Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
CBE, MR JOHN
20 FEBRUARY 2008
Q80 Chris Bryant: You raised the
issue of some of the theatre companies that lost their funding.
I think one of them was a lesbian and gay group in Manchester
and I cannot remember whether it is getting its money again now
or it is not. MPs might want to get awfully excited on either
side of that argument in a committee in a way that is more about
grabbing headlines than is really about enhancing accountability.
Do you have concerns about that?
Mr Eakin: In practice as things
work at the moment I can honestly say that I have not had direct
political interference of that kind. If there was regional accountability
at a political level would that be a risk? Potentially yes, but
you build in safeguards as we do at national level. I think within
the recent furore the secretary of state and the minister were
very careful to be clear that this was an Arts Council decision
and not a decision for politicians. I think that is manageable.
Local authorities to some extent face this issue themselves because
they are also funders of the arts, albeit political bodies. In
the case of the organisation you mentioned, we took that decision,
we had some political representation on behalf of the organisation
but in the end we stuck by our decision, but what we have built
in is a year for them to demonstrate that they are improving as
they say they are. We made that decision independently.
Q81 Philip Davies: Just following
on from that, I am slightly confused because we seem to be going
from having the freedom to make the decisions that you think are
right but also you did say that you should be accountable. You
did say earlier that the Arts Council does consult with MPs on
funding decisions. I have an organisation in my constituency which
had its funding cut and I just got a letter to tell me that its
funding was going to be cut. I am not sure if that is what you
class as consultation; I class it as a fait accompli and I was
being informed what the decision was. So I am slightly confused
as to how widespread this consultation is and how accountable
you actually feel you should be and to whom.
Mr Eakin: There are a range of
funding decisions that we make, some of which are lottery of course,
which are separate. The decisions that you are talking about and
that I mentioned earlier were our decisions for three year funding
for particular arts organisations, what we call our regularly
funded organisations. We did write to all MPs and to local authorities
advising of what our proposals were for those organisations but,
where we were proposing reducing or cutting an organisation, allowing
a period of five weeks for representation for alternative use
to be put forward before our regional council came to its final
decisions at the end of January.
Q82 Philip Davies: How many decisions
were changed as a result of that?
Mr Eakin: I think the number nationally
was 17 or 18; in my region it was two.
Q83 Chairman: Presumably those are
implemented decisions which flow out of the regional strategy
and the question is whether or not the regional strategy within
each region of the Arts Council has got any expression of regional
accountability. I guess the answer is that it has not.
Mr Eakin: Regional accountability
in a formal sense no, it does not. We would similarly talk to
regional agencies and sub-regional agencies, for example in Greater
Manchester the AGMA grouping of the ten authorities who, in the
case of the arts, provide those local authorities' principal funding
collectivelyI think it is a unique model in the countryso
we would certainly consult with them. I think there is a gap in
terms of overall regional scrutiny.
Q84 Mr Howarth: The focus increasingly
is towards city region. Michael will know that the key event on
Merseyside at the moment is the Capital of Culture which is very
much being driven on a city region basis rather than on a North
West basis. Is the whole focus of accountability being shifted
to city regions and away from the compass point that we happen
to live in called the North West?
Mr Eakin: I am glad you mentioned
European Capital of Culture 2008; I will take the opportunity
to mention it again and invite everyone to come to Liverpool this
year. Where you have powerful city regions like Greater Manchester
and Merseyside that is true, but our locusI am sure colleagues
would say the samewould include areas like Cheshire, like
Cumbria and so on where there is not quite the same kind of force
and where, in terms of the arts, the issues are more to do with
lack of infrastructure and the need for development and where
the local authorities for example do not necessarily have the
kind of collective clout that they have in the city regions. Yes,
I agree with you where you have those two cities; certainly in
my organisation we work very closely with both those city regions
and particularly with Liverpool and Manchester as authorities.
You need different arrangements in more rural areas.
Q85 Sir Nicholas Winterton: Have
you visited the Macclesfield Silk Museum.
Mr Eakin: No, Sir Nicholas; we
do not fund historic museums such as that.
Q86 Chairman: When we have heard
from Mike I think we will move onto the questions from Peter about
what the structure could be to create the regional accountability.
I think we have a very good sense of where we are at the moment
from what you have said so far.
Mr Farrar: I want to comment on
the city region issues; I think it is quite an important dynamic
in the health service context really. What we have in the health
service is a whole set of sub-systems even at our level; on our
footprint there are probably five or six important sub-systems
which operate largely around flows into our specialist centres,
so we start at primary care and build up into that. In order to
understand the performance and for us to account for the way the
health service is behaving, the dimension of city regions is an
important element of that because we organise services around
those kind of sub-regional footprints. In my case you have some
rural footprints and you have some city footprints, so it is not
purely about city. We are balancing three dynamics here. One is
the national and this country is unique in terms of people being
prepared to pay through taxation for a publicly funded system.
