Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. You do not think it would be useful to show them an early draft, given that that is the body, outside this place, that has the expertise to give valuable comments on what happens in Whitehall?
  (Mr Grice) We have had several communications from the Royal Statistical Society since the publication of the White Paper to which we have given responses. We shall certainly take into account some of the valuable points that they have made.

Mr Kidney

  21. Minister, Dr Holt announced his resignation in June last year and said that he intended to leave at the end of the year. The end of the year has been and gone and he is still there. How has that come about?
  (Miss Johnson) In fact, when we were discussing the potential new arrangements in which ONS was involved in formulating, Dr Holt decided he would not want his contract renewed and that he would take that as an opportunity to do other things with his working life. At that point he said that he would go when we had appointed a National Statistician to take over and there was someone in the new post. I am glad to say that he has stayed on until we are in that position. He will be off to pastures new to coincide with the arrival of the new National Statistician.

  22. Your predecessor, Patricia Hewitt, said that she was very grateful to Dr Holt for announcing his intention in good time to ensure a smooth transition to the new governance arrangements. When the end of the year came nothing was in place. Has that done any harm to the reputation of the ONS?
  (Miss Johnson) I do not believe so because ONS has a very large programme of work. A number of initiatives have led it to take forward developments of which you will be aware. As a result of that a lot of work has gone on. It has worked towards the new arrangements and put in place certain improvements within the existing organisation, all of which have been taken forward ably by Dr Holt in his present role. There will be a smooth transition to the new National Statistician, Len Cook, when he arrives.

  23. Was there public advertisement and open competition for the new post of National Statistician?
  (Miss Johnson) Indeed, we advertised, although off the top of my head I cannot tell you where. We advertised in a number of locations and we went through various search arrangements as well.
  (Mr Grice) The appointment was made strictly in accordance with civil service appointments and with the competition procedures.
  (Miss Johnson) In accordance with Nolan.

  24. Was there any difficulty in attracting top quality applicants for the job?
  (Miss Johnson) I was not directly involved with the appointment, although as you will appreciate, I have had discussions with those who were. There was a short list of four or five candidates, all of whom were felt to be good strong candidates on paper and proved to be so at interview. We were very pleased indeed to be able to offer the job to Len Cook and for him to be able to accept it. If we had had any hesitation about it, I certainly would have said that we must advertise again. As I said in response to an earlier point, this is a key person, as is the top person in any organisation. The quality of that person is very important. We are confident we have a very good person coming in. He has very wide experience and he will bring just the dimension that we want to the new role.

  25. Did I hear correctly, that you did not take part in the actual appointment process?
  (Miss Johnson) I did not, no.

  26. Did any Minister?
  (Miss Johnson) No.

  27. Could you clarify at what level it was carried out? You have said that it is a very important post.
  (Miss Johnson) The Permanent Secretary in the Treasury was involved.
  (Mr Grice) Sir Len Peach, the Civil Service Commissioner and an outside member from the University of Keele.
  (Miss Johnson) Also a statistician.
  (Mr Grice) Professor Bartholomew is a very distinguished statistician from the London School of Economics. I think those were the main people.

  28. Do you know why Mr Cook got the job rather than the other applicants?
  (Miss Johnson) I believe that the appointments committee unanimously felt him to be the best candidate for the job. It was felt that he had the greatest amount to offer us and it was universally felt to be the right appointment.

  29. You believed that to be so because other people reported back to you?
  (Miss Johnson) Indeed.

  30. Is there something wrong with the Royal Statistical Society because they have written to us to say that they offered to help in the process of selecting the new National Statistician and that you spurned their advances? They offered to advertise in their newspaper; they offered to put forward a statistician to take part in the interview process, but you did not accept any of their offers.
  (Miss Johnson) I am not aware of that so I do not think I can comment on it directly. We were happy with the arrangements that we had. We covered the Nolan requirements very fully. We had a professional statistician of high standing involved in the appointment and an independent person as well. I do not think that we lacked, in any way, on the appointments committee the kind of range of expertise that one would want on such a committee. The fact that I had not been involved with the process may be thought to be a good thing. Some may say it was better that a politician was not involved, although that is a matter of debate. However, I knew what all the arrangements were as they were being made and I felt confident that the arrangements were the right ones and I still feel that.


