Tuesday, December 09, 2008

So you are a Minister now...

You’ll already have had a briefing from your departmental chief executives. They will be hoping to train you, it is your job to make sure they don’t only talk to you like you are their boss, but treat them that way. There are twelve things you should make sure you do in the next two months, with whatever department you have charge of:

1. Buy, rent or borrow copies of all episodes of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. Yes there are differences, but you absolutely, completely cannot understand how officials can treat Ministers without watching this programme. You should have seen all episodes by the time Parliament returns in the New Year.

2. Read up on the roles and responsibilities of your departments, so you know which one to ask about what. Few things will show up ignorance more than not knowing what government agency looks after what activity, because then agencies can play each other against one another.

3. Ask for all Bills in the House that your departments are servicing, seek briefings on why they were introduced, why they should proceed or be amended or defeated. Prioritise defeating those which are contrary to your policy.

4. Start negotiating what you want on the Order Paper for the New Year to get legislation introduced. Even repealing Acts requires this, so start understanding what you need to change through legislation, regulation or by your own executive decision. Legislation obviously takes the longest time, so get focused on that early.

5. Ask every official you come into contact with where the money comes from for what they seek approval for – if the answer isn’t “it is taken from taxpayers” then teach that official a clear lesson about how government is funded and the attitude that should be taken about that money.

6. Make sure you seek analysis of “do nothing” as an answer to any problem crossing your desk. Think of how “do nothing” might change behaviour by allowing people to face the consequences of their decisions.

7. Follow your instincts when you think “why does government do this”. Ask the officials why, ask what would happen if it stopped and what it would take to do this, if you don’t get a clear answer, ask for a briefing within a week.

8. If your department is full of relatively incapable and incompetent people (you ought to figure that out quickly), then seek advice from elsewhere. Treasury is a good start, but by no means enough in many cases. Generally speaking if your department can’t send you an economist or a sharp thinking analyst, it is a lost cause. Bypass it for advice, tell it what it should be doing.

9. You’ll get Ministerials (letters from the public) in droves. You’ll get officials to write responses that you’ll sign. You would save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars annually by giving this up, and letting a secretary screen letters for most of them which are from cranks and idiots. Those from people who you need to consider can be responded to, the rest should be sent a standard letter saying “Thank you. The Minister wont be responding to your letter, please direct your query to the relevant department or the private sector”.

10. You’ll get Official Information Act requests. You can’t ignore them. You have little to fear from these while you haven’t made any decisions, but it will become a check on all papers your receive on topics. Labour used to have adhoc meetings of Ministers and “non-papers” to avoid having to reveal what it really wanted briefings on. This is why you should quickly learn how to use the OIA and how it can be used against you. Learn about LGOIMA too – the local government version. You can use this to get information from local government.

11. Get an IT consultant or someone in the know to recover ALL documents from the hard drives of all computers in your new offices. Demand it, because it is the only way you’ll easily get copies of documents the last government had produced that it has shredded and not saved. Remember most Ministers have no damned clue how to clear this. Don’t hesitate on this one – you’ll find lots of nonsense, but get someone in the party to trawl what is found.

12. Decide early what agencies should go or be merged. Remember Labour restructured the state sector in its image, you need to do this as soon as possible. That includes getting rid of functions.

Go on, it's your honeymoon period. Don't waste it.

By the way, you'll have countless parasites seeking money and favours from you in the coming months - treat them as you would similar creatures at home.


Oswald Bastable said...

Excellent advice!

Anonymous said...

Naa it's crap advice really.

It doesn't have the most important thing:

Unless you are minister of defense, prisons, police, or treasury

Insist on a 50% head count reduction by the end of the year