Examination of Witness (Questions 840
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
840. Thank you for that. I have also seen you
reported as identifying a particular gap between policy making
and policy implementing as a real issue. Again perhaps I can move
from Marxism Today to Public Finance more recently,
where you say, "I have always been of the view that policy-makers
underestimate the importance of practical implementation. I am
not part of this very British Oxbridge disease that says policy
is a high-level thing. I think one of the ways the public sector
reforms of the 1980s went wrong was in believing you could separate
out policy and implementation." I get the sense from the
Government that it is very impatient with the way in which the
system still seems to act as a brake on the kind of delivery that
it wants. Is that because of this gap between policy implementation?
If so, how on earth do we bridge it?
(Mr Mulgan) I think this Government is impatient with
the speed of delivery. The last Government was as well. Much of
the public is hoping to see results quickly and cannot quite understand
why things are not achieved. As in the quote you read out, it
is my viewand again I think this is pretty widely sharedthat
practical experience, practical implementation, has probably been
undervalued in British Government in the pastperhaps in
British society as a wholerelative to the formal tasks
of writing elegant minutes and memoranda or legislation. One consequence
of that has been that we have seen in too many fields policy failures,
failures of implementation, failures of delivery. In terms of
what should be done to rectify that, there are quite a lot of
practical measures which can be taken, and indeed which are being
taken, to move towards a culture right across Government which
is more focused on delivery and implementation: in career terms
rewarding front-line experience, direct involvement in implementation,
more highly; ensuring that people are more likely to be promoted
quickly if they have actually done some practical things rather
than solely operated in policy roles in Whitehall. I think there
is a great advantage in bringing more practitioners into the policy-making
process much earlier onthis is happening in many departments,
it has happened in the Social Exclusion Unit, it has happened
in the PIU's work as wellso that we do not see a separation
between, as it were, the pure policy specialists and then a different
group of people who go off and implement, but rather we see the
two as integral, and that the implementers are, right from the
start, able to offer a reality check to say, "This policy
isn't going to work, it will run into all sorts of problems. The
IT issues haven't been grappled with, the human resources issues
strategy is flawed" and so on. I think there is a great advantage
in doing that. The final point I would say as to why the divide
between policy and implementation can be problematic is that not
many policies are implemented right first time. With most policies
you implement, bits of them work, other things do not, and then
you have to improve them, you have to learn quickly, in the light
of experience and preferably fairly hard-edged evidence, about
which bits are working and which are not. That requires constant
feedback between the implementation and policy adjustment, rather
than a one-off policy process which then gives a series of instructions
to a different group of people who implement it.
841. I am trying to avoid grand visions now,
but do you have in your mind a view of what a structurally reorganised
British Government that would meet these criteria that you are
defining would look like? Do you see your role as trying to move
the system in that direction?
(Mr Mulgan) No, I do not have a blueprint for a grand
structural vision. I think what Government is doing at the moment
is right, which is to try to evolve a series of different approaches
and methods some of which are set out in reports like the Wiring
it Up report from the PIU, of the different ways in which
you can achieve better joining-up, better implementation, and
to allow these to evolve and to develop and prove themselves.
I am actually quite suspicious of grand blueprints and structural
redesigns. I think often in the past British Government has gone
wrong by people believing that if you created a new architecture,
somehow that would automatically solve the underlying problems.
842. I have had trouble in deciding whether
or not you do have a grand vision. You say you do not, and I am
sure that is right. Take something like the case you have cited
of social exclusion. You have in fact got a new unit which more
and more is, as you say, doing policy and implementation, it is
more and more you doing the job of the traditional Civil Service
Department, and eventually you will end up with a unit which has
a Secretary of State responsible for it in a political sense and
a Permanent Secretary responsible for it. You are, in a sense,
recasting departments in order to concentrate on priorities, is
that not right? I do appreciate the difficulties between vertical
(Mr Mulgan) I do not think it is. One of the priorities
for central units like the PIU and the SEU is not to try to supplant
the role of departments, and to be very clear that we only succeed
to the extent that we achieve the support of departments, we convince
them that the proposals coming from us are correct. In relation
to the Social Exclusion Unit, I think you might be hearing evidence
from Moira Wallace, and she can speak for them. Many of the things
they have been looking at have now been passed out to the Department
of Environment, Transport and the Regions, which is leading on
neighbourhood renewal, setting up new units to implement that
body of policy; the DfEE is leading on children and young people,
again to set up a new structure with some cross-cutting roles,
powers and budgets to take forward implementation.
843. Who takes responsibility? Who is responsible
for seeing the targets, objectives, whatever it is, of the Social
Exclusion Unit are met? Is it the Social Exclusion Unit?
(Mr Mulgan) In each case the task of implementation
is clearly allotted to a particular department.
