Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  60. Mrs McDonald, I would like to return to this question of risk management. It says on page 44 ". . .risk assessment and management still tends to be ad hoc and not done in a systematic way." I am sure Professor Amann is right that you do not want a pure painting by numbers approach that does not involve critical faculties being engaged, but is it not the case that risk management and risk assessment and management in terms of policy development should be absolutely anything but ad hoc, they should be absolutely central to the process of creating, designing and implementing a policy?
  (Mavis McDonald) Yes.

  61. So why are they ad hoc still?
  (Mavis McDonald) I think this is an area where we are in the process again, as Ron says, of trying to change the culture, to use his words. There are a number of ways in which risk management has now been embedded in day to day life within the Civil Service, as it were, that were not there before which focuses our attention on them, including the formal statements of internal control that the Treasury and the NAO require. Again, the work that the Delivery Unit and the Office of Public Services Reform will do will be trying to show good examples of how to embed risk management itself, not just the assessment of the risk but the management of the risk, in the way in which programmes and projects are rolled out.

  62. I am tempted to ask you whether any risk management was undertaken in the Individual Learning Accounts but I have already asked that one. All right, do you know anything about the risk management that was undertaken in the Individual Learning Accounts at all?
  (Mavis McDonald) No, I am sorry.

  63. We will save that for the next hearing when it comes up. You mentioned the statements of internal control that the Treasury requires people to produce. Do you think all accounting officers now produce such statements?
  (Mavis McDonald) The full system applies to the next year when we have to account for our money but most of us have been practising, as it were, over the last year.

  64. But not all?
  (Mavis McDonald) And the way in which we are doing this within departments is not just by saying we have done it and it is okay.

  65. You said that most people were doing practice runs but not all, is that right?
  (Mavis McDonald) I think departments are on varied timetables. I think Brian may be able to help.
  (Mr Glicksman) All departments have to produce a statement of internal control for the year we are in, 2001-02, with their accounts for that year. With the accounts for the year that finished last March they have to produce a statement that they are aware of the requirement and that they are working towards it.

  66. How many departments have complied so far?
  (Mr Glicksman) Not all accounts have been published yet but I am not aware of any departments that have failed to.

  67. When should they all be published by for the year 2000-01?
  (Mr Glicksman) They should all be published by 31 January.

  68. So you are expecting by the end of this month all accounting officers will have complied with the requirement to produce a full statement of internal control?
  (Mr Glicksman) That they will have complied with the requirement to say that they know they need to produce one for next year for the year we are in now and that they are working towards it.

  69. Right. You are talking about the financial year ending 31 March when you say the accounts will be published?
  (Mr Glicksman) Last March will be published this January, at the end of this month. Then accounting officers have to confirm with those accounts that they are aware of the requirement for a statement of internal control next year, that is the year we are in now, and that they are working towards that.

Mr Steinberg

  70. I am going to be polite, I am going to be very polite. I am not going to say what I was going to say. He said it would be wrong to say it so I will take his advice. The report is entitled Modern Policy-Making: Ensuring Policies Deliver Value for Money and the crux of the report is in paragraph 2.6, page 35. It is a very clear heading that says "Having early warning indicators" to see what is actually happening in a department or a policy if anything is going wrong. How do you actually do this? I have heard a huge amount of rhetoric this afternoon which has been very interesting but how do you actually put in place the mechanism to find out whether a policy is working or not?
  (Mavis McDonald) I am going to ask both Stephen and David to comment on that because they have got real world examples of it.

  71. So the Cabinet Office is not in the real world?
  (Mavis McDonald) No. My answer in principle is that we have to be very much better at giving good performance indicators as to how we are going to achieve what we say we are going to achieve.

  72. How do they do that?
  (Mr Crowne) Can I start with the example of the National Literacy Strategy, which is alluded to here. The key principle here is that we have a mechanism which enables us to get very quick feedback, both from local authority and school level, on any aspect of the strategy as it is being rolled out. One of the innovative aspects of the National Literacy Strategy was it was an all-embracing strategy which included setting targets, providing professional development and resources and the management tools required to implement those. We started out on the basis of a best practice model but realised that would need to develop over time so what we had to do was set up a structure whereby we could review weekly often, certainly termly, how the strategy was being implemented.

  73. How did you do that?
  (Mr Crowne) We did that through a structure of consultants who worked at local authority level and—

  74. How did you know that the policy was working or not?
  (Mr Crowne) We had weekly feedback from the schools to our consultants identifying the key issues at any one time.

  75. Where was the proof that it was working?
  (Mr Crowne) The proof that it was working was in the results.

  76. But I would argue as an ex-head teacher that it proves nothing, raw tests and raw league tables. I argued that when Kenneth Baker brought them in back in 1988 or something like that, they do not show anything.
  (Mr Crowne) Clearly the Key Stage 2 results are a very important indicator but there are other indicators including, very importantly, what Ofsted find in the classroom about the quality of teaching and learning. The important thing for a strategy like this is to pull together all the sources of data and make sure that the strategy develops in response to those. There are a number of areas which we could identify where we changed the strategy, developing it in a direction we had not anticipated because of the feedback we got.

  77. I say this with great respect, the meningitis one it was successful, it was obviously successful because you produced more vaccine, you gave more people the vaccination and consequently less people caught meningitis. That is bloody obvious to me, it does not need the Cabinet Office to tell you that if you inoculate more people it is going to be more successful, less people are going to die. What is great about that?
  (Dr Salisbury) What was great about it was that when we started in 1994 this vaccine did not exist, there was no vaccine for this meningitis. We went to the manufacturers and persuaded them to make a new vaccine for the United Kingdom, which we would be the first in the world to have. What was great was that up until 1999, when we launched this campaign, people died daily and many, many suffered from the disease. I think something was achieved, it was not simply a matter of running with a vaccine.

  78. A little fella in Whitehall said, "let us have a vaccine for meningitis", why did the little man in Whitehall not say that 10 years ago?
  (Dr Salisbury) What happened was that firstly in 1992 there was a different vaccine introduced into this country that had a dramatic effect, that showed us that this type of product could work if it was applied more widely. We also had intelligence from other parts of the world, Canada in particular, parts of Europe, Spain, that a new strain of meningitis was emerging. We identified that it would simply be a matter of time before it came here. This vaccine was developed before the problem landed on our shores. Yes, it was a matter of the Department of Health and Public Health Laboratory Service working with all of the major vaccine manufacturers to ask them if they had the capacity to develop this new product specifically for the United Kingdom. I have not answered your questions.

  79. That is okay. I accept what you are saying, that is slightly different to asking Mrs McDonald, what mechanisms are put in place to find when policies are not working?
  (Dr Salisbury) I can certainly answer to the mechanisms we had in place during this vaccine campaign. Firstly, we put in place surveillance before the campaigned started so we would be able to monitor the impact on a disease basis. We also put in sentinel surveillance all round the country so that we had weekly feedback from all of those involved in delivering the programme. We had daily feedback from those producing the supplies and telling us of the stock holding, and we had daily feedback on safety. We had a weekly report from the national laboratory responsible for all of the surveillance that told us the impact on the disease throughout the whole country. Once a week we could open up the spreadsheet and we could see where there were suddenly no cases.


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