Evidence to Political & Constitutional Reform Committee on A New Magna Carta?

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Written Evidence to Political & Constitutional Reform Committee on A New Magna Carta? Submitted in a personal capacity by Ed Straw – author of Stand & Deliver: A Design For Successful Government


1. I welcome the Committee’s timely review. This is an opportunity to decide both the set of rules for the current system of government and how they should be expanded to fit its modern role. 21st century government cannot function on 19th century constitutions.

2. My ambition is to create the concept of, and the desire for, world-­‐ class government. The means are a redesigned constitution and an ethos amongst leaders to strive for the best. The system of government we have is based on essential constitutional principles – rule of law, human rights, and representative democracy. But the remit of government has expanded very considerably since these principles were established centuries ago. The scale of government today would astonish nineteenth-­‐century rulers.

3. My evidence here takes as its starting point the Committee’s written constitution – A New Magna Carta. I am proposing a substantial set of measures to cover the modern remit of government, termed a Treaty For Government, for inclusion in your constitution. Its full basis and explanation are in my book, Stand & Deliver: A Design For Successful Government, and its website www.treatyforgovernment.org

The Modern Remit Of Government

4. The demands on government are now enormous – spending 40%+ of GDP; running very large and complicated public sectors and contracted services; regulating major industries; regulating many facets of life as expectations for safety have risen, resource pressures have grown, and the producers have become invisible to consumers; balancing intergenerational issues – debt, pensions, welfare, and risk management of climate chaos; and controlling the power of global finance, big companies, the news media, and supra national bodies. Decision-­‐ complexity has risen exponentially with population, with the number of countries, with the scale of country-­‐to-­‐country competition, with global finance, with technology and with science.

5. How much has changed in the world of government in the last hundred years? Its task has expanded seismically. Governments’ capacity for beneficial change is far exceeded by the demands on them. None of their constitutions were designed for this multi-­‐mission. No current government in the world has been explicitly designed to succeed nor designed according to modern organisational theory and practice. We should marvel that organisations so out of date manage to function at all. This is neurosurgery with a torque wrench. If something has not been designed for purpose then it comes as no surprise when it does not work. Public services have been under permanent reform by the main parties since the early 80s, but somehow never are. The life of a
politician is often one of frustration.

The Power Of Constitution

6. Organisation starts (and often stops) with its constitution. The hidden hand of a constitution is found at the heart of much success and failure. My book makes the connections between a constitution and performance, between the rules for government and lived experiences, and therefore the central place of its constitution in a society. For example, the current constitution places no obligation to evaluate dispassionately and objectively the result or outcome of each policy, programme, law, institution, expenditure, or agent of government. The results of government are either uncollected or are a matter of argument. Performance inevitably suffers. The analysis in the book is organisational, the solution is constitutional, and the change will be political.

7. A constitution is a set of fundamental principles according to which a state is governed: what is required of a government; what is allowed and not allowed; how power is deployed; and so on. Think of a game: if the rules are wrong, the game does not work. If one player cheats, the others lose interest. If the rules are biased, one player always wins (as in a casino). We can see all these faults at play in our constitutions with debt where the rules were wrong, soft corruption where the protected species are cheating and the voters opt out, and lobbying where the rules and the benefits are biased to big companies and others.

8. A constitution is fundamental to organisational performance – if the rules are changed, you get different behaviour and different players. The new Treaty would produce new politics and new behaviour that in turn would resolve the many problems governments are expected to solve from welfare and health services to taxes and banking. The tricky bit is designing the various elements to fulfil the objectives – one designed for its objectives and aligned internally.

Objectives For The Expanded Constitution

9. Essentially, a system is needed that:

  •  generates the best decisions and policies (and thereby solves long standing problems from health to banking)
  • implements these well
  • runs the many day-­‐to-­‐day bodies it has at high levels of service
    and growing productivity, including their close relatives in the contracted private sector
  • minimises waste and cost and reduces/redirects taxes
  • is satisfying to work in
  • does not fund itself on unsustainable debt
  • is fair in its decisions and operations between the rich and others,
    big organisations and individuals, in the application of its laws, in the distribution of welfare, in the raising of taxes, in the provision of pensions and between current and future generations.

