He works from a humble office, holds meetings with trade unions and plans to centralise Whitehall purchasing. Is Tory Francis Maude a secret Fabian?
He works from a humble office, holds meetings with trade unions and plans to centralise the buying of goods and services across Whitehall departments. Is it fair to ask whether Tory Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude is in fact a secret Fabian?
Tories often justify their ideological commitment to privatisation and competition as useful models for bringing down public service costs. However Francis Maude is working on a policy that gives the lie to this idea.
The BBC reported this morning that the government hope to save £3 billion in costs through centralising Whitehall purchasing thus utilising its scale, buying power and credit rating. This follows a report from Sir Philip Green who “found various departments had signed multiple contracts with major suppliers at different prices”.
The BBC reports:
“Mr Maude, who is also Paymaster General, said: “It is bonkers for different parts of government to be paying vastly different prices for exactly the same goods.
“We are putting a stop to this madness which has been presided over for too long. Until recently, there wasn’t even any proper central data on procurement spending.”
All sentiments that do nothing to dispel suspicion. In fact Mr Maude is so keen on the centralisation that Conservative Home report that “he probes the case for every spending item above £5 million personally”.
According to Conservative Home:
“As Paymaster-General, his Cabinet Office responsibilities include quangoes (culling them), strikes (stopping them), the Big Society (making it happen), and Whitehall costs (keeping them down). And here he is, in a rather ungrand office with a very grand view of Horseguards Parade.”
The Daily Mail report that Maude “is to create a central unit to buy office goods, travel products and IT services for all government departments and quangos in order to drive down costs”. That almost sounds like another quango.
His work on strikes is kept secret. Mr Maude said:
“We don’t particularly draw attention to the discussions with the unions that have taken place, in a very constructive spirit, and we’re hoping to make progress.”
Is the reason he doesn’t draw attention to these discussions because Boris Johnson called the government’s approach “lily-livered” giving further evidence to our increase our suspicions.
So a very Fabian theme is developing in Mr Maude’s approach to his key responsibilities. This just leaves the Big Society. Mr Maude says:
“I absolutely undertake that we will be re-launching it this week, next week, the week after, probably several times a week, and if you want to keep a tally of the number of re-launches we’ll be well into three figures by the end of this year…
Is this humorous flippancy or a subtle attempt to undermine the project? We can’t be sure, but Maude goes on to say:
“The truth is that people have some sort of broad understanding of what society is…a bigger stronger society is one where more people do more things with each other, for each other, in their communities, for their communities.”
That might be a bit strong for the modern Fabian society. It almost sounds like socialism.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.