So, now that the HSBC scandal appears to have transmuted itself into a contest to see who can pin the blame for the way HMRC operates on whom, it looks as though the general lack of interest in how the Civil Service functions has finally come home to roost.
This stuff is important. How you organise a state determines what it can deliver and how it does so. That's why constitutional reform (yes, I know you're bored already, but bear with me) is important, and why doing it piecemeal appears ineffectual but isn't. And, the sinews of day to day government are your actual civil servants - yes, those useless, tea drinking, idle good-for-nothings so often chastised by the media and, increasingly, by the politicians whose erratic instruction and desire to pass law have done so much to make our administration sclerotic.
Taking turns to give civil servants a good kicking isn't necessarily helpful - ask the staff of the Rural Payments Agency or Border Force, whose travails in the media contributed to rock bottom levels of morale. And, if you reduce morale far enough, you tend to depress performance and motivation. That is, motivation to carry out tasks that you, the people (through your elected tribunes), apparently require to be done. That offers something of a dilemma.
It is interesting that, in cutting the number of civil servants, including in HMRC, the thought that certain activities might simply not get carried out appears not to have been considered. Or, perhaps it has...
For some time now, the ability of the Civil Service to recruit staff with technical skills - lawyers, procurement experts, accountants - has been in question. And what has been done about it? Conditions have been allowed to decay - higher pension contributions, significant real terms cuts in pay, decline in job security - making it harder to recruit and retain the sort of talent that allows the bureaucracy to compete against its private sector opposite numbers. It increasingly requires an old-fashioned sense of altruism to aspire to a career in the Senior Civil Service - you will be worse off than your peers in the private sector, you will be subject to abuse by the media, by politicians and the public, and you will be expected to perform at private sector levels without private sector conditions. Would you? Really?
A very senior tax inspector takes home about £100,000 per annum. His/her opposite number in one of the big accountancy firms will be taking home four or five times that. That in itself does not mean that there is an imbalance in skills, but what it does mean is that there is an incentive for PricewaterhouseCoopers to recruit that bright young tax official, in the same way that the likes of Chelsea can afford to buy players to deny them to the opposition. The flow of skills is one way, and it isn't one that favours the State.
So, politicians can investigate the bureaucracy all they like. Ultimately though, they are going to have to decide whether or not they want an effective one, and whether the cost is worth it to them. Given that the question may involve better resourcing, the answer may not be very helpful. Pity, that...