Sir Christopher Foster - a long-standing adviser on economic policy - thought that this was a problem that has built up over twenty five years. His list of problems would not appear unfamiliar to anyone who has given this issue a sideways glance:
- too many initiatives,
- too many reorganisations,
- not enough planning,
- many more pieces of legislation.
- too much micro-managing by politicians,
- the overconfidence of politicians in their own abilities
And that's all well and good. But - again - why do politicians feel the need to constantly try new initiatives? Generally, if they aren't being seen to over-react to almost everything, they can expect a well-organised personal campaign against them from any one of a few thousand professional pressure groups.
An unwillingness to either comply - or loudly denounce - any one of these initiatives - will rapidly result in that career-ending verdict: 'Out of touch.'
And should the relatively small cadre of ministers in central government really be spending longer planning for difficulties? Surely, that's what the professionals in Whitehall are for?
Also, why do politicians feel the need to micro-manage everything? Is there really an 'overconfidence' in their own abilities?
Or is this the result of a well-observed lack of confidence among politicians that civil servants will do anything at all about public concerns unless they have a bossy minister breathing down their necks? Do ministers rapidly draw the conclusion that anything that they want doing, they will have to do themselves?
The problems, of course, are plain to see.
Ministers have to make decisions that are too big. Strong devolved regional government would massively reduce the pressure.
Civil servants don't share ministers desires to be seen to be governing. Quite the opposite. When the public want to see action, sometimes they need to be shown action. This is inevitable, surely, in a democracy? Yet, as long as we have a permanent (and amateur) civil service, this problem will always be with us.
We need a larger number of political appointments, and a culture of specialism that all of the parties can draw on and recruit from. This may improve the quality of ministers that we have to put up with as well.
And as long as pressure groups and the media are indulged in the way that they currently are, even the best ministers and the most competent and professional of bureaucracies will continue to command little confidence among the voters.
And as long as we have a media that is prepared to connive with overpaid Mandarins to discuss these problems entirely in the context of politicians' failings (why wasn't Sir Christopher given the kind of mullering that is usually reserved for a minister?), I doubt if anyone will spend much time thinking about the causes of poor administration in this country.