It is satisfying to be proved right about the dead hand of the civil service hindering positive change, but it is offset by my frustration that they can get away with it.
They will innovate as long as they get the credit and retain their centralist control and budgets. So, for example, the Department for Communities & Local Government raised the flag of Essex over their headquarters on the 26 October, St.
Cedd’s Day - the patron saint of Essex. Eric Pickles loves Essex. Did he fork out for the flag? A Freedom of Information request is fluttering its way to the department as we speak. It would be a scandal if the flag was purchased using our taxes.
Mr Pickles justified the flag stunt because ‘flags have the power to unite communities’. Maybe it was paid for out of the central government contribution to the community budget pilots?
Meanwhile, Essex CC is struggling to make its community budget pilot on economic development work. The leader of the council, David Finch (Con), has told Brandon Lewis that the pilot has hit a “Whitehall wall” and that the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury are “sacrificing improved outcomes at the expense of retaining central control”. These outcomes are about wealth creation, infrastructure and jobs. Never mind Essex, you’ve got a lovely flag.
Cllr David Finch has gone on to raise the issue with chancellor George Osborne asking him to reinforce integration and localism. Where was Mr Pickles? Why wasn’t our minister fighting our corner across Whitehall? Surely he has influence with the Treasury as their blue-eyed boy who delivered more cuts from local government than any other area in Whitehall.
I think it is all down to a misunderstanding. As we all know Mr Pickles is a straightforward, literal sort of bloke. I think Cllr Finch rang their adopted son and asked for help in unblocking Whitehall. Essex needed a champion in Whitehall, fighting their corner. “Come on Eric, fly the flag for Essex across Whitehall” pleaded Cllr Finch. That’s just what Eric did.
The one thing he won’t comment on is his identity…