  31. Can Mr Grice throw any light on that matter?
  (Mr Grice) Professor Bartholomew is an extraordinarily eminent statistician. He was asked and agreed to be the statistical representative on that board. It is perhaps worth adding that for the Statistics Commission appointments—the chairman and the members—Professor Adrian Smith, who is an ex-President of the Royal Statistical Society will be involved. There is nothing unwelcome about the Royal Statistical Society.

Mr Kidney

  32. I hate to say that that does not answer the point, but the Royal Statistical Society also complained to us that you were picking the statisticians rather than the society doing so and it felt that it was the more appropriate body to put forward a name than yourselves. Whether Professor Bartholomew or Professor Smith are distinguished or not, they are not the choice of the Royal Statistical Society. Is that correct?
  (Miss Johnson) We have arrangements with which we feel entirely comfortable, and which we believe include the right components. Of course, there are many places that one can go for such expertise. The Royal Statistical Society is an important place where statistical expertise is to be found, as are a number of other places, such as university academic departments. It is conceivable that other bodies could have senior and highly regarded statisticians who would be able to be involved in such an appointment board. Whenever one looks at a small panel like this, it is difficult to resolve the membership of it in a way that will not make some organisation or individual who is not included, feel that they perhaps should have been.

Mr Ruffley

  33. Who decided the composition of the appointment panel?
  (Miss Johnson) It was certainly discussed with me and I certainly agreed the overall composition in terms of what sort of people would make it up.

  34. Who put names to you for your ministerial approval?
  (Miss Johnson) Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Permanent Secretary in the Treasury.

  35. How many applicants were interviewed?
  (Miss Johnson) Applicants for the job, I think four or five.
  (Mr Grice) The process was to construct a long list and a short list of nine and of those nine four or five were invited for final selection.

  36. I imagine that you cannot give us an indication as to who those individuals were?
  (Miss Johnson) I think that would be a little invidious. Those other individuals obviously have careers and they may not have told their existing employers. I do not know what arrangements were made, but I do not think we could put that information into the public domain.

  37. What was your thinking when Sir Andrew Turnbull gave you a list of the members for the appointment panel? Did you think, are these the right people? What advice did you take? Why did you not speak to the Royal Statistical Society? As a Minister, ultimately it was your decision who sat on the appointment panel. What advice did you take?
  (Miss Johnson) There was some discussion about the kind of arrangements that we wanted to make, rather than a lot of discussion about the specifics of the individuals. I believe that it was more important that we had the range of people with the right backgrounds and the right quality. We believed we had the right people to fulfil those roles. However, first, we had to agree what those roles were and how the distribution of background, skills, experience and expertise would be represented on the appointment panel. There was probably more discussion about those matters than there was about the individual names. I have every confidence in the arrangements that were made and indeed every confidence in the outcome.

Mr Kidney

  38. I missed the answer to a question that was given last year about the disbanding of the Statistics Advisory Committee, which happened on 4 May 1999. Could you explain why that was abolished?
  (Miss Johnson) No, I cannot off the top of my head. It was before my time as a Minister. You are asking me a question to which I am not aware of the answer. I shall be happy to drop the Committee a line on that point, if that would be helpful.

  39. What are you doing to obtain the views of customers, users and experts if there is no advisory committee at the moment?
  (Miss Johnson) A lot more arrangements are being put in place to ensure that in every possible way the new arrangements take more notice and more account of the role of both those who may have an interest because they are providers of information and indeed the users of statistics.

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