When I blogged on Monday about the lack of Government transparency, I had no way of knowing that on the same day, Matthew Hancock, Minister for the Cabinet Office would be speaking at the Institute of Government and covering a similar subject. His speech explaining how digital transformation improves government services is well worth a read in its own right but included the following, rather disturbing section: “But more fundamentally, we’re open to feedback. Transparency should make us uncomfortable: it’s how we make our services better.” I may be wrong in my thinking, but if we elect people to make decisions on our behalf, to manifestos of their choosing, whilst there are bound to be mistakes made and false assumptions followed through, if the role is primarily that of representing others, then surely ensuring those represented can see what you have done and allowing them to understand how you operate provides freedom, not discomfort. Nevertheless the suggestion that a Minister in this Government can claim to be open to feedback in order to make services better is either a massive exaggeration or a downright lie. My blog from Monday related to a question posed by Conservative MP Tim Loughton following the state visit by the Chinese head of state. He asked last week why the pro Tibetan protestors were held in check and effectively hidden behind those celebrating the visit. His question went to Hugo Swire, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister who completely ignored the question. Then on Monday he had another go, this time asking Mike Penning, Policing Minister the question. Mike did answer the question but in a manner that was entirely lacking in transparency. He simply stated “How to police the protest and surrounding situation is an operational police decision. Politicians stay out of such decisions because we do not want to live in that sort of state.” Of course that is true, but it is also either him hiding behind a lack of information, or worse still a desire to avoid scrutiny on what was a politically motivated decision. Policing decisions do need to be respected by Politicians, and Tim Loughton has on occasions crossed a long way over the line in terms of political interference in the Policing in Sussex. However it is inconceivable that such a high profile event would have been planned without both the Mayor of London and the Government itself not fully informed and involved in the decision making which would have extended to where different groups of demonstrators would be coralled. For Mike Penning and Hugo Swire to be unaware of this and unable to give a transparent answer to Tim Loughton is deeply frustrating especially given the speech by Matthew Hancock about how the Government wants to be transparent. In any event I tweeted to both Matthew Hancock and the Cabinet Office expressing my concerns and as yet neither has chosen to respond. Not what I would call transparency!
PS – in todays Prime Minister Questions, six times David Cameron refused to answer a direct question about the way in which his Government will respond to Mondays Lords defeat. The video and transcript can be found here. It appears that David Cameron and Matthew Hancock are members of a very different Government!