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

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£10000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest In...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Car Sales Executive

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to expansion the Largest Independent...

Langley James : CRM Services Manager; West London up to £40k

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Langley James : CRM Services Manager; West London u...

Langley James : IT Support; Residential Agency; Mayfair; up to £30k

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Langley James : IT Support; Residential Agency; May...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Australian cricketer Phil Hughes has died aged 25  

Phillip Hughes: A sensational man, both on and off the pitch

Angus Fraser
Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party  

If people voted for policies, the Green Party would win the next election

Lee Williams
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?