Cabinet Office storm on with transparency announcements – and non-execs for Whitehall appointed

The Cabinet Office published yet more data as part of the Transparency initiative last week. It includes information on major IT contracts, and exemptions to the moratorium on spending in certain areas that have been allowed over the last few months.  There are no signs of the transparency drive slackening off, and I must say I am increasingly admiring of this desire to get everything out into the public domain.  The pessimist in me says it may still end in tears for the Coalition government, but it is clearly much more than a gimmick.

A friend of mine in Cabinet Office also said when I spoke to him the other day:

"Ministers are really engaged.   I haven't seen anything like it before - they are very involved, they understand procurement far better than any Ministers I worked with under Labour, and they're good to work with personally".

Interesting words from someone who is not exactly a lifelong Tory.

One of last week's other Cabinet Office announcements covered the new non-executives for Government Departments.  Having done this sort of role for a couple of years (in a large "non-departmental public body" ) I wish them luck - rewarding but ultimately very frustrating, I found.

We don't normally get personal here but these are high profile appointments so we'll make an exception.  I'd like to wish particular good luck to a lady I worked with some 25 years ago. She joined Mars as a graduate trainee 3 years after me.  It was a very competitive environment and it would have been easy in theory to take against her - double first from Oxford, smart, attractive, athletic, frighteningly efficient and composed...but she was also just such a reasonable, positive,  friendly person that is was impossible to do anything other than respect and like her.  She was an absolute star, and when she left Mars some years later (some time after I'd gone) because of the difficulty in the Mars culture of juggling work and kids, people felt the company had lost a future global leader.

But how Sara Weller will cope with the political (with small and large 'P') machinations of the Department of Communities and Local Government, where she is now the 'Lead Non-executive Board member", I don't know.  It's one of the strangest Whitehall Departments in my experience, with no coherent history or culture, a huge remit over local government, some power through funding but no real executive authority, and hated by many of its stakeholders.

Weller has worked for firms that were pretty straightforward in their approach: Mars, Sainsbury, and Argos, where she is currently MD.  Firms where reporting lines are clear and senior people can actually make things happen quickly and directly.  Not a description of the local government world by any stretch of the imagination.  And if local authorities swing to Labour in next spring's elections - as there is every chance they will - then things could get even hairier.

Procurement should be somewhere fairly near the top of her and the Department's agenda  - there's at least £60 Bilion annual spend there, for a start.  Assuming the RIEPS are dead, who or what is going to drive procurement improvement?  Is collaboration the way forward or does localism, the Big Society and giving contracts to the third sector trump that?

Anyway, let's hope all these private sector stars make an impact in Whitehall.  I fear some of them at least will find it all a bit strange, and the lack of clear power ultimately frustrating.  (And I'll offer good odds that not a single permanent secretary will be fired by their Board over the next 2 years...)

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