Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2002
1. Could I, on behalf of the Committee, welcome
our witness this morning, Mike Granatt, who is head of the Government
Information and Communication Service. I confess that when we
issued an invitation to you we did not know there was going to
be quite such an interest in this meeting, but I am sure it is
a great gain to all concerned. I wonder if you would like to say
something by way of introduction?
(Mr Granatt) Thank you, yes. I thought
as some members of the Committee were new to this topic I would
say a little bit about the Service. The GICS, the Government Information
and Communication Service, is a network of individuals who are
related through their communication specialism. It is a virtual
organisation; a member's departmental employer is their current
professional residence, and the GICS is their common bond across
government. The essential ingredients in our corporate glue is
the assessment centre process through which all GICS people are
recruited and promoted. Membership of the Service is currently
1094 compared to 1,028 in April 1998. GICS people work in a variety
of professional disciplines; a large number work outside Whitehallabout
40 per cent at the last count. Overall, at March 2001, 41 per
cent worked in press offices; 22 per cent in marketing communications;
and about 18 per cent in multidisciplinary roles. The membership
was, and is, evenly split between the sexes and, on the basis
of completed returns to a survey, about 4 per cent are known to
be from minority ethnic backgrounds. The GICS members' key roles
are the same as they have been since the inception of the Service
in 1949; this is to create and maintain informed opinion about
their department's subjects and work; to use all suitable methods
of publicity to help their department achieve its aims and objectives;
and to advise their department and the public of the news media's
reactions to policies and actions, and to do this in partnership
with officials, ministers, the centre and other departments. Since
the Mountfield Report in 1997, which reviewed the future of the
then Government Information Service, every department has been
committed to achieving greater integration of policy and presentation.
Communication directorates, which is the general name for the
units which make up these operations and departments, continually
look at the best way to provide services. They have to evolve
to meet the business needs of their clients and be flexible and
innovative, and an example of this is our adaptation to the changing
nature of government communications environment with the increasing
emphasis on electronic and internal communications and communications
planning. An important added value of the service is its ability
to share and exchange information to ensure we all learn the lessons
from the variety of approaches possible. A formal peer review
process has recently been introduced to support this, and departments
are enthusiastically taking up the opportunity to conduct these
reviews. Let me turn to my role. I am situated in the Cabinet
Office. My line manager is the head of the Home Civil Service,
the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson. My role is about the
professional leadership of the Service and about making sure we
get standards right, recruitment right and propriety right. My
door is always open for advice and guidanceand I shall
come back to that in a momentand I always make a point
of seeing new senior recruits as soon as possible on joining the
Service. We run regular forums for all directors, heads of news
and publicity, so that issues can be shared and best practice
spread and the new system of peer review will enhance this ability.
A team in the Cabinet Office supports me through two deputies.
The GICS director of operations focuses on cross-departmental
communication activity, and advises on ethical and operational
standards across the full range of services provided by the GICS.
On that last point, she turns to me continually to ensure that
our advice in this area is consistent. The regional news network,
which is moving from the COI to the GICS in April, will also come
under remit and she is also the manager for the Central Media
Monitoring Unit. On the people side of the operation, the deputy
head of corporate strategy and human resources focuses on the
long term challenges we face, the wider communication mix and
the HRSs that we have to resolve in a highly competitive labour
market. The GICS development centre, which manages all recruitment,
promotion and development issues, reports to her. Professional
standards of new recruits are developed through a thorough induction
programme. We have a four day foundation course supported by one
day courses on both the media liaison side and on communications.
We recognise that people need a broad range of support outside
formal training. We have just launched a professional mentoring
scheme and are finalising a career confidence scheme to support
those who are two or three years into their careers. Let me sum
up my role, which is essentially fourfold. It concerns the career
development of individuals; professional leadership and standards;
recruitment and promotion standards and systems; and some central
operational support. On behalf of the Head of the Home Civil Service,
I am the adviser to departments on propriety in communication
work in government. The code in question, as I am sure you know,
is the "Guidance on the Work of the Government Information
Service", re-issued last in June 1997 on the authority of
the Prime Minister. It applies to all civil servants and departments,
not just the GICS. I am responsible for the GICS development centre,
which is part of the Cabinet Office, and I am responsible for
some central operational support. Lastly, sir, in my leadership
role I am often required to offer advice and guidance to individuals
on matters of personal concern to them, or which they wish to
discuss purely privately. In that guise, and in my role as an
adviser to departments, I must maintain their trust and confidence
that what we discuss privately remains so. I am as accountable
to them in this respect as I am to the head of the Civil Service.
