Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-339)



  320. If that is the best you can do that is the best you can do and the Committee will draw its own conclusions? In response to Mr Osbourne when he asked you about the Department's role—and Mr Osbourne suggested that, perhaps, you should have become more hands-on in your intervention in the handling of the Corporation—you said, again I paraphrase, I am trying to quote as accurately as I can—because you will recall that was Mr Osbourne's question to you: Why did you not fire the Chief Executive? You said: Do it or you are fired was a question that the Department did not wish to take because they thought the Corporation was doing a good job of redeveloping Teesside. Would you corroborate that that is roughly what you said?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I would, yes.

  321. What staggered me about that response at the time was that it implies that the Department is perfectly willing to ignore its own rules as long as it believes that the Corporation in question is actually delivering the goods.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) The question—

  322. Answer the question, please?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I am going to answer the question. As I recall what we were talking about was, did we reach a view that the right way forward was either to fire the Chief Executive or equally not to reappoint the Chairman.

  323. The justification you gave was that they were delivering the goods.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Within conditional text, as I made it clear either then, or subsequently, that Department was at the same time involved in ever greater activity to make them operate within the rules. I was not, I would never condone operating without the rules

  324. The Department did.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) It did in—

  325. It did not take any defensive or punitive action against that Corporation whatsoever?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) We took effective action to make them—

  326. This Report? You call the catalogue of errors and meandering failings in this Report: "effective action in stopping the rot in that Corporation"?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) What I was about to say was we sought to take effective action, for example, to ensure that the way in which the Corporation was wound up met the requirements of this Committee and of the Department.

  327. It did not.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) We did not succeed in that case.

  328. No, you did not.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) No.

  329. The justification you have given to this Committee for not taking effective action, for not doing the things that Mr Osbourne suggested and Mr Trickett suggested we might have done is because they were delivering the goods. Answer the real question, the underlying question I am trying to force you to answer, that is, do you believe that in any circumstances whatsoever the Department can be justified in tearing up its own rule book because somebody is delivering the goods?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) No.

  330. Thank you. Tell me, was there a policy decision not to press rules to the point where they curbed entrepreneurial initiative?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) No.

  331. Sir Richard, is the real reason that the Department did nothing in the face of this catalogue of failings by the Corporation not sitting behind you and to your right? Was it not that Sir Ron Norman as Chairman of the Corporation was an extremely well-connected person to the Prime Minister at the time and it would have been politically hugely embarrassing for the Department to have taken any action which either exposed him as incompetent, because he did not know what his Chief Executive was doing, or worse, incompetent because he did?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) I think the basis on which this question is being asked is the Department took no action. That is not the case, as the Report brings out. The Department sought to take action to improve the performance of the Corporation in relation to the stewardship of public assets. The Department, I quite agree, was not ultimately successful in some respects.

  Mr Gardiner: Thank you.


  332. Arising out of Mr Gardener's questioning, Mr Hall, with regard to your present business interests do any of your present business interests have any links with any businesses mentioned in this Report?
  (Mr Hall) It has a link to what now Carillion Plc.

  333. Would you like to be amplify that link?
  (Mr Hall) They were the contractors who built Tees Barage.

  334. What is the nature of present business link?
  (Mr Hall) It is selling vacant land or land that is in need of regeneration for the company.

  335. It is selling land for the company?
  (Mr Hall) We are assisting the company in the disposal of the land.[11]

  336. Where is that now?
  (Mr Hall) In Scotland.

  Mr Gardiner: Can I express my apologies to the Committee I do have to leave now.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Gardiner.

Mr Jenkins

  337. As you appreciate, Mr Hall, by this time in the proceedings most of the questions have been asked. I will try and pull one or two things together. I get the feeling you have been on the defensive a while here, I may be wrong, and have you not had the chance to express some of your views or feelings insofar as I know you and Sir Richard believe this was a very successful enterprise. When a government brings in people like ourselves we bring them in for a reason, because we lack the ability or skill in the Civil Service or in the public sector and we look to people from outside with entrepreneurial flare, that is commercial expertise, and we give them a remit. You were given a remit, were you not, at the start to regenerate this area?
  (Mr Hall) Yes.

  338. To use your skill, as you see it, to do so?
  (Mr Hall) Yes.

  339. I should say in that, and I know because I have been in the business world a little while, certain things get in the way, sometimes you have to act fast, deals come up and very often you get an opportunity and you seize the opportunity. Sometimes detail can be left until later. Would you see that as being the truest picture of what happened to you?
  (Mr Hall) It is certainly possible that that situation can arise. If you wish to paraphrase that as being, were we property-led in the sense of looking at opportunities to build up the picture of development that is absolutely correct.

11   Note by witness: Duncan Hall Associates' (DHA) only link with any organisation previously involved with the Teesside Development Corporation is Carillion Plc where it is presently undertaking the negotiation, redevelopment and sale of a redundant office building and former depot site in Scotland together with the identification of alternative office accommodation. Method Marketing Limited, a marketing and design company, is not providing any service to any organisation, so far as I am aware, associated with the Teesside Development Corporation. Back

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