By now, everyone and his cat must have seen Philip Green’s response to questions about his tax status, posted on Twitter by City AM political editor David Crow and retweeted by, well, everyone and his cat.
It is barely two months since the government announced that two captains of industry who had advised the last Labour administration on efficiency had been recruited to the Coalition camp. Sir Peter Gershon and Dr Martin Read were joined by Tesco’s Lucy Neville-Rolfe to form the Efficiency and Reform Group, charged with finding ways to make the government more efficient.
So if they are busy doing that, what is Philip Green going to do? Apparently, among other things, he’s going to be reviewing the progress of public sector organisations in achieving the savings targets set out in the Operational Efficiency Programme. But that’s odd; the OEP was Martin Read’s report. Wouldn’t he be the best person to go round making sure government departments are carrying out his recommendations? And if Sir Philip is doing that, then what will Martin Read be doing?
One of the most dysfunctional aspects of the public sector culture is initiative overload. Public sector organisations have a habit of launching new programmes with similar or overlapping objectives to initiatives that are already running. It is not uncommon in large public organisations to find yourself working on something that two or three other people are also working on in glorious isolation. Before long, no-one is quite sure who is responsible for what and another team has to be set up to map all the cross-cutting risks and dependencies between all the projects.
Could it be that the Efficiency and Reform Group has fallen victim to the same syndrome?
How many more high-profile business people does the government need to recruit to do this work? Is Philip Green really going to do an efficiency review or is this just a gimmick to scare the civil servants?
Maybe that’s it! It’s a way of gradually turning up the pressure. First get the urbane and cerebral Peter Gershon and Martin Read in to identify the savings. Then, if the civil servants don’t act quickly enough, threaten them with the pugnacious Philip Green. Presumably, if that doesn’t work, the government will bring Alan Sugar in to swear at people and tell them they’re fired.