Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. Fine. These things should be going on but I am not sure whether this Committee needs to know about all of these details. What I am interested in as a Member of Parliament is whether the public sector is delivering the quality of services and if they are value for money. I do not really want to know about some of these nebulous concepts that are set out in the Report. The BTI, British Trade International, how do you measure the success or otherwise of that programme?
  (Mr Whitehouse) The methodology we refer to in Appendix 1 of the Report, the process that we adopted is that we looked at these programmes by mapping out a logical, consistent way, one of which are the key imports and processes that are going to be in place to demonstrate success or at least contribute to success. We will be trying to identify if that good practice and that success criteria were not in place what needed to be done to achieve that. We also have undertaken international comparisons, looking to see what extent this particular initiative mirrored good practice elsewhere in industry and overseas and also by talking to those involved in delivering the programme, the recipients of the programme, to form a view, again a collective view, to synthesis all of the points together to form an assessment as to whether the programme itself was likely to be—

  101. In effect you are providing a management consultancy service to departments, is that right?
  (Mr Whitehouse) We are not doing that. At the end of the day we hope that this report would be of benefit to departments to make sure that they act in a consistent way.

  102. Do we need know about that here? It says here, "Specific targets such as at least 15 per cent of firms assisted which have not exported before, and at least 50 per cent of established exporters assisted improve their business performance within two years." There is no measure so far, why do you choose this as an example of joint working if there is no measurement here?
  (Mr Whitehouse) One is that it was chosen because what we tried to do is reflect the spectrum of services the government provide. At one end we have preschool children and we have businesses, and clearly specific targets in terms of rough sleeping. It is a valuable observation to say that as yet this particular initiative does not have in place information to assess its effectiveness. We were trying to see what the department was doing to ensure that that information was going to be in place. We have made recommendations about the sort of information that needs to be collected and how cost effectiveness can be assessed, which I think is an important contribution to improve the service and making sure that taxpayers' money is used effectively.

  103. I am disappointed that we have been spending time on this Report, I would like to have seen separate reports so we could examine them properly. The state sector spends a huge amount of public money and I think in many cases very badly, it provides in many instances the public with a very poor service. We have a huge amount of work to do on this Committee to examine each and every one of those projects, which we do not have time to do. I do not think we should be spending time examining concepts which are really an internal matter for Whitehall and is really effectively management consultancy advice to Whitehall departments.
  (Sir John Bourn) What I would say is noted, Chairman.

Mr Davidson

  104. Joining up to improve public services are self-evident good. What I am not clear about is why we have to take it as an initiative. We have had this marvellous machine called the Civil Service, surely the Civil Service should have self-corrected and it should not have to be ministers that tell the machine to start working together?
  (Mavis McDonald) If I may say, I do not really see joined working as an initiative, we see it as part of an on-going approach as to how policy is developed, managed and implemented.

  105. How long has it is been going for?
  (Mavis McDonald) I quoted the single regeneration project which I think started in about 1991 as one particular example.

  106. Is it only in the last 10 years that people have thought about working together!
  (Mavis McDonald) That is as far as my memory goes back, I am afraid.

  107. Unless I am mistaken, the initiative that we have to symbolise joined-up government are generally new tasks, new schemes, they are targeted groups, targeted initiatives, there is new money and there is a political momentum behind it, it is generally sort of project based. If that does not succeed then there is not much hope for the whole system. That is really the easiest possible way of having joined working, to have a new initiative with new funding?
  (Mavis McDonald) That is just one way of tackling a particular issue where the analysis has suggested you need that particular kind of approach to address the problems that you are concerned with. Across government as a whole there are a whole raft of different ways of bringing people together to work jointly. Somebody referred earlier to crosscutting PSAs which bring people together, particularly something big like the criminal justice system. There is the whole process of the PSX Committee monitoring and the Treasury monitoring PSAs and SDAs and ensuring that those key objectives are articulated.