We are out on a limb about wanting to put money into the health
service through taxation for a national health system and we are
very proud of the National Health Service. We believe the dream;
we like equity; we like consistency; we hate postcode prescribing
because it feels unfair; we like the fact that we have universal
coverage. The national dimension is a really important dimension
to keep hold of about consistent standards and about access to
care. However, at the same time we are also trying to increase
local accountability because our primary care trusts are spending
a lot of money on behalf of their local populations and we need
to get locally sensitive services. The third dimension is this
dimension of city region because actually cancer services and
stroke services all need to be planned and organised at that kind
of level. I do not think these are replacing each other; these
are important aspects that we have to balance off. The bit that
is in issue and why this Committee is so important is because
that element of the regionalwhether it is sub-regional
or regionalis the bit that is least covered, but actually
it is increasingly significant for the way in which we provide
specialist services and services for people in crisis. That is
a really important dynamic. We are talking about local accountability,
we are continually discussing how we are nationally accountable
to provide consistent standards and those debates are being had.
The regional aspect of this sub-regional bit is the bit that is
least covered but is increasingly important alongside those other
things. It is not an either/or; it is building those three dimensions
sensibly into the structure.
Q87 Mr Howarth: There is no accountability,
Mr Eakin: No, there is not.
Chairman: At that point perhaps it would
be a good idea to invite Peter to ask the question about how we
might go forward and what you think about the different models.
Q88 Sir Peter Soulsby: You have all
talked in different ways about gaps in accountability at a regional
level. There is a range of different views about the shape of
that gap, whether it is government office, regions or some other
model. It is really the models for parliamentary scrutiny that
I want to pursue with you. As you may be aware there have been
a number of different models discussed by witnesses here with
us: select committees, select committees with or without a majority
for the governing party, grand committees, committees with all
members in a particular area or a particular region, or some hybrid
with local authority members perhaps sitting alongside Members
of Parliament. Thinking about the sorts of gaps in your own areas
do you have any thoughts as to how they might be plugged?
Mr Korzeniewski: Obviously I am
not an expert on Parliament but the issue for me is what is the
right level to do whatever scrutiny is required. I can see with
the city region developments coming through an added question.
At the moment we have to be mindful of the regional economic strategy
and that is determined by the secretary of state. In London the
region is the place, if that makes sense; in the North West of
England we have a region but we then have two emerging city regions
so the geography is not the same. We could be in the position
where we have to be mindful of the regional economic strategy
and also, working through the multi-area agreement in our development
with AGMA and with colleagues in Merseyside, we might also have
to have regard for their priorities.
Q89 Chairman: Moving on from what
the city or regional boundaries are, what do you think about how
the accountability deficit which we have been discussing would
be best met by all the regions' MPs into what we described as
a grand committee of that region, i.e. every MP of that region
holding you to account, or a select committee which is a small
group of MPs within the region? I do not know whether you have
thought about that. Or, thirdly, whether or not it could be a
regional select committee which is a small group of MPs from that
region augmented by local councillors from that region. We are
trying to move on to what the model of the accountability would
Mr Korzeniewski: My preference
would be for all to be involved rather than a small number. That
would allow us to triangulate a lot of the things we have been
talking about today, about places like Macclesfield or Greater
Q90 Chairman: Mr Eakin, do you have
any views on that?
Mr Eakin: I am not sure I have
a definitive view on this, to be honest. Like John I am attracted
by the notion of all regional MPs being engaged. I think I read
from earlier meetings discussions about MPs from elsewhere coming
in in some way, if only to make the political balance, which seems
to me odd. I suppose the key question is: what is the role, how
is it exercised and how does it add value? One of the difficulties
is that in a region there are so many organisations. We are relatively
small in this overall context; there are clearly much bigger concerns
like the health authority and so on. For all of those bodies to
be accountable in a uniformed way to a committee made up of all
the MPs of a region, the risks of a labyrinthine and expensive
process strike me as very large. I am attracted by a model involving
all MPs but if there is a feeling that there needs to be some
political balance then that third option that you mention around
a mix of MPs and other elected members strikes me as another model
Mr Robertson: Likewise I am not
sure I am in a position to offer a model as such, but just picking
up on what Michael says, the things that need to be understood
in terms of roles and responsibilities, although I am responsible
for transport of the strategic network in England, the big thing
for us in regions is of course development and the enablement
of development by the provision of transport. We work very closely
with the RDA on that but so do many other agencies and operators
ensuring that flood defences are provided, that water and other
utilities are provided and everything is there. We are working
very much within the framework of development, supporting that
and not delivering an objective in itself. Whatever you recommend
needs to take account of the fact that there are different objectives
being sought in the region, development is one I happen to be
particularly closely involved in; health, not so much other than
trying to prevent people from having accidents in the first place.