10. The system should provide routes for people to influence and understand decisions, that does not have to be fought to contribute to solving a public problem, and that takes the noise out of the relationship between government and individuals; in other words, to rebalance power between the citizen and the government. This is the point too where ego confronts democracy, and where the constitution has to mediate between the two.

Proposals For Inclusion In Your Constitution

11. I hope the evidence presented above is compelling. But I am conscious that the proposals which follow may take time to digest as they represent a marked shift in constitutional thinking, and the organisation and systems theory on which they are based is not familiar to many. Further explanation of this radical departure is there in my book. I would be ready to assist the Committee with such explanation as is required. I am also proposing that any such major change be preceded by one year’s full public deliberation both to understand these proposals and to amend. I believe the principles and building blocks set out here are right, but am ready both for the scrutiny of experts and to improve the proposals.

12. To make the whole system work, these are the building blocks of the design:

  1. Feedback
  2. Abandonment programme
  3. Policy vetting
  4. Operations
  5. People
  6. Competitive democracy
  7. Separation of powers and the Second Chamber
  8. Intergenerational, fairness, and responsibility deal
  9. Real local government

13. First, feedback of results or outcomes on everything done by or for the state, including legislation, regulation, statutory duties, policies and programmes, public sector services and bodies including the government private sector. Some feedback does occur now and this would be built on. Results equals judgement day awaiting every government proposal – its results will be examined and measured, regularly and publicly. This is an overdue discipline on everyone in government; on corporate lobbies; and on the people. Organisations cannot succeed without feedback. The same is true of a very large organisation, government.

14. Systematic feedback would result in:

  • Focusing everyone’s mind in, around, and in receipt of government on the job of government: beneficial change and improvement in the quality of our lives – government by reults
  • A nation and a body politic working far more with reality than with
    ‘pub’ opinion, good ideas, prejudice, spin, or ideology
  • Informed citizens
  • More mature politics, insulating politicians from the pressure to talk in ‘sound bites’.
  • Policies developed with the discipline of their results in mind, therefore better policies.
  • Results accountability of civil servants and public sector staff
  • Breaking down of silos – joined up government
  • An end to the age of procedurealism.

15. Examples of feedback for legislation and regulation are: does it work, what does it cost everyone. League tables of legislative performance. For all government bodies: customer satisfaction, instant feedback, feedback forums like ‘trip advisor.’ For public sector failures:
‘air crash’ investigations.

16. Second, alongside results would come the abandonment programme. Wherever something is not working or is not going to work, it would halt quickly alongside its costs. Policy termination would be the norm, not the exception. Government should stop as much as it starts.

17 Third, the stuff going into the pipeline must have a far higher chance of coming out the other end. The way policy is made and decisions are taken would change. Thus policies and decisions would be vetted and, if not up to standard, rejected. Ten tests would be applied. Alongside fulfilling the objectives listed above, these tests would result in:

  • Reduced frustration for politicians and public alike
  • 95% reduction in on-­‐line campaign emails/petitions to MPs
  • Satisfying, productive and valued roles for MPs
  • An end to initiativitis, announceables, something (anything) must be done, and the second and third rate
  • Less legislation as the automatic and often ineffective means to achieve change, and more alternative mechanisms
  • An end to government overload, ‘reform’ for the sake of it -­‐
    achieve more and attempt less
  • Immunization of governments against media frenzy, preferential
    lobbying and corporate domination.

18. How then should policies be designed to achieve these ends? A 21st century constitution should design in further checks and balances beyond those operated now by Parliament. There are ten tests each policy should pass:

