Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-105)

MR KEITH PEARSON, MR MIKE FARRAR CBE, MR JOHN KORZENIEWSKI, MR MICHAEL EAKIN AND MR ARCHIE ROBERTSON OBE

20 FEBRUARY 2008

  Q100  Chairman: Is it not the same person?

  Mr Farrar: No, it is not the same person. My sense of this is that for all the reasons I have said before about people in this country wanting a national health service, the route of accountability through national government is a really important dynamic to remain committed to. We do not have tax raising powers in the regions and actually our resources are distributed through Parliament. Where I think the regional minister aspect comes in is that to have somebody who is looking across all aspects of government in respect of how it impacts on the region is incredibly important. Asking this question about the join between the guys you have here and about what we are joining up actually contributes to, say, the regional economic strategy, I see that as being a complementary force, asking questions about whether we are doing our jobs to join up the resources spent in health, through local government, through the development agencies. That dynamic has not been there in the past and it is an important additional dynamic. I do not think it is an either/or again; I think it is useful that we are seeking with our ministers in the health team to get some clarity around this relationship that they have with the regional ministers with their regional briefs. That is certainly something that is actually in conversation at the moment.

  Q101  John Hemming: One of the issues with regard to accountability is that it means a wide range of things depending on the circumstances. It can involve control, hire and fire; it can involve say for a regional strategy that you need to get the agreement of the regional select committee to the regional strategy as a sign off. What sort of level of accountability would you think is reasonable? Is it the lower level of just answering questions and potentially being influenced or should you be looking for a regional sign off for regional strategies or should we say that actually we should give the regional select committee the power to sack your board?

  Mr Korzeniewski: I am not the accounting officer for the LSC, that is the chief executive, but I would expect as things develop that there would be an opportunity for the regional strategy to be in some sense signed off and the focus for me there would be around the joining up and it would be around the impact of national policies in different places. There is a job to be done which would make our work better around the joining up. I am employed by a national body and I am not sure I would want to be at risk regionally.

  Mr Eakin: I am not sure I have anything to add to that. It is the same challenge for us, as a relatively small national body working on a regional basis, how you get that balance right. That goes back to your question about accountability to regional minister or to the secretary of state. I think, given the bulk of our decisions are made on a regional basis within the national strategic context, we would be keen to see as much accountability as possible for that to the appropriate regional body. I do think that is important and I agree with John that that needs to be linked into wider regional strategies.

  Q102  John Hemming: So potentially a sign off for those regional strategies.

  Mr Eakin: Potentially, yes.

  Q103  Sir Peter Soulsby: I wonder if it might be helpful, if you were able, to summarise what you think might be some of the pitfalls we ought to avoid in whatever model we adopt. What do you think we ought to be sure not to do?

  Mr Korzeniewski: We work nationally, regionally and locally and that is fine, but occasionally there are conflicts within that. I think my worry is setting up too much tension between those levels.

  Mr Eakin: As I said earlier, at sub-regional level there is a real focus; at the regional level in a big region like the North West that can get dissipated and if we create a body which is not really relating to the work on the ground, that would be my worry. It creates another level. We are still going to work locally, we are still going to work sub-regionally and we are still going to work nationally and linked to that, as I mentioned earlier, there is a huge amount of time, bureaucracy and all of that. Maybe something that is effective but relatively light on its feet.

  Q104  Sir Nicholas Winterton: My question really goes to Archie Robertson representing the Highways Agency. Do you feel that your organisation is the least accountable of all the organisations represented here today because really the infrastructure of this country is critical to economic performance? How would you wish to improve not only the scrutiny of what you do but, in the widest sense, the accountability of what you do to the people that are affected by what you do?

  Mr Robertson: The point about the national network is that it is used by people to pop down the road to the grocers, it is used by people to work in the next region, it is used to move components around and it is used to support international trade. The part of our work that is new for us is the way in which we are now engaging I hope positively, in the regional development agenda, in helping to form a regional spatial strategy in taking ownership of our bit of the regional transport strategy and moving that forward. For the most part we are acting in a supportive role to the leadership of the RDA and I would hope that the scrutiny and the accountability that come with that is proportionate to the way in which the issue of spatial development is being executed.

  Q105  Sir Nicholas Winterton: Would I make representations in respect of Highways Agency matters to the regional development agency or would I do it to Mr Archie Robertson OBE?

  Mr Robertson: Because I am accountable for the Highways Agency wherever it operates you would do it to me.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for taking the time to come and answer our questions and also for the willingness that you have shown to be open about the gaps that there are in the accountability and also your willingness to be prepared to see those gaps filled. I think that you have given us a clear sense of your lines of accountability nationally and your lines of accountability down to the local issues within your region and you have given us an idea about your working between your partners at regional level. I think you have been helpful in clarifying in terms of your different agencies the regional accountability gap. We have explored a bit what the issues would be around the model that much of that is left for us to do. Perhaps you could just watch this space and find out what your evidence has contributed to helping us to propose to make sure that you have proper accountability for your very, very important work which is at regional level.

  Mr Howarth: I think that last question was quite a searching question and I do not think people had an opportunity to answer properly. If anybody has any further thoughts on what Peter said I would certainly be interested; perhaps you could submit a note on that.

  Chairman: That is a very good point. Anything that we should not be doing, fear that we might do it and write to us to suggest that we do not do it. Thank you very much.


Memorandum

NHS North West and NHS East of England witnesses (M60) Ev 104




 
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