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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 15:25 GMT 16:25 UK
Reid's year zero plan
By Nick Assinder
Political Correspondent, BBC News website

If Home Office officials were not already frantically examining their job contracts after the appointment of Scottish hard man John Reid as their boss, his latest performance should have done the trick.

John Reid
Mr Reid admitted problems in department

In the quiet yet undeniably threatening manner which is his trademark, the new home secretary - only two and a half weeks into the job, as he kept reminding us - was in butt-kicking mode.

The department, especially the immigration and nationality directorate, was in a mess he told us. But, he made clear, he was there now to sort it out in the most fundamental way possible.

He did absolutely nothing to play down the seriousness of the situation or to spare the feelings of officials.

Indeed, he suggested, it was worse than he had first thought. And he offered as an example the fact that any figures produced by the department were likely to be revised within 24 hours they were so unreliable

He told the Commons committee the department was "not fit for purpose. It is inadequate in terms of its scope, it is inadequate in terms of its information technology, leadership, management systems and processes".

Gloom and doom

Mr Reid was careful not to suggest there were specific individuals in his department who had been lined up for the firing squad - although he also hinted that may well follow a full investigation

Lunar House
Department's figures regularly wrong

Indeed most of those sitting uncomfortably alongside him - including permanent secretary Sir David Normington - have not been in their jobs long enough to be held responsible for the systemic shambles that seems to be the Home Office.

One of the MPs went so far as to suggest Sir David's predecessor, Sir John Gieve, may be the one to shoulder some of the responsibility - but Sir John was recently elevated to the job as deputy governor at the bank of England.

What Mr Reid was up to with all this gloom and doom mongering was relatively easy to spot, however.

By admitting the department he has only just taken over is, to a large degree, a basket case, he can neutralise any future attacks or revelations.

Show results

His answer will simply be along the lines of "it's awful isn't it . But I did tell you", with the sub-text being "just as well I am here to kick it into shape".

It is, inevitably, a short term strategy which, while offering a perfectly serviceable way forward, will have to show results pretty quickly.

Of course, one way for a new boss to prove he is doing something fundamental is to start sacking people left right and centre, tearing up management structures and bringing in new systems. The year zero approach.

It is something Mr Reid seems up for, but the civil service - even if it is the system rather than the political leadership which is to blame in this case - is not so easy to slash and burn.

This is only the beginning.


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