Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1020 - 1039)



  1020. I obviously misheard you, and some other word was used?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Michael Bichard told me in advance, "Don't be provocative," he said, "be like me."

  1021. We had Michael Heseltine in, the other day, and I do not know whether you read his evidence, or heard his evidence, but one of the points that he made was that the Treasury should be dismembered, and, in view of the aside that you nearly made, or perhaps only thought, which somehow communicated itself across the room, a moment ago, I wonder whether you would like to comment on that?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) First, I should declare an interest, that in my youth I was his private secretary, when he was the Secretary of State for Defence, throughout the period that he was at Defence, so I do have an idea about his views; and I did read them, as it happened, I thought they were characteristically expressed (he says, in his Civil Servicey way). Do I think the Treasury should be dismembered. No, I do not, and I think that there are important macroeconomic policy issues which are the responsibility of the Treasury, there are roles in relation to public expenditure, broadly defined, which could be done in the Treasury or could be done in an office of management and budget, or whatever, so you could split the Treasury up, if you wanted to. Do I feel passionately that we should split the Treasury up, no, I do not.

  1022. I am so pleased to hear that, because I well remember the tremendous sparring that used to take place between you, when you were the PFO at the Ministry of Defence, with Steve Robson, where you would come in, asking for money, and you seemed to love coming to the Treasury in those days?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I used to come alongside my Minister, to get the budget that we needed to deliver the Government's policies.

  1023. Yes, I am terribly sorry, I did not describe exactly what happened in the room, I forgot all about the politicians.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I remember that well, yes.

  1024. I have got one last question, if I may, which is—I am sure you have read this article by Sir Michael carefully; one other suggestion he makes is that Permanent Secretaries should have targets, and that those targets should be quite rigorously enforced, and that there should be NAO oversight of performance—what do you think about that?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I think that Permanent Secretaries should have targets, the Permanent Secretaries' targets should be, essentially, the high-level targets of the Department, that the Department should have a very clear set of objectives and targets linked to that, that, ultimately, that package of measures should be agreed not just with the Treasury but with the Prime Minister, and that the Prime Minister should agree what he wants with the relevant Secretary of State, and the relevant Secretary of State passes that on to the Permanent Secretary. Now that is broadly the system that we have, that I am very clear that I am delivering a whole set of policies in the DETR, and programmes, including delivery on the ground. I am accountable to the Deputy Prime Minister for this, he, in turn, has a very clear sense of his accountability to the Prime Minister. These targets and my performance against them also go into a system that goes to Richard Wilson. I am entirely comfortable with that, I think it is a very sensible system, I have no difficulty with it whatsoever.

  1025. We were going okay there until you said it is broadly the system we have. When I read this article, if I may say so, Sir Michael, it does not sound to me as if you are happy with the system we have, it sounds as if you want something quite radically different. Did I misread it?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I think we have sharpened up the system a bit in the last two years. I think we have reduced the number of targets for individual Permanent Secretaries, and I think we have ensured, it has been ensured, that those do, as Richard said, relate to the key objectives of the Department. If the key objective of my Department is to raise standards of literacy and numeracy in schools, well, it does not seem to be unreasonable that that should be one of my key targets, if it is one that I can influence. I think you are seeing more of that happening now. The point I made about the NAO was not in relation to individual targets. It was my view, it is my view, that the NAO should take, and be encouraged to take, more of an interest in the quality of performance management, business planning, within Departments; now not all of my colleagues agree with that. We do now have a peer review process, which, as I said, we have just exposed ourselves to, I just happen to have felt, when I wrote that article, that not enough people were interested in the quality of management within my Department and that that was something the NAO perhaps ought to take a bit more of an interest in.

Mr White

  1026. So would you apply best value to Departments?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) Well; that is a leading question. I do not think you need to apply best value to achieve what I was suggesting in the article.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I am afraid I did not fully answer your question, so if I could just answer the last point, about NAO validation. I have no difficulty with NAO validation. All I would say is that, a number of the targets that we have in my Department actually are underpinned by statistics generated by the Office of National Statistics, or superintended by them, and there is no possibility that, where we are being measured in that way, either in relation to targets or indicators, that they are validating, we need the NAO to validate them as well. They can validate the process, I do not mind that, but we do not needs lots of validators where these things are already being done in a very open and above-board way, by people—
  (Sir Michael Bichard) That was not the point.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) No, I know, I was not suggesting it was, Michael. So, fine, let us get the NAO involved, but only if it is adding a value that has not already been added by somebody else looking at them. Do you see what I mean?


