Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1220 - 1239)



  1220. Your discovery is that the Civil Service is less effective than it might be because it does not have the volume and quality of infusions from outside at the moment that it might have?
  (Ms Casey) That is not quite what I said. What I said was I am fully behind modernising the Civil Service because I think in terms of what the Civil Service is now trying to achieve, it has set itself a number of targets in terms of trying to modernise. One is bringing talent in, one is bringing talent up. One is performance management and change, emphasis on communication, greater degrees of openness. All those sorts of things I would sign up to. In terms of particular policies, such as rough sleeping, it was important to us at the beginning of the unit when we were first established in May 1999 that we had secondees in from other Government departments, we had someone in from Social Security, we had someone in from the Department of Health, we had someone in from the private sector at that stage, a different group of people. Now we have got a slightly different balance of people and over the lifetime of the unit so we will change the personnel in order to keep our focus on delivering the target. We are a mixture of civil servants, of people from outside, but all the time what I am responsible for is making sure that the target is delivered to Hilary Armstrong.

  1221. Could I ask Moira Wallace the same kinds of questions. There is an argument for greater movement in and out and the refreshing effect this has on the service. As someone who is a seasoned civil servant, is that an analysis that you broadly share?
  (Ms Wallace) Yes, I would. It is something the Civil Service has been trying to do for a very long time but you need to try quite hard because there are all sorts of pressures in the system that make people want to hang around, be near their home department, out of sight out of mind, issues like that, that make people sometimes a little bit cautious about moving out. The pressure is building up and I think now most people feel that they would like to spend some time outside in their career and it is perfectly natural that people will come in and join the Civil Service at various points. I would also say that I think one can make too much of a distinction between people who have been civil servants all their lives and those who have come in more recently because actually you can cross-fertilise skills and attitudes in all sorts of ways through a lot more contact, through all sorts of joint working, that helps people see those perspectives without taking two years out of whatever they are doing outside to come into the Civil Service or vice versa. I just say it is not all or nothing, there are all sorts of ways to widen people's perspectives, which is what it is about.

