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Michael Gove Says Government Is “Simply Not Functioning” And Failing To Deliver Basic Services

4 min read

Former Cabinet minister Michael Gove has claimed the government is failing to deliver on “essential” services such as driving licences and passports.

The ex-levelling up secretary, who was sacked by Boris Johnson two weeks ago, told an event in Westminster on Tuesday that "core functions" of government were not working.

Speaking at the Policy Exchange think tank, Gove said: “My view is the state should do fewer things better. We need a strong and effective state, limited in what it chooses to do.

“I'm not a minimalist, I'm Hamiltonian rather than a Jeffersonian. I believe that there are certain essential functions that the state needs to do better and we fail to deliver on them. 

“There are some core functions – giving you your passport, giving your driving lessons – which are simply, at the moment, not functioning."

He continued: “But there are also broader issues, like defence procurement, or the way in which we invest in science and research and development, where a variety of bureaucratic impediments have accreted over time and we are no longer providing people either with the efficient delivery of services or the effective focus on what the state should do.”

Gove, who has backed leadership wildcard Kemi Badenoch to succeed Johnson, added that the government needs to “focus on these essentials” rather than become distracted by “peripheries” if it wanted to “make the most impact.

Gove's comments come amid widespread criticism that the Johnson administration is failing to live up to its responsibilties after the Prime Minister announced his plan to resign in September.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel angered MPs by failing to turn up to select committee appearances.

Johnson himself has been criticised for skipping a Cobra meeting on Saturday where the national heatwave was discussed. The Prime Minister instead hosted a leaving party at his Chequers retreat.

Responding to Gove’s comments, former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost agreed that “a lot of public services aren’t functioning” and claimed civil service reform was needed to ensure basics were delivered. 

“We're always told that we have a Rolls Royce civil service and the problem is that ministers don't make their will clear, and when they do make things happen,” he said.

“Well, ministers made their will clear about coming back into the office several months ago, and yet it is still not happening. 

“I believe there's something very fundamentally wrong in the way the civil service and the state are currently constituted. Working on it, and tackling that is a major task.”

But their stance was heavily criticised by Baroness Cavendish, who served as policy director under David Cameron, who said Gove, Frost and others who have served recently in government are to blame for disruption facing the country.

“The last few years we have had no narrative from the government about public service reform,” she added.

“You can't get an ambulance at the moment. You can't see your GP. You can't renew your passport. You can't get a driving licence. If you ring one of the myriad public agencies which are funded by the taxpayer. They don't pick up the phone. This is not a functioning administration.”

She said it was “perfectly possible” for these public service issues to be addressed, but criticised Gove and Frost for not advocating for it during their time in Cabinet.

“Under you guys, this stuff has fallen apart. Why have you not done something about it? Literally, two of you have been in this government for the last however many years.”

A government spokesperson told PoliticsHome: “We are entirely focussed on delivering important public services as well as gripping key challenges we face, such as tackling backlogs, supporting people with the cost of living or leading the international response to the conflict in Ukraine.

“We continuously evaluate Civil Service performance to ensure taxpayers’ money is well spent and we are improving efficiency through our reform agenda."

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