Giving evidence to the House of Commons about their governance

I was furious yesterday when I left the House of Commons Governance Committee. There was so much I wanted to say about management of parliament but failed to. I remembered to say that the person they choose to lead the Commons should have expertise in the core parliamentary business of scrutiny, law-making, committees, research, dealing with the media and so on. But I forgot to say that if they appoint a generalist manager at the top they could lose their exemplary record of efficiency and judgment where it matters most. If there are occasional problems in the building – too many mice has been mentioned as a failing – surely that is better than any shortcomings in the services that enable parliamentarians to pass laws, scrutinize government and represent their electors?

I also failed to mention diversity. I would have said that it is incredibly important that both parliamentarians and parliamentary officials reflect the diversity of the UK population. They should be women and men, black and white, disabled or not and hail from different class backgrounds and from all our four nations. While MPs are decidedly unrepresentative, officials have become surprisingly diverse, with equal numbers of women and men, for example. Neither women nor black officials are found in sufficient numbers at the senior levels yet, but they are getting there. We should invest hugely in training and career development for all staff and particularly those groups that are under-represented at senior levels, both clerks and non-clerks. A serious long-term approach would be better than a quick fix.

We did touch on what good management means. The committee had asked questions about performance in previous sessions. Some members have given the impression that leadership is about setting targets and punishing people if they haven’t met them. I made an argument for a more sophisticated form of leadership – one that inspires innovation and quality and stimulates reflection rather than bullies people. If MPs want to embrace change and modernity they should not resort to outdated 1980s corporate management solutions – splitting the service, restructuring and bringing in generalists. They need to get up with the times. The latest management approaches prize flexibility, collaboration and expertise developed through reflexive learning on practice.  So MPs themselves could show leadership by allowing the relatively new structure to bed in, appreciating the good management under their noses and learning with officials about how to continually improve the governance of the House of Commons.