I hope, therefore, that the Committee will understand why I cannot
break confidences of that sort today or at any other time.
2. Thank you very much for that. Let us just
do a bit of scene-setting, if we can. What has been the pattern
of numbers on the information side of government over the last
few years, since 1997? Are there more information people in government
now than there were?
(Mr Granatt) Yes, there are.
3. What are the numbers?
(Mr Granatt) The number now is about 1094; in April
1998 it was 1028. The numbers grew to a peak of around 1200 at
the peak of the Civil Service back in the 1970s and dipped away
again, and have grown again since then. That reflects, I think,
apart from anything else, two things: one is the increasing emphasis
on communication work in government which occurred before this
administration came to powerthere has been a general rise
and the environment has changedand the second thing is
the higher churn rate we have faced and have for some time. We
knew we were going to face this ten years ago which is why we
set up the assessment and recruitment processes, because our members
are people who have highly transferable skills; they can move
easily around government and in and out of the private sectorand
4. Just so we are clear, there has been a big
growth in the number of special advisers, and these are doing
information work. Can you tell us how many of the special advisers
are doing information work?
(Mr Granatt) It is difficult to tell because some
advisers operate on policy matters; some advise on presentation
and talk to the mediasome do both. My guess would be, however,
taking into account No 10 and the adviser departments, about half
of them. We are talking about 40 people but as I say, that is
an imprecise figure.
5. What is your relationship, if any, with all
the communications people inside Downing Street?
(Mr Granatt) Those who are civil servants are generally
members of the GICS, and in that respect are members of my Service.
Those who are not GICS members also to an extent talk to us and
turn to us on a daily operational basis. The special advisers
we have some contact with but essentially the contact inside Downing
Street is between the special advisers and the civil servants
they work for.
6. What is your relationship with Alastair Campbell?
(Mr Granatt) Good.
7. I was not asking for the quality of it; I
was asking for the nature of it!
(Mr Granatt) I am sorry; there was no intention to
be flippant. He is not my line manager, if that is what you are
asking. My line manager is the head of the Home Civil Service.
8. It would be confusing to people not knowing
this, that is why I asked the question. Alastair Campbell is now
Director of Communications and you are head of the Government
Information and Communication Service, so it is a fair question
to ask. I have not quite got the answer yet.
(Mr Granatt) I am sorry. He is responsible for the
day-to-day direction of the Government's communication strategy.
I am responsible for the professional standards of the Service
as it is delivered, and we can deliver it through standards of
the members of the GICS. Day-to-day guidance on how issues should
be conducted and the general thrust of the Government's communication
programme comes from him. To take an analogy, he is on the bridge,
he is steering the ship at the direction of the Prime Minister:
I am making sure the engine room and the machinery works properly.
9. So he is more important than you?
(Mr Granatt) I think he probably thinks soand
I think so too, yes.
10. In your handbook which you mentioned, in
the bit on special advisers, you say that they have been a feature
of Whitehall for many years, are essential to the system, they
are a temporary civil servant bounded by normal contract . . .
Then you say, "but without the ability to manage staff or
to run executive operations", but that is not true of the
special adviser called Alastair Campbell?
(Mr Granatt) That being in his domain in Downing Street
by virtue of Order in Council he manages that operation, but he
in that respect is unique.
11. But your handbook for members of your staff
tells them something quite different?
(Mr Granatt) Well, with respect, clearly the handbook
should, if it was being absolutely complete, mention that point
but I do not think that point was drafted before these matters
arose. I would not deny at all, however, what you are saying.
