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Mr. Tyrie: Twenty five.

Mr. Luff: Twenty five, I am told--a huge number. The same applies to press officers. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire rightly highlighted the sacking of the Government information officers. It is a scandal--an outrage. The Government's attitude seems to be, "Clear them out and make room for people who are more compliant with our wishes." It is not often appreciated that Alastair Campbell has a spy in every Department. Campbell's cronies bully and intimidate their colleagues and journalists. They may be civil servants now, but a year or two ago, many were Labour press officers or Labour party officials. That is an outrage.

As Conservative Members frequently point out, the Government are more obsessed with spin doctors than real doctors, and with glamour rather than the gritty reality of improving public services. The Government are run by elites for elites. In November 1998, a letter from Dr. Richard Mullen to The Daily Telegraph discussed the BBC's excellent serialisation of "Vanity Fair" by Thackeray. It also commented on Thackeray's "Book of Snobs". Dr. Mullen said that, in that book, people

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    How he would have relished the sight of Blairites invoking the sacred mantra of 'the People', while a deferential 'wait-person' delicately shaves white truffles on to their polenta, or pointing out how they spend more on their wallpaper than they pay hard-working nurses."

My hon. Friends laugh. I agree that it would be funny if we were not considering a subject as serious as government. It is not funny, but frightening. This bloated, complacent, arrogant Government resemble Falstaff in Verdi's opera or Don Giovanni in Mozart's. Their end was always inevitable; it was only a question of when and how. For the Prime Minister's sake, I hope that the end is characterised by the recantation and forgiveness of Falstaff, not the damnation of Don Giovanni.

8.41 pm

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): It will be hard to maintain the unusual excitement that was generated by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff). Unlike both previous speakers, I have never been a special adviser to the Government, or wished to be such. I have worked in the private sector for 20 years, trying to create wealth in this country. That implies no criticism of hon. Members who have been special advisers, but it shows that other perspectives can inform the debate.

The charge is that the Government have politicised and fattened central government. I concede that a substantial change has occurred in the way in which central Government govern. That process has not gone far enough, but the right strategic choices have been made. From the mess of departmentalised policy silos, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn) referred, and agency government, which was the legacy of the previous Administration, customer and citizen-focused provision, based on measurable objectives, has begun to emerge. From a highly educated but often numbing culture of introversion in our civil service, there are signs of recognition of the need to encompass genuinely new skills and backgrounds and to adopt an outward-looking perspective. From a culture in which ministerial accountability was muddled at best and denied at worst, there is growing recognition of the need to accept ownership of the goals and administrative competence of performance in Government.

I shall explore those themes. In information technology, strategy, project definition and management have, until now, been handled by individual Departments. That has meant a lack of purchasing strategy. A multiplicity of purchasing decisions makes for increased inefficiency and overall waste. A confusion of technologies and methodologies makes assembling a complex project difficult. There is no critical mass of project skills. Reference has been made in previous debates to the relatively small number of civil servants who have key skills in managing complex information technology projects. Silos with often impermeable boundaries mean that no learning occurs from experiences elsewhere. It is hard to grasp why something goes wrong or why other things succeed in particular projects, and to learn from that outside the silo.

It is hard for citizen access to be organised beyond simply the front end of a web page and there is no governmental strategic vision relating information services to policy goals. Those gaps have been obvious for a considerable time--certainly throughout the latter part of the previous Administration--and the outcome has

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been an array of failed, poor-quality, expensive systems. That process was inevitable, but the Government have recognised those faults and started to remedy them, strengthening the central IT function and developing a strategy.

We have made a critical start and a key choice in setting things right: our civil service culture has recognised the need to increase recruitment from the private sector, introduce outward-looking processes such as benchmarking, recognise the need for cultural change and develop new leaders, greater openness and greater co-working.

Encompassed in Sir Richard Wilson's report, which I suspect has probably not met the eyes of many Conservative Members, is a clear vision for the civil service of the future. It is relatively brief, and is worth repeating in full because it places in context some of the remarks about the demoralisation of the civil service and its difficulties in working with the Government:

The report clearly bears no resemblance whatever to Conservative Members' perception of morale and focus in the civil service, which is serving today's Government and will serve future Governments of any political complexion. It paints a picture of focused determination, not demoralisation or despair.

The establishment of cross-departmental teams to tackle a wide range of issues is a hallmark of this Government and the phrase "joined-up government" has entered the dictionary. I refer to the White Paper on modernising government, which gives some of the reasons why joined-up government--which is an innovation of theirs, in large part--is necessary:

That paints a pretty clear picture of the problem that faced the Government on coming to office: a fragmented service often offered excellent quality in isolation, but did not work together to achieve the needs of the individual customer or citizen it was working towards. It had failed to adopt business practices--one would hardly say modern business practices--that focused on the needs of the customer or individual it was seeking to serve. Instead, it focused introvertedly on the departmental mechanisms on which people's rewards were often based.

At last, one can expect issues of social exclusion to be addressed by all relevant agencies. The sure start initiative and others for tackling drugs and for redesigning our

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criminal justice system all require a multi-agency, multi-departmental approach. That is to be commended, yet we have heard not a word of such innovation from Conservative Members.

When I attended a meeting to discuss rough sleepers recently, I was struck by the immediate recognition of the important role of the Ministry of Defence. In fact, the importance of that role would be obvious to any citizen dealing with such problems. As most of us will have observed, many who find a place on the streets have left the armed services relatively recently. It is shameful to have to admit that the recognition of the need for Departments to work together to address problems is novel. We did not see a great deal of it during the 18 years that we witnessed previously.

The establishment of regional development agencies has been criticised today, but I think that it has enabled local communities to apply upward pressure in arguing for joint initiatives. Regional offices of government have begun to consider joint solutions to many obvious regional problems. It is easy to deride the way in which an RDA has drawn up its strategy. I do not live in, or represent, an area in the west midlands; my seat is in the east midlands. The strategy in the east midlands has been widely commended, has set extremely high standards and has drawn attention to a variety of issues that require attention, across the entire scope of government service.

At the highest level, the performance and innovation unit has addressed a range of cross-departmental issues for the future. We look forward to, for example, its pronouncements on the study of the Post Office, which will almost certainly demand a cross-departmental response. High-level reports such as that provide a critical input into Government thinking for the future. The comprehensive spending review also addressed the need to realign budgets in the direction of clear political goals.

As for accountability, in debates such as this, one is often struck by the shortness of Conservative memories. Few could forget the performance of the former Home Secretary, who claimed that the conduct of prisons was a matter not for him but for the Prison Service--[Interruption.] I am afraid that my hearing is sometimes very poor in the Chamber. I did not catch what was said by the hon. Member for North Shropshire (Mr. Paterson).

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