Keep public service management out of Treasury hands

Until his death, I was discussing with John Smith the kind of organisation he would need as prime minister to improve policy planning and monitoring at the centre of government. We thought it best to keep this activity out of the hands of the Treasury and to develop an Office of Management and Budget, like that in the United States.

As Stuart Weir points out ("The great white shark of Whitehall", 5 February), the Treasury has seized the role. The problem is that it has no management expertise. Indeed, Treasury mandarins have always seen management as an activity for their inferiors and particularly despise local government members and officers, who they expect to deliver many of their spending programmes.

The Treasury's recent public service agreements with departments, agencies and quangos are often ridiculous - for example, Home Office: "number of criminal enterprises disrupted"; Culture: "to increase by 5,000 the number of people experiencing the arts"; Environment, Transport and the Regions: "one million more people to be involved in their communities". The Treasury's own targets include "to modernise IT systems", but they omit any mention of the protection of the public from insurance companies.

Weir is wrong in writing that the Treasury is "unenthusiastic" about allowing the National Audit Office to assess policies. It is encouraging the office, which should be scrutinising departments on behalf of parliament, to endorse Treasury public service agreement targets in advance, so as to reduce the scope for critical comment from parliament.

John Garrett
Former Labour MP for Norwich South and shadow spokesperson
on constitutional and civil service affairs
Norwich, Norfolk

This article first appeared in the 12 February 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Exclusive: how Labour could lose