Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 220-239)

SIR RICHARD WILSON GCB

THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2001

Mr Prentice

  220. I will pass, I am getting nowhere.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I refuse to discuss whether there have been any discussions on the euro in the Cabinet.

  Mr Prentice: I thought you were going to elaborate.

Chairman

  221. Did you want to say anything else?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) No, sir.

Mr Trend

  222. Could I just move on to the new units and talk about those?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.

  223. It seems to me that one of the criticisms of the 1997-01 Government, and it came out at the General Election, was the failure to get as much delivery as expected to through. Are the new units not a way of you maintaining the Civil Service as it is while giving Mr Blair what he wants?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) No, sir.

  224. So what is it?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I think the new units are more important. Again, I must say to you I do not accept at all the model that the Civil Service is blocking Ministers or is resisting change. I think, in fact, if you look fairly at the evidence, the evidence is we are going through a huge change and I do believe that pretty strongly. I hope you accept that. What the units are about is a new phase in the process of change. In the last Parliament we had a very big drive on Modernising Government in the direction of focussing people on delivery, on joining up across government so we did not get too much caught in particular silos, to use the phrase, and on the need to modernise the Civil Service in all sorts of ways through stronger leadership, greater diversity, bringing in people where we had not got the skills, bringing in people who were talented, better performance management and better business planning. If you want me to tell you what we have done on that I can tell you either now or in writing. I think we have accomplished quite a lot in the Service in terms of people accepting what I have just been describing. We have now got to a point where I think people know in their heads what has to be done. The knack is actually making it happen. The Delivery Unit, if I may take that first, which I am really very proud of—

  225. It was your idea, was it not?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) No, it was not my idea, but I am proud of the fact that we have set it up and I am proud of the way it is so far developing. It was a decision of the Prime Minister to set it up, it was his decision, not mine, and I would not dream of claiming that. What it represents is a selection first of the four areas which are of key priority to the Government: health, education, transport and law and order. Within those four areas there is a selection of a limited number of key targets, between four and six, which are clearly agreed with the department. What the target is is clearly defined with the department, in a manner which is consistent with the Public Service Agreements. This is a case where we are working very closely together with the Treasury in defining what has to be done. Then agreeing with the department how they are going to deliver it and agreeing all sorts of aspects of delivery, including the staffing of the teams who will be responsible for the delivery and so on, and how the performance will be measured. Then single-mindedly focussing on the delivery of those targets over the next three or four years with the Prime Minister taking a close, personal interest in that process. So when I say I am proud of it, I think that model is a new model, it has within it some very important new developments, including the simplification and the reduction of the number of targets, but it is also very ambitious. I think the political stakes for the Government in delivering a radical improvement in public services are high. I think the stakes for the Civil Service in terms of our own reputation and self-esteem are very high. I think we have got a very big challenge and we are rising to it, and that is what I am proud of.

  226. I am struggling to get my head round where PSAs fit in. Also, one of the criticisms before was that there was too much project funding so there was a whole series of pilots which did not get translated into the whole country. Is the Delivery Unit looking at those pilots and also, for example, the PIU Report that reported about the lack of co-ordination at regional level? Is that the kind of area it is looking at?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) No. Can I just go back to the description I gave you first on PSAs. The targets which the Delivery Unit is agreeing with the departments are either themselves PSAs or are component parts of PSAs. We have made absolutely sure that they are consistent with PSAs so that they support PSAs, they are not in some sense cutting across them or different from them and there is no confusion about the message that is being given to a department. They are a selection of PSAs which have been picked out as critically important to the Government. That is the first thing.

Chairman

  227. Are these publicly available?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) No, they are not at the moment publicly available.

  228. Are they going to be?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I got that wrong. The PSAs, of course, are publicly available.

  229. We know that the PSAs are available but if these are entirely consistent with them, why can they not be as well?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) That is an issue which I think leads to Lord Macdonald and it is an issue I will report back to him on if you would find that helpful. Is that alright? Can I just pick up on something. The focus of the Delivery Unit is on the delivery of those PSAs or some PSAs. If a project is part of a department's programme for reaching that target, then it will be something the Delivery Unit will take an interest in because it is part of the programme. The department will put together a programme describing exactly how and when it is going to get to where it is agreed it will get to. It has got to be a plan which is convincing and deliverable and feasible.

