Sunday, July 05, 2009

Johnathon Porrit fingers Sir Humphrey

From today's Observer:

"Jonathon Porritt, one of Britain's leading environmentalists, has attacked the Treasury for being "startlingly arrogant" and for dragging its feet over sustainability...This month Porritt steps down as chairman of the Sustainable Development Commission, an independent government watchdog, after occupying the role since it was founded nine years ago.

He said: "Looking back now, as I am in my last few days, I see a terrain of wasted opportunity. I am not saying the only reason is the intransigence of the Treasury, but I do think the Treasury has killed a lot of the energy around sustainable development."... "Too often they have been foot-dragging and obstructive... a startlingly arrogant part of government. There is almost no curiosity about sustainable wealth creation. There is no readiness to interrogate the macro-economic model. SDC produced a report, Prosperity without Growth, in an attempt to start a debate on redefining prosperity, but we were met with a weird mixture of hostility and indifference."...Since it was founded in 2000, the SDC lobbied the government consistently to use its multibillion-pound budget to promote sustainable development through its procurement of buildings, goods and services. But Porritt said his efforts fell on stony ground for years. "At meetings relatively senior civil servants from the Treasury were sitting there glowering and wondering what they could do to scupper things when they got back to base," he said".

Ah. The Civil Service. The physical bowler hat has gone, but a virtual bowler hat (tricorn hat in the case of the Treasury) is etched into the brain of most senior Government officials. They are the substrate of political power, a cadre of lifelong dictators who will have naught but what is beaten out on their own anvil. Like insincere hotel workers, they project an obsequious servility while pissing into the customers' soup. They obstruct the will of the people, as faintly represented by elected ministers, ("Yes, Minister, but that would be a courageous decision"). They project their own agenda through the "options" that they present.

I cling to a chosen, existential optimism, but when I look upon the Civil Service, my optimism fades. They must be brought to heel. The Green Party has a paragraph in its Government policy about holding them responsible for the mistakes they make, but this is only the beginning. How can the service be revitalised, brought forward a couple of hundred years into the twentieth century, or even (idealist that I am) into the twenty first century? (At least, Conference did pass such a motion, though I see that it has not found its way into the MfSS on the web)

The best I can offer is the Suggestion Box, where workers at the sharp end can put forward suggestions to improve efficiency, said workers to be incentivised by receiving a percentage of the money saved by their improvement. This would increase their health too, as Marmot finds that disempowerment is the cause of much illness in his long-term study of the health of the civil service.

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