  • Point test -­‐ What is the point of this decision, policy, law, regulation, programme? What is it intended to achieve, what results are desired (against which the feedback will be assessed)?
  • Consumer/citizen test -­‐ Has the policy been developed from the cohort of citizens that is the object of the policy ? Has it understood their motivations, incentives, and the conditions around them. Why do they behave as they do? What changes would improve their lot or change their behaviour in ways that would realise the policy objectives?
  • Insider test – Has the policy been developed with a sound grasp of the inner workings of its subject
  • Engagement test – An appropriate level of public engagement would be used in some cases.
  • Stakeholder test -­‐ Have the interests of those impacted by the policy been represented in the process?
  • Other Countries test -­‐ Modern government has been running long enough for similar country-­‐based practice to be assessed, learnt form, and used at least to inform home policies.
  • Systems Thinking test – Does the policy take account of the inconvenient variables, if it is joined up, is it holistic, has it considered the knock-­‐on effects and the unintended consequences?
  • Delivery test -­‐ Will the policy deliver the proposed results? If so, how, and what evidence is there for this?
  • Cost test -­‐ What would the policy cost to execute? A reasonable estimate would be made of direct costs to all arms of public sector, and to individuals and companies
  • Experimental test – for the ‘no known answer’ policies approaches, for example used by NICE and randomised trials -­‐ the norm in scientific experiments -­‐ would be applied.

19. Fourth -­‐ thus far the Treaty has designed in feedback so the system knows what is actually occurring, the abandonment programme, and policy vetting so that their intention is clear and the chances of them working are very much higher. These three building blocks of our design will, of themselves, improve the performance of public service organisations. In an aligned system, the parts in between – for turning policy into practice, getting it done, the operations of government – need further mechanisms to get the best out of them.

20. Rather than treating the reform of the public sector as a separate activity from the business of government, the Treaty embeds it in the system. In this way reform goes far beyond current labouring models such as New Public Management, to an integrated model where distinct shocks are necessary no longer.

21. These mechanisms are:

  • A set of Public Sector Duties to:
    • Deliver results
    • Use best process
    • Controlled experiments
    • Minimise costs
    • Deliver within whole of public sector
    • Be proportionate
    • Balance power with consumers/citizens
    • Transparent
    • Speak straight
    • Learning attitude
    • Fair terms and conditions
    • Sample services
    • Abandon the ineffective
  • Regular appraisal of purpose
  • Renewable terms of office for heads and chief executives
  • Effective supervision of regulators and PSOs, including changing boards of management
  • The search for and application of best organisational practice (for
    example, ‘benchmarking’ how other countries enforce planning permissions on awkward developers). In time public services would be run with world-­‐class ambition and achievement.

22. As a result:

  • An end to self-­‐serving bureaucracies and their cost
  • Public services that perform
  • The new civil service that works
  • Effective regulators
  • An end to perpetual public service ‘reform’ of marginal benefit and high cost
  • The right size state not a big state or a small state

23. Fifth, all of this means changes in the type and experiences of people in government. Governments are elected to get things done, which means people in them who know how to get things done. The Constitution should provide for executive ministers, specialisation and training of politicians, maximum terms of eight years for prime ministers, and rules for changing party leaders. An additional breed of politician would emerge from executive roles in the public sector and elsewhere, and obtain their ‘coaching’ qualifications for government. With political authority in the right place, at last the Civil Service would be effectively reformed and split in two:

  • For parliamentary, political, and legislative matters, the existing
    Northcote-­‐Trevelyan model
  • For delivery, new civil servants with meaningful names organized
    directly by the elected government.

24. For politicians, the purpose of this part of the Treaty is to develop their capability to fulfill effectively their various roles, and to give them real power, on behalf of the people. Thus those taking on executive roles in government would be executive ministers, similar to executive mayors. Once elected, all politicians would undertake continuing professional education to support their specific roles. New career paths for specialist politicians would open up and be highly valued – specialists in a policy area, in policy vetting, in regulators and regulations, in the supervision of public service organizations, amongst others.

25. Sixth, the value and impact of competition applies as much to politics, political parties, governments and the civil service as it does to markets for goods and services. A vibrant and open market in our system of government will raise performance. The constitution must provide for competitive democracy, through full proportional representation , fair funding of political parties including limited state funding and banning large donations, the right to referendum, free assembly and expression, and public deliberation and engagement. A further result would be an end to zigzag government.

26. Seventh, power and these roles must be in the right place to work. Thus a fourth and fifth separation of powers must be enshrined in the constitution, beyond the powers held by the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. In acceding our political authority to the state, we would be allocating to the revitalised and preferably renamed House of Lords these new powers:

  • Feedback and results
  • Accounting standards and the golden rule for debt
  • Recommending abandonment
  • Policy vetting – jointly with the House of Commons
  • Behaviour and standards for ministers and others
  • News media relationships

27. Feedback must be both right and trusted by the public. This is not a political role. Governments and political parties cannot self-­‐score. Responsibility for it must be located outside of government and the House of Commons. In part this happens. Building on the experience of the ONS, NICE, OBR, and the many reviews by universities, a full-­‐scale ‘Resulture’ of independent scorekeepers would be established by the second chamber.