  1222. Can I just ask you one further question because this goes directly to the kind of work you have been doing. You are the exemplar of joining up in Government and of cross-departmental working, your unit is the chief example of what the ambition is in this area, and what I want to know from you really is how difficult or how easy you have found it to work across Government developing an integrated programme? What have been the obstacles and difficulties that you have found? How have you tried to overcome them? What are the remaining tasks? If we wanted to continue to develop cross-departmental initiatives within Government, what have we learned from the experience of the Social Exclusion Unit about how we might do this?
  (Ms Wallace) I always get nervous when people describe us as the exemplar because then you are setting yourself up for failure. I think we have had some successes and had a lot of help to achieve them, which is the first thing that I ought to say. It does not make good copy to say that actually it has not been as difficult as everyone imagined, but that is actually the case. We have had an awful lot of backing from an awful lot of sources. Obviously from the Prime Minister. Obviously from an awful lot of Ministers and from a lot of individuals in departments and from Permanent Secretaries. You may say "well, she would come here and say that", but actually I could come up with example after example of people who have said "thank goodness there is actually someone at least to give this a bit of priority, to find a bit of time for it". It has not been as difficult as some people imagined it would be, and perhaps as I imagined it would be. I think there are some things that we have done that have worked particularly well and I would recommend to others if they are trying it. One is that we have the resources to look in detail at some very knotty policy problems. That is our sole job almost. We are not trying to squeeze it into the end of a day that has 20 other tasks in it. I think that has allowed us to get into some of these policy issues in more depth and understand what is really going on, why some of these things have resisted solution for so long. I think that is the really important lesson, that if you want better policy you have to invest a bit of time and resource in the policy development process. Second, we have taken some risks in actually being very open about the way we have worked. Just writing people letters and saying "The Prime Minister has asked us to come up with ways of halving teenage pregnancy, have you got any ideas?" The answers are not necessarily going to be in Whitehall. We have been very open in going to people who work with the problem or who are actually experiencing the problem and trying to find ways to see it from their perspective and understand it, and understand not only how they see the problem but what they think might have made a difference. I think that is very important. That is something that Whitehall is doing more and more. It does, of course, create risks if you are out and about all the time asking people to come up with ideas that someone will in some way or other twist that against the process. The third thing we have done that has been very important has been to focus on the outcome you want. What would it take to actually get school exclusions to go down rather than up, as they had been doing? What would it take to reduce rough sleeping, which had kind of got stuck? What would it take to reduce teenage pregnancy? If you want to focus a group of departments on what might be some quite difficult things to do, I think that is the only way to do it because otherwise you get a kind of consensus policy making, "let us pass the hat round and let us all come up with something" whether or not it actually has a chance of solving the problem. You need to reverse the balance onto what would it actually take to make this much of a reduction in this problem which we all agree is a problem. That focus on outcomes is something that is a very good discipline in the policy making. The fourth thing I would recommend to others is sometimes there is a risk that civil servants are so anxious not to over-commit their Ministers that they do not actually offer them ambitious choices, they assume "our Minister would not want that big a solution", or maybe the money is not there. There is a bit of a cultural tendency not to think big. Partly because we have had the time, because we have had a lot of support from the Treasury in terms of resource and spending reviews, and we have got the PM's interest, we have had time to think that maybe there is a problem here that actually needs a whole new source of funding that does not exist at the moment, maybe there is a problem here that requires a change to certain departmental structures, which is quite hard for departments to propose themselves. We try to avoid the risk of putting options to Ministers that are so diluted that nothing is going to make a difference to the problem. Those are things that I think have helped us. The risk in a way is the one you have identified, that there has been an awful lot of social policy in the last three years, for all sorts of reasons, and it is very necessary that we make a difference to some of these problems, but it does mean everyone is trying a lot of things in parallel. One of the things that is happening is that you are now seeing structures that are an attempt to brigade those solutions. Just to give you an example: we work quite a lot on problems affecting young people—school exclusion, teenage pregnancy, people who leave school at 16 and do not then go into anything—and we have come up with some specific things focused on those specific problems that we think will make a difference. We also began to realise that there was something systematic lying behind this which was if you grow up poor and you do not do very well in school, or you do not even go at all, if you have got a set of personal problems and you have not got a lot of resources and advice to help you through then you are actually at very high risk of all sorts of things going wrong. We did not really have any holistic solution—sorry, first piece of jargon, I apologise for that—any solutions that were addressing all the things that could go wrong for young people in that situation, so we said maybe we need to have an overarching strategy and maybe we need to actually find a home for this in Whitehall, hence trying to find a home for that in the DfEE and trying to brigade what might otherwise be quite bitty initiatives into something which is more strategic and allows those things to be seen as a piece. That is a very long contribution.

  1223. It is extremely useful. Could I just ask one further thing. Do you think the fact that you are the Prime Minister's creature, so to speak, is crucial to the seriousness with which the unit is treated across Whitehall?
  (Ms Wallace) I think it helps but I do not think that this sort of work always has to be done in a unit that reports to the PM. For example, some of this work, comparable work or related work, has been done in cross-cutting spending reviews led from the Treasury and some of it, including some work that we have encouraged, has been done in cross-departmental groups led somewhere in another mainstream department. Involvement of the PM is crucial early on, all PMs do this, in saying "this is an issue that we really need to step several rungs up the ladder quite quickly. It needs to be taken seriously. It will challenge us all, but this has to happen". I think sometimes only the PM can do that that quickly.

  Mr Lepper: Could I ask Louise Casey, you will be aware that the Rough Sleepers' Unit has considerable influence in my constituency of Brighton and Hove. Sorry to refer to my constituency again, Chairman.

  Chairman: Near an election we quite understand that.

