James Forsyth

Richards’ law

Richards' law
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In The Independent today, Steve Richards sets out a fundamental truth about public services:

“In order to measure the effectiveness of big public institutions it is necessary to ask only two questions: To whom is the organisation accountable? To whom are its leaders accountable within the organisation? If the answers are clear, the organisation and its leadership will almost certainly be robust. But if the answers to those questions begin with the words, "Well it's all a bit complicated..." you know for certain that the organisation and its leaders are in trouble.”

This ambiguity allows institutions to believe that they accountable only to themselves. As Steve says you can see this problem in the Civil Service, local government and the BBC—to name just a few places.

Where Steve and I would probably differ is on who these institutions should be accountable to; I’m more of a localist than he is. If, for instance, the national and diplomatic roles of the Met were hived off and the Met Commissioner either directly elected or accountable directly to the Mayor, I expect we would see a police force that was much more responsive to the concerns of Londoners.  

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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