Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. I have said to you when you have been here before that your press releases are boring so you need somebody to interpret that press release to get them in, which is why it gives rise to all the questions of spin because you do not actually put the substance in your press releases. Is that not part of the problem—because you are trying to do a job that is impartial, and therefore you need somebody to give the partial view?
  (Mr Granatt) I think the last time we had this exchange, if I recall, you pointed out that something required a partial view in a particular context. My view is this—and when I have run press operations in the range of departments I have run I have always insisted that they are as clear as possible and that you can understand—or the reader can—that they are unequivocal and unambiguous, and there are occasions, I will admit, when I think Government press releases—and the Government is by no means the only culprit in this—put out information that is itself not entirely explicable and is not of particularly high quality. One of the things we have been doing in trying to drive up standards across and, in the words of the Mountfield Report, to bring the standards of every operation up to the best, is to look at the training of people and the standards of operation to ensure that does not happen.

  81. Do you see yourself as a responsive unit in the current 24/7 news environment? How much are you trying to set the agenda as the Government Communication Service and how much are you having to respond, and what is the balance in your view at the moment?
  (Mr Granatt) I think the Government over recent years—and it started before this administration came to power—was talking the view that there was a need to get out there with information proactively and not just simply drop a press notice over the parapet and expect the media to report it. There is much more on emphasis on that these days and there are units within departments, and I think we explain this inside the current annual report whose job is to look at how a policy or initiative can be explained in a more proactive fashion, and is not simply put on the table for people to pick up and read about. That requires, I think, a fair amount of careful work to make sure one does not cross the boundary that I have talked about of pushing something in a way that it would seem to be inappropriate for the Civil Service to do. But it is absolutely true that you will find that in a modern Government press office part of the operation is reactive—and some of these press officers are taking, for example, upwards of 200,000 calls a year. You will find an operation has both the reactive side to handle incoming news and a planning unit that will look at how something can be effectively rolled out to specific audiences. That may be a multi-stranded effort; it may involve marketing communications, if that is appropriate, and we have firm rules on that; it may involve talking to specific audiences by talking to specific news media; and talking to specific audiences in specific geographical areas; but I think there is more emphasis now—and rightly—in a world where there is much more choice for the reader and viewer and listener, and people are not locked into, as they were in 1963, nine news broadcasts a day. On the last count we did there are 48 separate news broadcasts in this country an hour from a vast variety of sources; they reach people in different ways and no longer is the public—thankfully, I suspect—locked into one particular source of news or another

  82. But you are not getting the message across because people do not believe the message you are giving, so what are you doing to look at the ways you can get that across because obviously some of the things you are doing are not achieving the objective?
  (Mr Granatt) The departments that face that problem now do indulge more in researching how something has played out because, apart from anything else, they have to account for significant resources. Part of the rules, therefore, for running an advertising campaign, for example, requires there to be research into what is going to be the best way of doing it; is it the best way of reaching an audience given the sums of money that might be involved; and tracking through with research on whether it is working or not. I would not regard an operation as being professionally managed in the best way if there was not a measure of research, an assessment being done, on whether the methods being employed are effective, and, indeed, in one or two circumstances I have been involved in in the recent past, we have during an event run quick research as effectively as one can in those circumstances to ensure that we could see what was happening, and that we were relating to the public what they felt they needed.

  83. Lastly, when you were last before us the knowledge network was in its infancy, and you gave us certain assurances about its use. What is its current state?
  (Mr Granatt) It is still in the process of being rolled out; I think the assurance is that, although it is in much more of a complete form and it is sitting on the systems of most departments, it is a network of systems between different departments—intranets, for example. It is being used I think extensively for one department or the centre, No 10, to look at briefing that is available on a particular topic. I think the assurance I gave you was that it is being used properly, is still intact and in place—I do not believe I know of any instances, as far as I can, where it is not being used properly. Indeed you may recall, because it was public knowledge during the general election, access to the network was denied to, for example, ministers and special advisers directly, so the Civil Service was interposed between any request on the networks information and anybody else.

  84. Is it helping you do your job?
  (Mr Granatt) I think for a number of people it is helping them do their job

Mr Wright

  85. Part of your job is apparently head of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat to tackle emergency situations. Could you explain what your role would be there?
  (Mr Granatt) It is wider than that. The aim of the Secretariat is to look at the resilience of the UK, particularly the Government machine, to circumstances that could lead to crisis. So it is not simply reacting to an emergency: it is also making sure that we have processes in place that will help to preempt a crisis before it happens. The Prime Minister asked for this to be set up after the last General Election and in the light of circumstances such as the fuel crisis and foot and mouth, and the work of the Civil Service and others into Y2K. That is now the bulk of my work. The bulk of my time is taken up in running that Secretariat.

