When Bob Dylan wanted to warn people of the increased risk of a nuclear war he wrote a song , A hard rains a -gonna fall, which tells of the destruction from the fallout of The Bomb. When the PM’s chief advisor spoke of a hard rain hitting the civil service it was a threat of a different kind. But the aim was the same destruction. In this case destruction of the relationship between responsibility and accountability.
In politics both at a national and local level there is a long standing understanding that elected politicians not unelected officers make policy decisions and are accountable for the actions of their department/directorate. But not any more it would seem as yet another senior civil servant carries the can for a failed policy decision. This presumably is the hard rain of which Dominic Cummings spoke of.
The management mantra we are all familiar with is you can delegate responsibility but accountability will remain with you. But it has to be said that the relationship between accountability and responsibility has been getting rather blurred in local government, if it was ever clear. Yes, members make policy decisions and officers do their best to carry them out. But when something goes wrong who resigned or gets the sack?
Who should be held accountable if a local authority becomes in effect bankrupt? Is it the leader of the council and their cabinet or is it the individual director whose directorate over spent or the government who cut the allocation but still required the service to be delivered. If the overspend can be shown to have been the result of a policy to outsource services which didn’t deliver the expected savings should the leader and cabinet resign?
Who should be held accountable if a child know to social services dies from neglect and abuse? The Director of children services since they have operational responsibility for the service or the leader and cabinet who failed to protect the children’s budget resulting in a high number of Social work vacancies in the child protection team, inexperienced staff dealing with complex cases and team managers unable to adequately over see unallocated cases or the minister for local government for not responding to the repeated concerns raised by LA leaders ?
In my opinion there is already a tendency in LA’s to let a senior manager carry the can, what’s happening in central government with the civil service can only mean more hard rains a-gonna fall.
Blair McPherson former Director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk