Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1240
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
1240. Is Mavis McDonald the same person who
(Ms Casey) No. The Rough Sleepers' Unit is part of
the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions,
we are not in the Cabinet Office, and hence my boss is Hilary
Armstrong, who is Minister for Local Government and the Regions
within the DETR reporting to John Prescott. My current performance
management both personally, unit-wise and of the target lies in
the Civil Service normal way, as it were, as you were suggesting,
in that we have a PSA agreement which we have as a department,
which Richard Mottram is responsible for. We negotiate that with
the Treasury. The department has a PSA target to 2004 on rough
sleeping, the continued prevention of rough sleeping until 2004.
We go through the spending review. We have got the same rigour
that Moira referred to from the Treasury in terms of "What
are you doing? How are you doing it? How is it monitored?"
We are all monitored I thinkas I say I am new to thisin
the normal way. It is not whether a beacon goes off somewhere
and somebody says "they seem okay", it is fairly rigorous
stuff. We continually monitor the effectiveness of the strategy
as part of the role of the Rough Sleepers' Unit, we monitor the
effectiveness of the organisations who are delivering the strategy
on the ground in local areas as much as the unit overall. I report
to a Deputy Permanent Secretary, Genie Turton, who reports to
Richard Mottram. That is my line of accountability.
1241. Do you feel that if there was a change
of Government that you would be able to carry on doing this or,
indeed, if the current Government said they wanted you to do something
else, do you feel sufficiently interested as a civil servant to
go on through a Government change?
(Ms Casey) Yes, without a doubt. I am a civil servant.
It is the DETR's PSA target, I am the Director of the Rough Sleepers'
Unit and, therefore, of course, if incoming Ministers, regardless
of their politics, wanted to change what it was we were doing,
that would be for them to decide, but as it stands at the moment
I am a civil servant reporting through the Civil Service to deliver
this strategy for Ministers as long as Ministers want that strategy
1242. Would you envisage yourself staying on
in the Civil Service then perhaps for the rest of your career?
(Ms Casey) Do you know, they need to make me an offer.
1243. Are you on a short-term contract?
(Ms Casey) Yes, I am. Again, I think that is pretty
healthy as well. Like Moira, I think there is a healthy discipline
in actually reviewing things, checking out whether the problems
are the same. I am personally on a three year contract that expires
1244. This is fascinating. Moira, did you change
your contract when you became
(Ms Wallace) No, I am a civil servant. I am still
formally on secondment.
1245. Louise is a civil servant and she is on
a short-term contract.
(Ms Wallace) There are loads of civil servants on
1246. I am teasing.
(Ms Casey) I am not a career civil servant, I applied
for the job from outside.
1247. I think this is one of the problems about
encouraging people coming from the outside, that you might want
to encourage them to leave at some stage and you still have a
two class mentality, if I can put it that way. I am talking about
the Civil Service as a whole.
(Ms Wallace) There are advantages in doing it both
1248. I suspect that they probably will make
you an offer which you will not be able to refuse. When you have
met your target and there are no more rough sleepers, will we
need the unit?
(Ms Casey) That is partly one of the things we need
to look at. I think the problem is changing, Chairman. Obviously
the numbers have reduced but there are still human beings who
are currently rough sleeping. If we meet the target it is two-thirds
but there will still be a third of people out there. We need to
look at who is still on the streets in 2002 and we need to be
clear that we need to ensure that new people do not end up rough
sleeping. So although the job may be done in terms of the numbers,
we still need to look at what needs to happen afterwards. I agree
with Moira, I think there is a very healthy discipline. You may
not need something that you call a Rough Sleepers' Unit but you
will probably need some sort of mechanism sort of somewhere to
ensure that the problem does not arise again. Again, part of my
job is to start looking at what is the problem now, what do we
need to do? What my current boss, Hilary Armstrong, is clear about
is that she does not want to be complacent about having something
because it has been good and let us just keep it running. There
is always the danger if something looks as if it is okay, or even
if it is not okay, sometimes just to keep it going. We are not
going to do that. We need to review quite clearly have we met
the target, yes or no, what is currently left, as it were, what
is the situation in the world when we have got there, how do we
ensure that we have met the target and we keep it thereit
is all well and good meeting it but how do you sustain itand
what sort of operation will be needed, and by whom, to ensure
that good work continues?
1249. Thank you very much. There is a lot of
discussion now about how Government is going to be reorganised
after the election and which departments are going to come and
which departments are going to go. One suggestion is that one
could transform your unit into a proper department for social
inclusion. Would this be a logical progression from a joined up
unit to a proper joined up department?
(Ms Wallace) You know, of course, every civil servant
will say that machinery of Government decisions are for the PM.
1250. You are amongst friends, you can talk
(Ms Wallace) I would say two things, Chairman. The
SEU has just short of 50 staff. Of course I would like to have
more resources, who would not, and I am sure they would add some
value, but I had not instantly thought of expanding from 50 to
1,000. I do not think you would create a department simply to
do the sort of things that the SEU has made its name on. That
is the first thing. The second thing is one of the things Government
has made very clear is that it thinks that it is the job of just
about every department in its own way, its own domain, to tackle
social exclusion. I think it would be strange and very unrealistic
and perverse to imagine that you could say "tackling social
exclusion is the job of this department and not the job of any
other". I think that would be very odd. Those are two things
from my own experience, if it helps you.
1251. It is not going to help you very much
in gaining a department, is it? I understand what you are saying.
(Ms Wallace) There is something to be said for not
being a department.
1252. A catalyst.
(Ms Wallace) I am sorry?
1253. I said a catalyst but you said something
(Ms Wallace) There is something to be said for focus
and nimbleness. We have moved around from one aspect of social
exclusion to another. Social exclusion has many dimensions and
undoubtedly will have in the future. We have focused a lot on
young people, we have focused on homelessness, and the major project
we are working on now is on ex-prisoners and offenders, another
area with homelessness links. There is something to be said for
1254. You mentioned the review that was done
of you in 1999. I think it said that the unit's work "has
been on the whole less enthusiastically received inside Government
(Ms Wallace) SEU, yes. I thought you might ask about
that. That is a very popular quotation. I just want to say to
you that I think it would have been very hard for Government to
be as enthusiastic as some of the people outside Government have
been about the SEU. Some people have said incredibly positive
things about it, really quite breathy things about the SEU. I
think we have gone down very, very well outside Government for
all sorts of obvious reasons, including with people outside Government
who felt they did not have anyone to talk to about their issue
and they needed to talk to somebody and they found it. Our purpose
in a waythis is obviousis to be a countervailing
pressure, to use Lord Falconer's phrase. That is what we are there
to be. There are other countervailing pressures that have their
place in the structure of departments, such as the Treasury. Institutions
like the Treasury or the SEU are sometimes seen by people as an
evil, but the question is are they a necessary evil? I will not
pretend that they are dancing in the streets when it is announced
that the SEU is going to look at this topic or another because
often people realise that this is going to herald a period of
intense questioning and possibly very difficult targets, challenge
and upheaval. There has been a very positive response from some
people. It is a new way of working. It is challenging.
1255. You told us at the beginning, both of
you in fact, in a way how relatively easy it has been.
(Ms Wallace) No, I said easier than many people had
expected. Many people expected that it would be impossible, that
was how easy some people expected it to be.
1256. I invited you to describe obstacles and
so on and you rather resisted that and said, in fact, people are
very committed and want to engage with the project and take it
on board and so on. That was why I just asked that. In practice,
if that is the case, why then in Government is there clearly some
resistance to this energetic cross-departmental initiative?
(Ms Wallace) I would not describe it as resistance.
You can read a lot into the words "less enthusiastic".
This is quite ambitious, it is focusing on outcomes, it is a new
way of doing things. There are many people who have been in the
Civil Service far longer than me who may have seen things like
this come and, by implication, go. People are bound to be cynical.
There are many, many people who desperately want it to succeed
who have pointed out all the ways it could go wrong. In the design
of the unit, which was not down to me because I was not in it
then, the people who were designing it thought quite hard about
what had gone wrong in the past and how to correct it. All the
review was trying to say is you do not always find the same breathy
enthusiasm throughout Whitehall but I would say there are a lot
of enthusiasts. I read some of the transcripts of other people's
appearances before you, people like Michael Bichard. We have had
a lot to do with his department and he could easily have said
"I wish they would get off my turf", but he did not,
he said he thought we had done some excellent work, which it was
nice of him to say. We have definitely seen a move to where we
are being asked to do more than we can do by departments. That
is a really noticeable transition. We felt that we were starting
to gain a lot of friends when that happened and we are actually
having to say "I am sorry, we do not have the resources to
1257. I am not sure if this is a criticism or
an observation but another line would be one that says this unit
has done some excellent thinking and we understand these problems
much better now because of all the work that you have been doing,
but what about the delivery side?
(Ms Wallace) I am glad you are asking that because
I get very cross when the newspapers imply there is no delivery.
Louise and her unit have been asked to reduce rough sleeping by
two-thirds over four years. Half way through they have reduced
it by a third. Well, it sounds a bit on track to me. It does not
make a good story but it sounds a bit on track to me. School exclusions:
the target was to reduce them by a third over four years and half
way through they have reduced them by 18 per cent, again sounds
a bit on track to me. Teenage conceptions as far as we can see
are on the turn down, the numbers of young people not in education
and training for work between 16 and 18 does seem to be on the
turn down too. Everything that you would expect to happen if it
was working is happening. I can give you an example as a rider
to that of a policy where we have had difficulty, which is truancy,
but, again, what you would expect to happen is happening. We,
the department, the DfEE and the Home Office are working on it
very hard to work out what we need to do to make a difference.
We are adapting the policy, which is what normally happens when
you think you might be off track. As I say, it does make a better
story if you can say "well, their reports never get implemented",
but it is not actually true, irritating as that may be. We need
to spend a bit more time communicating that, but it is not true.
1258. In a particular initiative, the truancy
one, you talked in that case of mainly one department and targets
are set. How are those measured? Do you have within your staff
people who say "we set this in train six months ago, let
us go and dig it up and see what is going on?" Who is measuring?
(Ms Wallace) The truancy figures have always been
measured by the Department for Education. There have always been
statistics and what has happened is we have not seen them move.
It has been monitored, as I say, through a variety of tracks,
all of which converge on the same objectives. I think Louise made
a really important point earlier on when she said that targets
of SEU reports are now built into departments' Public Service
Agreements. So they are not being pointed in two different directions,
the basic business plan reflects what they are trying to do on
this. The people who are worrying about the fact that we have
not actually managed to make much of a dent in truancy are, first
of all, DfEE, the lead department, and, secondly, the Treasury
because they provided a lot of money for tackling this and they
will want to see that it is working and it is in the PSA. The
other department that has an interest or is part of a joined-up
approach to tackling truancy is the Home Office, which has all
sorts of obvious interests in truants, for example it is a big
driver of crime. We will be there because we need to know if something
we recommended has not yet worked because we need to learn from
that and to do whatever we can to help people come up with
1259. If I may put it this way, the traditional
Civil Service says you do not have an audit department checking
up whether the things you set rolling are working. I understand
what you say.
(Ms Wallace) We have staff in the Social Exclusion
Unit whose whole job is to keep in contact with implementation
of our reports, and I think that is right, without blurring lines
of accountability, without trying to set up some totally different
statistical base, which would be a terrible waste of resources,
but actually keeping an eye on them without suggesting that in
some way it is not the job of the implementing units to deliver.
This is a question for the Treasury but I will try to say something
about it. The Treasury's relations with departments through spending
reviews have changed in a way that I regard as very beneficial
in that across Government we are setting better targets. They
are very demanding but we are setting targets not just for what
we expect to go in but what we expect to come out at the other
end. I am sure that is right. We are focusing on actually working
out whether it happened and focusing on that as part of the background
to the next spending review. In other words, this Committee, PSX,
that the Chancellor chairs that considers all of this actually
spends some of its time checking up on how we are getting on towards
targets. I think that represents a good approach to joining up
the Treasury and departments in the joint issue of what money
is going in and what is coming out at the other end. I think there
is much more of a focus on that, and perhaps there needs to be
in the system and I think it is healthy.
(Ms Casey) In terms of the earlier stuff about the
SEU role and coming into this, being the Director responsible
for a unit, I would like to make a number of observations really.
You may all enjoy the end omelette that you eat but the process
of cracking the eggs to get there Change is not comfortable
for people. It was not comfortable when I arrived in Shelter to
what felt like two organisations, a campaigning organisation and
then people who helped homeless people, and they did not seem
to communicate with each other. They both thought they ought to
and they felt a bit guilty about the fact that some of the campaigning
was not necessarily linked up with the service side, but the process
of getting them together, even though cracking the eggs was not
always a comfortable process although they wanted it to happen,
they enjoyed the final product. Change is not easy for people.
Looking at this very much from an outsider's perspective, there
are organisations throughout the whole of this country that are
trying to do things differently and the Civil Service and Social
Exclusion in my experience, and now the Rough Sleepers' Unit,
as well as the delivery teams, is the same thing. I think we need
to be measured against some of the stuff that is happening in
the external world. I too read the SEU feedback and would you
honestly be surprised if the welcome outside was up here and the
welcome from Whitehall was there. It did not say Whitehall thought
it was crap, it was here, it was still positive. You have got
to get that into perspective as a starting point. The second thing
is who likes change? Few people, apart from nutters like me, love
change in their lives. The process of change is always difficult
for people. That is what the Social Exclusion Unit has spearheaded
doing in a very positive way. In terms of accountability, switching
to that, I am very clear who I am accountable to. I am accountable
to Hilary Armstrong who, at the end of the day, is accountable
to the Prime Minister for delivering the strategy on rough sleeping.
The relationship with the Social Exclusion Unit is a two-way relationship.
They keep an eye on us and we feed back to them when we are running
into difficulties and we may need a helping hand or if we are
finding out stuff that we would like them to look at in other
areas. Maybe I am using the wrong tone of voice here. I think
of course change is difficult for people, of course something
like the Social Exclusion Unit cracking a few eggs and tucking
into the omelette is not easy, but then you have got the here
and now which is that it is a very dynamic relationship between
the Social Exclusion Unit and the implementing teams which at
the end of the day benefits Ministers.