Q91 Chairman: Does that mean that
you do not have a view about whether it should be all the MPs
of the region or a small group of MPs, i.e. a select committee?
Mr Robertson: I am afraid it does
mean that I do not have a view.
Q92 John Hemming: That does raise
an interesting point which is that this city region point, which
is a developing issue all over the place. We have this debate
obviously. The government office, the region of West Midlands
has clearly two divisions, the Marches and the rest. In fact there
are three divisions because Coventry is a bit semi-detached from
everybody else and really should do its own thing with Warwickshire.
If you have all the Members of Parliament involved in the accountability
process it also facilitates the option, I suppose, of having city
region groups of members. Has anyone got any comments about city
region groups of members as an element?
Mr Farrar: We have had a lot of
debate about this; it is a really important development for us.
As I say, we are very supportive of trying to fill the gap. One
of the things for us about the select committee model was to allow
for some more in-depth discussions because we think that some
of the issues we would want to be talking about and discussing
with our politicians are quite complex. One of the issues relating
to select committees is that it might allow that and of course
what we have seen with the scrutiny model at local governmentwhich
I should have mentioned before in respect of how we work with
local governmenthas been that local government has developed
some thematic studies and it seems to me entirely reasonable that
even if you went for one of those models it could actually decide
that it wanted to have an in-depth look at a particular city,
region or sub-section of the region. It is perfectly possible
for them to pick up on a particular dynamic or a geographic element
of the patch. We see pros and cons in all of that because we like
to keep everybody involved so we do not have a declared definitive
position, but our sense is that some degree of in-depth scrutiny
is worthwhile pursuing really.
Q93 Mark Lazarowicz: I represent
a Scottish constituency so I have very direct experience of regional
and national accountability. One of the issues which is sometimes
raised by non-governmental organisations and bodies similar to
yourselves in Scotland is that actually keeping up with opportunities
to be consulted with and to be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament
can involve quite a major effort in the time and resources required.
How far do you think that organisations other than the largest
ones like yourselves will actually be able to provide the necessary
type of resource to make this kind of scrutiny and accountability
meaningful? In relation to the issue of the type of body that
we might want to set up, is one of your arguments for a smaller
group of MPs being involved is that it could actually meet in
Manchester, Newcastle or wherever which might make some problems
about resourcing and servicing such a committee from your point
of view easier to solve, whereas if you wanted to get all 75 MPs
from the north west of England you would have to have them down
here to get them together and that would put extra pressures upon
yourselves to make this a meaningful type of exercise. I would
appreciate your comments on these issues.
Mr Eakin: I think there is potentially
a resource issue which comes back to what it is for and how it
works. Getting to London every now and then is not in itself a
problem. Thinking about how this could practically be of most
benefit and coming back to the city region point, I have to say,
certainly speaking for ourselves as an organisation, being able
to engage with MPs on a sub-regional basisso being able
to get all the Cheshire MPs together in one place to talk about
what we are doing in Cheshire, how we are doing it, how that ties
into other strategieswould be of most practical benefit
to us in the way we discharge our duties. A wider grouping of
all the regions' MPs, particularly in a diverse region like the
North West, I think would clearly have a strong scrutiny role
in terms of accountability and that could be valuable, but in
terms of furthering our work I question whether it would be as
effective, leaving aside those practical considerations that you
Q94 Philip Davies: One thing I struggle
with is that you all say there should be more regional accountability
and part of this is in your hands; you do not have to wait for
us to recommend something for you to get a sub-committee of Cheshire
MPs together. Am I right in thinking that you are actually quite
resistant to accountability and that you are going to have to
be forced kicking and screaming into it? Why are you not doing
all these things now? Why do you actually need somebody to set
something up specifically for you to do all these things?
Mr Pearson: I can give you an
example from the East of England. Through the regional assembly
we made a suggestion that the overview and scrutiny committees
that make up the scrutinisation of the PCTs should come together
at a regional level and hold the health authority to account.