Mr Lepper

  1224. You must all come and visit Brighton and Hove as soon as possible. I have no doubt about the importance of the funding that has helped provide an infrastructure to tackle street homelessness locally in terms of hostel accommodation and then bedsit and flat accommodation as well for people who come back into a settled way of life. What has sometimes concerned me - and really this is looking at the opposite end of the spectrum from that which the Chairman has been asking Moira Wallace about—is the business of co-ordinating the work of so many agencies at local level: housing, social services, health, local agencies working on drug dependency and drug abuse, the police, the voluntary sector. Could you just give us your view on how successful perhaps the Rough Sleepers' Unit has been in managing the co-ordination at the local level, or encouraging others to manage that co-ordination at the local level?
  (Ms Casey) It is both. I think one of the challenges that was set for us within the Social Exclusion Unit Report— There is a great line in it that talks about accountability of the voluntary sector. I think you refer to it as being on a more contract basis, money in, owt comes out, and some of the discipline that might have been there between, say, a local authority that grant aided or service level agreements or contracts that often were at play in the public sector were not necessarily there between either Central or local government and the people they were funding under the previous Rough Sleepers' Initiatives and that was one of the things they said we had to change, and change we have. Critical to the success of rough sleeping strategies locally are the local authorities. There is no doubt in my mind at all that where local authorities have shown leadership and owned the target and wanted it to happen, we have seen results. We have seen results in all areas of the country where the local authority has said "yes, okay, we take this one on. We would like to see the target, we will head to the outcome. We will start at the outcome, which is how are we going to reduce the number of human beings who are sleeping on our streets in Brighton, in London, in Manchester, wherever, and work back from that in terms of trying to then co-ordinate the voluntary sector". My perspective as somebody who was in the voluntary sector before taking on this job is that there was a lot of co-ordination for co-ordination's sake previously. A lot of people sat in large fora and talked about important work they must do and they were doing a version of what people accuse Whitehall of doing, sitting in their silos, as people often use that word, and saying "Well, actually, no, we are doing a bloody good job providing drug services in Brighton. Will you leave off, we are doing a good job". Other people would say "Actually, we are running hostels and we are doing a good job running hostels. Enough, Casey, go away". Then someone else would say "Actually, no, we are doing good outreach work". What the rough sleepers' target did was say "glad you are doing a good job, that is fine, nobody is criticising you for that, but how do you think in your local area you are going to take the 50 people", which is I think where we started out at Brighton, "and work back not only with that ongoing number of 50 but all the new people who might be coming into that figure at any one time and work back from that in terms of co-ordinating your services?" We have very much supported local authorities in those areas in doing it. In some areas, and Brighton is one, we have actually funded a full-time person who has moved over from Portsmouth Local Authority to go in and do that work within the chief executive's office. In Cambridge there is a woman there, I think she is Head of Homelessness, and a portion of her job is to make that happen. The process is the same as it is in Whitehall, it is a clear priority that is focused on the outcome. "What is the outcome we are trying to achieve? Okay, we are all there on that, we agree we want that to happen, what are we all going to do, whether it is the Department of Health nationally or whether it is that drugs project locally, to deliver on that priority and then take some ownership of that and deliver on it?" I think the best examples around the country where we have seen the numbers drop is where that has happened most effectively.

  1225. Even where it happens effectively do you think that the Rough Sleepers' Unit has a role to play in resolving any of those tensions that might be an inevitable part of securing that success?
  (Ms Casey) Yes. We will resolve, and do resolve, any tensions or difficulties that stand in the way of delivering that target. That is often, however, supporting local authorities in actually pulling the right players together and having the right discussions. Sometimes it is talking to the voluntary sector about why they are being funded, what outcomes we are expecting for the money that is going in on behalf of the taxpayer, "What are you doing? Why are you doing it? How do you fit in?" That is different in different areas. Some local authorities have strong individuals who are able to do that, who have the time to do it, other areas need more support from the Rough Sleepers' Unit. There is a great guy called Ian Brady, who is one of the Deputy Directors in the Unit, whose job is to do this fieldwork. The two of us are on the road a lot of the time, backing up local authorities, meeting people, trying to work out what the problems are. We are trying to give the people on the ground the decision making power to try and make a difference. If we just rolled into town all the time they would think the only thing that ever happened was when the Rough Sleepers' Unit arrived and that would be a mistake. We have to make sure that there is local accountability for the target and that local organisations who are funded feel they have got some control over how it is developed and implemented.