  1027. Just while we are dismembering things, what about the suggestion that we abolish Permanent Secretaries themselves, this idea, particularly associated with Peter Kemp, that—
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Yes.

  1028. That was a Civil Service "yes".
  (Sir Richard Mottram) That meant "no", actually, Chairman, not "yes".

  1029. Civil Service "yeses" always mean "no". That there is a confusion of roles here, and why do we not just split apart and have a Chief Policy Adviser and then a Chief Executive, and then these two strands will be separated?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) No, I think it would be disastrous; and I go back to the point that Mr Tyrie was making, that, actually, what we should be concerned about is both policy and delivery implementation, and we need to ensure that the two are tied together. Some of the biggest disasters that one can think of, over the last 50 years, have been because we have not delivered policy effectively, I think the point you were making, some of the others because it was bad policy. But I have no doubt whatsoever that you need someone who can ensure that those two are brought together. I need to make sure that the people who are making policy do take time to be informed by those who are delivering the policy in JobCentres, or in local authorities around the country; so I think you do need someone. And I do not accept the point that sometimes has been made, "Well, yes, but you need someone who is superhuman," I just do not believe that; well, you can tell that from the two of us, can you not, really?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Absolutely. I know Peter very well, I took over from him as a Next Steps project manager, and so on, and he has been saying these things for a number of years. I think they are fundamentally wrong. I think that Ministers, Heads of Departments, ministerial heads of departments, look to have a permanent head of a department who can perform a whole series of roles for them. The way in which that process has changed, over the years, is certainly that, in relation to, say, my Department, and no doubt Michael's as well, all the policy advice does not come through me and has to wait in a great queue for me to fiddle around with it and add a wise comment on it, or whatever, there are very clear delegations. I am managing that process, I am trying to quality assure it for Ministers, I am trying to look for the way in which it does not join up coherently the policy, the delivery, the experience of people, of what we are giving them; and it makes sense to try to do that in someone who has the experience of having worked in Government for a while, it helps Ministers as they come in and go.

Mr Campbell

  1030. Sir Richard, we had Michael Heseltine last week, as was said before, and he was on good form, of course, and we were talking about the Cabinet Office, and that it was a "dumping place", and particularly himself, when he was asked, he said, it was the "worst department I have ever served in". You were there; what is your opinion?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Perhaps I could make clear that I was not there at the same time as him, actually. I will have to be cautious about what I say, because these things can be so misinterpreted. I am a completely non-political person, but it would be true to say that I quite enjoyed working with Michael Heseltine, if people can take that in a non-political way. I am a totally non-political person. So it would have been rumbustious fun, if I had worked with him, because I think he is an excellent Minister. I do not know why he said that. My guess might be that, actually, he likes having a capacity to get his hands on things and really make them change, and he was pulling on some levers that were a bit sort of spongy. I do not know, he has never spoken about it; but I just do not know, I did not overlap with him. When I was in the Cabinet Office I thought we made very considerable progress in relation, I do not wish to boast, to the things we were responsible for, which were public service reform and, in those days, science policy. I certainly enjoyed my time there, and I think we moved things forward.

  1031. It was interesting, because he has been in one or two Departments, Michael Heseltine, in his time, and it is interesting that he singles out this particular Cabinet Office for some criticism. And I am just wondering if it is the way it is worked, or I think somebody said it was becoming presidential, sort of thing, rather than parliamentary; would that be right?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) All I did was read the transcript of what he said. I do not think he thought that it was presidential when he was there, because he was the Deputy Prime Minister, and, as far as I could see, from the vantage point I had within Government, he had an extremely good relationship with the then Prime Minister, and neither of them claimed to be the president of anything. Perhaps he missed not being the President of the Board of Trade, perhaps that was the point.

