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James Tapsfield

Sunday, 13 January 2013

David Cameron’s former policy guru has spoken of his “horror” at Downing Street’s inability to control government decisions.

Steve Hilton has apparently admitted that the Prime Minister often finds out about policies from the radio or newspapers – and often opposes them.

The startling insights are said to have been delivered in a seminar for students at California’s Stanford University, where Mr Hilton is teaching while on sabbatical, the Sunday Times reported.

“Very often you’ll wake up in the morning and hear on the radio or the news or see something in the newspapers about something the Government is doing,” he told them.

“And you think, well, hang on a second – it’s not just that we didn’t know it was happening, but we don’t even agree with it! The Government can be doing things… and we don’t agree with it? How can that be?”

He described how No 10 is frequently left out of the loop as important policy changes are pushed through by “paper-shuffling” civil servants.

He also complained that only 30% of daily government business was devoted to implementing its reform programme.

Another 40% related to implementing EU regulations, and 30% related to “random things… which were not anything to do with the coalition agreement”.

“In other words, only 30% of what the Government is doing is actually delivering what we’re supposed to be doing. It just shows you the scale of what you’re up against,” he said. “When I found that out, that was pretty horrific.”

He complained that the paperwork associated with everyday decisions was “impossible” for ministers to wade through. Many policy changes were simply nodded through.

“There’s all sorts of things, and they can be quite trivial things but they can be quite serious as well, and they can certainly affect the real world,” he said.

“That’s how you end up with stuff happening that the Government is doing that the people running the Government don’t know about, or disagree with.

“When you start thinking about how things get decided, it’s pretty incredible… it’s a brilliant system for paper-shuffling people to be in control.”

He added: “The bureaucracy masters the politicians. I don’t mean that in a hostile way – it’s just a fact.”

Mr Hilton left for California – where he teaches an hour-long class on “How to make change happen in government” – last May. He was widely believed to have become disillusioned with the Government’s progress on radical reforms, and his Google executive wife, Rachel Whetstone, is based there.

One of the most colourful characters in Mr Cameron’s inner circle, Mr Hilton remains close to the premier and is theoretically only on temporary leave from Downing Street. Many expect him to play a role in the 2015 general election campaign.


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