Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 100 - 120)



  100. How do you think it might change?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The cost of the report was £125,000 not £145,000. I think the way it has to change is we need to put in some more facts of a statistical nature, ie identify important targets we set ourselves, indicate in the report how we are doing against those targets. We have to be careful not to become too statistics driven, because it would not be interesting. One needs to, as it were, pick out those targets that we have set ourselves and that we regard as major priorities and make sure that rather than leaving those on a website they are actually in the document itself. The more that we do that the more that that will help to develop credibility over the years, that the report is a document which does give an indication as to what is going on in government.

  101. Is there another point, that we are, perhaps, a bit too target driven, that people have a very good sense themselves of how the government is doing and ultimately make that decision in elections. To an extent, it is the very people coming up with policy that are making targets for themselves.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, but if you accept the obligation to describe what you have done then you have to have a method and a language in which to describe what you have done. That language should be partly, as we have done here, what people on the ground say about us; it should be partly what the people engaged in the delivering of our policies say about us but it should also be, this is what we said would be our target in this important area and this is how we are doing it. It should be a combination of all these things. Of course ultimately the electorate's report on us will determine what happens. That does not mean that we should not each year try to prescribe it as well.

Mr Turner

  102. A very quick question on the point you were making about statistics within the report. What would be important is to make sure there is year-on-year consistency with the statistical base you use so that comparisons can be made. We have already heard that you did not have the manifesto commitments in this report, although you had them in for the first two years.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are on the website for the third year.

  103. If you use statistics within a report they need to use the same baseline for year-on-year comparisons.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is important, and I have indicated we must try to achieve that.

Mr White

  104. How much targeting of this goes to the key stakeholders, voluntary groups, pressure groups, those kinds of people who set the agenda rather than simply just putting it out and hoping that members of the general public will pick it up?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is distributed widely throughout Government and local government, as it were. I do not think it is distributed widely among the voluntary sector, I do not know of any specific attempts made. I am sure that some departments do send it on to their voluntary sector stakeholder groups. Can I write to you about the details of that? It is primarily in Government and local government.

  105. Could I ask you to consider that that is one key area because a lot of the interaction on Government policies is with different groups and it is an issue of that relationship between Government and those groups that should be covered within the Annual Report?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I can see that.


  106. Could I just wind us up—not wind us up, wind us down—with a couple of final things. Normally when any kind of figures appear something under them says "source". These are entirely reputable figures at the end here, such as they are, but they do not have any sourcing attached to them so we do not quite know where they have come from. It looks a bit odd not having any source.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) These figures?

  107. Yes, the table at the end. In the search for credibility it is quite nice to have that.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree with that. It would help if they did say the source.

  108. I know that total managed expenditure is the term of art, but of course people have no idea of total managed expenditure from total unmanaged expenditure. It is a term of art which is reputable but unexplained. Similarly, someone looking at this might think are these inflation adjusted figures or are they not?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree with both of those.

  109. Are they?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They are cash figures, they are not inflation adjusted figures.

  110. So that is a fairly basic thing that someone would want to know instantly about those figures.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. I take your point there that we could have been clearer in relation to that and I take the point as well about source.

  Chairman: As you are taking on all these points—no, I believe you are taking all of these points, I am serious about that—people have raised it in different ways but if you could get some sharper indicators that the public could get their minds around on a consistent serious basis, for example on these global figures maybe a percentage of GDP on taxing and spending and so on, so you could see year on year what is happening to basic taxing and basic spending in a way that people could follow.

  Mr Tyrie: Percentage of GDP is a very good idea.


  111. Would that not be a good idea?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I can see that but if you look at the top that is quite a good, clear description of how money is spent and where it comes from.

  112. It does that but what it does not do is what I am suggesting would be helpful so that you could see over time what is happening to taxing and what is happening to spending.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you looked at the Red Book you would find what has been happening over time in relation to precisely these particular things. This is not intended to be—

Mr Tyrie

  113. It is not very clear any more.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That is because Mr Tyrie is not involved in writing these things any more.

  114. That is very nice of you.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) This is not intended to be, as it were, an accompaniment to a Budget Statement, it is meant to be a description of what has happened in the previous year. I take the point that you need something that indicates progress. We can all think of ways about how one could have a particular statistical comparator and we have tried to do that in an attractive way but you have to be careful not to make it an accompaniment to the Budget.

  115. Tony and I at least are agreeing on the same one here. Do you think that we could have a series of tax and spend here?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Those figures are in the Red Book.

  116. I just ask the same question again. No doubt every single statistic in here is available somewhere else and many others you may put in next time that are not in here. Here is one of the most basic statistics of all, probably the most basic statistic for money, much more basic than any of those on pages 58 and 59, could we have those as a series, please?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is plainly no reason in principle why one should not, but whether or not it is an effective and sensible way of getting across what has happened in the year I am not sure. Obviously I will consider what you said.


  117. Thank you for that. One final consideration, what people want to know is are more trains running on time than before we came in? Is crime up or down? Are more children passing their exams? Are people healthier? Basic outcome indicators, would it not be possible to do on one side of a piece of paper some basic input and output figures validated, and then on the other side to have the company statement, the aspirational stuff, where we are going, so that at least people would know that is the hard stuff against which we can measure the stuff on this side, would that not give a whole credibility to the exercise?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sorry to go back to the website, if you go to the website and feed in your post code you see where you are on a whole range of indicators like that. The information is there. What the Annual Report is primarily intended to be is a description in prose of how the government believes that it has done over the year.

  Mr Tyrie: Can I strongly support what Tony Wright just said. You probably do not follow the workings of this Committee and this a rare moment of complete agreement between the two of—could you go away and think about that? I think it is even possible that this Committee could draw up an agreed set of very basic indicators. Tony has already mentioned four, I think Tony Wright and I would probably agree we do not want to have dozens of these, those four we have already agreed and we could probably add a couple more before the quarrels break out.

  Mr Trend: I disagree violently!

Mr White

  118. Can I point out, we have been trying to encourage the Government to go down the route of using the web more—and as a Committee we have been—the fact that they have in the Annual Report we should not criticise them for doing that.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There is a vast range of incredibly important issues like crime, like health, like education, like transport, et cetera, et cetera and people want to know what progress is being made in their area in relation to it. Big figures are important but they are quite difficult to translate into what is happening on the ground. That is why the website is quite important as a means of providing a vast range of information. Once it is there you have to draft your report in such a way that recognises that sort of material is available somewhere else.


  119. As I said at the beginning, most of the Committee would want to make sure that the world knew all of the good things the Government was doing and would, therefore, welcome an attempt to produce a report of this kind. I hope you will take away some of our suggestions.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Of course. We have made it clear that it is a process whereby one hopes one improves year-on-year on in relation to the production of the report.

  120. That is splendid. The bad news is that we have such informative and enjoyable sessions with you we shall want you back many times again, not least to talk about annual reporting. We are very grateful to you for coming along.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Thank you very much.

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