  1226. Can I just clarify something about the Central Government part of it. Which Government departments are most involved in that co-ordinating process at a national level?
  (Ms Casey) Hilary Armstrong chairs the Ministerial Committee that has the key departments on there. Obviously the Department of Health, the Home Office, the DfEE, the Ministry of Defence because obviously people leaving the Armed Forces are one of the largest feeder groups into rough sleeping and homelessness. We have done some stunning work in 12 months with the MoD, really good stuff. Who else is on there?
  (Ms Wallace) Us.
  (Ms Casey) Of course. The most important person on there, obviously, is Moira Wallace. Our work is two-fold. One, it is obviously to deliver the numbers on the street and, secondly, it is to make sure that those people are not coming back on to the streets again. In training, education and employment, the DfEE is extremely important to us. The Home Office is important to us because they run prisons and who arrives on the street - people coming out of prisons. MoD are important to us because people leaving the Armed Forces are a feeder group into homelessness. Care leavers are a feeder group into homelessness. We work very closely with all of those. They are the groups represented on the Ministerial Committee and they all take ownership of it. DSS are also on there, they are terribly important. Each of those Ministers describes themselves as champion Ministers for rough sleeping within their departments. They go back to their departments with their officials and make sure they are delivering on things, they come up with ideas, they come out on to the street, they visit projects. There is a great deal of ownership at ministerial level of both the target and the strategy.

  1227. One final question, if I may, to Moira Wallace. I am avoiding the use of that word "exemplar"—
  (Ms Wallace) That is a relief.

  1228. There was a time during 1998, I think it was, when in a lot of speeches I made locally and nationally to organisations I used to say one of the most important decisions historically that this current Government will be seen as having made is setting up the Social Exclusion Unit. Do you think I would be right to give it that degree of historic significance?
  (Ms Wallace) That is a toughie.

  1229. Is it?
  (Ms Wallace) Whenever I see remarks like that I give them to my secretary and I write on them "file obituary".


  1230. We do not normally allow Members to read their old speeches.
  (Ms Wallace) The evening is becoming more exciting as it goes on is all I can say. I think it was important. I think it did send a signal, but I do not think it was the only thing that sent a signal. We are a small unit, we have been given a lot of privileges, including where we sit and patronage and stuff like that, the support of all sorts of people. I would not over-egg it but I do think that it sends an important signal. I do think it has given us a chance to try a different way of making policy in an area which has always been quite difficult.

Mr Trend

  1231. I am fascinated to know from Louise Casey, and I understand The Guardian calls you a czarina, which side of the fence is better from your point of view. You obviously have an overriding interest in this issue. Did you have more power and influence as leader of a pressure group or as a civil servant? Have you got more done after the move?
  (Ms Casey) That is a really tough question because—

  1232. Good.
  (Ms Casey) As Deputy Director of Shelter I was proud to work for an organisation that created the number of people we helped. I am very proud of what we achieved as an organisation. In this job I am reporting to a group of Ministers who have already seen a time when there are 50 per cent less people sleeping in our doorways and we are well on track, God willing, with a lot of tough work ahead, to actually see a time when we do not have to have human beings dying in our doorways at three o'clock in the morning. That motivates me in a way that I can barely put into words. I am privileged to have this job. I was privileged when they offered me this job in the Civil Service. It is not the only thing I want to do in life but it is an important contribution we are making at the moment. I think we are learning lessons about what we could do. All the time we have been part of the SEU initiative that means that we are feeding back into the SEU all the time on the things we are learning. I am really pleased with the stuff we have done on people going into prisons and coming out of prisons. We have fed all of that back into the Social Exclusion Unit. Yes, okay, I am privileged and hopefully part of a great team and a great bunch of Ministers who will deliver the target on rough sleeping, but we are feeding stuff in, learning in. There is a bit of Government now where I can stick that into Moira and say "Look what we have learned, look what the difference is". I am sorry, this is very un-Civil Service speak. This is the best example.
  (Ms Wallace) You have already used the word "bloody" you know, we are going to have to talk about that.
  (Ms Casey) I am sure it is going to be taken up later.
  (Ms Wallace) You get the chance to take it out, it is all right.
  (Ms Casey) The side of the fence I am on is actually working within Government has given us a chance to develop a policy but to develop more than that. To actually impact into the lives of men and women who are currently in the Armed Forces, we got the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces to do what Moira wanted them to do and now we cannot stop them, now they want to do loads more. They want to tackle things in all sorts of ways because of the way it has gone on. That is fantastic. I would never have been able to do that personally as part of the voluntary sector.

  1233. We had Geoff Mulgan before us and he said that he was frustrated at the way that the machinery of Government works. You must have felt that inevitably.
  (Ms Casey) I think if you talked to the guy I used to work for at Shelter he would say that I was always frustrated, I wanted to change things and wanted change to happen where change was appropriate. In the Civil Service I am not working in an organisation of 500 people, I am working in an organisation of, I do not know, I suppose thousands, loads of them, and, therefore, the bureaucracy is much greater and with that goes the frustration of trying to make change in a bureaucracy. The upside for someone like me, however, is that some of the frustration around the speed, that sometimes it takes time to get things agreed and turned around, means that you end up with a better decision, means that you end up with a greater sense of ownership of what it is that you have done. I know that may sound weird coming from me, you probably expected me to turn up here and say "Oh, my God, I am so frustrated" and I am not because, if you look at what Moira described, they went off and had time to look at a problem. We have had time and it has been important that we have got people signed up to some of the things that I might be frustrated about. Rather than just haring off in a direction trying to make a bit of change, we have got a lot of people signed up to that. It is frustrating, it takes time, but the product we get is a lot better.

  1234. The change that has happened is that formerly a Government Minister was obviously the front person—I am thinking of Sir George Young -so the responsibility fell on a politician, but now if you wake up in the morning and hear someone talking on the radio it is more likely to be you than Hilary Armstrong.
  (Ms Casey) It could be both. Again, I have a lot of time for what Sir George did in relation to my little world of rough sleeping. I think Hilary leads where she thinks is appropriate, I lead where it is often at a more detailed level. We have agreed a position and we are quite happy with how we do it.

  1235. You said earlier that all Prime Ministers want to prioritise certain things and get a grip on them and pull levers and sometimes it is a rather courageous decision, sometimes it is the sensible thing to do, but what you do in your unit would formerly have been done on a much smaller scale but perhaps as effectively by a policy unit. The Prime Minister would have gone to the policy unit and said "I want some action on this issue" and they would have the same sort of entreé and patronage behind them as you have. You are a larger version of what in part the policy unit might have done.
  (Ms Wallace) There is some justice in that. It could have been a policy unit or it might have been someone in one of the Cabinet Office Secretariats. I can think of exercises where an issue would either blow up in some way publicly, "how can we pull this together suddenly", or the Prime Minister would say "I am concerned about such and such and I would like to see some work on it and it is clearly the work of several departments". The policy unit could pull it together or someone in one of the Cabinet Office Secretariats might do that. The huge difference is just the scale of the resource that we have got. In saying that, I do not mean to suggest that we have loads of time to sit around all day but what I am saying is we can go into the problems in much more depth in the sense that we actually have time to go and talk to people who are affected by it. We have time to get out of London. We have time to seek out research evidence and, occasionally, even to commission new research evidence. I think that gives you a deeper insight into some of these really complex problems that people have. There is this cycle that if one thing goes wrong something else goes wrong and to try to get to the bottom of why these things happen I do not think is something you do in a week and a half or even three weeks if you have got other stuff to do.

