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Conundrum: Why every government gets things wrong and what we can do about it Hardcover – 18 Jun 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Biteback Publishing; First Edition edition (18 Jun. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849545529
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849545525
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 3.5 x 22.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 220,619 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

A timely and important book. Using a series of horrifying case studies, Bacon and Hope tackle head-on the question 'How did government manage to cock this one up?' The figures are mind-boggling, the errors egregious, the consequences appalling. --Matthew Parris

Richard Bacon and Christopher Hope certainly aren't short on ambition. Their new book, Conundrum, sets out to answer a problem that most people have been grappling with since the introduction of the universal franchise: Why every government gets things wrong and what we can do about it ... Bacon and Hope have an easy style, and the myriad facts and figures contained within the book are used to inform, rather than bludgeon, the reader...Bacon and Hope are adept at getting to the heart of issues that are integral to the way we are governed or misgoverned but rarely form part of the day-to-day Westminster narrative...Bacon and Hope have performed a valuable public service. --Dan Hodges, Daily Telegraph

Richard Bacon and Christopher Hope certainly aren't short on ambition. Their new book, Conundrum, sets out to answer a problem that most people have been grappling with since the introduction of the universal franchise: Why every government gets things wrong and what we can do about it ... Bacon and Hope have an easy style, and the myriad facts and figures contained within the book are used to inform, rather than bludgeon, the reader...Bacon and Hope are adept at getting to the heart of issues that are integral to the way we are governed or misgoverned but rarely form part of the day-to-day Westminster narrative...Bacon and Hope have performed a valuable public service. --Dan Hodges, Daily Telegraph

The book offers unique insight into the complex relationship between minsters and departments […] it has undertaken a valuable exercise in highlighting problems with past projects. --Supply Management Reviews

About the Author

Richard Bacon is MP for South Norfolk. Before his election to Parliament in 2001 he worked in investment banking, journalism and consultancy; he now serves on the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee. He has been The Spectator magazine's Parliamentarian of the Year and parliamentary colleagues have voted him Backbencher of the Year and Commons Select Committee Member of the Year. Christopher Hope is the Senior Political Correspondent of the Daily Telegraph. Hope started his journalistic career at trade magazines, before reporting spells at The Scotsman, Business a.m. and The Herald took him to the Daily Telegraph in 2003. He is currently Chairman of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.


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4.2 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The first few chapters are a detailed discussion of a series of major mistakes by Government in implementing various policies. Most (understandably) were carried out under the previous Labour administration (eg CSA, student finance, farm support, NHS) but you don't get the feel that this is Labour bashing - the impression is that the errors would have happened whichever party was in power . There is a welcome concentration of the effects on ordinary people of the woeful administration. This part of the book makes for depressing reading and after a while I began to skip sections as it was so depressing in the way the same mistakes were repeated again and again.
I found the latter chapters fascinating. These concentrate on how Government works and how hard it is to make individuals (either ministers or civil servants) responsible for what they do.
I finished the book with no clear idea on how the authors think things can be made to work better and this is why it gets only four stars rather than five.
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Format: Hardcover
Written by a Conservative MP and a Daily Telegraph political journalist, Conundrum: Why every government gets things wrong - and what we can do about it is - as the last part of the title suggests - rather more friendly to public services than you might expect from that author combination. It is a book about how to make public services better, not about how to replace public services with private provision - and private providers to the public sector often get short shrift for dismal performance. No reader of the book will be left thinking that private companies offer some magic solution when the public sector hits trouble.

The book starts with 12 factual chapters, each detailing a particular public service failure horror. The quality of these chapters is a little disappointing, as they are little more than a neatly done collection of press stories and Parliamentary committee enquiries edited together. They are decent, but don't reveal anything new about any of the 12 failures. They do not offer much in the way of consistent analysis across the set either. It's a well done cuttings collection rather than a piece of new research (perhaps understandably given how busy the two authors are).

That leaves the final few chapters, which try to draw out the lessons, including (inevitably and rightly) one specifically on IT failures. After the chapter on IT professionals, there are also ones that question why politicians and why civil servants so often get it wrong. These are rather kind to their subjects, making the point that civil servants, for example, are recruited from some of the very brightest and best people in the country. So simply dismissing their errors as the blunders of stupid people rather misses the point. Why is it that people who are so smart make so many mistakes?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I try to avoid politics as much as possible, but it's useful to have the major government cock-ups in one place, with details of the astonishing amounts of wasted money spelled out. The details are far from dry and boring, and the circumstances, as well as the nature and worrying behaviour of the politicians and Whitehall Mandarins, are well laid out. Of course, what is really depressing is the knowledge that nothing will change; HS2 is the next big scandal in the pipeline, with everyone knowing that the current ludicrous estimate of the cost will increase vastly until this white elephant is completed. Vain politicians keen to 'make their mark', and Civil Servants with no talent for business management, unable to understand - or worry about - the cost of anything they do, will continue to make theses horrendous mistakes, and the poor old tax-payer will pay the penalty, as always.
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Books like this should be compulsory reading for all politicians, civil servants CEOs of NGOs and indeed managers in any kind of Government body. But would they learn from it? I doubt it. Does anyone learn from other people's mistakes? Do they even learn from their own? I suspect only if they show willing to start using their brain and think laterally. Some hope.
KC
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Format: Hardcover
Richard asked me to review the IT chapter in draft - I'd spent a number of years in start-ups using agile methods to compete against the leviathans. For anyone who is wondering how departments and contractors manage to produce failure on such an epic scale, the book is worth buying for that chapter alone.
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It trite to say that if we do not learn from mistakes we are condemned to repeat them. However, this seems to be the pattern of the management of major government projects. The authors are well placed to provide an insight into this important area. Richard Bacon has served on the Public Accounts Committee for many years and has analysed a number of the projects described in the book. Christopher Hope is a highly respected political journalist. Together they have produced an extremely well written and insightful book.

This is a book of two halves. The first half is a description of individual projects. The second half then seeks to analyse the structure of government and how it may contribute to difficulties with projects. These chapters should be compulsory reading for all ministers and senior civil servants. The final chapters suggests that the answer to these issues may be in the application of behavioural science. Let's hope that in time this book is studied by history students and not by politics students.
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