  108. Do you see the schemes that we have in front of us as unrepresentative of joined up government that is taking place at the moment because they are project based?
  (Mavis McDonald) You may want to ask Sir John why he choose these particular ones. Certainly some of them are high profile and different in terms of the way they are trying to address particular issues. The business link one is an example of where Whitehall did realise something was going wrong because joint working was not taking place and changing the approach as a result of that.

  109. It is noticeable that we have five of you there in the front table and four of you are women and your minders behind you, the majority of them, are women as well. Is there anything of any significance there? Are women more naturally able to work corroboratively than men?
  (Mavis McDonald) You could argue, although this is nothing do with the Report, that women are better at managing several streams of different activity going on in their head at the same time because more of them have to combine several different streams of activity, whether it is work, family and providing food, or whatever.

  Chairman: Is that going to be in our final report?

Mr Davidson

  110. The other alternative view is that women are concentrated in joint working programmes and the men have the real jobs, the high-fliers in the department and are away high-flying and joint working projects are seen as something secondary.
  (Mavis McDonald) Two answers, if I may, one is that one of the targets of the Civil Service Reform Programme is to increase the number of women in the senior Civil Service, you are seeing some of the results of that here today. Secondly, we are here because of the jobs we do, not because we are women.

  111. I take your point. Could I move on to the question of culture. To what extent is this project based approach a diversion really from trying to change the culture of the Civil Service as a whole, as has been touched on by some of my colleagues? I always remember the example when community police were introduced and the effect of that, not the intention, was that everybody else felt they did not need to be nice any more, that the community policemen were there to be nice to the community and the rest of them were out to catch bad people. You might not accept that example but it was certainly true in my area at one stage. To what extent has the establishment of particular joint working projects diverted other people or allowed other people to escape from the need to co-operate in their main line work?
  (Mavis McDonald) I think that is a very fair question. I will ask both Louise and Naomi to comment if I may. One of the reasons why some of the joint units have emerged is because they are looking at issues which everybody has recognised as problems but have never quite got high enough up any one individual set of priorities within a department or in terms of the nature of the expenditure you need for results, so they do not compete with some of the big programmes, for example. This is a different way of trying to ensure that those issues are handled and that the priority is maintained. That is why we said earlier sustaining that cross-cutting, whether through an exit strategy or through main programmes, is actually a tricky issue and something that we need to work through.

  112. I want to stick with yourself, if I could. I understand that the structure and the methods of establishing a cross-cutting programme are difficult ones but the point that you made there about individual problems not having reached high enough up in a department's priority list to require collaborative working and, therefore, getting hived off in a sense almost makes the point, does it not, that these are issues that are not seen as being first tier issues and the main work of the department goes on regardless?
  (Mavis McDonald) What I would say is joint units are not the only way in which some of these issues are being addressed. Things like the development of floor targets as part of the PSA programme to ensure that in delivering education standards you are setting minimum standards, so that the main targets are not delivered at the expense of particularly the most vulnerable groups, are programmes which are designed to ensure that in the way money is given out the most vulnerable places get the amounts they actually need through some of the mainstreaming programmes, such as Neighbourhood Renewal.

  113. I do understand but in that case if joint working is so prevalent within the Civil Service why is it then that the benefits system is such a shambles? I have got constituents who end up caught in all sorts of benefits traps of one sort or another where the Housing Benefit gets cut and the Council Tax gets cut if they get a small increase and in the end are worse off. I have got one couple at the moment where the husband has just been murdered, he was previously getting Minimum Income Guarantee, the wife does not get any support and she is now worse off than she was before. If there had been joint working to any serious extent things like that could not come to pass.
  (Mavis McDonald) I think it is to avoid some of those problems that the Department for Work and Pensions has been set up and the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency have been brought together in the new Job Centre Plus Agency to try and pull together people who are used to working with a customer and understanding the needs of a customer and what the impact is of the various entitlements they might have or the various programmes that they might have access to.

