Friday, September 22, 2006

"Yes Minister" live

On 12 September 2006 I attended a research seminar at the Sydney University Institute of Transport and Logistic Studies. The well-attended seminar featured one of the directors of NSW Department of Planning. The presentation provided a sobering real life example of the the BBC TV comedy series "Yes, Minister".

The speaker told us about the plans, strategies, committees, subcommittees, objectives, targets, performance indicators etc etc of the strategic planning section of the department but not one word about what the results of all this are likely to be in practice. During questions my upraised hand was ignored for 25 minutes but eventually had to be recognised when there were no others raised. I asked what realistic benefits can the public expect from the deparment's strategies, bearing in mind that after 15 years of urban consolidation we have suffered horrific high-density impositions, slower and less frequent trains, increased traffic congestion, higher housing costs and an economy going backwards. With regard to a centres policy, I referred to the seminal Stockholm failure of the 1950s and asked whether the department can point to a successful example anywhere in the world. Without a blink the question was non-answered by saying that the public have an opportunity to input their opinions at public briefing sessions. The implication is they have no idea and do not care what the results will be. I might add that I had been prevented from attending any of the briefing sessions referred to.

Thus was I reminded of Sir Humphrey Appleby, the senior bureaucrat in the "Yes Minister" series. To him and like-minded bureaucrats the results of government policies are completely irrelevant. It is the bureaucratic creations themselves that are important. In one "Yes Minister" episode Sir Humphrey enthusiastically described his department's magnificent achievement of a new hospital with all its staff and up-to-date equipment. It was pointed out to Sir Humphrey that the hospital still had no patients. He was most pained at this observation - whether the hospital had patients was completely unimportant.

So it is with the NSW Department of Planning. Staff are running around creating a bureaucratic edifice, buttressed by an opaque wall of spin. They can provide no example of a successful result of their policies. They can provide no shred of evidence to show that traffic will improve or the environment will be better. In fact all the evidence I have come across points to the contrary. But to these bureaucrats the outcome for the public is completely and utterly irrelevant. All that matters is the process.

Tony Recsei

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