Brian White

  230. The actual decision that turns a project from a pilot into mainstream funding is still the department's, it is not for the Delivery Unit to do that?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) The Delivery Unit asks the department how it can make whatever the commitment is happen. It is the department's job, yes, to draw up that plan but the Delivery Unit will want to be satisfied that the plan is real, properly thought through, credible, feasible and it can happen.

  231. Where does the Treasury link into this?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) The Treasury is responsible for the monitoring of PSAs on which they report to PSX and PSX will take a very strong interest in this, as does the Prime Minister.

  232. Where does the Office of Public Service Reform fit in?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) What we are describing, first of all, is a performance management arrangement covering certain PSAs and then, in addition, for other PSAs there is still the existing machinery which I have described to you.

  233. Will it also be the ones in the Delivery Unit or not?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) PSX will oversee the ones in the Delivery Unit with the Prime Minister taking a particular interest. You have got performance management, if I might call it that, although the real performance management happens in the department.

  234. One of the criticisms has been that we have been particularly bad at performance management in both the public and private sector in this country. What training are you doing to build in delivery?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) We have the CMPS now ratcheting up very considerably its training programmes in areas such as project management. We have laid on a very big training programme in project management and other skills relevant to delivery and, again, we can give you information on that if you are interested.

  235. Please.
  (Sir Richard Wilson) The role of training is an important ingredient in what I am describing. The truth is, you are quite right, it is very interesting, and we have had quite a dialogue with some people in the private sector because we are now trying to recruit people—and, if you remember, as part of the reform programme we identified 100 key posts, we have filled 115 now of the kind that are relevant to delivery—and what we are discovering is that there is a national shortage and quite a lot of private sector employers say that the things we are trying to do, which are hugely ambitious, are things they too have difficulty with and are needing people to do. We are in competition. To some degree what we are revealing is some degree a shortage and weakness that is not peculiar to the Civil Service.

  236. It has been a problem in this country for some time. What has happened to the Modernising Government Unit? Has it been wound up?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) It has been wound up. That does not mean modernising government is no longer important. We have now re-organised the Cabinet Office so that we can build ourselves around the things that we need to move on to. The essence of the Cabinet Office is you do a task and then you wind it up and move on. We think we have embedded quite a lot of things in departments that we thought were important before, the importance of being joined up, the importance of better quality and so on. Some of those functions are in CMPS, which has become part of training, some are in OPSR, and for some of them we have had said we are going to redeploy resources.

  237. So who is responsible for the modernising government targets?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I think they will be absorbed in the Delivery Unit's work, the PSAs, and the OPSR will have to do some of them. I think they will now be dispersed across different parts of the centre.

Chairman

  238. Did anyone announce that modernising government has been buried?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) It has not been buried, it has been carried forward in a different form.

  Chairman: That could count as a classic exchange. Gordon Prentice?

Mr Prentice

  239. Sir Richard, you told us a few moments ago that you were proud of the Delivery Unit and I just wonder if your enthusiasm is shared across Whitehall for the Delivery Unit?
  (Sir Richard Wilson) I would be surprised if it was. I used the phrase because I think people too quickly get into apologising for units and I am trying to do the opposite of that because it is quite a bold venture and we should be proud of it rather than ashamed of it. That is why I used that language. In departments we have spent a lot of time talking about some of this and I think there is a real appreciation of the scale of what we are trying to do. The culture of the Service is going, in some respects, to need to change quite dramatically, not losing core values, not going away from impartiality or merit, nor from giving the best advice we can, nor losing our integrity, but some things we have tended to think were important in the past are things we have to be prepared to shed. For instance, I think the concept of the gifted amateur who can turn their hand to anything without support or training is no longer going to serve the purpose. We have to think in terms of teams at the top of departments who between them have the skills to manage very large projects and programmes rather than one person who could turn his hand to anything. I think that change is important and I think departments are taking a deep breath at what is being asked of them.


 
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