Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-295)|
WATSON MP, MR
24 MAY 2006
Q280 Mr Hamilton: I am beginning
to feel like Jim Hacker because I am not following the logic.
The issue being put forward is about a Civil Service application.
It is an issue we have already discussed. 12% of commercial activity
is not enough and we need to expand that position into the private
sector which means we have to look at a different scenario. It
is not a Civil Service requirement for this. It is an issue if
we look at the private sector and the Civil Service to try and
develop a strategy which is right. I was there three weeks ago
when evidence was given. The evidence that was given by yourself
was excellent. There were 70 to 80 staff sitting behind you and
they were watching what was going on with disbelief. Some of the
things that have happened in the Met Office over the last year
must be affecting staff morale. To sit there and say that if you
put a person at a higher pecking order that will have an effectthat
is what I think you were sayingon other members of staff
and their pecking order, if you take 12% of the commercial activity
and increase that to 15, 20 or 25% in the private sector you are
getting a different type of beast. I am sure it is not a civil
servant who will do that.
Mr Andrews: You may well be right
but if we are advertising posts they have to be advertised on
a fair and open basis to which anyone can respond. I come back
to my point that the sort of person out there who we want to attract
to applyI will say something about the recent competition
in a momentwould be looking at this from the point of view
of the status of the organisation they are leading and the salary
and remuneration on offer. In response to our recent competition,
we have a number of very high quality people but we were looking
frankly for a very special individual, someone who would combine
this world class business record in terms of changing it to a
success in the commercial sector and someone who would be credible
in the scientific field, where the excellence of the Met Office
is absolutely the key point. We had some very credible candidates
who came in for this competition but none, in the judgment of
the panel, had the right all round calibre to be the right person
to lead the Met Office. Because of the challenge, because of the
issues, we had to be absolutely clear that we had the right person
to take the Office forward into the future.
Chairman: We are very lucky, I would
suggest, that Mr Hutchinson is around to do this job because he
has proved himself to be most effective in the role of chief executive
but, if I may put it like this, I do not think you are convincing
Q281 Mr Jones: It is clear what you
are up to. If this person is this god or Jesus Christ that you
are trying to select in terms of this new chief executive
Mr Watson: He makes the weather;
he does not need to predict it.
Q282 Mr Jones: Perhaps there will
be some new commercial opportunities for you then. If he is this
great person that you are looking for, why on earth not give him
or her the status that they deserve? Is it not a fact that what
this is really about is internal MoD or Civil Service politics
whereby, if he or she is at a lower grade, it means that you in
the MoD have some control over that person in the hierarchy of
the MoD, rather than, if this person deserves that grade, they
should get it?
Mr Andrews: I absolutely refute
Q283 Mr Jones: I would be surprised
if you did not.
Mr Andrews: This individual will
be an accounting officer in his or her own right, personally financially
accountable to Parliament. This is someone who will take this
organisation forward. We will be very lucky to find anyone who
is in the public service today
Q284 Mr Havard: I think you are missing
the point. The point that we see is, okay, you attract somebody.
You attract them at this new level that you describe in terms
of its internal grading. They then have to do a job. When they
come to try and do that part of their job that relates to the
Ministry of Defence they have handcuffs on because they do not
have the appropriate grade to do the job. That is the point that
my colleague is trying to make. Unless you have that relative
status internally within the MoD and the Civil Service grading
structure, what he says is right. This person does not have sufficient
internal status to have sufficient clout to do what they want
to do because someone else can direct them.
Mr Andrews: With the greatest
respect, this is not an issue about direction. The chief executive
of the Met Office is accountable through his chairman under the
current structurewe are in the process of recruiting the
chairman at the momentfor the execution of the minister's
intentions. Therefore, the grade in internal terms is, if I may
say so, not the issue. The issue is the nature of the job, the
accountabilities, the governance and what attracts someone out
there who is going to come in and do the job we want them to do.
Q285 Chairman: I do not want to drive
this nail into the ground. I think we will move on.
Mr Watson: I should perhaps have
done my homework on Civil Service grades when I realised I would
be addressing three former trades union officials, certainly of
the calibre of the three we have round the table today. We are
extremely grateful as a department and as a ministerial team that
we have had Mark Hutchinson stepping up to the plate at the Met
Chairman: We would all share that view.
