Delivery, delivery, delivery! Tony Blair set up The Delivery Unit in number 10 at the beginning of his second term as Prime Minister in 2001. David Cameron has now, at the beginning of his second term, set up 10 new task forces to be chaired by ministers as ‘an extra way of making sure that delivery happens’. There is something about Prime Ministers and second terms. They are comfortable in power, are secure in the role, but are then aware of time passing and objectives still to be seen through. Delivery becomes the mantra.
Time need not be spent , in the second term, on learning how to govern but instead used well and efficiently on achieving results. And no Prime Minister in his or her heart of hearts thinks that The Civil Service acts fast enough. This is despite the fact that we have one of the most efficient Civil Services in the world. We are all accustomed to announcements of delivery stretching our understanding of the calendar. Early Spring becomes late Spring leading to early Summer and so on. Despite the announcement coming soon of the working group’s decision on a new runway for the south east, we learn that there will be no government decision until Christmas. Some senior civil servants and their teams will now be working all the hours that God sends to ensure that the decision is public by close of play on Christmas Eve.
And in terms of delivery, government’s real job is to ensure and insist that the conditions for delivery are there, so that people on the front line do the business. Even as I write this there are thousands upon thousands of interactions going on between teachers and students, doctors and nurses and patients, social workers and families, police and the public and so on. Delivery is everyone’s business and government should not give the impression that only cabinet committees deliver.
I suspect ten task forces are too many and will end up servicing the needs of politicians to be reassured that things are being done. The advantage of a central delivery unit was its single minded focus and purpose. It took away the fatalism that dogged the UK in previous administrations that things could not be done quickly. And nothing is a substitute for a driven, focused cabinet minister with one time sensitive objective. The new government could learn a great deal from Harold Macmillan’s drive to build hundreds of thousands of homes in the 1950s. Now that is what I call delivery.
Mike Gibbons ran The Department For Education Innovation Unit from 2002-2008