By Tony Collins
Francis Maude and the Cabinet Office have made a little progress towards open government but it’s put into perspective by the fact that no progress reports are published on any of the government’s biggest IT projects including Universal Credit.
This morning on the BBC R4 Today programme Lord MacDonald, a Liberal Democrat peer and former Director of Public Prosecutions (2003-2008) – he was also head of the Crown Prosecution Service – spoke of the continuing culture of secrecy in British public life, which he called “absolutely suffocating”.
He was speaking about the wider implications of the Hillsborough Panel report yesterday. He said
“I was in Whitehall for five years. The culture of secrecy in British political and public life is absolutely suffocating… The [Labour] Government brought in the Freedom of Information Act and that has made some difference but it’s not without interest that the prime minister at the time Mr Blair now describes that as one of his biggest mistakes.
“There still is a great attraction to the idea that only some people need to know about what is going on and others don’t… we have got to get away from this culture which is terribly old-fashioned and cannot co-exist with public confidence.”
He said that one of the lessons from Hillsborough was the inability of the state to be truthful about what had gone wrong.
“We have a tendency on the part of British public authorities to see themselves as apart from the public – a long-standing disease of secrecy in our public life and inadequate coroner’s system and a very deep and long-standing corruption in our police services – I don’t mean taking money – but in terms of a culture of deceit particularly when under attack; a culture of deceit that has been quite breathtaking in this case…”
That culture of suffocating, almost tribal secrecy and deceit when things go wrong, flows from the trivial such as IT-based disasters to one of the most serious failures one can imagine – deaths caused at least in part by state incompetence. What is to be done about that culture?