There was some resistance from the local authorities who hold
the responsibility for local accountability of PCTs. I think their
view was that it might reduce the impact of their role. We would
be very keen and were it to be left to us to become involved in
setting up some form of regional accountability we would be very
happy to do it. I think what we are saying is that having gone
through the process of becoming coterminous now with the regional
officesthat took place about 18 months agonow is
the time and it is opportune for there to be a good long look
at how we become more accountable regionally. We are supportive
and if it were left without a decision I think we would probably
move towards your suggestion fairly quickly.
Mr Farrar: I do not think you
should take that impression from what we are saying. In fact I
think we are continually trying to build those key relationships
and partnerships and to set out the narrative to be seen to have
something on which to assess our performance. There are some structural
issues in place. If I take the recent very successful consultation
in the whole of the Manchester region about maternity and children's
services where all the local authorities came together, all our
PCTs came together and we effectively had an agreement where eight
primary care trusts voted in favour of what we were trying to
do. There was a collective view of what we were trying to do but
legislatively, when that went back to the individual local authorities,
their scrutiny committees were still unable, even though there
had been a collective majority, to refer that up the line. It
is not just a case of why can we not get on; there are actually
some structural things that need to be put into place. My final
point is that I think it would be a mistake if all that we come
out with on the back of this is a body which is holding us reactively
to account for decisions. My sense is that we should be getting
things proactively in place so that we are having the discussions
futuristically about some of these issues that face the Arts Council,
the Learning and Skills, the Health Service and that is far, far
better as a model. It is not just about reactive scrutiny; we
are actively pursuing those now. We do not have to have a committee
structure; we are actively pursuing that now.
Q95 Chairman: If what you are thinking
about is a proactive scrutiny which is about shaping policy at
the regional level then presumably that implies a smaller group
of continuous people rather than a shifting sands with a different
30 of the regions' MPs coming each time. Is that your sense of
how it would be, that you would have a few people who would be
dedicated to this task rather than everybody popping in from time
Mr Farrar: I think that is right
because some of these issues have a degree of complexity and some
familiarisation with that is important. Over familiarisation becomes
a weakness but you have to make that balance. I do agree with
you that that would help and I think evidence of things like citizens
juries where people become familiar with the issues and are able
to give informed judgments in a way that if you are coming new
to an issue every time and only look that deep into it it is often
harder to give an informed opinion about something.
Chairman: In the North West you have
more of a match in the political balance of your MPs than what
there is in the United Kingdom, than there is, say, in the eastern
region; if there was a regional select committee you are in a
region which is mostly Conservative MPs.
Sir Nicholas Winterton: Not in the North
Q96 Chairman: No, I am talking about
the East. The East is not like the national picture so would it
impact on you? How would you feel about a situation where it was
reflecting the national balance of parties rather than your regional
balance to have regional accountability on that basis of a select
Mr Pearson: If I could perhaps
dodge the political context of that and try to come down to the
difference between the grand committee and perhaps the select
committee, I think in our region the grand committee might lend
itself to being overly political whereas I think the select committee
that might be used in the east of England might be one that gave
us more of an opportunity to work with people over a longer period
to build some thoughts around themes that are going on in the
Q97 Chairman: You think the grand
committee would be more like what goes on over there rather than
what goes on here.
Mr Pearson: Yes.
Q98 Philip Davies: Can I ask you
about regional ministers and where they fit into all this? Do
you consider yourselves accountable to the regional minister?
Do you think, if we do have some kind of regional structure, you
should be held accountable directly to that regional structure
or do you think that you should be held to account through the
regional minister or even through your government department ministers?
Where do regional ministers fit in with all this?
Mr Robertson: Let me come at it
from the word accountability which is something which those of
us who are Accounting Officers have to treat very seriously. Currently
there is accountability to our ministers and to Parliament. We
need to be clear about whether we are talking about changing that
fundamental accountability because at the moment it has not changed
and therefore I am looking at how I can support and indeed how
I can get support from a regional minister as he champions what
he does. I expect to be asked questions of that minister but nothing
has fundamentally changed. The accountability is to ministers
and to Parliament. We need to be clear when we talk about accountability
whether there is an intention of government to shift it or not.
I am coming at it round the other way, but accountability is a
very, very important concept for us.
Q99 Philip Davies: Where do the regional
ministers fit in?
Mr Robertson: At the moment they
are getting to grips with their new role and they are all taking
it in different ways. I have met personally with one or two of
them and my colleagues have met with others in the regional ministers'
forums. So I would say that all are getting engaged, taking on
very enthusiastically to a man or woman the champion role for
Mr Farrar: We have a regional
distribution of responsibilities amongst the health ministers'
team as well so we have a regional minister and we have a health
minister with a brief for our region. That means that there are