Examination of Witness (Questions 240-259)|
THURSDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2001
240. Gus Macdonald has a small number of people
in the Delivery Unit, multi-skilled obviously, but is there a
resentment in the departments of what the Delivery Unit is trying
to do and the way it is going about it? You will have seen the
piece in the FT today about the Delivery Unit and it tells
us that Michael Barber is drawing up a league table of Whitehall
departments. It tells us here: "Even those whose departments
top the table judge the exercise shallow and facile". That
is a bit disappointing, is it not?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think one learns over time
to concentrate on what one is doing rather than worry too much
about comment and I think that is all I would say about that.
241. Turning to something of more substance,
I hope, there has been criticism that departments have been unable
to spend all the cash that is being made available to them by
Gordon Brown, the Government. What is the problem? We are talking
about billions of pounds that is not being spent.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think there has been a problem,
and it is one which we are addressing, because clearly there is
a major scaling up required in order to get the investment in
place and the programmes moving through a pretty steep curve over
a relatively short period of time. I think the problems are the
ones that I was describing earlier, that we are responsible to
Parliament for ensuring that we get good value for money, and
I do not think you can just turn on the tap on money overnight
without a very large management effort and a very large programme
of work and projects, and that is really what a lot of this delivery
242. £6.8 billion is a lot of money. You
are confident that the new configuration we have been talking
about and the Delivery Unit working with the departments will
in future mean that this volume of resources is actually spent?
(Sir Richard Wilson) The Delivery Unit is, I believe,
a very big new effort of the kind we have not attempted before
to make that kind of investment programme happen and work and
243. When the Deputy Prime Minister came to
see us a fortnight ago he saidand he has a way of telling
it like it is: "The reality is we know that departments do
not deliver." Is that not a fairly extraordinary and damning
thing for a Deputy Prime Minister to say of his machine?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think the Deputy Prime Minister
was telling it as he perceived it. I think there is a sense in
which we are being challenged to move from a world where people
thought they were dealing with policy to one where actually policy
is nothing unless it is about making sure something happens in
the real world outside. I do accept that what we are being asked
to do now is different in kind from the things we have been asked
to do in the past. If you look at the last 20 years, the drive
for reform of the Civil Service has focussed first on improving
our financial management, then on the efficiency with which we
used resources, then on cutting out fat and contracting out, privatisation,
market testing, and that has been what we were asked to do over
a long period of time with, at the end, an increasing focus in
the Citizen's Charter on the service that we provided to the public.
I think the challenge now is whether the Civil Service and public
services more generallyI keep talking about the Civil Service,
I think some of what I am talking about is public servicescan
actually be of a high quality, which is a new kind of challenge
and does require a very considerable response from the top of
the Service. That is what the shaping of the Cabinet Office is
244. That is a quite extraordinary thing to
say. Is that not a way of saying that until now we did not realise
that public services could be of high quality and, therefore,
we did not need to do much about them?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I stand by what I have said which
is, of course, we have always wanted to deliver good services.
I think if you ask the front line staff they have often felt huge
commitment to the public who they serve and it has been a great
motivating force, but the public are changing. I keep saying this
in speeches. I think the public who used to regard public services
as the gift of a benign state and were prepared to put up with
shabby waiting rooms, long waiting times and, poor service, are
no longer prepared to accept that. They are putting great pressure
on Governmentyou know about this from your own constituenciesand
the Government in turn are putting great pressure on us to bring
about a radical improvement in the quality of public services.
I think I am saying we have not been asked to do that in a relatively
short period of time before. What I am saying to my colleagues
is that it is big change and it requires different skills at the
top. We have not got all the skills that we need, we are having
to bring them in from outside, we are having to train people up,
we are having to recognise important skills which in the past
we tended to think were unimportant or things that you could,
as it were, regard as being appropriate to junior people. We have
to bring them in to the teams at the top, we have to change the
ways that we are working, we have to accept the kind of challenge
that the Delivery Unit is posing. It is not going to do it all
itself, it has got to do it through departments. The Prime Minister
himself is asking us to accept this as a big challenge and that
is what the new shape of the Cabinet Office is mobilised to try
to do. It is not doing it for the Prime Minister in a kind of
presidential role, we are doing it for Ministers collectively.
