Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
THURSDAY 18 OCTOBER 2001
PRESCOTT MP, THE
TRADESTON CBE AND
40. I am quite a simple Member of Parliament with
very complicated people here. I do not understand the complicated
words we use. You get a lump of money to do something, you argue
how much money you are going to have and you have some people
in your department who are going to see where the money goes.
If you are going to build a new railway, which I wish you would
do, somebody has to plan it
(Mr Prescott) That is a matter we inherited.
41. somebody has to spend money on it, somebody
has to buy the land. I do not understand what this complication
is about the delivery?
(Mr Prescott) It is too simple in one
aspect, we do not decide where the money goes, that is a matter
for the Chancellor or the Government, our job is to make sure
that once the money has been decided and how much it is and that
they have to produce a certain outcome, and are they going to
do it with the machinery they have? That is our responsibility.
42. In your evaluation unit you were evaluating whether
you were getting value for money?
(Mr Prescott) That is certainly a consideration.
It is also for the Secretary of State when he negotiates the targets
for a PSA target they get it has to show value for money in order
to justify this claim or that claim on the budget.
43. The point I am after is this, the American Canadians
have suffered from this for many, many years, there is a neurosis
in society about value for money and evaluation, you always have
to have somebody checking somebody is not spending too much, and
so on, and you end up with a bureaucracy which often prevents
the delivery of the very thing you want because there are so many
people round checking, evaluating and so on. Have you, this is
not a facetious question, are you ever going to see yourself evaluating
the source round the actual delivery of the goods which is inhibiting
the actual delivery because there is so much bureaucracy round
it caused by the pressure from the media, by Members of Parliament
and everybody else to actually see if you are getting good value
for money. The result is that the on cost is enormous.
(Mr Prescott) It is difficult, I agree.
You, no doubt, like the Public Accounts Committee want to see
that we are spending money properly and that is a proper way of
checking if we are spending money properly. The difficulties for
delivery, to which you refer, I wonder whether Gus Macdonald can
answer those problems, they are what they have to address them
to. We defeat our purpose if it is going to cost us a lot more.
That extra cost must be considered as part of the improvement.
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) I agree with the thrust
of what Mr Steen says. We have to have a very clear focus on trying
to deliver the outcome that your Parliament voted the money for.
I disagree with the journalist who said that we are unfocused.
In any organisation you will get confusion on focus but it is
our job in the Delivery Unit, in the particular areas of priority,
to ensure that that focus is maintained. That is a very tough
job for any group of senior managers. I have some sympathy, coming
from a management background, with the Civil Service and the task
that it faces. Our Delivery Unit is made up of only 30 people
but you can see that we will work very closely with the departments
because in the end it is the departments with their thousands
of staff who must deliver in the leadership of millions of public
sector workers. That is why we have try to apply the general principles
of reform which came out in the early 1990s in the Citizens' Charter
and we, again, tried to update and refocus in our four guiding
principles which you have made reference to in your past work.
In that way I believe that we through the Delivery Unit can help
the departments maintain their focus and find solutions to some
of the particular problems. My role is part progress chaser and
reporting to the Prime Minister, it is part traffic cop, if you
like, to stop the units bumping into one another. As the Deputy
Prime Minister says overlapping activities are sometimes quite
useful and inevitable if you are looking at cross-cutting activities,
there is bit of brokerage involved and there is a bit of management
consultancy of a very occasional kind. It is all in an attempt
to put delivery at the heart of this administration in a sharper
way than was the case in the first four years of the previous
44. Is your sense so far, I know it is very early
days, clearly you will review this as you go long, that you really
have a structure now that is capable of doing this delivery job
that we all know is so central?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) It is too
early to say given the huge magnitude of the task. What I can
say is that we started well in terms of relationships with departments,
they have been very ready to meet with us and talk about possible
solutions and share their problems. We have already established
a very good working relationship with the Treasury. We are working
very well with the Deputy Prime Minister's units and his activity
and, of course, as the Deputy Prime Minister says, a lot of this
activity is in the end clasped together through the Cabinet Committees.
The Deputy Prime Minister chairs the Domestic Affairs Committee
which is sitting there sharing the central importance in all of
this, with the PSX Committee chaired by the Chancellor. We have
bound a lot of this together quite quickly. Now the challenge
is to see whether we can deliver.
(Mr Prescott) I think the Committee properly dealt
with the examination of what motivates Government to get best
value, and we have gone through various things. Privatisation
was an idea of getting the market to do it cheaper, it is clearly
about cost. Compulsory competitive tendering is another example
of that. We have used best value. The concentration has been on
cost, what we are trying to say once again is this argument about
the quality of the service, can we measure quality and then how
can we measure it? That is what we are trying to do. It has not
been done that way before. There are difficulties and I am ever
hopeful that we will be successful in it. What I am quite sure
about is the pursuit of the cost way has not necessarily given
us the best value, perhaps we should do it a different way, as,
indeed, recommended in your own report.
45. I am not sure who one has the responsibility
for the e-Envoy. There has been an OFTEL report and several reports
recently which point Britain several places down the league table,
depending which set of these tables you use. My understanding
is that the e-Envoy has something like 100 projects under his
wing. I am just curious as to how 100 projects is going to help
deliver Britain to be the number one e-business within the next
three months, which is the Prime Minister's target?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) As I am
sure you are aware Mr White the e-Envoy reports to Patricia Hewitt
and the DTI and they also have an e-commerce Minister in Douglas
My particular interest is in the e-Government side of it. In the
progress to date we have established that there are 521 central
government services now and of these 42 per cent are available
electronically. Our target is to have 73 per cent available by
2002 and, as you know, we are hoping to achieve 100 per cent total
by 2005. My particular interest is in that area of e-government.
The e-Envoy certainly has a very big job on his hands but I can
assure you from my short acquaintance with him in the last 4 months
he is very energetic.
46. Most of the actual projects are about e-Government,
there are about two or three about e-business. How do those projects
actually transform the way that government delivers services?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) First of
all, you obviously look at the definition of delivery services
and what the definition of electronic delivery is. If are you
`phoning a call centre rather than going on the Internet then
that would be defined as electronic delivery if they have the
means in front of them to call up the information that is coming
through to the request from the customer. We have over 1,000 government
websites, we are obviously trying to rationalise those through
the deployment of UK online for a start. Of course the Government
Gateway, which will, as you know, it is a very secure piece of
infrastructure, and I think the first of its kind in the world
in a public arena, and will allow business to be able to transact
with government in way that has not been the case before. Probably
most famously the ability to do your self-assessment or PAYE tax,
but I am assured by my colleagues that is not yet easy. There
is an awful lot of work to be done in some of these areas. We
have made a start. The government gateway appears to be one of
the leaders in the world. UK online we are trying to develop.
We are looking to create more access, as you may know, with the
on-line centres, of which there are currently 1,500
across the country, and we are aiming to have 6,000 by the end
of next year.
47. One of the things that concerns me about the
way public service is delivered is the way that we set up pilots
and the tick-box mentality, I call it, the Treasury allocates
the money so it ticks a box, the department produces a White Paper
and it ticks a box, there is project design pilot which is shown
to ministers, it is wonderful. That happens in one small geographical
area, the rest of the country do not see the improvements and
services and at the end of the pilot the people running the pilot
have to run around trying to find a replacement for that project
money. How do you get those pilots and projects into mainstream
delivery across the whole country?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) I think
the Office of the e-Envoy is a way in which those kind of problems
you describe are treated much more quickly and seriously than
they would been in the past and the appointment of Ministers with
special responsibilities in these areas I think also helps in
that regard. We have tried to make sure that each department does
maintain a strong focus of activity in this area, it has been
put very high on their agendas. I have every reason to hope that
is being delivered. I will confess that only four months into
the job my information is not comprehensive and I suspect my knowledge
of this area does not match your own.
48. Can I push you on this a bit, we have a lot of
people out there who are spending their time trying to get money
to keep very valuable projects going rather than spending money
on delivering. Part of that links into the PSA programme and the
coming Comprehensive Spending Review, what are you doing in this
department to make sure that whole emphasis of changing pilots
into mainstream delivery is going to be the focus so that at the
end of the four years of this Parliament we will have seen this
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) I think
the next Spending Review process is due to start in earnest in
the months ahead but that is where I think the Deputy Prime Minister,
with his particular concern to ensure that we have more joined-up
government through the Cabinet Committee, will be in a very special
position to help.
(Mr Prescott) I do not know any more than what Gus
Macdonald has said. I would be happy to look at it and write back
to the Committee to see if I can give you more information. If
there are further questions you would like to put to me either
now or later I will certainly meet with you and discuss how we
have to develop it?
49. Can I suggest that one of the areas that you
need to look at is the whole question of Treasury rules and the
way that the public sector is divided?
(Mr Prescott) I hate Treasury rules.
50. The government, quite rightly, moved to resource
accounting, and that was a major step forward, is that the end
of the process or do you see further changes in the way public
sector money is defined, what money is defined as private sector,
what is public and what is a mixture?
(Mr Prescott) That is a very important
step forward and there is a lot of work to be done on it. Treasury
rules, which are largely to do with financing, I always have had
my arguments with from time to time. I think they are changing,
there has probably been more changes and less Treasury rules than
we have seen before, particularly in the transport, environment
and local authority lots of changes would be made. Of course the
whole business of public/private partnership, which the Committee
is going to be looking at as well, is a matter of further examination
and will require resource allocation considered in a different
way. It is certainly a major part of the finer changes in Treasury
rules at present.
51. Can I change tack a bit to go on to the regional
government. Quite rightly, Mr Prescott, you mentioned the fact
that so much time is required of the Prime Minister and all of
the responsibilities that come down to you ultimately, Climate
Change, Cabinet Office, social exclusion as well, what concerns
me is the split between the government agencies of the regions,
where you are ultimately responsible for the government offices
and not the regions and the DTI is responsible for the RDAs. Who
is ultimately responsible at the end of the day for developing
the policies for the regions in that scenario?