  86. So in terms of your previous role, prior to this job, what part of the role has been taken away from you?
  (Mr Granatt) I have not lost any of the role. What I have gained are two extremely good deputies to reinforce me in that role, so the work I would have done personally is now picked up by two very good people who work for me. But I still undertake sitting on, for instance, assessment panels for senior recruitment; I undertake to meet any member of the Service who wants to talk to me; I undertake to talk, as far as I can, to all new senior recruits at senior civil service level; I chair information meetings and conferences when we have them; and I play as full a role as I can with the burden of having two jobs.

  87. Moving on to the handbook itself on ethics and professional standards, you say that you are "satisfied that Heads of Information and their staff are taking care to ensure that their work does not expose their Ministers or departments to criticism". Do you still stand by that?
  (Mr Granatt) In the broad sense, yes, I do. They work very hard to ensure that ministers and departments are not exposed to criticism. A lot of that will be ensuring, for example, that good advice is given on what is within the rules and not when it is necessary, and to ensure that procedures are followed which meet all the requirements expected of us.

  88. In Sir Richard Mottram's statement on 25 February he says, "It would appear that one or more officials chose to make mischief by describing this as a fictitious e-mail and made up a story about these two events to two national newspapers". That indicates to me that Martin Sixsmith perhaps probably is not the only person within the department that needed to be looked at. What would be your views on that?
  (Mr Granatt) I have no views on whether there was somebody besides Martin Sixsmith involved in anything, or whether Martin Sixsmith himself was involved. I am only in possession of the facts as set out in the Secretary of State's statement in that matter. I was not directly involved in the events of last week in terms of the meetings that took place and are being reported in the newspapers; at No 10 at the regular 8.30 meeting, for example. So I have no view on that. I do have a view that, if it was felt that there was something going on inside that operation that should not be going on, the people involved should stop it straight away, and I would support the department—and this is in my letter—in investigating what did happen inside that department, if such a thing has been proved to happen.

  89. So are you satisfied now that, within the DTLR in any case, everything is OK?
  (Mr Granatt) I am satisfied that inside the DTLR people know what my view is. It is the responsibility of the Permanent Secretary to ensure that the operation runs as it should do, I am not the operational manager.


  90. Prior to the events of this week, were you satisfied, to use your words here, "that heads of information and their staff are taking care to ensure that their work does not expose their ministers or departments to criticism"? Before this week were you satisfied in DTLR?
  (Mr Granatt) Yes, I would say I have been satisfied from what I knew, because I am not in day to day contact with any department particularly, that the procedures were being followed and that matters were being conducted properly. I had no evidence to the contrary.

  91. Until all of this blew up you had no inkling of any problems inside that department on the press side?
  (Mr Granatt) It depends on what sort of problems you are discussing. If you are discussing the behaviour of people inside the department professionally I stand by the answer I just gave. If you are asking me whether we felt there was unhappiness inside that department for various reasons, we were aware of unhappiness.

  92. So you were not satisfied?
  (Mr Granatt) On the matter of propriety, which is the question that Mr Wright put to me first time around, I was satisfied, I had no evidence to the contrary.

  93. I am not trying to trick you.
  (Mr Granatt) I am simply trying to clarify that there are two separate issues.

  94. It was a kind of nest of vipers in there and I wondered if you knew about this.
  (Mr Granatt) The nest of vipers interpretation, with respect, is yours and not mine. I have seen the results of no investigation yet of what happened inside that department and I am not going to pass judgment until I do.

  95. But you knew there was a problem before it blew up?
  (Mr Granatt) We knew that there were people who were inside that department who were unhappy.

Mr Wright

  96. Can I just quickly come back on to that point. I just reiterate the point that Sir Richard Mottram said "one or more issues within the department". Surely that would indicate to anybody that there are probably more problems within that department that need to be investigated?
  (Mr Granatt) That is his judgment, I am not demurring from it. It is his judgment to make. I am in receipt of that particular statement, as you are, I do not know any more details about it.

  97. Would you make it your business to actually find out more details?
  (Mr Granatt) I think over succeeding weeks I probably will do but at the moment, of course, we have people inside that department who may wish to move on, for example, and we will have to find some way of helping them if they do that. These are people with very marketable skills, they may wish to move on to another department because they feel unhappy, so undoubtedly we will know more about it in that sense. In terms of an investigation into what might or might not have been done properly by people there, I have no greater knowledge than has been expounded in the statement by the Secretary of State and in Sir Richard Mottram's letter.

  98. It just makes me wonder perhaps if all people need to do who are unhappy in a department is put out a press statement to lend themselves to move to another department. I would say if they are unhappy in one department and go to these lengths then perhaps they should leave the Civil Service altogether.
  (Mr Granatt) I think you have just echoed what I put in my letter, sir.

Mr Prentice

  99. You were going to say something else, were you not?
  (Mr Granatt) I was not actually. My lips moved. I might have been thinking about it. You ask me a question.

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