Sunshine on Leith.

December 2018, notes

I like Edinburgh a lot. It feels like a proper city.

You can tell it’s a proper city because they’ve put the train station in the right place. Smaller cities (Bristol and Cambridge come to mind) insist on hiding their stations around the back, as if you should come in through the back door, by the bins. Edinburgh does not do this. When you step out of Waverley, you are in Edinburgh. It wants to let you know you’ve arrived somewhere.

At the castle:

“Nice car park you’ve brought me to.”

“It’s not a car park. This is a hallowed…

Kalvebod Brygge, København

December 2018, notes

Even by the standard of international airports, Copenhagen is determined to disguise itself as a shopping centre.

It’s as if the architect stood back to admire her work, slapped her forehead and went: “Åh skit! Det er en lufthavn. Jeg blev båret væk med indkøbscenteret. Glem det. Der er masser af ledig plads tilbage, og jeg har alt dette laminat træ og frygtelige lysarmaturer fra hospitalet projektet. Alle elsker en korridor.”

The locals have responded to this in a very Scandinavian way — with equanimity and by drinking beer before lunchtime.

Nobody appears to have told Denmark that Carlsberg is…

Image credit: @creafarrar

Our leaders must be diverse in how they look, and how they think

At yesterday’s One Team Gov event, I was lucky enough to run a session on this. Here’s a short summary.

For context, here are the post-war Cabinet Secretaries — the primus inter pares among Perm Secs. (Come on. This is a topic that demands some Latin).

Friday’s attack was just more efficient

The NHS malware attack has already led to calls from the Home Secretary for lessons to be learned and IT upgrades made. So here’s a promise: if the political solution to this attack begins and ends with an expensive IT upgrade, this will happen again.

When I worked in government, NHS IT was a byword for horror. Not cynicism or rueful sighs, but proper, wide-eyed, ‘oh-my-Christ-is-that-really-happening’ horror. It still is.

The horror does not stem from a lack of investment or political enthusiasm. Ministers have promised us a paperless NHS for 25 years. The failed NHS programme for IT cost…

I’ve never been very good at voting. I’ve cast ballots for three different political parties since 2005. But in most cases, I felt there was at least one place I could put a cross on the ticket with a relatively clear conscience.

When the political process was unpalatable enough to force me into ballot spoiling territory, I always felt I had the bureaucracy. If the politics of whats was no good, at least I had the reassuring politics of hows to fall back on. But 2016 wasn’t much of a year there either. In a turning world, the lid remained…

Wales (£16 billion per year)

Apple’s Irish tax bill (£11 billion)

Covering the Vatican City with blocks of Cathedral City cheddar to a depth of five metres (£15 billion)*

Premier League transfer spending over last 5 years (£4 billion, gross spend)

Spies (£3 billion per year)

The European Union (£8.5 billion, UK’s net contribution in 2015)

UK science budget to 2020 (£4.7 billion)

The police (£12–13 billion per year)

70 Airbus A380s (£16 billion, at £230 million a go)

NASA (£14.5 billion, 2016 budget)

Highway maintanence for the next 5 years (£7 billion)

Flood and coastal defences for the next…

Ah yes, carelessness. Losing two is carelessness.

The internet has changed what’s possible in public services. That only happens if the shape and culture of Whitehall reflects the new reality. Today feels like a victory for those who believe a government organised along Victorian lines is fit for fixing today’s problems.

The Government Digital Service (GDS) is about to lose its second leader in less than a year. Stephen Foreshew-Cain, in post for less than nine months, is to be replaced by Kevin Cunnington, a senior official previously responsible for Transformation in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).


Be honest about uncertainty. Be data led. Build something, iteratively. And make it open.

David MacKay, former Chief Scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), died in April. He was only 48.

Many Ministers and senior officials sent their condolences. David owed Whitehall nothing; he gave five years of redoubtable service. Private Eye doesn’t fall over itself to give praise to public officials; it spoke of him in glowing terms before and after his death (indeed, his passing finally put paid to the rumours that he was the magazine’s energy correspondent ‘Old Sparky’).

But the government owes David an appraisal of what he left behind. His death would only be sadder…

Public service reformers often have to lean heavily on words. Words like delivery, nudge or digital.

Exact definitions of these words are hard to pin down. They are designed as loose clothing for a set of ideas and attitudes, corralling together those keen to shake up the status quo.

Leaders have a shelf life, a special period of time where their energy, drive, legitimacy and lieutenants align. When that time elapses, they start to look visibly iffy, like an old yoghurt straining at the seams.

Words have a half life, rather than a shelf life. Their energy seeps away steadily…

There has been some wonderful writing about leadership in the last 3 months, nailing the qualities of inspirational individuals. I’ll take fifty each of Kit, Janet and Benji please.

If the Cabinet Secretary was presented with these 150 exceptional people, all his prayers would surely be answered. One per major project. Job done.

But perhaps not. He also needs to create the conditions for brilliant people to work collectively, learn together and enjoy it enough to stay.

Even with the best individuals, achieving that is not only a question of them sharing the right values. It is about the system…

Andrew Greenway

Freelance digital and strategy. Once of @gdsteam and @uksciencechief. Countdown's most rubbish champion.

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