  114. I wonder if I could pick up one point with Ms Casey just to see the extent to which you have got influence. One of the things that surprised me a little while ago was when I was involved in a Church of Scotland charity looking after homeless men in Scotland and I discovered an enormously high percentage of them were ex-servicemen. They had clearly got into problems because of drink problems which were caused by the macho culture and high alcohol consumption in the services. I find it difficult to believe that joint working will enable you and others to change that culture in the services anyway. That is clearly part of the problem. To what extent do you feel at the moment the structures you have got enable you to make any real impact on that?
  (Ms Casey) One of the things that has been enormously helpful to us has been the Ministerial Committee on Rough Sleeping because we have somebody there from the Ministry of Defence and, in fact, having that person there—

  115. What rank are they?
  (Ms Casey) It was John Spellar previously. In fact, I have now met with Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State. Once they discovered what was going on they were quite concerned. They do see, and particularly the personnel people in the armed forces, that they have a duty of care to people who have worked in the armed forces that goes beyond when they have finished.

  116. I asked about the rank because I understand John Spellar and Geoff Hoon doing it but in terms of civil servants or military people within the MoD, what level of commitment are you getting from them to assist with this?
  (Ms Casey) A very high level of commitment. I have somebody who is the equivalent of Grade 3 over there who I meet with from time to time to try to make sure that we are—

  117. I am not sure what Grade 3 is.
  (Ms Casey) You have a Permanent Secretary, then you have the next person down, then there is my grade, and basically it is him. His ministers have told him that this is a priority and he has to worry about it and he worries about it. The thing is civil servants are not all closed shop, we just want to carry on in our own way, if you point out to some of these people some really simple things, ie I cannot influence the culture of what happens in the armed forces but together we should be able to influence what happens to somebody when they leave, when you say to them "we did this and we did that, let us try it for six to 12 months, see if it starts to make an impact, we will use our money as a starting point", they are now taking it on and they are going to do it themselves. You can make change.

  118. I understand you can get change but this is the question that I am not clear about, that is the extent to which joint working—taking that example—has got much mileage in it. The cost of alcoholism as a result of military service falls on to somebody else, none of it falls on the military. There is no incentive then for them to be involved in doing much about it, except the point about duty of care. Anything that they do in that field is an expense without return for them. Had it not been for the politicians involved, would you have had much success in getting them to do that out of the goodness of their hearts?
  (Ms Casey) Yes, I think we would have done actually and I think we have done because the armed forces themselves have been phenomenally positive. The most major change has been the fact that across the whole of the armed forces, particularly aiming it at squaddie level, anyone who is coming out of the armed forces in less than three years now will have an assessment made by their commanding officer so that before they are discharged, and sometimes they are not discharged for positive reasons, somebody is forced to look at what is happening to them in their lives and that includes looking at homelessness. We could not have done that sitting in the Rough Sleepers Unit in DTLR. The only way we could achieve that was with the Ministry of Defence officials and the armed forces' personnel department. At the end of the day I do not think people want to see human beings sleeping on our streets. If they think that they are part of something that is creating that then genuinely if the answers are sometimes easy you can try. I am not saying we have solved everything for people in the armed forces, far from it, we have made some progress and time will only tell.

  119. Can I just go on and ask your colleagues, if I could, I have been involved in a number of joint working projects of one sort or another and there are some people who are involved in these things that are more bother than they are worth because they are not committed to doing it. Has that been your experience? Are there other ways of dealing with that situation that is not covered in the report?
  (Ms Eisenstadt) Yes, that has been our experience. Obviously not all the partnerships work perfectly and I think the report does give some good indicators on what sorts of things make the partnerships work. One of the key things, which is interesting, and you raised it in terms of rough sleepers, is having some notion about a shared goal. If everyone on the partnership agrees "this is what we are trying to achieve for children" and also is there to say "what can my agency deliver for children" as opposed to "what will my agency get out of being on this partnership", it will work.

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