Don’t think twice it’s all right …

Bob DylanIt’s an attractive credo. Who wants to waste time thinking again when they could just ‘get on with it’? But history is full of decisions which should have been questioned and of people who’ve said ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’.

That’s why we should revisit decisions, not obsessively but just to make sure we’ve got it right. By so doing we stop pouring good money after bad (like with Boris’ Garden Bridge) and we make sure we don’t head off on journeys from which there is no return (think about the demolition of Euston Station).

It’s what we call challenge. It’s done by non-execs in business and it’s done under the name of scrutiny in government. Good scrutiny ensures that bad decisions get challenged and expensive mistakes which might result get avoided.

Problem is there are leaders who don’t take advice. They believe that to be strong leaders they must make quick, often ‘tough’, decisions quickly and get on with it. And in the political arena this is compounded by the ‘whip’ whereby party loyalty dictates that you support the party line even if you don’t agree with it.

We’ve made what I believe is a bad decision recently at the County Council. We’ve decided to move out of Shire Hall, I support that because the case for so doing has been well argued, but then we’ve decided to move to Alconbury in the north of the county.

I don’t agree with that decision and I’ve made clear my reasons: it’s based on a flawed scoring matrix (click here) , it will make access to the Council more difficult for most people in Cambridgeshire (click here) and it’s remote from the economic heart of the County. Furthermore it’s probably inappropriate given that a rational model for local government would require two unitaries neither of which would see Alconbury as a first choice for its administrative centre.

But the move is going ahead and it seems impossible to get the question asked ‘is it right what we’re doing’. We have a project with check points but checking that we are doing the right thing is not included in the process.

The project came to the Commercial & Invesment Committee last week. It’s being well managed by a senior council enginneer and the committee was asked to approve going to the next stage viz to submit a planning application. In terms of the project as presented it was right to say yes but there was no mechanism to ask ‘are we still sure that this is the right thing to do’?

I did raise this at the meeting. I confess I didn’t do it very well but what was the point? There are six Tories on the committee with just four non-Tories and the Tory chair always votes.

There’s a second decision coming up viz with whom does CCC partner to develop the Shire Hall site and what should its role be? We’ve had presentations by four shortlisted candidates and there’s a problem. The offers are all different, not in scale but structure. Unpicking the difference and understanding the substance of each offer in terms of risk and reward is essential to making the right choice and that’s not easy. At present we are moving slowly which is good news but it is essential that we don’t rush to a quick decision just to make some arbitrary internal council deadline. Watch this space.

And just as an afterthought: given that almost 4.5 million people have signed the ‘revoke Article 50’ petition and an estimated 1 million plus people are marching in London today why on earth haven’t we at any time subjected this grand project to scrutiny? Was it based on invalid assumptions? Did Ms May’s red lines make it impossible to deliver? Have conditions changed so much that just maybe people’s opinions might have changed? The unwillingness to make sure that we actually are doing the right thing beggars belief and is a shocking indictment of Ms May herself and those who put the interests of the Tory party ahead of those of the country.

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