Simon Jenkins had a great article in today's guardian (thanks Martin Greenwood for pointing it out).
The article is available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/08/slash-bureaucracy-bloated-public-sector
but i have reproduced it below to save you a click....(but do then visit the Guardian, obviously)
It is like the last months of Margaret Thatcher. The prime minister rants out of control. He declares war on his own government, calling down Presbyterian damnation on fat cat officials, overblown quangos, greedy consultants and bonus-laden bankers – despite having fed most of them for over a decade. Human resources were never Gordon Brown's strong suit.
This week he returned to cull mode and the "culture of excess", with names and shames on all sides. He wants 20% of top heads to roll, consultants to be halved, multibillion-pound computers to be written off, the hated "back offices" to be trashed. Nothing but the great god – frontline service – is to be spared. It is apparently called "smart government".
The message is taking its toll. The purring Rolls-Royce that was Whitehall has fallen to vicious feuding. They are no longer just dancing naked at rural payments and sleeping with the customers at immigration. The head of a Blairite outfit called the Care Quality Commission, Lady Young, has quit amid reports of blazing rows with her minister. The chair of Ofsted, Zenna Atkins, is savaging her officials as "a joke … obsessed with inputs, structures, organisations and systems" rather than education, unable to give straight answers.
Round at the Home Office, a so-called red tape tsar named Jan Berry – head of the "reducing bureaucracy practitioners group" – finds that police paperwork has strangely risen in the two years when it was meant to be falling. At Environment and Food, where half Whitehall's 752 (or so) quangos graze, no one can tell the Environment Agency from its turf war rival, Natural England. Up the road, English Heritage is fighting with Heritage Lottery, and Human Fertilisation with Human Genetics.
The auction between Labour and Conservative leaders on who can axe more from the government's gargantuan £175bn deficit is now dithering over what seem footling figures, all in the region of £9bn. The prime minister on Monday declared that the £9bn of cuts announced in the budget would increase by £3bn in what he terms "a third generation shake-up of Whitehall". Yet another initiative, overseen by Martha Lane Fox, will save money by moving services online – at a cost of £30m.
This £9bn is familiar. A similar figure has at various times been attached to the cost of the ID cards computer, the Olympics, the health records database and the original "cuts" initiative under Sir Peter Gershon in 2004. Gershon is now reported to have taken his £9bn to dress David Cameron's cuts; a similar figure is also what the rich nations have offered the poor ones at Copenhagen to "save the world". It is like Frodo's ring. You can't get rid of it.
The fate of the first Gershon £9bn is instructive. It claimed to identify 80,000 civil servants (later 70,000) as surplus to requirements. This cost £43m to discover, including £9.2m in one year on consultants. Three years later Brown said that the £9bn savings had inexplicably soared to £21bn, and this at a time when the government's "Health Protection Agency" was junketing to the Beijing Olympics, "to learn the challenges in health protection that surrounded those games"; and the ailing Student Loans Company was spending a million pounds on antics such as "team building weekends".
There is nothing new to all this. In 2002 Brown also set up a "better regulation task force". It concluded there were "so many regulations it could no longer list them" and gave up. There were regular assaults on the most impregnable Whitehall fortress, defence procurement, whose cost overruns were assessed this year by the accountant Bernard Gray at a phenomenal £35bn. This autumn the children's secretary, Ed Balls, blandly claimed that £2bn could be cut from the education budget without damaging "frontline education". What else he was spending the money on was not explained.
Reducing bureaucracy is an Augustinian mantra of chastity postponed. Figures are plucked from thin air to make a one-day headline. When the National Audit Office tried to test the Gershon cuts, it had to give up. About a quarter were spotted, but even they scuttled into the jungle when challenged. The NAO's boss, Amyas Morse, remarked to a conference last month that efficiency gains had already been exhausted.
Yet the old troupers returned to the colours for Brown's Monday speech. "Relocating civil servants outside London" was present in uniform, as were the terrible twins, e-government and culling quangos. Even "£100m from red tape" still looked sprightly. It was all like a UN poverty pledge, utterly un-meant.
Political theorists stress the role of a welfare democracy in driving bureaucratic growth. Electorates demand ever rising standards of service from the state and these demands feed their producer lobbies, making it impossible for elected politicians to cut them. From Max Weber to Schumacher and Drucker, pundits have warned that the bigger these bureaucracies become, the more their arteries harden, concentrating power at the centre and resisting change.
Organisations such as the NHS, BBC and Home Office – to which RBS must be added – are called elsewhere parastatals. They exchange top officials and consultants with the government and City, enjoy easy access to public funds, and can rely on heavy Whitehall protection for their monopolies. Privatisation is no help, since the contracts merely balloon: there are now 10 times as many officials overseeing Britain's railways under privatisation – and three times the subsidy – as under British Rail. Such entities are invulnerable since they can ensure that any threat to them will immediately hit safety or frontline services.
The only known mechanism for cutting central costs is the wholesale delegation of services to smaller units, notably local authorities. An analytical tool for this now exists in the Treasury's so-called total place initiative (TPI), which measures total public spending inputs to a county or town against its putative needs – and wonders why so little seems to get through to the front line.
Under TPI, government could revive the old block-grant formula and devolve services such as health and education to localities, as in the early welfare state and in most continental countries. But that would threaten the lucrative interests now assembled round the cabinet table and in Whitehall. That lobby has remained potent, whether the occupant of Downing Street is Labour or Tory. That is why cuts are proclaimed but never done. Nobody dares.