Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Maybe It's Time to Hit Treasury with a Sledgehammer; CITY COMMENT

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Maybe It's Time to Hit Treasury with a Sledgehammer; CITY COMMENT

Article excerpt

Byline: Anthony Hilton

RUPERT Murdoch once explained to me that when one of his businesses was running well, he strongly believed in belting it with a sledgehammer. "It might improve things," he said. "And if it doesn't, it certainly stops the management from getting complacent."

Perhaps Murdoch or one of his children has passed this gem onto George Osborne in one of their many chats over the years. That would help explain the Chancellor's decision to appoint Canada's Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England. Most comment has focused on how well-qualified Carney is, but few have looked at the other side of the coin -- the shock the appointment of a non-British outsider must administer to the institution, and to many of those that work within it.

This may or may not be a good thing -- it depends whether you subscribe to the Murdoch view that shaking things up is good even when it does harm. But the other point is that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The choice for the Bank was initially vetted by Tom Scholar and Sir Nicholas Macpherson from the Treasury plus Sir David Lees, Chairman of the Court of the Bank. If the Treasury thinks the Bank will benefit from a thorough shakeup, how much more would the Treasury itself benefit from something similar? A serious problem at the heart of government is that nothing much ever gets done. Policies are announced, priorities are set, and then nothing much happens -- or to be fairer, the implementation of policy seldom lives up to its advance billing.

The lesson from countless political memoirs is that the Whitehall machine is not fit for purpose because what was designed 150 years ago to administer an empire is not well-suited to running a fast-moving post-industrial nation.

This is not because Whitehall's senior civil servants are more focused on policy formation than on the mechanics of making things happen but because the whole organisation of government lacks a proper chain of command with the right concentrations of power, authority and resources in the right places. …

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