Leading article: A blow for open government

Share
Related Topics

The decision by the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, to "lead the charge", as he put it, and publish all spending over £500 incurred by his department under the last government is a welcome step forward for openness. But it is also a canny bid to divert public attention away from the pain his department is planning to inflict on us and towards the pleasures taken at public expense by his predecessors.

With memories of moats and duck houses still fresh, any minister worth his salt would relish the chance to strip his opponents of the cloak of secrecy and expose their publicly-funded outings to Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the Attenborough Nature Centre. And while the embarrassment caused by the expenses scandal was shared out between the principal parties, the minister's coalition colleagues can relax in the certainty that the only people writhing in shame this time around will be their opponents.

Yet there is a danger that public interest in the nitty-gritty of what went on at the department under Labour will be fixated on those items which can be most readily converted into headlines. And while this will enable the Government to make political capital at Labour's expense, it runs the risk of being both superficial and grossly unfair. The work civil servants do is often very boring. They gain scant respect from the people they serve, yet for them to work well and efficiently they need to be happy and harmonious. As any office worker might attest, that can only happen if the grind of toil is punctuated by opportunities to relax together.

The department's events and hospitality budget accounted for a mere £1.3m, less than 0.5 per cent of the total; it is unlikely that a blanket ban on trips to Blackpool and state-funded back massages would save much money – but they would almost certainly result in a more miserable, meaner-spirited bureaucracy, glad to take any opportunity to vent its resentment on the public. By deriding "a culture of excess" in the department, Mr Pickles risks breeding petty-mindedness and paranoia which could come back to haunt him.

Public attention needs to focus instead on the huge sums the department spent on PR and marketing – £13.5m – and the £111m-plus that went on consultancy and outsourcing. This is where there genuinely was excess under Labour, and by enabling voters to analyse it for themselves in great detail, and debate what was useful and what was pointless, Mr Pickles has struck an important blow for open government.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'