Suntil now, the department has continued to play its role in promoting Treasury catechisms – some of which have now been transformed into hashtags by a Baron Macpherson who tweets freely: free trade, fiscal discipline, solid money, unionism and membership in the ‘EU. Often, this simply meant saying “no” to things or, as a former consultant no. 10, “getting bored until we run out of time”. In fact, Treasury officials have provided their ministers with a standard toolbox of ways to say no: “the golden market won’t like it”, “it’s not good value for money”, “breaks state aid or tax rules “and” no state incentives are required “.
One thing we should recognize about these claims, especially on the right, is that they are often true. In their most noble incarnation, Treasury officials are custodians of public money and promoters of economic freedom. The number of ministerial patterns held back by the hare stopped by their probability would probably fill a football field with red boxes.
But the Treasury in turn must learn some harsh truths. The most salient is that it has failed. He presided over the biggest accident and longest recovery in modern history. Our economy continues to hit well below its weight. Despite all our competitiveness, innovation and openness, we suffer simultaneously from a huge productivity gap, a lack of private savings, a low investment rate and an unsustainable public spending trajectory. The country deserves more than just another insufferably smug answer from Baron Macpherson’s verbally incontinent Twitter account.
In other words, when Cummings wrote, on several occasions over the past six years, that the Treasury’s predictions are “horribly wrong”, that it peddles “its usual ignorant bullshit”, that “every department is in the Treasury … and in the Treasury. he doesn’t have the skills to evaluate, “he wasn’t just grinding the axes. He was calling a problem in the heart of the government. The ethics of public administration values delivery policy. He channels talent into intelligent and abstract lines of work, rather than gritty and practical project management. Its leaders are tired, detached and do not learn effectively when and why their policies fail.
Of course, this problem is by no means limited to civilian service. It exists in business consultancy, law, media and politics. It tends to be less common in commercial counters, in military, engineering or scientific laboratories – industries whose practices haunt Mr. Cummings.
So what happened in this week’s reshuffle isn’t just a seizure of power for itself. It is the beginning of a campaign to rebel against Whitehall. This is a worthy undertaking, but full of dangers. The most obvious is that, in an attempt to steal the power of the treasury orthodoxies, many of which have grown from experience in managing the perplexity of politicians, n. 10 will not improve civilian service, but will remove its more effective spending control mechanism and stifle legitimate criticism. The result could be unnecessary reorganizations and fleeing expenses for boondoggles.
The task for Rishi Sunak, therefore, is not simply to be the watchdog that Mr. Javid has refused to be, but to promote what is good and valuable in his new department, while allowing for far-reaching reforms radius of n. 10. If he fails, he will become a spectator of a dangerous government experiment or another of the shorter chancellors in the service of Great Britain.