Andy McSmith's Diary: Lord Browne tries to refuel ministers bored by boards


Attempts to get the civil services to be more business-like have hit a snag: the new-style board meetings that are meant to drive efficiency are so boring that even junior ministers with an eye on promotion have been avoiding them.

One of the major innovations by the Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude, was to revitalise the boards of directors to drive efficiency, bringing in outsiders with business experience as non-executive directors.

In what he hailed as “great news for Government”, Mr Maude also recruited the former head of BP, John Browne, as the top non-executive director. Lord Browne has now drawn attention to the problem of junior ministers skiving off because they are bored of their boards. “Their continued patchy attendance at boards in some departments is concerning,” he complains, in a new document with the catchy title The Government’s Lead Non-Executive’s Annual Report, Financial Year 2013-14.

He adds. “At my request, they have been urged to attend by the Prime Minister, and board secretariats have sought to create agendas that are more engaging to junior ministers… so that their engagement and attendance becomes the norm.”

Ordering ministers to turn up strikes me as the easy bit. Getting civil servants to organise interesting meetings will be the real challenge.

Clegg’s conundrum

As Nick Clegg strives to keep the Liberal Democrats united in their time of trouble, he faces a rift within his own household. It concerns a football competition that is receiving a certain measure of publicity. Clegg’s Spanish wife, Miriam, is supporting her native team, whereas he confirmed on LBC radio that he is backing “England all the way!” But I hear he is in a right dither over Friday night’s fixture, Spain vs the Netherlands. His mother, you see, is Dutch, so he doesn’t know which side to come down on. So unlike a Lib Dem.

Streams of consciousness

Discussing the impact of the winter weather in the West Country, David Heath, the Lib Dem MP for Somerton and Frome, informed MPs today that what his county needs is “a Somerset rivers authority with its own revenue stream”.

Fatherly advice for Farage

Nigel Farage’s former colleague Godfrey Bloom was asked on BBC2’s Daily Politics what he made of the photographs last week of the Ukip leader accompanying a blonde tourism chief in the early hours of the morning in Malta. He replied: “Perhaps, if I was his old dad, I would say he should be a little more circumspect than he is.” Delicately put.

Once stung, never shy

Being caught by a Daily Mirror photographer last December nipping into the House of Lords to claim his £300-a-day attendance allowance, and nipping out 21 minutes later, had an immediately chastening effect on Parliament’s best-known expenses fiddler, Lord Hanningfield. Figures for January, just published, show he claimed a modest £2,400 that month, well below the maximum.

Baroness Uddin claimed the full £5,400. Her fellow Labour peers hoped she would be too ashamed to show her face again after her Lords membership was suspended in 2010, and she was ordered to repay more than £125,000 in expenses. Their hopes were dashed.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn, also Labour, who turned 85 this week, also claimed £5,400. He was one of the first peers in parliamentary history to be suspended, after being caught in a sting apparently being prepared to be paid for asking questions. At the time, he denied he had intentionally done wrong, pleading that he was “easily confused” – but not too confused, obviously, to fill in an expenses form.

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