  1236. All I am trying to suggest is that a little while ago on the Rough Sleepers' Initiative, the Prime Minister would say to a Cabinet colleague "you are in charge, your neck is on the block, go and fix it" and he might have said to the policy unit, she might have said to the policy unit, "can you please go away and work hard and I will give you extra resources to work on it". What appears to be happening now—I am not saying this is good or bad—is that the Prime Minister is building around him an office made up of units, and we have seen a number of these units, which is the most obvious manifestation of a joined-up approach to Government but which has problems in terms of accountability through Parliament, how you replace people who have been elected as the responsible person with people who have been appointed by the Prime Minister, and we have a sort of Prime Minister's Department already in existence, which maybe is right, I am not saying it is not.
  (Ms Wallace) I think I would disagree with a number of elements of that. I slightly disagree with the distinction you drew between Sir George Young's role and Hilary Armstrong's role in the sense that each is as accountable as the other. What is happening is that civil servants like Louise and me are actually being encouraged to go and talk about some of the policies that we implement. There have always been civil servants who do that. The Chief Medical Officer, who is a civil servant, appears as an expert all the time on television and probably always has. There are always people who do that. I think you are saying you can do that a bit more. One of the purposes of this, I am quite sure, is actually to make us realise that there is an accountability here to the public, and, of course, civil servants should not become political figures or usurp the role of Ministers but there is no reason why they should not have a turn explaining it because it will make them realise the complexity of some of the issues as well as Ministers do. I do not think there is a difference in the role of Ministers. Coming to what is the difference between the Rough Sleepers' Initiative as it was before and as it is now, I think what was added by the policy development occurring not only in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions—and we worked very closely when we were developing the policy on this with the DETR—what is different is that actually by coming from outside we added a bit of a lever over some of the other departments that could help make the solutions more successful, either by adding in health, drugs or alcohol or mental health, or perhaps by blocking up some of the routes into rough sleeping. Very strikingly a huge percentage of rough sleepers come from care, prison and the services. To get those departments involved is new. To get departments involved in helping to re-integrate people once they have been picked off the streets, to integrate them into normal life is new. Having someone involved from the centre helps that.

  1237. So there are a number of units, most of them coming to the Prime Minister. Who assesses these units, who monitors their performance? Are they assessed in a traditional Civil Service way or is there assessment in the end based on whether the Prime Minister thinks they are cracking the problem and wants them to crack it?
  (Ms Wallace) What do you mean by "assessed"? Do you mean in terms of should they be funded?

  1238. Are they doing the job they should be doing? Are they successful? What are their outcomes?
  (Ms Wallace) I would say that actually we are almost assessed by more tests. First of all, the Treasury has no more appetite to spend any more money than it needs to on the Cabinet Office than it does on anything else, and they ask some pretty good questions of the Cabinet Office as to whether the things in the Cabinet Office are adding value. That is the first thing. It is just like being in any other department, the Cabinet Office has no special privileges in that regard. The second thing I would say is because we were an experiment, we were deliberately set up on a time limited basis and that is very rare in Government. I think it is rather a healthy thing, that if you do not find some people who think you have added some value then maybe you will be out of a job. We were originally set up for two years and we were reviewed in a process that interviewed people out there, as it were, from voluntary organisations, lobby organisations, researchers, all sorts of people, asking "have they made a difference", but also people around Whitehall, and it came to the conclusion that all the signs were good but the thing should be kept under review. I am very happy about that. We will be reviewed again in two years. That very rarely happens to bits of Whitehall. Whitehall tends to grow and then things just sit there. It is quite hard to stop something in Whitehall. But we have a sort of permanent axe over our head.

  1239. Apart from the people from the Treasury who come in and ask you disciplined and complicated questions, do you have an annual review by the Permanent Secretary? Does your head of department audit you?
  (Ms Wallace) We are reviewed all the time. My performance is assessed by Mavis McDonald. She is the civil servant who actually determines how much I get paid next year. We also see the PM from time to time and he continues to assess whether he thinks we are delivering on what we doing. I would say that is as well as normal accountability, not instead of.

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