Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 700-716)

THURSDAY 23 MAY 2002

JULIA MIDDLETON AND AMELIA SUSSMAN

  700. I was digging through `yourturn.net', very interesting indeed, and I was reading through it. I just want to take an example. You have got a young lady, and this is 6 June, just about a year ago, whom you got motivated to do various things, and she is travelling the country and going on demonstrations and marches. Now I do not mean to be sort of conservative, but if you are training people to go on demonstrations and marches, I think you . . .
  (Ms Middleton) But is not that democracy? I was not brought up in this country. I was stunned, when I arrived in this country, to discover that nobody I was at college with had ever been on a demonstration; of course, I have been on lots of demonstrations, with my parents, aged eight, that is part of democracy, is it not? We definitely stop short of violence, and we would not encourage that at all, in fact, discourage it, because that is not a part of democracy. But, no, demonstrations are an important part of life, I would have thought. I would guess that in this room there are lots of people who have been on demonstrations, I would not be proud of you if you had not; it is an admirable thing to do.

  701. Yes, it is; but I am just wondering, and I am not going to say who the young lady is, but what were you training her to try to do, to go on marches, what is she trying to change, what are you trying to get out of people?
  (Ms Middleton) I am trying to get to, well, there is an expression which I believe is important, which is `sleep-walking citizens', and we have a lot of sleep-walking citizens, and I would just like to wake them up, and then it is entirely up to them what they do with it, as long as it is not anti-democratic or using violent means.

  702. I was just intrigued by that, because, obviously, this is something that young people, I do not know what hits you get on `yourturn.net' but it is quite interesting, it is very prominently put, in the middle, obviously something you are very proud of, and I was just intrigued; this is only one page?
  (Ms Middleton) We change the home page once a week, so we would have been very proud of it for one week in the year.

  703. I got this this morning, from the thing.
  (Ms Middleton) It would have been a completely different one last week.

  704. The other one I was just slightly interested in, this is not your words, this is part of a survey that was published in 2000, `UK citizens want to be just like Ken Barlow'. Do you remember that?
  (Ms Middleton) No.

  Mr Liddell-Grainger: You actually quote it quite a lot, in it, and you do say, and I am intrigued, from all we have heard today, about why you think that people are like Ken Barlow, of Coronation Street?

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  705. I do not think he is getting at Glasgow, probably. There is a cultural difference here.
  (Ms Middleton) No doubt, Ken Barlow, that week, on a Coronation Street programme, had done something special, as a citizen; so I am very eager that they should all follow him.

  706. I am sorry, I will give you the background, because that is unfair. "There was an unexpected role model for UK citizens, according to a survey published today, spurred on by a Coronation Street campaign to save its cobble-stones." But you go on to say, "Contrary to public opinion, citizens are not getting more apathetic, our survey shows that huge numbers want to help each other, and believe they should be involved in the community; but not as many people get involved as we would like to, because they don't believe they can make a difference." But you go on to talk about the Ken Barlow thing, and people should—
  (Ms Middleton) Nothing if not consistent, I am; at least consistent.

  Mr Liddell-Grainger: I accept that. I am just wondering about the Ken Barlow tie-up, because I would have thought that you do not want people to be like a Ken Barlow type, you want them to be much more proactive, get out, and I am just wondering what your synergy was between Ken Barlow and what you do on `citizensconnection.net'?

Chairman

  707. I think Deirdre is a better model; she went off to be a counsellor, do you remember that? Shall we bring this to an end, at that point, I think. There are many more things I would like to ask you though. I would probably like to ask you about being an independent assessor, because we have never actual seen such a person. Can I, for a minute, just do that, could I ask you very quickly and if you could be very quick when you answer it; because, first of all, how did they find you?
  (Ms Middleton) Tapped me on the shoulder.

  708. Who did?
  (Ms Middleton) I cannot even remember.

  709. A man?
  (Ms Middleton) Somebody from the Department wrote me a letter.

  710. Which Department?
  (Ms Middleton) The DTI.

  711. "Will you be one of our independent assessors, please?"
  (Ms Middleton) Yes.

  712. Okay; and what is involved?
  (Ms Middleton) Sifting through the application forms, making sure that the short-listing process is fair and decent, and then attending the interviews, making sure that that is fair and decent and an appointment is made appropriately.

  713. In about how many appointments a year?
  (Ms Middleton) I have done two this year.
  (Ms Sussman) No prior briefing.
  (Ms Middleton) No prior briefing.
  (Ms Middleton) Dame Rennie has made some improvements to this system.

Mr Lyons

  714. But neither have made assessors?
  (Ms Sussman) No.
  (Ms Middleton) Yes, I do think she is advertising for assessors, is she not?
  (Ms Sussman) I do not know.
  (Ms Middleton) But she has made some good improvements to the system; it is not an easy one to do. And I do know that I am slightly different, because, not being portfolio and having a full-time job, I pay the mortgage on my full-time job salary, and, therefore, when you have to say, "No, I believe this is the right way to do things," the fact that my mortgage does not rely upon it makes it much easier for me to say, "I believe this is how we should do things."

Chairman

  715. Do you feel you are working for the Department?
  (Ms Middleton) No.

  716. Who are you working for?
  (Ms Middleton) Now, Dame Rennie; before, I have no idea who I was working for.

  Chairman: Good. I am sorry we cannot do justice to that, but I just wanted to dip into it ever so slightly. Thank you very much. It is fascinating; and George Orwell once talked about the deep, deep sleep of England, and it is interesting that you have come here to wake us up, and the work you are doing I think is extraordinarily interesting, and we have learned more about it, and I think we would like to know more about it too, and also thank you for doing it. Thank you very much indeed.





 
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