Monday, September 03, 2012

Jobs for the Boys?

I have just returned from a well earned holiday in that most beautiful part of the Kingdom, Cornwall , to be precise the slightly isolated and upmarket town of St Mawes . My favourite Hotel in the whole of England , The Tresanton ,owned by Olga Polizzi ( Daughter of the late Lord Forte and Mother of Channel Five Hotel Inspector Alex) once again made me very welcome .

This Hotel is the not sort of place where you are  likely to see guests with Tattoos or inappropriate body piercing and where over a fabulous dinner on the terrace overlooking the beautiful Falmouth Estuary you can peruse the other guests . Is that a Senior Director of Barnet Council with his family? Oh look an Officer from City Hall and her BAFTA winning TV scriptwriting husband!  And that was just Monday…………

The success of the Tresanton is the immense attention to detail by the staff and indeed whilst I was there by Olga Polizzi herself who made sure that standards were maintained. As Olga is a former Westminster City Councillor, and friend of Lady Thatcher, I would expect nothing less. The success that Olga and her brother, Sir Rocco Forte have made of their group of luxury hotels across the world (which sadly my budget does not extend to visiting) is testament to hard work , vision and no doubt the family genes.

However Olga is married to the distinguished writer and biographer William Shawcross, whose official biography of the late Queen Mother earned him a CVO and rave reviews and for those with long political memories is the son of the late Sir Hartley Shawcross, Attorney General in the Clement Attlee Government and Chief British Prosecutor at the Nuremburg War crime trial.  As Sir Hartley got older, and he lived to 101, he gradually moved to the right, as so many do, and acquired the nickname “Sir Shortly Floorcross”. Of course the Attlee family went all the way Clement’s son, the second Earl joining the SDP and the current Earl Attlee serving on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords as a Lord in Waiting (Government whip).

Hence I was not surprised to see that William Shawcross is the favoured candidate to take as Chairman (not “Chair” I hope) of the Charity Commission as a safe and sound pair of hands. The Charity Commission is one of those endless Quangos which seem to stagger on despite attempts by successive Conservative Governments to cull them. Perhaps as an incoming Chairman Mr Shawcross, who is a member of the Board of the Anglo Israel Society, can look at the so called “charitable activities” of Christian Aid and Oxfam amongst others with their anti State of Israel stance.

Another Quango is the Arts Council where the no doubt “Guardian” reading Dame Liz Forgan has not had her contract renewed and is being replaced by the more entrepreneurial Sir Peter Bazalgette.

These changes remind me of the American system where when the President goes his whole Administration goes with him. I think it is time we considered a similar system in the UK and that when there is a change of Government all the Senior Civil servants, ambassadors, High Commissioners, Chairman of Public Bodies go as well. There is something slightly creepy and not a little two faced about rows of Civil servants lined up by the Permanent Secretary to applaud an incoming Cabinet Minister when he arrives at his new Department when you know jolly well a couple of hours they were shedding tears at the departure of the last Secretary of State. It is useful to have endless Government appointments available to be filled by trusted supporters who perhaps it is advisable to send to the other side of the world as Ambassador to Mongolia or Governor of Pitcairn Island. Britain has always practised it to a limited extent, the former Home Secretary Lord Waddington made an excellent Governor of Bermuda (a post I have always rather fancied since we no longer appoint the Viceroy of India!)  And among those who have served as High Commissioner to Australia are Lord Carrington, ex Tory MP Sir Alistair Goodlad and ex Labour Ministers Baroness Liddell and Baroness Amos. The appointment of ex Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell as High Commissioner to Malawi never came about as the UK shut the High Commission down to save money.

In Local Government the practise of clearing out Officers who are seen as having been too partial to the last lot has been going on for decades. Often disguised as early retirement, ill health retirement or redundancy “due to reorganisation “, the departure is usually accompanied by a large cheque. It is an open secret that in 2002 when the Conservative Group took power in Barnet it discussed changing the  Chief Executive but decided against it on grounds of cost and the theory that that the individual had been diligent in implementing the Labour / Liberal Administration agenda and no doubt would do the same for us . He did.

Neighbouring Enfield did change the Chief Executive in 2002 and got into enormous trouble with the District Auditor and suffered the financial consequences. The press over the weekend reported that 400 Senior Council officers received severance payments last year of over £100,000 and anyone in Local Government could name those who left because they fell out with the Leader of the Council or the majority group or indeed both.

The principal of appointing your own senior officers was enshrined in the Greater London Act that created the Mayor and Assembly where 12 “Political Officers “ could be appointed by the Mayor without open advert . This lead to some rather suspect appointments by Ken Livingstone and indeed one or two by Boris Johnson but has meant that the men and woman at the top at City Hall whilst governed by Local Government terms and conditions are politically driven and owe their jobs to the Mayor ’s whim. The also have fixed term contracts which expire when the mayoralty ends.

As the election of Police Commissioners in the autumn makes it easier to remove incompetent Chief Constables perhaps it is time to consider the wholesale Politicisation of the Civil Service and Local Government in the interests of efficiency and democratic accountability.


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