The Treasury is an oft maligned institution. Broadly, across the civil service and amongst lobbyists, HMT is perceived as an ‘orrible department. Above all, because it always says no. The classic HMT discussion with a needy spending department looks something like this…

  • There have been some unforeseen circumstances which of course we couldn’t have possibly foreseen. Can we have some more money?
  • Let me think for a minute. Er, no.
  • We really need it. Please.
  • Have you got any evidence?
  • (Hurried rustling of papers) Er, yes. Here you are.
  • It’s not good enough. The answer’s no.
  • (A few weeks later) We’ve done some proper work now and have some better evidence.
  • That’s better. Well done! But I’m afraid the answer is still no.
  • But why? This is really important! It couldn’t be more important!
  • Ah, well in that case, you can reallocate some spending from somewhere less important. Ha!
  • Oh. Damn. But we can’t.
  • Well it can’t be that important then. Ha!
  • No really, we can’t. Please!
  • Well, if you’re absolutely sure you need it, you have convincing evidence and you can’t reallocate money from anywhere else then on reflection the answer is, er, still no.

This is not why we should hate the Treasury. We should cherish this. Because in practice, over the last decade the Treasury lost much of its mojo as the last, precious countervailing force which could stand firm against the combined weight of the media, lobbyists, departments and politicians as they call for an endless shiny conveyor belt of more spending, more announcements, more initiatives and more cuddly toys. Under Gordon Brown, with under half the staff at the Treasury having worked there longer than him, that culture shifted. Officials stopped saying no to the Chancellor, the spending departments and the banks. We all know what happened next.

No, we shouldn’t hate the Treasury for saying no – in fact we need a more confident and ruthless HMT. In his most recent autumn statement, the Chancellor - who had previously ridiculed Gordon Brown for similar petty interference - lowered himself to announcing a bypass. This is a frightening sign that the imperative for announcements and initiatives which sadly punctured the Treasury’s defences is still a force.

No, if there’s a reason to hate the Treasury, it’s not for its negativity but for its narrow-mindedness.

We know that outliers can be the players who change the game. We know that diversity can drive success. We know that discriminating against those who are weak, weird or wacky is not a recipe for a civilised society. We know that pioneering innovations and revolutionary ideas can drive economic success.

Yet our economics ministry is the kind of organisation which thinks the best way to solve a problem is to get a handful of the biggest players, the usual suspects, in a room and bang out a solution. A culture with no time for the little guy. A scepticism and arrogance which dismisses the unfamiliar. A method which legislates for the most obvious denominators and, albeit unintentionally, discriminates against those on the fringes.

The Treasury is shooting itself - and us – in the foot. In truth, it’s being a bit stupid. If you draw up the terms of a new Europe on the basis of rules written by France and Germany then at some point, the periphery is likely to fracture. In the same way, if you create policies to increase bank lending that suits a few big banks, then you are ignoring those working to serve the underserved. If you design a tax system that can only consider financial return and social impact in distinct silos, then no wonder we have an investment culture which isn’t socially useful and a social economy whose number one concern is access to finance. If you can't think beyond what is, or what has been, then you're not helping to create what could be.

An ‘orrible and stingy HMT is one thing, indeed it’s necessary to ‘bring balance to the force’. But for some of the brightest minds, hardest workers and most important policymakers in government to be so boring, so unimaginative and so narrow-minded is simply tragic.