Our Government tends to adapt terminology from various sources in an attempt to sound good and sadly they often achieve nothing as a result. To clarify the term ‘task force’ which the Home Office seems to like using, NATO defined it as part of the phrase ‘Combined Joint Task Force’ in this document. Of course many people have adapted the phrase for their own purposes and it has become widely used and sometimes very vague as indeed it is in the Home Office from what we can tell. However the Government should avoid making matters worse given that they have extensive access to professional advisers and civil servants who will know how these things are a poor fit, in the same way that Theresa and Sajid are a poor fit above. Indeed the failure of Ministers to learn from the civil servants and advisers and instead refer only to party and PR based consultants leads us into trouble in many settings. So the NATO definition includes the following two points in the summary of the two page document:
■ A task force is a grouping organised for the purposes of carrying out a specific mission or task, which is then disbanded when the task has been accomplished.
■ A joint task force is one involving two or more military services (army, navy, airforce, etc.).
No one would suggest that the phrase can only be used by NATO and clearly if it appears outside of NATO the reference to military services can be dropped, however the rest of the definition is clearly relevant. The question regarding this most recently appeared on Thursday when Stephen Doughty, the Labour MP for South Cardiff and Penarth asked the Home Secretary: “how much funding has been allocated to the Serious Violence Implementation Task Force programme in each region.”
Because the correct answers to such questions will not lead Sajid to being appointed as Prime Minister, he delegated the response to Victoria Atkins who stated:
“The Serious Violence Strategy Implementation Taskforce has recently been established, following the Prime Minister’s Serious Youth Violence Summit in April, to oversee and drive implementation of the Serious Violence Strategy. It brings together Ministers, Members of Parliament, the Mayor of London, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Director General of the National Crime Agency, other senior police leaders, and chief executives from the public and voluntary sectors. The Taskforce will ensure that funding from across Government is invested across regions to tackle serious violence….”
Now before the reference to funding is explored it already seems clear that the task force is a long way from having a specific mission or task. However the issue of time limited and start and end elements are not revealed in this response. However Victoria and indeed Stephen are probably aware of this press release that was published on 25th April 2018 which was headed “New taskforce to take action against violent crime” and then that document stated:
“Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, today announced a coalition of government ministers, cross-party MPs, police leaders, local government and the voluntary sector will make up the Serious Violence Taskforce – which will ensure sustained, swift and decisive action against violent crime. Together with the government, the taskforce will help design and deliver the key commitments of the Serious Violence Strategy, working with affected communities to ensure immediate and real action is taken. The taskforce’s aim is to stop the recent increases in serious violence and see levels of violent crime reduce. It will hold the government and others to account, evaluate the strategy’s impact and commission further work as commitments are delivered. Chaired by the Home Secretary, the taskforce – which will meet for the first time on 26 April, when the frequency of future meetings will also be decided – will have the vital job of ensuring the strategy is effectively delivered.”
Along with the fact that the Home Secretary cannot chair a group that will hold the Government to account, the fact that the group first met on 26th April 2018 and then first met again with Theresa May as Chair in April 2019 all starts to point towards a nice name and phrase that Theresa and Amber, Sajid and Victoria all like to use but which is entirely meaningless.
As for the funding aspect, that too points away from a specific mission or task as Victoria explained “Definitive funding allocations are not available due to the breadth of activity across Government…”
So the big question is which Civil Servant or NATO official will write to the Home Secretary and point out that the use of the phrase ‘Task Force’ is inappropriate unless it has a clear start and finish and carries out a short term focus. Otherwise perhaps they can refer to a standing committee even though that may not sound so effective, and indeed may not achieve very much as no doubt this time next year we will have a different Home Secretary who will launch yet another scheme and perhaps even a different party in Government!