245. We are looking at the public service ethos
at the moment and Michael Trend wants to ask you something about
that in a moment. It is a striking fact if you are telling us
that this public service ethos that we all want to celebrate did
not involve somehow a commitment to delivering high quality public
services. That is really a rather alarming thing, is it not?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think commitment to serving
the public has always been one of the mainsprings of public service
in the Civil Service but it has always been within the resources
that were available. Quite often that meant you had to deliver
a service that was not the ideal service or the one that you would
like to provide. I think we are now in a position where the resources
are being provided and we are saying now that we have got a relatively
short period of time in which we are being asked to deliver high
quality public services and, indeed, that is what the challenge
246. I am going to disappoint you. We were grateful
for your organisation chart and I know you think it is simpler
and clearer, which in itself sent an alarm signal to me. I much
preferred the one you produced in the last Parliament which was
complicated and I thought bore a closer relation to real life.
On this new one there are some politicians floating up here and
everything else is firmly rooted to you, and I approve of that
of course. In the old one we had lots of other figures which have
been left out mysteriously in this new one. Chiefly in No.10 Downing
St it does not mention any of the 26 special advisers who now
work for the Prime Minister. Jonathan Powell and Alastair Campbell
were on the old list. We had a better idea from the old list of
how things actually worked rather than how things are supposed
to be understood. Of course, when we get to the memoirs in five
or ten years' time we will be able to see how it actually worked.
Our anxiety in the last Parliament, and probably this one as well,
was that there was a period of hybridity going on in Parliament,
people coming in from the business world, people coming in from
the political world, and this has not been recognised at all in
your organisation chart.
(Sir Richard Wilson) First as to everyone being firmly
rooted to me, that simply is a description of the officials and
it is quite proper that they all come under me as Head of the
Cabinet Office. I do not think that is a problem. Secondly, this
is only an organisation chart for the Cabinet Office and the Office
of the Deputy Prime Minister, it does not include No.10 and that
is why you do not find people from No.10 in it.
247. I knew you would say that. Unfortunately,
the last one you gave us did include No.10 and I wonder if we
could ask if we could have a wider organisation chart which would
include the people we had in the last chart as well. In a sense
we are asking a very easy question. What we want to do is understand
how Government in 2001 works. As I say, one day we will be able
to find out but perhaps at the moment it could be a little clearer
to us even if it means the chart is a little more complicated.
Could you have another go at this?
(Sir Richard Wilson) If you are asking, sir, for an
organisation chart of No.10 I am sure we can provide it. All I
would say to you is that No.10 is not part of the Cabinet Office
and that is why it is not here.
248. But from what the Deputy Prime Minister
was saying last week, and in the briefing we have got, it does
appear that one of the big differences from earlier times is that
in earlier times there would be special advisers or equivalent
people in the Policy Unit in Downing Street and broadly speaking
they were free of these people but now there are an awful lot
of units working out of your building that are sometimes headed
up, sometimes not headed up, by people who work in Downing Street.
The idea that somehow the door between the two buildings has become
a motorway is surely one that we are allowed to entertain.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Permission to disagree. I think
it has always been the case that the Cabinet Office has housed
units which are of importance to the Prime Minister of the day.
Let me give you some examples. The Central Policy Review Staff,
which Mr Heath set up as his think-tank, that was part of the
Cabinet Office. The Efficiency Unit under Mrs Thatcher, which
was headed by Lord Raynor and Peter Levene and other people over
the years, that was located in the Cabinet Office, even though
they were the Prime Minister's Efficiency Adviser. I think I could
weary you with the list of units over the years which have been
located in the Cabinet Office where the person at the top was
the Prime Minister's adviser on better regulation, efficiency,
policy and so on.