844. Who will chase them up?
(Mr Mulgan) They in turn are responsible for achieving
the targets which are usually set out in published reports or,
indeed, in spending reviews. So it is not the SEU which is responsible,
it is the people within departmentspermanent secretaries
and other officialswho are responsible for achieving those.
845. Who will take them to task if that franchised-out
work is not completed or is not done properly?
(Mr Mulgan) In a sense, it is part of the normal accountability
processes of Governmentthe Prime Minister, the PSX process
and so on. Indeed, so far as possible, the specific targets, if
you are asking me about that, which we try wherever possible to
put in the form of PSAs and SDAs, then are monitored and reviewed
in the context of the PSX process.
846. Can I finish this mapping exercise, so
that we get our minds around this system, before I hand over elsewhere.
These are one or two fairly practical questions. When I look at
reports of what the PIU has been doing, one question I ask myself
is, could some of these have been done by task forces? What is
the essential difference between having some of these topics farmed
out to a task force or done in the PIU which operates rather similarly
to a task force, does it not?
(Mr Mulgan) There are some similarities. Indeed, when
any issue arises on the Government agenda, there is a choice of
a whole variety of different tools you can use to look at it.
The advantage of the PIU method over task forces is that we put
together teams, usually about six or eight people, from mixed
backgroundssome civil servants from departments, some outsiders
from business, the public sector, academia and so on, who work
full time on the issue for quite a long period (say, six to nine
months), doing rigorous analysis of the evidence so we know about
what works, what does not work, hopefully thinking creatively
about the different options, and then working through very practical
proposals and policies. Task forces, which are usually made up
of people sitting temporarily, but who have full-time jobs, for
all sorts of reasons find it very hard to get into the fundamentals
of an issue; they have all sorts of other advantages, but I think
that for many of the sorts of topics which we are commissioned
to do, that very intensive, full-time work by a team who are working
day in and day out together, learning from each other, bringing
together a range of different backgrounds from departments, from
business and elsewhere, actually is uniquely able to achieve progress
in practical policy making. That is not to say that task forces
are not often a very useful thing, but I would say that on balance,
with a tricky policy issue, the PIU model tends to be better.
847. Thank you for that. Last week we had in
Professor Ron Amman from the Centre for Management and Policy
Studies, who was telling us about his trade which was the cutting
edge, evidence-based policy analysis. Are not you doing the same
kind of thing?
(Mr Mulgan) We work very closely with the CMPS, and
indeed we work in the same building, which helps. We have fairly
distinctive tasks. We are given specific policy topics to work
on and to come up with very specific recommendations. That is
not a job the CMPS has. We often work with them on the early stage
of a project, looking at what the evidence tells us. They can
help, for example, to survey experience from around the world
and from other governments, and feed them into our projects. There
is a fairly clear division of labour between us, and we work very
closely with them.
848. Thank you. I am almost done. What about
the Strategic Futures Group? What is it, and what is your role,
if any, in it?
(Mr Mulgan) I am glad you asked me that, because there
has been somewhat misleading coverage of its role. It is actually
an interesting but rather low-key and loose structure which was
set up because a lot of departments have, over the last few years,
set up strategy units and futures units. Indeed, most of the departments
across Whitehall and devolved administrations have units of this
kind. Many of them felt, and we felt too, that there could be
an advantage in bringing them together in a single group who could
share experience, share information and ideas. We, as the PIU,
provide some support to that, and are doing some bits of researchfor
example, studying best practice around the world in futures and
strategic workwhich we will then feed in to that group.
It has absolutely no power. We do not command anybody, co-ordinate
anybody, tell anybody what they should do. Those individual units
within departments can only be successful to the extent that they
have the confidence and full support of their Permanent Secretaries
and Ministers, so any centralised control over them would be completely
counterproductive. I would emphasise this point. It is, in a sense,
a voluntarist grouping of different units, and it will only work
to the extent that they get something back out of it. My role
is a role again without any authority. I just happen to chair
their meetings. Certainly it is quite an interesting development,
it is part of Government trying to be more long term, it is about
trying to survey different possible futures, different trends,
in order to improve the quality of decision-making within departments,
but is in no way part of a centralisation of power in Whitehall,
let alone any political control over these units.
849. Let me finally ask, who then decides what
you look at?
