Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)|
16 MARCH 2009 SIR
Q1 Chair: Can I welcome you, Sir Michael,
to this pre-appointment hearing. If I could start with a few questions
about the recruitment process which you have just been through
up until this point and which we are not entirely clear about.
Can I ask you, first of all, did you respond to an advert or were
Sir Michael Pitt: I had a phone
call from recruitment consultants called Veredus and that started
the process. