3 Reasons for Routine Failure by Almost-Contrite UK Leaders

3 Reasons for Routine Failure by Almost-Contrite UK Leaders

Only 3 Reasons for Failure?

Do weasel-worded explanations for routine failure, from almost contrite ministers, make you angry? What about the pre-failure quasi-sincere intent guarantees from earnest politicians, with their apparatchiks nodding like toy dogs alongside them?

Without a doubt, a lack of diagnostic, management and planning expertise dooms or damages government plans even before implementation begins. Why do we accept our politicians’ expert avoidance of accountability for endemic failures, cost overruns, and delays? This blog considers the situation.

Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it. Laurence J. Peter, The Peter Principle

Promises, Promises

Without a doubt, we are always promised a reality where superb political outcomes will be achieved on time, within budget, and with no possibility of failure. Sadly, experience doesn’t back this up.

For instance, if inspiring things are to happen, three overlapping worlds must work in synergy to avoid failure. Doesn’t happen. Why?

3 Disconnects

If only the perfection of the promises matched the reality of the output from the capability and nous of our leaders. Decades of citizen experience give the lie to our politicians’ assertions and hubris. And yet we citizens re-elect them, time after time.

why UK government rose tints before failure

It can’t be denied that in the UK, no matter how excellent the policy aspirations are and how much money is available, policies and projects are often screwed up. For example, Universal Credit springs to mind or the failed NHS records system spring to mind. Whatever the excuses or screw-ups (think Grenfell and reduced red tape) cost the UK massive amounts of resources and human misery for no return and even less accountability.

Great promises yet poor results = failure

My (tiny) company won a key public sector contract many years ago. There I was, new deal in hand, entering a world I didn’t know. Consequently, I soon learned that public projects and effectiveness often don’t go hand-in-hand. Sadly, the pristine model above morphed into an unreliable tangle of ideology, power and agendas – the three reasons for failure:

  1. Policy Making (power, politicians, mandarins, concepts, doctrine, clean hands, expedient)
  2. Policy Interpretation (less power, senior-ish officials, embattled, pressurized, compliant, clean hands)
  3. Policy implementation (low power, middle-order & downwards, blameable, powerless, capable, made-cynical, bullied)

As a result of personal contact and meetings, I discovered a world of policy and project delivery, as shown below.

reality of failure why UK government projects fail

The Real Politics of Failure

Firstly, policymakers create, praise and sell manifesto commitments. Beyond that, things get hazy. Along with the lack of detail at the outset, things are even foggier the nearer you get to the coal face. As a result, government projects tend to delay, miss targets, and cost far more than expected. Many fail without a trace.

When an election is won, politicians are like werewolves transformed by moonshine. For instance, the now incredibly-important-people (ministers) hurtle in and out of events, dripping power and surrounded by a defensive shield of officials.

Inevitably, status being what it is, top policymakers don’t attend events run for their policy interpreters or policy-implementer, apart from key-note drop-in/rush-off sessions.

How do the people at the top keep in reliable touch with the getting-things-done real world?

Cruel, dishonest work environment

Policy Makers (deities all) depend on Policy Interpreters (mostly relatively senior) and Policy Implementers (often less senior) to deliver the desired outcomes. It must be challenging to perform and deliver in a pressurized and capricious working environment.

Top people don’t get it

For one thing, the top people often “don’t-get-it” as far as the real world is concerned. What’s more, they can force change on a whim. Sadly, the ‘good Intentions’ of a manifesto are doomed by lack of expertise in good places and a tendency not to plan – even if there are staff who can help.

What is the impact of an autocratic, non-listening, oppressive and childish culture? Thinking of ‘childish’, Might children have insights to share?

How much opportunity, capability and insight is ignored and wasted? As a result, how much potential and possibility goes down the tubes along with billions lost to “Fraud and Error” and ignored by Ministers.

A road to hell?

What happens to effectiveness in a world free of accountability and the gift of a dictator’s prerogative? When you get down to it, the process of getting things done is broken. Delivery begins with a lack of insight and ends in disaster because there is no reliable and inevitable consequence for failure. Waffle works. Why bother? Mañana.

Problematic culture – flaky bubble

Secure in a bubble of ideology and inner-circle-compliance (or else), policies are created and instructions issued. Thereupon, delivery mechanisms groan to half-life. Why one may ask, does self-evident incompetence and routine disaster fail to shock us? What price soundbites of almost-plausible deniability? Are promises to “learn the lessons” all there is?


As Irving Janis (1971) suggested when he coined the term ‘Groupthink‘, we are victims of (slightly tweaked) 3 Groupthink Reasons :

  1. dysfunctional decision-making process used by compliant groups
  2. the ignoring of alternative practical and humane courses of action
  3. the irrational (and dishonest) discouragement of ‘non-supportive’ opinions

Why don’t we all demand better? Much, much, much better?

If we can’t change we’ll wind up where we’re heading.” proverb

Large Scotch, anyone?

© Mac Logan

Mac Logan

Mac Logan

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