The year ahead: 'The government needs to prove it can be trusted on infrastructure decisions'
In our January issue, CSW asks experts to give their thoughts on the new government’s policy priorities. In this entry, Tom Forth calls for transparency in government spending decisions
The London Crossrail project. Photo: PA
Calls to “rip up the government rulebook” to help rebalance the UK economy are growing louder. Whispers that echoed around the town halls of the English Midlands and North for decades recently found their way into the UK’s industrial strategy as the promise of a “rebalancing toolkit”. And with a new team at No. 10, there are increasing suggestions of finishing that job and changing the Treasury’s rules so that the concerns about investments in struggling regions with a weak business case can be more easily dismissed.
Most of these suggestions are unnecessary. There are already mechanisms within government models that allow for considerations of environmental and social factors. This allows investment in places where the economic case is weaker. And ultimately investment is political anyway, with little public evidence that investment that business cases play a significant role in which schemes are funded.
People with knowledge and experience of the current systems for allocating central government investment within the UK have good reason to defend what already exists. For example, in international comparisons of the technical aspects of systems for evaluating transport investment, the UK does very well.
- Treasury to shake up public spending rules and back plans to move civil servants out of London
- By the (Green) Book? The inconvenient truth of the Whitehall business case
- Is Whitehall's obsession with business cases getting in the way of delivery?
Sadly, the UK does less well when we measure outcomes. An investment evaluation system which claims to prioritise economic growth has not been sufficient to lift the UK economy as a whole above any other country in northern Europe. Most of the poorest regional economies in northern Europe remain within the UK. Something is broken and must change.
It remains essential that data is collected, that models are built, and that together these are used to challenge political thinking before investment decisions are taken. But the current centralised and secretive system for doing this modelling within the UK has failed.
There is no evidence that best-value public transport investments have been made, and both the Department for Transport and the Treasury refuse to release the investment analyses and business cases that would prove it.
UK government research and development spending, almost uniquely in the developed world, occurs in completely different parts of the country to where businesses choose to spend, and the government bodies responsible for that allocation are well behind continental equivalents in sharing their analysis and thinking on why this is.
Across all departments, the UK government is poor at engaging with outside experts.
The civil service must make use of the government’s commitment to transparency to release its economic models and business cases along with the data that powers them. Beyond Whitehall, few of us believe that the process for assigning investment within the UK works as claimed. We have no reason to trust what we cannot see. If that trust is earned, calls to rip up the rulebook will calm down.
Department seeks to decide which data should be included in tool or whether buying or building...
Policies "not yet operating with the consistency and coordination, nor with the scale" needed to...
Prospect survey concern that staff will not be involved in decisions about how future tech is...
Cabinet Office hosts Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall for Whitehall showcase
How can local authorities and government departments ensure that civil servants are able to...
BT takes a look at the shifting nature of cyber threats, and how organisations can detect and...
Cornerstone provide advice on effective approaches for learning management.
Everyone loves a good spreadsheet. But if you have more than a few hundred employees,...