Thursday, February 11, 2010

Confirmed: Denham & His Permanent Sec at Daggers Drawn

You will have seen the two posts earlier about John Denham and his Permanent Secretary, Peter Housdon. So irked was the DCLG that they gave me a statement, which basically said, move along, nothing to see. But it does seem I am onto something. A few minutes ago I received an email from a former senior civil servant.

Have followed your blog for some time with great enjoyment, but I do not want to enter the public arena. However, the story you have here is most unusual, and as a former Civil Servant with a little experience I might help you understand the context.

What you have uncovered is a Letter of Direction. Dynamite stuff, and described HERE.


Ministerial Directions
2. Where an Accounting Officer of a government department considers that a Minister is contemplating a course of action that would be likely to infringe financial propriety or regularity, or the Accounting Officer’s wider responsibilities for economy, efficiency and effectiveness, it is the duty of the Accounting Officer to so advise the Minister. If that advice is then overruled the Accounting Officer will be required to seek a written Direction from the Minister to enable that action to be carried out. If such a Direction is issued by the Minister, the Accounting Officer must comply with it but must also notify the Treasury and pass the relevant documents to the Comptroller and Auditor General as soon as possible.

Very, very rare beasts, only used as a last resort. Permanent Secs never wish to send them as they show that they have lost influence over a Minister who is determined to press ahead regardless and that fact must be disclosed to others, including the C&AG. Unhappy does not begin to describe it.

So there you have it. Now, would someone in the mainstream media like to get on to this?

UPDATE: The Guardian is now covering the story HERE.


Plato said...

Great stuff Iain - someone pressed the nuclear option button.

Nigel said...

Absolutely extraordinary, but as I said earlier, the leak to you (and so quickly) is almost as serious an issue as the letter itself, and will shake confidence not just in DCLG but across Govt. Can't believe the Lobby haven't woken up.

Jeremy Kite said...

I love the way Sir Peter signs off his letter "with all good wishes".

Quite a funny way of spelling "I've had enough of you and your dodgy, self-obsessed mates and if you think I'm staying in the bunker and going down with you then you have got to be even more crass than the department already thinks you are."

Not sure I will ever understand senior civil servants but I do kind of like them.

sinosimon said...

unfortunately Iain you have the confluence of two truths in the metropolitan bubble gives a monkey's about anything that happens in carrot cruncher territory, and stories that take longer than one sentence to summarise are considered too hard for the great unwashed to cope with. if you are lucky this might run as fourth item on newsnight(assuming they are not clearing their schedules for wall to wall alexander who coverage like sky).

Glyn H said...

Good stuff Iain.

I live in the East Devon area about to be ‘taken over’ by this wretched unitary authority. EDDC has its faults, not the least of which is treating some parts of its patch with disdain and some with enthusiasm (there is a Tesco issue going on which they have blessed although we have 3 in striking distance but not a Sainsbury for 20 miles; it was all very hurried and odd and to be built on a vast 2 metre high platform to get it off the flood plain!) They are also befitting from a huge 9000 home new town that Prescott forced on open green fields just east of Exeter. Monstrous and unneeded. However EDDC runs WITHOUT DEBT. All the others we will be bundled with are millions up the spout. Why should we be lumbered with that? But we are a Conservative area and Exeter has lickspittle Bradshaw. Sounds like Norwich!

This Denham spat is most entertaining; the death throes of a very discredited administration.

Not a sheep said...

This is a big story but most (if not all) of the MSM cannot cope with a story that is not reducible to a sound-bite.

jailhouselawyer said...

"Now, would someone in the mainstream media like to get on to this?".

Give them a break Iain, they didn't want to expose the expenses scandal.

cynical academic said...

Iain, at the end of the earlier post you speculate that such a letter is unprecedented. I believe that it was previously called an "Accounting Officer's Letter". Tony Benn received one over the creation of a co-operative. They are not trivial and I feel sure that Edward Leigh will follow up. Labour Ministers will see this as trivial but those with a proper sense of the probity necessary when spending public money will see it as a significant, public move by the Permanent Secretary.

bunnco said...

Iain. The story is starting to break into mainstream media...

Jimmy said...

A secretary of State disobeying his Perm Sec? Would never have happened in Sir Humphrey's day.

Salmondnet said...

It has made the Local Government Chronicle:

So soon people will talk of little else.

Unsworth said...

@ Jimmy

Sorry, you really haven't understood this one have you?

It's never a question of 'obey'. Sir Humphrey is covering his arse for when it all goes tits up - and is doing so very effectively in my view. What this does is to put any and all blame firmly at Denham's door - in perpetuity.

Housdon can walk away from the future wreckage with his Knighthood. Denham will be vilified permanently. Not very clever of Denham - but up to his usual standard.

The Purpleline said...

Well-done Iain- Out today is the Housing Minister John Healey gaff on repossessions. I think the givernment (Sic) is unravelling fast. >Watch out for low flying Nokia exit bunker left<

This one might overshadow your story as it allows the Tory party to counter the old Thatcher-Major orthodoxy that unemployment is acceptable, or even necessary, if the alternative is rampant inflation.

We can now say under Labour Brown repossession is acceptable price worth paying for some families.

I love it. Brown Gov't falling apart at the seams

Jimmy said...

"Sir Humphrey is covering his arse for when it all goes tits up"

Sir Humphrey I suspect is positioning himself quite nicely for a change of government particularly when the opposition takes such a relaxed attitude to the political neutrality of the civil service. It'll be interesting to see how he is rewarded. Dannatt for example did quite nicely, Galley less so. No doubt he has the leak inquiry already in train. After all he must be mortified that his letter ended up being published.

As for the policy, the Minister has decided. the voters will be able to express their view soon enough. Meanwhile the Perm Sec can do as he's damn well told or find another job.

Gareth said...

According to your source's evidence Accounting Officers have a responsibilty towards "economy, efficiency and effectiveness" and if they see this being put at risk they must put their concerns on record. Given the Government's record since 1997 either there are a lot of letters like this or the civil service have gone along with much of what Labour have implemented.

How long has this bureaucratic system been in place? Mostly since 2000 it would appear. It strikes me as ideal for tying Sir Humphrey's hands - as your source points out, going through this rigmaroll makes it look like Sir Humphrey has lost the confidence of his Minister and that just cannot do. Peer pressure would dissuade the Sir Humphreys from putting their concerns on record even when they were justified.

Ann said...

I think the crucial thing here is the local media. You can bet they will be on to it. And being brutally honest in places like Norfolk, Devon and my stamping ground North Yorkshire, the local media has far more influence than the London press, who are seen as a bunch of dodgy metropolitan shysters.

bewick said...

Well the local press here in the North East didn't achieve much when the Government totally ignored the votes of the electorate and went ahead anyway to create a Unitary Northumberland County Council Labour failed to win the elections and the Liberals took power. Justice!

As for the Civil Servant. Well I was once advising a Labour dominated Personnel Committee of a major City.
They were actually proposing to implement illegal positive discrimination and about to approve such proposal. Well I most certainly wasn't going to risk, as the Principal Adviser, potential legal action against me.
I demanded that my opposition, and the reasons, be recorded in the minutes. They immediately changed their minds!