7 January 2011

A core tenet of public service is the responsible use of public money. Agencies are also required to serve their Minister and give effect to government policy. How does an official maintain integrity when Ministries, with oversight of them, indicate that an irresponsible use of funding is expected?

Today’s Telegraph reports on circumstances in Britain which bring this conundrum into sharp focus.

In late 2010, the chief executive of UKTI, the trade and investment agency, asked his senior managers to find ways to spend money. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which funds and monitors the Foreign Minister’s interests in the agency, was  “heading for an underspend” and asked officials to help find ways to “get money out of the door”.  The government had recently announced the most rigorous austerity programme for 65 years. This included scrapping 192 quangos – and substantial other cuts, identified in a Spending Review. The Treasury had asked agencies to reign in their spending.

The Telegraph reports on enthusiast offers to spend from within UKTI.  This now, is an embarrassment for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  There is no indication that officials responded with frank and fearless advice about the inappropriateness of unplanned expenditure.

The British Prime Minister has questioned whether the Civil Service has developed a mindset of trying to save money. “I think it is a cultural problem in Whitehall. …that needs to change…”