Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001
CB AND MR
20. So does that not make the 25 per cent attainment
in it being set as a clear management objective a sort of woeful
(Mrs McDonald) No, I do not think so. I think I agree
with Brian. Departments have been asked to set a variety of objectives.
They have been working within the PSA/SDA framework which has
been asking them to articulate their objectives for the last three
and a half years or so. So they would think have they got a particular
objective about risk management and a lot of them may well not
have done. I think what we would say now, particularly having
looked at the returns we have got, is that actually what really
matters is that people are embedding risk management into their
basic business planning processes, they are going to report to
senior levels through that particular process and that they will
tie the development of their thinking into that process.
21. There is quite a good example on page nine,
is there not, from the Home Office, the Home Detention Curfew
(Mrs McDonald) Yes.
22. Which departments do not have such commendable
(Mrs McDonald) I cannot answer that question in a
straight answer. I can give you other case studies where other
departments or indeed some of the cross cutting units in the Cabinet
have adopted that kind of approach but a number of departments
have piloted in different ways different approaches and some of
them have piloted cross cutting approaches. So the new local Public
Service Agreements, for example, which have been piloted, would
be a different way of taking that kind of thinking forward.
23. Is the Home Office a good example of a department
that is taking this forward and at the forefront of risk assessment?
(Mr Glicksman) I think there are individual projects
in individual departments.
24. Which department has the most projects which
are most commendable?
(Mr Glicksman) I do not think I know the answer to
25. Is that not a big problem for us, the people
responsible for implementing risk assessment do not actually know
which departments have got the most worst examples? It is hard
to tell the senior civil servants in other departments "Go
and have a look at that department".
(Mrs McDonald) I think our role as central department
is two fold really, to ensure that people have proper systems
in place and that there are systems to pick up and monitor at
various points what is going on in that kind of systemic approach.
It is actually for individual departments to kind of take an overview
on their individual projects and we just do not have that kind
of information in the centre to be able to answer a question directly.
26. If a department tells you they have got
a wonderful system in place, how do you evaluate that?
(Mr Glicksman) There will be a process, it is not
in place yet, but under the new arrangements for statements of
internal control there will be a process for accounting officers
to have to report every year on their systems for managing risk.
That process will be reviewed by the NAO when they audit the accounts.
We will have an opinion from the NAO about whether what the accounting
officer is saying is reliable or not. That is not in place yet.
27. What concerns me is that your offices, and
your office in particular, has a pivotal role in driving forward
an awareness of risk management, the value of risk management
and the implementation of risk management but you are not able
to tell me which departments seem to be good at it and which are
not, is that right?
(Mrs McDonald) Yes, because we have not done that
relative assessment in a ranking order of either the returns we
asked for or the information that the Treasury has got. What we
can quote is different examples of where particular bits of good
practice have come forward in the way in which the NAO report
does and promote them through a variety of means. We do it through
things like accreditation schemes or competitions or we are setting
up a public sector benchmarking scheme but we have not got a system
where we have an overview which ranks. Our role is kind of promotion,
as I said, it is showing the systems are in place to take their
28. What we have is Whitehall imposing things
like league tables on schools and league tables on hospitals but
no league tables on itself?
(Mrs McDonald) I think there are certain areas in
which we do publish relative figures, like, for example, how departments
are progressing against diversity targets in equal opportunities.
We have not gone down that route.
29. When we come to deliberate on your evidence,
we are not going to be able to sit down and say "Well, actually,
that great Home Office example is illustrative of a department
which is doing a good job and has a number of such schemes as
against another department".
(Mrs McDonald) I think if you look at the survey and
the way in which the NAO have approached the report which was
finding good practice examples, taking an overview of what departments
said but, again, not particularly ranking that information, the
information we have subsequently got gives us the opportunity
to follow up particular areas where we think there are concerns.
We were talking about early warning systems earlier, if we think
that a particular department looks as though its early warning
systems are poor we have two routes in our scheme to follow that
up. One is we could ask them directly following the assessment
of the reports. Secondly, we could pick it up in the PSA/SDA quarterly
monitoring meetings where we and the Treasury jointly brief ministers
and senior officials who are going to take those meetings. Thirdly,
it can be picked up as part of the overview of the statements
of internal control and any audit comments that the NAO may want
to make to us.