(Mr Mulgan) We go through a fairly wide-ranging trawling
process to define what projects we should be doing. We ask departments
what they think we should be doing. We ask others around the centre
of Government and, indeed, I hope in future we will cast the net
even wider. Although I think it would be fair to say that in the
very early days of the PIU there was some suspicion on the part
of departments that we were, in a sense, coming as perhaps part
of a sort of bossy centre, more and more departments have come
to us proposing projects we should do. Of the last four or five
projects we have announced in the last couple of months, one was
proposed by DfID, one by DETR, one we are doing in close collaboration
with the Treasury, one came from Number Ten, one we are doing
with the DfEE. So we are now actually becoming a much more collective
resource for Government. As I said, I hope that in future we can
have an even more open process for identifying topics. I should
say that out of that process we develop quite a long list of potential
topics to look at. We then put together small teams to scope them,
to work out whether there really is something we can add value
on, whether there are practical results which can be achieved,
whether the department is already doing the job perfectly well,
and out of that try to focus on a much shorter list of recommendations
to the Prime Minister of projects we actually do think should
be fully-fledged PIU projects with sponsor Ministers and so on.
850. So you propose to the Prime Minister, and
the Prime Minister decides?
(Mr Mulgan) That is right, but after an extremely
open trawl and consultation across Whitehall.
Chairman: Thank you very much for that. Andrew
851. Do you answer to the Prime Minister?
(Mr Mulgan) I report to the Prime Minister, through
Sir Richard Wilson.
852. Have you seen, and do you look at all frequently
at, the organisation chart for the Cabinet Office?
(Mr Mulgan) I do not look at any organisation charts
very often, no.
853. Could you tell me why not?
(Mr Mulgan) You had an interesting discussion on organisation
charts, I know, in this Committee, and there is nothing I can
add to that.
854. I cannot remember that. Perhaps you could
remind the Committee which bit you do not feel you are able to
add to (I mean to the discussion we had)? Do you think the organisation
chart tells us very much about what is going on in the Cabinet
Office? Would you use it as a way of trying to find out what is
going on in the Cabinet Office?
(Mr Mulgan) Probably not.
855. Does this implyit may have no bearing
at allfor example, that the Cabinet Office itself needs
a bit of wiring up?
(Mr Mulgan) I think you are quite shortly going to
be taking evidence from a number of people in the Cabinet Office
who are much better able to answer that question than I am. All
I would say is that we in the PIU see ourselves as part of the
centre of Government as a whole, which includes the Cabinet Office,
Treasury and Number Ten. We are only effective to the extent that
we wire up very well with all of those bits of the machinery.
I think that broadly speaking, with projects the PIU carries on,
the follow through and so on, the centre operates as a pretty
integrated whole, contrary to what you might imagine from some
of the media reporting of the centre of Government. As I say,
I really cannot answer for other bits of the Cabinet Office, but
in terms of the policy topics we carry out, working relationships
are very close right across the centre. If I were to draw an organisation
chart, I would want it to include all the different parts of the
centre, rather than separating out the Cabinet Office, because
I think that leads to a slightly misleading view of how things
856. Could we have one of those charts?
(Mr Mulgan) As I say, I am not the person to ask for
one of those, and since I got a U in my Art `O'Level, I would
probably come up with a much worse one.
Chairman: I think we will accept that as the
857. You used to be, until very recently, a
special adviser. I understand that you passed a message that you
do not want to answer questions on special advisers and their
role, and I will respect that. However, I would like to ask you,
for a start, why you switched? You were an adviser until very
recently, and now you are a civil servant. Why?
(Mr Mulgan) That is a personal question. I have been
previously in my career a public servant in local government and
in Europe long before I was a special adviser, so for me it was
in no way a strange move to become a civil servant of national
Government. The PIU I thought had done an extremely good job in
its first two years, and I can say that because I take no credit
for it whatsoever. When the job was advertised I had already spent
some time as a special adviser, it was probably time to move on,
and the PIU job was as attractive a job as I could imagine. I
had always envisaged at some point moving into public service,
though I had not decided whether that should be local or national
Government, and I saw it as an opportunity which was too good
858. Will you work for an incoming Conservative
(Mr Mulgan) Yes.
859. The only reason I ask is that there is
only one precedent that I know of for the switch you have made,
although you may know lots; I only know of one of any significance,
and that is Terry Burns who came in as Chief Economic Adviser
in 1979, became a permanent civil servant in about 1987you
may know the exact datesand did not have a happy time when
there was a change of Government, indeed I think it is common
knowledge in the Whitehall village that he had a very unhappy
time. The reason I asked the question is that there is in the
public perception, I think, and, from what I can tell, rightly,
quite a big difference between the character of people who are
at present special advisers and the kinds of people who are civil
servants. Would you agree with that?
(Mr Mulgan) As Sir Richard has said, special advisers
vary greatly in the kinds of people they are, their kinds of backgrounds,
their degree of expertise. I am not going to comment on that.
In relation to Terry Burns, again it is not for me to comment
on an individual case, although I would say that I think in many
respects he did show that you could make that transition and he
has since been appointed to an important role by this Government,
whatever may or may not have transpired.