In terms of personalities at Stephen Byers' rejigged Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions, the news is good. Nick Raynsford, an excellent housing minister, will now be dealing with local government. He is succeeded by Lord Falconer who, despite problems with the Millennium Dome, is regarded as the ultimate fixer – and he does have the asset of friendship with the prime minister.
So far, so good. But when we come to the consequences of Tony Blair's recasting of Whitehall, the position is more confusing.
While housing remains the responsibility of the DTLGR, construction policy has been transferred to Patricia Hewitt's Department of Trade and Industry. Responsibility for regional policy seems to be fragmented. The DTLGR is said to be the lead department. But regional development authorities are now controlled by the DTI. And the regional co-ordination unit and government offices in the regions will report to John Prescott, the deputy prime minister, who now also holds the title of first secretary of state.
Do you follow all that? I thought not. Let us hope that the permanent secretaries, the mandarins of Whitehall, will deploy their legendary skills to make this new structure, however unwieldy it sounds, work smoothly.
But the best ministers in the country and new administrative structures, however carefully designed – if indeed they have been – will be of no avail if those responsible for implementation of policy at the coalface do not get it right. And that is where I am really worried.
The prime minister and his colleagues are responsible for policy and required to answer to parliament for how policy is carried out. Whitehall departments are supposed to ensure that what ministers want, ministers get. Sitting in Downing Street, the Treasury and the various other government departments does not offer the best vantage point for observing whether what is intended is achieved.
Unless and until ministers get a grip on this culture of indifference, I intend to make their lives hell
Yet ministers do have access to the best vantage point, because most of them are elected MPs and, I assume, have direct and intimate contact with their constituents and those constituents' problems and complaints. Surely, therefore, they have been picking up what I have been picking up.
For politicians, a general election campaign is like being in intensive care. While every year I take up thousands of individual cases and write thousands of letters to officialdom, during the four weeks of a general election everything is heightened and concertinaed. And what I picked up vividly during my weeks of campaigning in Manchester Gorton is that far too often policy is being implemented inadequately or not at all.
In terms of administration of housing benefit and council tax, the situation is woeful. Law-abiding and decent tenants are put in the hands of the bailiffs or sent eviction notices. All too often these terrifying measures – imagine how a sick, elderly widow feels upon receiving official notification that she is being thrown out of her home – result from a failure to deal with cases efficiently or compassionately.
In terms of planning, one department says one thing and another department another.
The local resident is plunged into a state of uncertainty which could have been avoided by proper co-ordination.
The Right Honourable Gerald Kaufman is MP for Manchester Gorton and chairman of the culture, media and sport select committee.