Would-be MPs should be vetted - Lord O'Donnell

By Ross Hawkins
Political correspondent

image captionLord O'Donnell (centre) was at the heart of government until recently

Would-be MPs should be forced to meet "pre-qualification criteria" before being allowed to stand, a former cabinet secretary has suggested.

Lord O'Donnell - once the UK's most senior civil servant - said the idea could make Parliament more effective.

Government policies would also be vetted by former ministers, accountants and ex-civil servants under Lord O'Donnell's proposals.

He said radical change was needed as the country was in a "bad place".

In an article for The Political Quarterly, the former civil service chief said:

  • Politicians have a "ludicrous bias" in favour of older people
  • Health provision is "expensive and inefficient"
  • The education system does not produce the skills that businesses need

Lord O'Donnell did not spell out what criteria he thought candidates for Parliament should meet.

But a Cabinet Office source dismissed the idea.

The source said: "It is not clear who would oversee the pre-qualification of Parliamentary candidates, and for what purpose. At present they undergo rigorous scrutiny by the electorate. It's called democracy"

Lord O'Donnell said MPs could get training to prepare them for jobs as ministers.

He wrote: "There are very few jobs that do not require individuals to undertake training and development before being promoted, so this would bring MPs into line with the reality of their constituents' lives."

'Inertia bias'

A new body called the Office for Taxpayer Responsibility would be established to vet both government policies and opposition manifestos.

He wrote: "The rising trend in obesity, the growth of dementia and Alzheimer's and mental health issues in general make it hard to see how the state can afford to help all who need it."

Falling potential economic growth and an increasing demand on public services created a "vicious pincer movement", he said.

Voters were put off politics by the way politicians behaved on occasions like Prime Minister's Questions, and some new MPs were already disillusioned with their jobs.

They increasingly faced a choice between free, but second rate, public services and expensive private provision.

"We are in a bad place," wrote the former cabinet secretary. "But it is a stable bad place."

Despite rejecting Lord O'Donnell's ideas for parliamentary candidates, the Cabinet Office source accepted improvements were needed.

He said: "The current leadership of the Civil Service have identified serious deficiencies in capabilities, in talent management and development, and in a culture that too often stifles innovation and has a bias to inertia.

"That's why together we are implementing a programme of Civil Service reform to deal with these issues which had been ignored for far too long."

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