249. But most of those people would have come
from private industry or from banks or academic institutions.
The difference now is an awful lot of these people come from a
(Sir Richard Wilson) If you think about it, I may
get this wrong, my recollection is that members of the CPRS were
recruited and appointed by Victor Rothschild and basically would
probably have been people without any selection process, people
who now would have to fit into that special adviser mould. I am
250. I agree with you, I think that is the grandfather
of all these institutions. Certainly under the last Conservative
Government it had become formalised as the Policy Unit which was
in Downing Street. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why we think
there is a confusion about whether Cabinet Government is alive
and well because the centre is so much larger and, according to
the old map, so much more complicated.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Can I draw your attention to
something which again may be relevant. You focused just now on
the 26 special advisers in Number 10. There has, in fact, been
a greater growth in the number of permanent civil servants in
Number 10 than the number of special advisers. I think the number
251.Up to 5,000.
(Sir Richard Wilson) We now have 40 people at Band
A (which used to be the old Principal level) and upwards in the
senior Civil Service, permanent civil servants, which is a great
deal more than there were some few years ago. So it is again wrong
to imply that we are in some sense being swamped. The permanent
Civil Service is still playing a key role.
252. Could I ask about something that has popped
up on the new chart. Charles Clarke, Minister without Portfolio;
is he paid as a Government Minister out of public funds?
(Sir Richard Wilson) No sir.
253. He is not, so the old arrangements still
(Sir Richard Wilson) We have applied in the case of
Charles Clarke exactly the same arrangements as were applied to
Conservative members of the Cabinet who were Chairmen of the Party.
That is to say, he is paid by the Labour Party and he gets support
from the taxpayer only to the extent that he is a member of the
Cabinet and Cabinet Committees and he needs help in reading papers.
We followed exactly to the letter arrangements that were in place
254. Thank you. Can I return to my broader point
which is that there are many more political animals involved in
this structure. The structure that we thought we could understand
something about in the last Parliament is, broadly speaking, still
there. There are still at the top real hybrid civil servant/political
special advisers and then there is a new network of people. Let's
ask you about the public service ethos, if you could give us some
characterisation of that, and could you say how having more political
animals in this heart of government affects them? Do they share
the same public service ethos as your admirable civil servants?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Should I first begin by describing
the ethos? The ethos of public service, and the Civil Service
in particular, I would characterise first by a commitment to maintaining
a high level of integrity. That is not just about integrity in
the narrow sense of not stealing the money, I think it is about
preserving at the core of the State a group of people whom the
public feel they can trust. I do not want to go on about the Jo
Moore episode any more because I think she has been punished horribly
by the degree of vilification from all quarters, but the thing
about that episode which dismays me is the sense that it weakens
the trust of the public in what goes on inside government. I think
the public cannot know us all but they are entitled to feel that
the people there in public service are people who they can trust
to have a set of values which they can identify with and regard
as proper. That is a key feature of the ethos which I think is
important. Secondly, I think commitment to public service is a
very important part of the ethos. We have done research into what
attracts people into the Civil Service. They do not come in because
they want to make money, they do not come in because the want
to build monuments to their own egos; they come in because they
think they can make a contribution and they think they can identify
with our values. That is a very powerful lever. Our recruitment
now is tremendously strong. I meet all the people who come in
through the fast stream, I give parties for them, and I am very
struck by the degree of high motivation that comes in and I think
that characterises us. Thirdly, there is a very strong commitment
to fairness and equity and to treating people fairly on an equal
basis. I think I would also put on the list continuity, that is,
preserving institutions in the long term. I would also like to
feel myself that part of the ethos was willingness to accept change,
recognising that we are not a vested interest preserving ourselves,
but we are there ultimately to provide service to the government
of the day, and we are not any use to anybody unless we are providing
an effective service. A willingness to change and accept radical
reform while at the same time preserving our core values is what
I would like to have built into the ethos.
