View London: Ministers 'could not run businesses'

July 18 2008

It is unlikely government ministers have the skills or background to run a private company, a new survey has claimed.

A questionnaire of chief executives at the UK's top 100 companies pours cold water on government claims of successful management.

Ben Farrugia, policy analyst at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Comparison with the most successful business leaders in the country reveals that the people running public services lack appropriate experience, have near impossible tasks to do and are never in their job for long enough to engage properly with their departments."

The survey found chief executives recommended managers had at least five years in the post for them to get to grips with the task at hand. This flies against a government culture in which secretaries of state are shuffled between departments every two years or so.

John Reid, for instance, spent the years between 1999 and 2007 being secretary of state for Scotland, Northern Ireland, health, defence and home affairs, as well as being leader of the Commons and minister without portfolio.

The average appointment for senior civil servants stands at two years and eight months.

The chief executives also asserted the importance of experience in the sector the organisation works in, but government department are usually so vast and varied it is near-impossible to be properly experienced in the sector.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport, for example, has 63 subsidiaries covering everything from heritage sites to the 2012 Olympics.

The chief executives also valued experience of senior management, leading the Taxpayer's Alliance, who conducted the survey, to point out that none of the current Cabinet have managed a large business, and that only one in seven MPs has any management experience at all.

But Dr Eamonn Butler, director of the free-market Adam Smith Institute, says the two cultures aren't comparable.

"When an executive says something, he expects it to be followed up, but when a minister says something it's the beginning of negotiations," Dr Butler told politics.co.uk.

"It's one of the reasons business people don't understand Westminster. They assume there's a chain of command. But in politics people have all sorts of different views and things take place through discussion," he added.

Published in Viewlondon.co.uk here

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