March 25, 2014

Time for managerial brutalities in the state apparatus

Yesterday the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) made no progress on the issue of how badly whistleblowers are treated. As usual, most of the MPs could not shift the bureaucrats who spoke wordily of their policies and practices but had mysteriously failed to come to the committee with any information about any particular case at all.

For instance, Charlie Massey, "Director General, Strategy and External Relations, Department of Health", was fluent in acronyms and the discussions that were taking place with a view to putting together new policies about treatment of whistleblowers, yet seemed to have no ideas about how present and previous policies on whistleblowers might have failed or might require improvement. True to form, most of the MPs put wordy questions allowing the bureaucrats to choose which parts to discuss and which inconvenient points to ignore. And most of the MPs are unfailingly polite, as if they were the ones in charge. The bureaucrats realise most of the MPs are no match for them, but the ceremonial demands that they seem respectful and keep straight faces as the charade proceeds.

There are two good interrogators on the PAC, and one of them asked what sanctions had been applied against NHS managers whose treatment of two whistleblowers had been particularly outrageous. Of course the NHS panjandrum had chosen not to bring with him anything so dangerous as specific facts that might have been useful to his questioners. Ignorance is far safer, don't you know - leaving aside the question (asked by 0 MPs) of how you can be in charge of setting a new policy when you appear to have absolutely no idea what was wrong with the old ones.

The answer is, of course, that the aim of the bureaucrats is not to put in place a ruthlessly effective new policy (that would take no more than a month, tops), but to give the appearance of being in a long meaningful process aiming ... well, aiming to give the impression that something is being done which might prove to be meaningful, but won't so long as the process is managed properly.

So it is not only that the NHS is too big to be managed effectively (which it is), but that people at the top are just committee smoothies.

Where are the managerial thugs?

Or, to put it at more length, who ensures that managers who mistreat whistleblowers suffer for it? Of course as long as they can protect themselves with impunity, of course they will do what it takes to stay safe in their organisational fortresses. Managers behaving badly must be punished. But of course they aren't. Goodness, if you made one or two examples, where might it end?

And who would wield the scalpel? Not their colleagues. Their priority will probably be the well-being of the organisation. So in egregious cases ministers should publicly give the organisation a month at most to deliver heads on a platter. If the platter is not delivered, they should send in a hitman. A managerial thug.

Here are two places where this might start. They are not both whistleblowing cases, but they are both instances where state officials have behaved so outrageously that they should be named, and suffer consequences for what they have done - and be seen to suffer consequences, quickly and openly, so that the next time someone in a state managerial fortress is tempted to abuse their power (and it happens all too often), they pause and consider what happened to Ms CoverUp and Mr Bully.

The cover up was at Kettering General Hospital, which killed a teenager - back in August 2012 - but thought it best to suppress details of their numerous errors to avoid stressing staff. Yes, they really did. If someone is not going to be marched out the door for such abuse of power, they need at the very least to suffer such public obloquy that their career will progress no further. They may not feel named and shamed, but they must be named. Their vile behaviour should at the very least incur vilification.

Secondly, we have a statement from a policeman who "raised concerns over policing, police reform, statistical manipulation, the Olympics and lobbying", sparking a parliamentary inquiry into crime statistics which has had a significant national impact. He goes public before MPs and what is his reward? To be treated so badly by his part of the state apparatus that he feels he has to resign. Again, the managers concerned feel safe in their fortress. Again, it's time for some public obloquy of the individuals who did this.

What do these two cases have in common apart from the abuse of the state's power over us? It is that both sets of events events were reported today.

Imagine how much of this is happening on the other 364 days of the year.

If there are no consequences for the managers, other state managers will see no deterrent.

1 comment:

Weekend Yachtsman said...

" Their priority will probably be the well-being of the organisation."

Precisely as predicted by Parkinson's Law, and its less famous but more precise cousin, Pournelle's Iron Law.

But despair is a sin.