Friday, March 30, 2007

 

Whitewash of DEFRA Incompetence a Disgrace

Select committees do very useful work in calling the government to account but the report of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on the Rural Payments Agency scandal makes a feeble post hoc attempt to perform its function, with little hope of success. This is a great pity as its message is a vital one in terms of government competence to rule.

The introduction of a single payments scheme for disbursing farming subsidies caused an overall loss of half a billion pounds; this was a time when Margaret Beckett, a minister with allegedly 'safe hands', was in charge. The Rural Payments Agency, it appears, consistently warned DEFRA that the scheme was 'complex and high risk' but in the aftermath of the losses only the RPA chief executive was sacked. The committee comments:

When a department fails to deliver a key programme right at the heart of its fundamental responsibilities the ... secretary of state should not be rewarded with promotion but its reverse. New ministerial guidelines should now be drawn up to make it even clearer that if individuals are prepared to accept the glories that come with high office they also know what to do if departmental failure occurs."

But this was not all. Not only was the Defra minister rewarded with promotion- see picture with Condi Rice- but the ministry's permanent secretary, Sir Brian Bender(how he must have suffered in school with a name like that), was promoted to the top job at the DTI. The committee again comments:

"If a failure to deliver on such a scale had occurred in a major plc, the chairman and the senior operating executives would have faced dismissal from post. With this in mind the committee continues to be astonished that Sir Brian Bender continues to hold the rank of permanent secretary. If he does not tender his resignation the head of the home civil service [Sir Gus O'Donnell] should explain why a failure such as this results in no penalty."

On the radio yesterday Geoff Rooker from Defra, denied any further action was necessary, pointing out that ministerial appointments were the job of the PM and civil service ones the Head of the Civil service. For the PM the Cabinet Office expressed

'the full confidence of the PM, his secretary of state and Sir Gus O'Donnell.'

Is it any wonder there is so little trust of government by the governed? Nuff said.

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