28. This is a major change. The Lords would have to acquire the vision, ambition, and energy to reform the system of government and to organise itself to establish the Resulture. It would be staffed independently of the government’s administrative Civil Service, as would the other independent bodies. The comparator here is the judiciary.

29. Policy vetting would follow the existing course of legislation through the Commons and the Lords but by powerful committees with the ability and remit to refer back to the executive those policies failing the ten tests. Providing it acts with the emerging independence of mind seen in its recently freed select committees, the Commons can perform this vital role effectively. The ‘ten tests’ policy and decision process would be supported and reinforced by the administrative ‘Northcote– Trevelyan’ Civil Service.

30. The Treaty and constitution has to be looked after and its rules applied without tampering. The second chamber would be custodian for the whole Treaty, subject to a constitutional court. The latter would be a specialist court with judges selected for their knowledge and expertise of organisation and systems of government and not traditional judges.

31. The present second chamber is emerging as a ‘stakeholder’ model (see Meg Russell’s The Contemporary House of Lords: Westminster Bicameralism Revived). Under the Treaty, its role would not be political. Thus a means is required to fill it with wisdom, breadth and depth of experience, and an ethos of responsibility to the country and to the public. Its size would be c.300 people.

32. Eighth for incorporation in the constitution is the intergenerational, fairness, and responsibility deal to disallow transfers in costs to future generations for current account debt, pensions, or climate chaos risk management; and to mandate fair pension provision, fair taxation, fair welfare, and aligned bonus schemes.

33. Underlying the Treaty design is the reallocation of political authority and a clear definition of what is political and what is not. Feedback and the policy making process are not and must be depoliticized. Delivery is political and must be repoliticised. So, too, is making the operational system work. But once working, most bodies would be in a business-­‐as-­‐ usual mode left to get on with it, with the comfort of rigorous feedback and effective supervision for the government to know all is well. Ministers would intervene where reform, change, or abandonment was needed, and provide the political leadership to do that. But government capacity is limited. Successful government would concentrate its resources on priority change only.

34. Ninth, real local government is authority over a locale by the people living there rather than state or federal government, typically through locally elected politicians and sometimes through direct democracy. Real local government – not the local authorities we have now -­‐ is all part of creating responsive, functioning and cost-­‐effective government and would be run according to the same principles of the Treaty. Delivery would be dispersed to where it can, on balance, achieve the most.

35. In terms of where the power would go then more for MPs, the Commons and the Lords, more for independent scrutineers and scorekeepers, more for elected executives, more for other political parties, more for the public, and more for real local government; and less for the prime minister and Cabinet, less for the senior Civil Service, less for powerful lobbies, less for party funders, and less for PSOs.

Ownership of the Constitution

36. To be understood and owned by the people, the constitution should be adopted through referendum following one year’s thorough deliberation and public engagement. Methods for proposing amendments would be established, alongside an approval process. This would specify the hurdles required for change.

Cost and Timing

37. The costs of this expanded constitution would be estimated in accordance with the policy tests during the period of deliberation. What will it cost? At this stage I know for certain it will be far, far less than it will save and that the country cannot afford not to do this. Much of the cost is in determination and ambition, and in redirecting existing resources to effective work. The main cost will be in running the Resulture – but much of this will come from focusing existing public expenditure.

38. During deliberation, the delivery test would be applied as to how to put the Treaty into action – transition planning, order of implementation, resources. Some parts will not take long; but building the full Resulture will, plus determination and collective leadership of a high order. Schooling all the policymakers in the new method will take
time too. A balance will be needed between accurate vetting and overloading the system. Rebuilding real local government will take time.
But the early results will give momentum to the change. And as we all learn more about what is working from government and what is not, what to reform and what to abandon, so we will experience the benefits. Once those are apparent we can say this: world class government is an attainable objective in politics. I very much hope the
Committee will set this course.

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