  1032. I will take that as a final answer on that one, I am not going any further on that one. The other question, Mr Chairman, is, when we talk about joined-up government, I would not mind the two views, if it is possible; joined-up government delivers services where they are being delivered, especially in local government. What is the best way to get that joined up, because we hear joined-up government time after time after time, where we start with local government, to regional government, to central government, how can we get all of that; is there a simple way, with the Civil Service, or is it going to be a bit difficult?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) How do we get joined-up government with local—

  1033. All the way through?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Yes. It is difficult but not impossible to get a much better understanding between central Departments in Whitehall and the Government Offices about what the Government is trying to do, in relation to local government. I think that is something we are actively working on, a group of people in my Department, working with every other Department, to get that sense of cross-cutting policies and more effective delivery on the ground at that regional level, and obviously I am talking here about England. What we are trying to do in relation to local government is a number of things. One is to have a much more constructive relationship with local government than it had perhaps reached by the late 1990s, and I think we have made considerable progress there. So there is a positive relationship between the Government, all the Ministers in the Government and representatives of local government. There is, I think, a good relationship between Permanent Secretaries and the leading chief executives, etc. So we are trying to build more confidence about what we are trying to do. Then I think we are trying to say to local government, "Think about your role in different ways, think about how you can contribute to community development, in ways which are not exclusive, which involve partnerships, in which you have a key role to play; you help join up on the ground." Now, if you are going to make all that happen, you have to then, I think, give them some scope to work in a co-operative way with us, which is not a top-down way but which is a dialogue. And, in all sorts of ways, we are trying to strengthen that relationship, for example, through local Public Service Agreements, and so on, to get a new dynamic in the relationship between central government and local government which produces things central government wants, delivered locally, in ways which meet the needs of local people.

  1034. Is that for a single public service delivery?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Yes; but it does not have to be a single public service to do it, but what it does have to be is, and I read some of the evidence that came before your Committee on this, it has to be a public service where people who work in central government have respect for and understand where people who work in local government are coming from, and the way to do that is by many more occasions when they work together, joint training, all those things. What you do not have to have is a single public service, which would be terrible, because people who work for local authorities, they work for local authorities, and, in my view, quite right, too.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I think it is a mistake to think that there is a simple solution to this; if there was a simple solution, it would have happened. And that is why, I was saying earlier, there are a lot of different things you need to do, and I mentioned some of them, but let me mention just three. I think the leadership which is given by the Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary is critical; if the messages that are going out to the departments are, "You need to be outward-looking, you need to be concerned about partnerships, you need to understand that you cannot deliver what we want you to deliver on your own," then that will, over time, have an impact. That is one thing. The second thing is more interchange. Actually, one of the problems has been sometimes that there has not been a common language, people working in government—I know this is a bit simplistic—and people working in local government have not had a common language, they have not been brought up in the same milieu, and that, I think, has been a problem. So I want more interchange, maybe suggest secondments and exchanges, so that people respect and understand what is going on. The third, which is incredibly tedious and boring, is, let us make sure that individuals are assessed on the basis of the partnerships that they are developing, the joint working that they are involved in. Very often we say this is terribly important, but you look at someone's individual job plan and you will not see any reference there to joined-up thinking, or developing partnerships, and people take signals from that; if it is not in their job plan then it cannot be that important, they cannot really be that serious about it. You have just got to keep making the point, this is really serious stuff; "I want examples at the end of the year of what you have done to join up your thinking with local government, with other departments, and I will assess you on the basis of that, amongst other things."
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Absolutely.

