we need public sector managers to be as accountable as those in the private sector.

We're not stopping at central government.  As David announced in the summer, we're looking at the mysterious world of the quango.  There are around 800 of these.  Amazingly, no one knows the precise number, but we know they spend over £34billion a year.  Many aren't accountable at all.  We're asking of each: is its function needed at all?  If it is, why shouldn't it be done by a minister accountable to Parliament?  And does it need to cost so much?  We doubt it.  So we'll take out some quangos and we'll take out some cost.

And finally we'll unleash an army of 'armchair auditors' to crawl over the Government's accounts - members of the public who can see for themselves whether their government is really delivering value for money for them.  We won't forget - it really is your money.

So we'll publish online the salaries of the 35,000 most senior civil servants.  We'll put online organograms, job descriptions and staff numbers for all Whitehall departments and quangos. We'll publish online every item of central government spending over £25,000.  We'll publish online all government tender documents for contracts worth over £10,000.

This'll help government spend taxpayers' money better.  And it'll also help to rebuild trust.

In a moment Boris is will tell you what he's doing to revive a great city.  Our task is to revive a great country, one brought low and weakened by a government which has so betrayed people's trust.  To win the chance we must win the nation's trust.  To justify that trust in government we must deliver.  To deliver we must plan and prepare.  And with your help, and a fair wind, it won't be in vain.

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