When Bob Dylan wanted to warn people of the increased risk of a
nuclear war he wrote a song , A hard rains a -gonna fall, which
tells of the destruction from the fallout of The Bomb. When the PM’s
chief advisor spoke of a hard rain hitting the civil service it was a
threat of a different kind. But the aim was the same destruction. In
this case destruction of the relationship between responsibility and accountability.
In politics both at a national and local level there is a long
standing understanding that elected politicians not unelected officers
make policy decisions and are accountable for the actions of their
department/directorate. But not any more it would seem as yet another
senior civil servant carries the can for a failed policy decision.
This presumably is the hard rain of which Dominic Cummings spoke of.
The management mantra we are all familiar with is you can delegate
responsibility but accountability will remain with you. But it has to
be said that the relationship between accountability and
responsibility has been getting rather blurred in local government, if
it was ever clear. Yes, members make policy decisions and officers do
their best to carry them out. But when something goes wrong who
resigned or gets the sack?
Who should be held accountable if a local authority becomes in effect
bankrupt? Is it the leader of the council and their cabinet or is it
the individual director whose directorate over spent or the government
who cut the allocation but still required the service to be delivered.
If the overspend can be shown to have been the result of a policy to
outsource services which didn’t deliver the expected savings should
the leader and cabinet resign?
Who should be held accountable if a child know to social services
dies from neglect and abuse? The Director of children services since
they have operational responsibility for the service or the leader and
cabinet who failed to protect the children’s budget resulting in a
high number of Social work vacancies in the child protection team,
inexperienced staff dealing with complex cases and team managers
unable to adequately over see unallocated cases or the minister for
local government for not responding to the repeated concerns raised by
LA leaders ?
In my opinion there is already a tendency in LA’s to let a senior
manager carry the can, what’s happening in central government with
the civil service can only mean more hard rains a-gonna fall.
Blair McPherson former Director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk