Headlines: October 30th, 1997

Without radical change to the way central and local government services are organised it will not be possible to deliver Labour’s plans to modernise Britain. This is the conclusion of a Fabian Society Report Information Age Government – Delivering The Blair Revolution. The Author, Liam Byrne, argues that the organisation of government is hopelessly out of date. Its structure is too complex. The different tiers and archaic procedures make it extremely cumbersome. The Report illustrates this by referring to the eleven different offices concerned with young people and the ten agencies with responsibilities for inspecting businesses.

Liam Byrne advocates a new simple government approach to overcome the problems. The need is for a coherent strategy for central and local government that would deliver a 24 hour information age Britain. The strategy would include agencies working closer together, privatising some services and making greater use of IT. It is estimated that this could reduce costs by £3.5b

The report sets out strategic reforms which it claims are vital to re-invigorating the state machine. In order to lighten the burden of ‘inspectors at the door’ for businesses it proposes that Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise should be merged into one organisation. Jemma Bowers of Customs and Excise, commenting on the proposal, said: “The merger of Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise is not under consideration. Both departments are undertaking reviews under the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review. This is a wide ranging review of all the department’s operations. A major theme is how to make a greater reality of closer working between departments with a view to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the tax system, improving service to taxpayers and developing opportunities for staff.”

Lynn Simpson of Inland Revenue took a similar line. She said: “We are well into a major change programme and we are continually seeking to make a greater reality of close working with Customs.”

The Report also makes a case for Benefits Agency work to be devolved to local councils so that services can be customised to the local area and so lead to the creation of a one stop shop. Ken Young of the Benefits Agency said: “We are looking wider than improving delivery of benefits and we’re seeking to develop systems moving beyond welfare. Welfare is not just about paying benefit, it is also about giving advice and providing a springboard for work. The Welfare to Work programme is an example of how we are approaching the problem.”

Information Age Government: Delivering the Blair Revolution by Liam Byrne is published by the Fabian Society at £15. Telephone 0171 222 8877.