(Mr Glicksman) I think we have to bear in mind as
well that departments are very disparate in the sorts of activities
that they are responsible for. It is not like local authorities
delivering the same service in different parts of the country.
30. On something like the passport issue and
problem, why did the quarterly monitoring committee not pick that
up? It failed even though the timing had been two or three years
in its implementation.
(Mrs McDonald) I am sorry. I really do not know very
much about the timescale and time frame over which that project
was developed. I think it probably started before the PSA/SDA
monitoring system was started. I hope something like that will
be picked up under the major IT projects monitoring arrangements
we are now introducing between the Office of the E-Envoy and the
Office of Government Commerce.
31. How important is it for departments to provide
training on risk assessment?
(Mrs McDonald) Very important.
32. If I told you 86 per cent do not, what would
(Mrs McDonald) I think I would probably say 86 per
cent did not but, again, we have done quite a lot of work ourselves.
The College, in both the general training courses, provides elements
which cover risk management and risk assessment. There are a number
of specific bespoke courses which people have asked both the Treasury
and the College to put together and help them develop. The Orange
Book itself actually provides a much better framework of advice
and basic thinking about how to handle risk that departments can
use when they are developing their own risk frameworks.
33. What is the figure now? It was 14 per cent
when this report was written.
(Mrs McDonald) I do not have that information. We
would have to do something, which we may well want to do, which
is a repeat of the kind of survey of all the bodies which were
covered in that survey to get that information. The survey covered
not just the main departments in which we got most information
but all NDPBs and agencies as well.
34. Sticking to Government departments, which
department do you think is the best department in achieving training
targets in this area?
(Mrs McDonald) I think I would have to say on the
basis of my own personal knowledge the Cabinet Office is as good
Chairman: A completely impartial view.
35. Are you saying in the context of 86 per
(Mrs McDonald) I do not have that detailed knowledge.
I do know we had a system of workshops which covered the whole
of the Cabinet Office across the summer.
36. Right. Do any other departments have that
sort of thing?
(Mrs McDonald) Yes, some of them did but I do not
know who without looking into the detail.
37. Well, feel free to consult behind you because
I would like to know who does not. Who is not? Why are we not
naming and shaming?
(Mrs McDonald) Because we do not have the information
on which to do it. We are in a process of development which started
with the survey which took place early last year and where a lot
of activity and work designed to raise everybody's consciousness
of the importance of this agenda has been going on subsequently.
I would expect a lot of the figures in the survey to have improved
significantly if we repeat it later on this year or early next
(Mr Glicksman) We know certainly from the returns
that we got that training is a high priority for departments.
They do recognise it is an area that they need to address. I would
hope that it is something they are seeking to improve on.
38. All the time in the past year or so you
do not seem to have had that sort of monthly or whatever quarterly
monitoring of departments to be able to tell this Committee which
ones were training and which were not training?
(Mrs McDonald) We are talking about a framework where
we have asked them to go away and think harder about what they
have done and what they need to do to put proper risk management
frameworks within their systems of overall control. So we have
actually asked them to go away and think about how they would
improve what they are doing. We are taking stock of the information
we have got back and, as I said a few minutes ago, if we think
we do not have enough information then we can repeat something
like the survey. We do not have anything which gives a comprehensive
update of the material in the report in the kind of form in which
it is presented.
Mr Steinberg: There was a great risk I would
fall asleep when I read the report. I must admit the pictures
are nice but I did not understand the pictures either.
Chairman: I thought you would like the one about
swimming with sharks.
39. Yes. Why does a sharkNo, I will not
do that one. Is risk taking something which has gone on for years
in Government departments?
(Mrs McDonald) I think quite a lot of what every day
business is about is about risk taking. The question is whether
people were aware that was what they were doing and whether they
had fully appreciated that they ought to be assessing the risk
consequences of what they were doing and thinking about what risks
were acceptable and what were not, what they could know about,
what they could not know about and how they proposed to monitor
and manage that risk whatever it was that their project policy
development ruled out.