Mr Lepper

  1035. Andrew Tyrie asked both of you to comment on the issue of target-setting for Permanent Secretaries, and you did, and I was interested in what you had to say. And I think the suggestion, certainly from Sir Michael, was that the criticisms, or the implied criticisms, perhaps, that he raised about that sort of issue, in his article, have been addressed since then, and there was a rather more rigorous system in place. In that article, the impression I got was very much that the Prime Minister was a driving force in bringing about that change; is that so?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I think what the Prime Minister has done is to make clear that he believes that the key objectives of a department should be reflected in the Permanent Secretary's objectives and targets. And I think it is possible sometimes to produce a set of targets which are important but do not, in my case, relate to literacy and numeracy standards, the New Deal and the numbers in the New Deal. I think people do need to be focused sometimes, and they do need to be told, "I want your targets to be the ones that really matter, and I want them to be measurable," and in the past they have not always been measurable, and I think the Prime Minister did make clear that that was what he wanted. And, I said in the article, I think that was an entirely helpful contribution.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I know you have spent a lot of time thinking about the powers of the Prime Minister, and all those sorts of things. What everyone in the system likes, I think, is the opportunity to go along with their departmental Minister and to discuss with the Prime Minister how they are getting on. I do this in relation to some of our policies. It can be quite an interesting experience, particularly if you are the hapless individual who is in charge of Transport. But that is what we want, you want that sense of accountability, you want the sense that your Minister is going to be held to account by the Prime Minister, and that you, in turn, are going to be held to account by your Minister; that is a good thing, it is a very good thing. All I would say is, and I agree absolutely with what Michael said about targets, and thinking about the important ones, if I have a slight nervousness about this, I think, some of what we do is really quite intangible, and the biggest job I think that we have actually is to try to lead our organisations, encourage people, so that they deliver. My view is, which kind of makes for quite a dull and depressing week, if things are going well, in DETR, which most weeks, of course, they are, I leave the people who are enjoying the success to get on with it and bask in the success. Well, actually, I do try to remember to say to them, "Well done!" I only deal with the subjects that have gone a bit pear-shaped. And some of that is a bit intangible, and you risk that it becomes a bit sort of vague; but we have to recognise that is a big part of our job, to make sure that the organisation delivers and people below us get the credit for doing it.

  1036. It is a bit late in the day to ask for any speculation about the future of DETR, perhaps, but at the risk of doing so?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I am happy to speculate about the future of DETR.

  Chairman: No, I do not think we will do that. You have given us a nice glimpse into these Prime Ministerial exchanges; presumably, he says, "Sir Richard, it's not going too well, is it?", and you say, "No, Prime Minister." You are going to be saved by the bell, in a minute, because there is a vote that is about to happen, and, rather than just try to disrupt, I think we will have an accelerated finish, if we may, and then that may be just the next few minutes, so if the division bell goes, that is the answer.

Mr Turner

  1037. There is going to be a debate after this, a debate on the police, on the local government settlement, and, just looking at the other end of the telescope, from the local government viewpoint rather than from the central government viewpoint, one of their criticisms is that there is far too much prescription from the DETR, and I hope I have got these figures right, that the overall settlement is about 7.9 per cent, and 2.5 per cent of that increase is hypothecated, and only 5.4 is unhypothecated, roughly.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Roughly speaking, yes.

  1038. Two to one. And actually that has been growing. So this does not seem to me to tune in with what you were saying about local government having a better relationship with the DETR, a freer relationship, and a relationship in which they are allowed to deliver the services on the ground?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I can assure you that local government does have a better relationship with the DETR, and if you got them in here and invited them to talk about that they would, I think, say they do have a better relationship with the whole of the Government. What is true is that there is a very active debate with local government, with the LGA, within Government, about the extent to which the grants for local government should be ring-fenced. Now why is it that the Government is ring-fencing things, because, it goes back to the point that I was making earlier and I think Michael was making as well, a compelling interest in delivery. So Michael wants money for school standards, to go into schools, to be spent on school standards, and there is an issue about the extent to which that goes in, therefore, to ring-fence pots. The view of my Department is that, over time, we should be cautious about this process, because we want to have a responsible relationship with local government, which is responsible, and to ensure that they are tackling some of these issues that drop down between our little silos; so, as a Department, we would be opposed to ring-fenced grants growing still further in importance. Now all this is actually out for consultation, currently, in the Green Paper on Local Government Finance.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) All I know is that I do not think you can measure the quality of the relationship between local and central government on the basis of what is hypothecated and what is not.

  1039. No, I was not suggesting that.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I think the relationship has improved, I know that sometimes there are tensions, I actually think there should be some tensions, and I think the relationship that we have tried to develop, as a Department, with local government, has been a business-like relationship, based upon delivery. Because, at the end of the day, what really matters, as I think we would all agree, is the education, for example, that kids are getting in schools.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Yes; but they would articulate this grievance, you are right.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 29 June 2001