(Mr Prescott) It is a very good question
because while I was the Secretary of State for the Department
of Environment, Transport and the Regions I was responsible for
bringing in the Regional Development Agencies. Of course it did
mean that the DTI dealing with Europe had to deal with the grants
and so, to a certain extent, there was a certain amount of cross-cutting
involved and the regional government offices were really trying
to deal with that. I think as your report pointed out again they
were not working very effectively. We had a separate report
which was commissioned by ourselves and they were not working
as efficiently and effectively as they could. One of the changes
we have made is to get all departments involved, not all departments
were involved, that is a major part, and the direct responsibility
is to the Cabinet Office. It is true that the RDAs have been passed
over to the Department of Trade and Industry at the present time,
which has been connected with grants. This is always one of the
problems, you can put two or three of them together or you can
put them all into one. Frankly if we move towards a regional government
structure I do believe those RDAs should be accountable to the
regions. These discussions have yet to go to the government in
a White Paper presentation. Obviously there will have to be central
government negotiating with Europe, and that presumably, will
remain with the Department of Trade and Industry, and we will
put together the regional government offices and the RDA and then
the existing regional assemblies at the moment, to which we have
to ask ourselves, what is the level of democratisation that is
to apply within the regions. At the moment it is a little untidy
but I think in the White Paper we will do something to tidy this
52. Will one of the issues within the White Paper
address possible problems between government, the regions and
the RDAs? I can think of an example, which I will not go into
now, where there may well be different policies. Ultimately the
decision was taken at a higher level and what policy would be
adopted. What would happen in the future in terms of determining
policy for the regions, would it be ultimately yourself?
(Mr Prescott) Central government makes
this decision or it will apply as a policy. For example, if you
want to designate a certain area in an objective one or an objective
two the government have to negotiate in Europe, there is clearly
going to be a government role. Once you have decided the policy
the regional Government Offices are there to make sure it is coordinated,
all departments work to those objectives. Do remember the responsibility
I would have on a White Paper is to recognise what we as a government
promised, that is that we would have a regional government system
and it would be based upon the unitary local government system
and the people would make a decision as to whether they wanted
it. It must raise the possibility that some areas might vote to
have such a regional government and some may not. That is a commitment
that we made that it would be the choice of the people for that
and we would have to take that into account in our White Paper.
The Regional Development Agencies have been successful. They do
take into account the regional strategic planning that we asked
them to do and I think they have shown a lot of coherence and
agreement on the policies which ever region they are working in,
although every region is different and the balances are bound
to be different. As an agency working to government direction
I think they work quite well. Under this Cabinet Office now we
can be sure that the government's policy is clear enough and they
implement it within the regions.
53. Even if we were not sure who Mr Delivery was
there is no question you are Mr Regions now.
(Mr Prescott) That is the very point.
I will be responsible with the Secretary of State. My job is not
to take over the Secretary of State's job and it is important
that as somebody who has to work with Secretaries of Statewe
may have disagreements about certain policieswith my Cabinet
Committee role I have to try and find an agreement. My job is
not necessarily to run their role but in this case it has been
decided that I will be responsible with Stephen Byers to prepare
the White Paper. I will then present it to Parliament and he then
has the responsibility, once the policy is decided, to implement
it and legislate for it.
54. I do apologise, I am having huge problems with
the whole concept of the centre.
(Mr Prescott) Join the club.
55. I have decided I need a picture to help me. Somebody
tried to find one for me on the web but it is all out of date,
it was a Cabinet Office organisation chart. Before I started this
I was wondering if we could have the picture in due course and
a line coming out of it, but then I think I might get a better
understanding. I do think that is really important for the future.
(Mr Prescott) Can I say to you that we
will arrange for that to be done. There is one being prepared
and I know that the Committee received a previous diagram. We
will do our best to provide you with it.
56. That would be helpful. I have a number of questions,
I will just ask one little section at the moment, that is really
pulling out your function and responsibility. Again, that is why
we need the chart since this is all about responsibility and accountability
at the end of the day.
(Mr Prescott) People who work with me
understand it pretty well.
57. One of my colleagues recently submitted a question
for you to answer, the question is not important
(Mr Prescott) Was that Mr Oaten?
58. Yes. The question itself is not important.
(Mr Prescott) That was me!
59. Not in this context. "What role was played
by the new Cabinet Office Delivery Unit in place of the Railtrack
administration?" I thought that would have been a question
you would have answered but in fact the reply, Mr Prescott, was
. . .
(Mr Prescott) That is not our responsibility.
3 Note by witness: The e-Envoy reports to the
Prime Minister and works with Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State
for Trade and Industry. Back
Note by witness: Please refer to subsequent letter to the
Committee (NC 1A) p. 24. Back
Witness correction: 1,900. Back
Note by witness: The PIU report "Reaching Out". Back
Note by witness: Please refer to subsequent letter to the
Committee (NC 1A) p. 24. Back