Wednesday, 8 September 2010

'We are not having someone who built their career on incompetence...'

So went the political epitaph of one Jenny Watson, former head of the Audit Commission, removed from post this week by the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles.

Pickles has made a few waves already since his appointment to his new role after passing the position of Conservative Party chairman to Baroness Warsi in May. As well as swiftly ending the proposed changes to unitary council arrangements in Exeter and Norwich, Pickles has declared plans to allow ministers to cap council tax rises where this is demanded by the local electorate. Given his reputation for forcing through his agenda regardless of opposition, I will be following Mr Pickles' career with interest in the near future.

The Audit Commission became ridiculously bloated under New Labour but under the auspices of David Cameron's Big Society, the work performed by the commission will be farmed out to private and voluntary, not-for-profit organisations. Opinions are mixed as to whether the new arrangements, due to come in 2012, will be more efficient or make the required savings that the coalition expects, but it does show the government's commitment to tackling the quango culture established under Blair and Brown.

Jenny Watson retains a number of other jobs including the head of the Electoral Commission, and has come under fire from many quarters for her refusal to accept responsibility for the debacle that occurred at the General Election earlier this year when voters arrived en masse at key times at certain polling stations and were turned away.

The phrase from a source in the Communities department, as quoted in the Times today, reads like a thoroughly unveiled insult. I quote:

'We are not having someone who built their career on incompetence continuing to milk the taxpayer. She is not fit for the role.'

Regardless of your feelings about Ms Watson, it is hard not to feel for her when the country's toughest performance reviewer makes their feelings plain in such a public fashion.

From a wider perspective, I suspect that like me, other political bloggers may be storing this quote away for future use and rubbing their hands with glee. For instance, if the new coalition is vehemently opposed to incompetence, it may wish to cast its eye over the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, who holds one of the highest offices in the land but evidently has a blind spot for the word 'Sandwell'.


  1. OOOOhhh!, sharp, sharp, sharp...Sandwell lol!
    I can see I will have to keep my eye on you OS, nice post mate!

  2. Indy,

    I lived near Sandwell for a few years so the debacle that happened due to the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future project utterly disgusted me. An apology is simply not good enough! I recently took part in a march on London with my trade union and we went past the HQ of the Department for Education to find that they were having a massive amount of refurbishment done. I wonder if the irony is lost on Mr Gove?