12. You told us about your role in propriety
and standards issues and, again, looking at your handbook here,
you say that any member of GICSindeed, any officialcan
contact your office for advice at any time. Do people regularly
come to you and say they have problems in this area?
(Mr Granatt) It is not a constant flow of people but
I would say that we get at particular times when, for instance,
elections are running, when the rules are very specific and very
carefully looked at, generally to my particular office one or
two a week. To my colleagues who are elsewhere in my chain of
command there may be some more frequent references. Generally
the nature of those references is people saying, "This is
what we think the rules say, can you confirm it?", and in
90 per cent of the casesmore than thatI would say
they are usually right.
13. We have evidence here from some years ago
from Mr Reardon who was one of the cull in 1997/98 when most information
officers lost their jobs, and he says the problem was that all
the time special advisers wanted to rewrite their press releases.
You are saying this is not the case?
(Mr Granatt) I did not say that at all. I am not sure
that is a matter of propriety. A special adviser works for a minister;
a special adviser is entitled to take a view on how a press release
is cast; the responsibility for ensuring that the press release
meets the rules is that ultimately of the minister, and there
is no reason why a special adviser should not take a view that
a press release could be differently cast. The question is whether
the final product meets the rules. That is the question for me.
14. But as the guardian of propriety surely
the final question for you is are civil servants being asked to
do things which civil servants should not be asked to do?
(Mr Granatt) That pre-supposes that what the special
adviser is writing in the press release in the case you mention
is something improper. There have been occasions when people have
suggested to me, and I think I mentioned this in evidence either
to the Committee on Public Standards or this Committee, an instance
where, for exampleand in this case it had been suggested
in this case by a ministera quote from a constituency MP
be written into a press release. In those circumstances my advice
was sought and I said that it was not acceptable.
15. So if civil servants have problems with
what they are being asked to do in terms of press, they come to
you and tell you they have problems and then you try and sort
it out, do you?
(Mr Granatt) They, of course, would look to their
own line management first. If it is a junior person, they would
normally look to their own line management; occasionally junior
people who want to be confident they are taking a stand they find
is difficult may come to us for reassurance that their stand is
correct. The guidance on the work of the GICS says specifically
that the responsibility for advice within the department to ministers
and the head of the department should come from the Head of Information,
the Director of Communication, and if they need central adviceeither
the head of department or ministers or the Head of Informationthey
are advised to come to me.
(Mr Granatt) I am sure you get a sense of the cases
you read about in the newspapers and whether you have any involvement
in this at allpeople like the Alan Evans case where people
who were asked to do things they did not feel civil servants should
be asked to do. Does that come across your desk?
(Mr Granatt) People will come to me at information
officer level if they think they are being asked to do things
they should not. Sometimes these are quite complex issues because
you are dealing here with grey areas; they come to me and I offer
them advice and, if necessary, I offer that advice directly to
a minister, a minister's office or a permanent secretary.
16. Has the DTLR been a particular source of
(Mr Granatt) In propriety terms? Not particularly.
17. You were a bit tentative there
(Mr Granatt) Well, if you are talking other terms,
there have been individuals in that department because of the
difficulties they faced who have talked to my staff and to me
about how they think they should tackle particular problems between
them and other individuals, and we have offered advice.
18. I realise you are not going to go into the
ins and outs of particular cases but can you tell us, in a nutshell,
why Martin Sixsmith had to go?
(Mr Granatt) I refer you to the letter I wrote as
to my opinion of what happened. As to why he had to go, I think
I have to refer you to the department. If Martin is leaving the
employment of the department then that is a matter between him
and the departmentnot for me.
19. I am looking at your letter here to him
and you say, "I hope this letter already echoes what you
have said to your staff", so at that point you were all on
the same side. I do not quite understand what, then, caused him
(Mr Granatt) I really do think, sir, that I have to
refer you to the Department and the Secretary of State's statement
yesterday as well. That is a matter on which you would be best
to ask them. I am not in possession of all the facts, nor am I
responsible on whether he should or should not go. That is a disciplinary
matter for the Department.