255. For a career civil servant, who might have
foregone a fortune in the City, and for a political appointee,
the ethos must be very different. One of the things the public
was very surprised about in the Jo Moore case was the fact she
was paid a very considerable amount of money. I think they are
prepared to see civil servants well compensated in the way that
civil servants at the top of the tree are by public esteem and
recognition, but there is a feeling that one individual anyway
may have been abusing the system at a high cost and where else
does this exist in the system.
(Sir Richard Wilson) If I could volunteer a comment
on special advisers, one of the things that strikes me is that,
quite often, they do not come across to me as very political.
256. That is doom for them!
(Sir Richard Wilson) Indeed two of them have crossed
into the Civil ServiceGeoff Mulgan and Michael Barberand
I would offer you the thought that they are very good civil servants.
What I would like to see, so much as one possibly can, is people
who serve the public recruited on the basis of merit regardless
of background. One of the things which I and my staff do now,
when we know that Ministers are wanting to appoint people, is
say to them, "Let's do it through the proper process of the
Civil Service Commission." In quite a number of cases where
Ministers have accepted that advice they have got excellent people
and that is a good way of doing it. I think the role of special
advisers is a valuable one. They perform an important service
both for Ministers and Government. When you need particular forms
of expertise or professionalism, I think much the best way of
approaching the task is to get them in on the basis of merit through
the proper procedures of the Civil Service Commission, who are
very alert to the need to be ready to help.
257. Do you understand why a Parliamentary Opposition
might regard it as much more difficult than in the past to move
into government with a network of the sort which I thought was
properly described? How will transition of power, any transition
of power, affect it?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I said one of the things that
is important for the Civil Service is continuity. The ability
to serve the government of any day is integral and essential to
that. In terms of departments, there is a limit of two special
advisers per department. That is the same limit as applied in
departments under a Conservative Government. I do not see why
that should remotely be a problem. We were able to manage, if
I may give you a practical example from the Home Office, to move
from a Conservative Home Secretary with two special advisers to
a Labour Home Secretary with two special advisers. I do not see
why there should be a problem. The one area where there is a difference
is in Number 10 where there are 26 special advisers. I am absolutely
confident that if there were to be a Prime Minister of a different
political party voted in at some future election, the Civil Service
would be able smoothly to move into place a private office which
is staffed by permanent civil servants and, a press office staffed
by civil servants. After all, the Prime Minister's own official
spokesmen now are two permanent civil servants, and all the people
you need are available. I would be sad if the trust in the permanent
Civil Service had been damaged by anything that is happening at
the moment. I do not see any reason why it should be.
258. I am sure what you say is true but I do
not think the two permanent civil servants who come from a political
background would be entirely confident of retaining their posts
after the election of a new Prime Minister.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I would argue very strongly to
you, or whoever was the responsible Minister, that these are people
who have gone through the proper processes of the Civil Service
Commission. We made sure that each of the selection panels was
chaired by a Civil Service Commissioner and in each case I asked
them directly whether they were satisfied that these people would
be able to serve a government of a different political complexion,
and they have given me reassurance on that point. I can think
of people in the past who have come in from different political
backgrounds who Prime Ministers have trusted. I do not think it
is difficult. Bernard Ingham, when I first knew him came in through
what I would regard as very much Labour Party channels without
so far as I could seeif you read his biography this is
a matter of public recordany particular selection process,
but Mrs Thatcher did not feel that an obstacle to employing him
and she, I think, was very satisfied with his service. That is
the way it is proper for an incoming Government to behave, to
trust the Civil Service. If we judge the people are able to serve
them I hope you would give them the benefit of the doubt and try
259. Does this mean Bernard Ingham could have
gone back in your judgment effortlessly to work for a Labour Government?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I am not going to comment.