Senior Tory Michael Gove has admitted the government is “simply not functioning” when it comes to providing the public with basic services.
The former cabinet minister – fired by Boris Johnson amid the chaos of the prime minister’s resignation – pointed to problems issuing passports and driving licences, as well as wider failures on spending.
“I believe that there are certain essential functions that the state needs to do better, and we fail to deliver on them,” he told the Policy Exchange think tank on Tuesday.
Mr Gove said: “There are some core functions – giving you your passport, giving your driving licences – which are simply, at the moment, not functioning.”
He also highlighted “broader” failures like defence procurement and investment in science research and development, where “we are no longer providing people either with the efficient delivery of services or the effective focus on what the state should do”.
It came after Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg appeared to blame civil servants who are still working from home for ongoing delays in getting driving licences and passports out to people.
Mr Rees-Mogg said: “What is going on is that too many people are still working from home. We need to get people back in the office doing their jobs. But we can also do more with fewer people.”
MPs have warned of “chaos” at the Passport Office which has left some people experiencing phone hotline waits of up to nine hours, making 40 calls and also missing key family events.
Critics have also point to paralysis across government while the Tory party picks a new leader, as several major bits of legislation have been put on hold.
The government’s online harms bill is expected to be dropped from the parliamentary schedule, deferred until the next prime minister comes to office in the autumn.
Transport for London has been without a permanent funding settlement since the pandemic pulled the rug out from under its finances, but ministers this week provided yet another temporary extension and held off.
There are also now question marks over the levelling up agenda, as fears grow that the Tory hopefuls are willing to row back on Mr Johnson’s commitment to invest more in the north and Midlands.
Labour’s shadow communities secretary Lisa Nandy said the contest to succeed Mr Johnson at No 10 has been the “final nail in the coffin” for the levelling up policy.
“I don’t think Rishi would ever have committed a bunch of funding to it if it wasn’t for Johnson,” one official from Mr Gove’s levelling up department told Politico. “Gove was always going to be a high-water mark – the drop-off will now be massive.”
Meanwhile, Mr Gove has denied that his backing of Kemi Badenoch in the Tory leadership is “a clever plot” to split the potential vote for Liz Truss and help put Rishi Sunak in No 10.
The former levelling up secretary has insisted that he believes Ms Badenoch could make it in the final two, telling the Policy Exchange event she has “courage, conviction and clarity”. He said some MPs have told him that “buyers’ remorse” about backing other candidates.