You do not have to express a comment on that, Mr Hutchinson.
Q286 Linda Gilroy: There is another
group of people that we should pay tribute to. I came across them
for the first time when I visited the Met Office in Exeter three
weeks ago. We had the opportunity to see some of the activities
that go on under the umbrella of the Met Office there, one of
them being the Mobile Met Unit which I understand is a sponsored
reserve unit of the RAF. It has 74 military personnel, of whom
59 are operational. How does the MoD work with the Met Office
to determine its requirements for the Mobile Met Unit?
Mr Watson: Met data is crucial
to our support in military operations. The future defence environment
capability is an important initiative that is going to give our
operational commanders the best available environmental information
they can have.
Mr Andrews: The Mobile Met Units
are there because operational commanders need on the spot Met
support and advice from people who are deployed. As you rightly
say, there are numbers of these individuals in operational theatres
in Iraq and Afghanistan today and they do an outstanding job.
The requirement for them is very much generated on the operational
side of the house and they are tasked as part of the reserves.
The internal mechanisms within the Met Office I will pass over
to Mr Hutchinson but can I also associate myself formally with
what has been said about how lucky we are to have him doing this
job. One of the concerns we had in selecting a successor was that
we had to get someone in whom we had confidence to pick up what
he has done and carry it forward and develop it.
Mr Hutchinson: In terms of the
Mobile Met Units, they are wholly operationally controlled by
the Armed Forces. There is no separate chain of operational command
that comes out of the Met Office to the Mobile Met staff in theatre.
As RAF reservists, they are tasked directly by the commanding
officer of the unit that they are attached to and who they support.
Q287 Linda Gilroy: At the height
of Operation TELIC, there were six teams, 23 staff, deployed and
then coming back. What sort of welfare support is there for their
families and for them when they return? How does that work?
Mr Hutchinson: They are RAF reservists
and the welfare support services that are available to all reservists
are of course available to them. It is a cause of some consideration
within the Met Office as to whether or not the Met Office could
put in place more effective pastoral care and welfare support
for the families of deployed staff. That is an issue where there
is not much that we do over and above what the Armed Forces do
for them as members of the reserves. I think that is a relevant
observation and it is something that we are looking at.
Q288 Linda Gilroy: Also as to whether
you can work with the RAF in making sure that the families who
are put under stress in particular circumstances?
Mr Hutchinson: We do that as part
of the normal working relationship but that is something that
the Met Office could do to register support for its staff deployed
overseas, and not just leave the Armed Forces network to pick
Q289 Linda Gilroy: Are there ways
in which membership of the Mobile Met Unit impacts on promotion
and career prospects, either by way of advantage or disadvantage?
Mr Hutchinson: I am not aware
of any particular impact that simply being a member of the Mobile
Met Unit confers on promotion prospects. The nature of the work,
which is tours abroad and returns to defence airfields, tends
to determine a certain sort of career profile, I suspect. I am
characterising here and perhaps the stereotype does not fit all
of it but it is a job that a lot of young people do as they are
starting out in the Met Office. They do an awful lot of tours.
As you acquire a family, you become a bit more established in
doing certain other jobs and perhaps there is less of an incentive
to become part of the Mobile Met Unit but there are mixed age
groups within the current Mobile Met Unit.
Q290 Mr Havard: As I understand it,
because of their deployment in Afghanistan, a relationship with
the Afghanistan meteorological office and trying to develop it,
people have come over and done training. Are we going to see more
of that? Is there going to be some sort of formal relationship?
It seems to me a good idea but is that done on some sort of pro
bono basis? What alleviation does the Met Office get for effectively
helping and playing its part in defence diplomacy activity by
carrying out additional work such as that?
Mr Hutchinson: It is not tied
to the role of the Mobile Met Unit per se. They are very
good ambassadors for the Met Office going abroad and therefore,
in many cases, when you are trying to reconstruct the Met service
of a country whose Met service itself has degraded through natural
hazards, war or whatever the reason might be, the Met Office does
get invited to help play a role in restoring that capability.
