Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1040 - 1044)



  1040. I am not quite sure whether or not the better relationship is politically driven rather than Civil Service, local government Civil Service driven?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Both.

  1041. We are running a bit short of time, but I wanted to touch upon one other area, and that was, we were up in Newcastle last week, and one of the things that came over, from talking to the Regional Office, was that they—there are two items I want you to comment on, if I may. One is that it seems to be a DETR-driven Regional Office, and there is not sufficient other departments' involvement within that; and, secondly, that they see themselves primarily, and rightly so, as the Government in the regions, rather than a commonality in there. Do you think that the Regional Office should be more relating, back to the local government, to central government, than the Regional Office?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) It might be better if I answer that. Although I think it is, and should be, a DETR office, and I think we have tried to ensure that we are making a real contribution there, actually, both Richard and I, together, have been saying to Permanent Secretary colleagues, to the Civil Service, that Regional Offices and Neighbourhood Renewal should not be obsessed with the physical issues, in the way that perhaps they have been in the past, that the people issues are equally important. And, therefore, the contribution which my Department has to make to those Offices and to Neighbourhood Renewal, just as important as Transport and Housing and the things that have tended, I think, to dominate over the last 25 years.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Absolutely, and I will look at this, but I am surprised, actually, by what you say, and I think it would not be, in my view, the right perspective; but I agree absolutely with what Michael said. What is their role? Their role is, actually, to deliver Government policy, to articulate central government policy, to feed back to central government feelings in their region, etc. They cannot themselves really be the representative body in that region. If you want to have a stronger regional voice, it is not the Government Office, it is something else.

Mr Wright

  1042. Can you tell me what discussions are going on between the department, when the Government comes up with initiatives, such as Sure Start, Education Action Zones, because, quite clearly, in my experience, they do cross-fertilise and sometimes you may well even get duplication, and it would seem sometimes they may well be a waste of public money, in some respects?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I do not think either of those two things have involved a waste of money. What absolutely the Government has recognised is, there is a danger that these Zones will be very difficult to understand on the ground, and far from producing coherent, holistic delivery, will produce the opposite. Which is why we have now set in hand new arrangements, in a unit that happens to be in my Department, is, funnily enough, headed up by a former civil servant in Michael's Department, which is looking at all those sorts of issues: can we make more sense of Zones, can we, over time, rationalise Zones, plans, every demand we place on localities, and make sure we have them only where they add value in a joined-up way.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) What a synergistic way to end.

  1043. Who actually takes the decision, where you prescribe, in certain circumstances, what has got to happen within these particular Zones; for instance, Sure Start is very prescribed in what the direction has got to be, and it has got to be measures, whereas Neighbourhood Renewal funds, it is very open, it is certainly non-ring-fenced, and leaves it open to local partnerships?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) Absolutely.

  1044. Who would decide on that policy?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) At the end of the day, the Secretary of State will decide the extent to which he wants to prescribe and in what detail. I think they are very different programmes, very different initiatives, and I think that is the reason why one is very much more open than the other.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) What I do think is quite clear is that, in relation to both the responsibilities of the Regional Co-ordination Unit, which is an interdepartmental unit, it happens to be based in my Department, and the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, you can see evidence that the Government wishes to have an approach to the way in which these things are being driven on the ground which is much more a partnership. And if you are a Secretary of State and you want to have one of these Zones, you can now only create one if there is collective agreement, having been policed by this Unit, that it adds value.

  Chairman: I wish we could pursue this, this is an interesting issue, and I am sorry we cannot, and I am sorry for the rather rushed conclusion to these proceedings. You can see we are a fast-flowing stream here, rather than a stagnant puddle. I think we have had an extraordinarily interesting afternoon. Thank you for being so frank with us, both of you; it has been very good to have these exchanges, and great thanks from all of us for coming along.

  Mr Tyrie: Happy birthday, Sir Michael.

  Chairman: And, indeed, happy birthday. I do not want to reveal an unhealthy interest in you, which is why I did not say that.

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