That can take the form of training. It can take the form of us
taking on the responsibility for a short period of time and generating
weather forecasts for that particular patch of the globe. In terms
of the financial aspectsis it pro bono? Is it a
commercial business opportunity?it is a mixture. We tend
to try and recover costs any way that we can, where the country
involved is capable of meeting those costs. Sometimes we charge
marginal costs or provide it relatively free of charge simply
because the circumstances determine that the defence and diplomacy
requirements are stronger than commercial priorities, but that
is a case by case decision.
Q291 Chairman: When we visited Exeter
we were very impressed by the work that the Mobile Met Unit does.
I have one more question but there are things that we will write
to you about, about the future of military Met requirements, the
trial at RAF Wittering and the research function at Hadley. I
hope you can answer those questions when they are put to you.
question arises out of Mr Andrews telling us that the chief executive
is personally accountable to Parliament. We have just now heard
this with Mr Hutchinson answering questions about the Mobile Met
Unit. We welcome that. Clearly, Minister, your welcome for this
inquiry is much appreciated. There is what I hope is a minor issue
which I would like to raise with you though. When we wrote to
the chief executive of the Met Office about this inquiry, the
answer we received was that we should correspond with the Ministry
of Defence. That strikes us as being symptomatic of an unnecessarily
unfortunate relationship between the Ministry of Defence and the
select committee and possibly the relationship between the Ministry
of Defence and the Met Office. It fits not frightfully well with
the chief executive's personal accountability to Parliament. When
Mr Andrews said that, we would have welcomed that but I wonder
whether you could reconsider, first, the relations between the
Ministry of Defence and the Met Office in terms of this question
that I am asking and, second, discussions which we as a select
committee would like to have with agencies into which we do inquiries
in the future.
Mr Watson: I have indicated that
when I see the report, if this is a recommendation, I will take
it on board very seriously. I would want to understand exactly
what that means in terms of the relationship more fully before
I commit to you now but, when I read the report, if this argument
is put, I will take it very seriously.
Mr Andrews: If I can clarify what
I said, the chief executive of the Met Office is an accounting
officer in his own right so he is financially accountable as the
accounting officer to Parliament. As far as accountability for
the policy and performance of the Met Office is concerned, he
is accountable through his owner, who is accountable to Parliament,
in this case the Minister. Therefore, that is why, when you were
proposing this review, you were asked to conduct it through the
department. The issue though is very much one for the Secretary
of State's office and therefore, if there is a proposal, it should
be directed through that channel.
Chairman: This is the beginning of an
issue which we will certainly pursue.
Q292 Mr Havard: Throughout the discussion
there has been discussion of various reviews that are going on
and preparatory work for comprehensive spending review activity.
During that you talked about something I did not quite understand,
the quinquennial review. Is that a formal process? If there is
something we need to know about the quinquennial review and its
timing, perhaps you could give us some further information about
Mr Andrews: Every five years every
trading fund is subjected to the formal process of what is called
a quinquennial review, whereby people stand back and say, "On
the basis of the experience of the last five years, is there anything
. . . ?"
Q293 Mr Havard: That is specifically
for trading funds?
Mr Andrews: Yes.
Q294 Mr Havard: Are they all done
independently and brought together collectively? I do not want
to prolong the agony but if you could give us some description
of that process perhaps we could come back with more intelligent
questions about it.
Mr Andrews: I believe it is a
public process. It is all agencies across government. It is not
unique to the department. It is a Treasury requirement.
Q295 Chairman: Is it included in
your annual accounts reference to that?
Mr Andrews: Apparently we do not
do them any more. The quinquennial review that I was talking about
was something which took place in 2002/3. That was the origin
of the restructuring of the funding arrangements that came out
of that. That was also the basis upon which the decision was taken
that the trading fund was the appropriate structure for the Met
Office. That was done for all agencies and trading funds in the
past. It is now much broader than that but I can let you have
a note on it. 
Chairman: That would be very helpful,
thank you. If there are no further questions, may I thank all
three of you very much indeed for coming to give evidence in a
most useful session. We are most grateful.
8 See Ev 60 Back
See Ev 59 Back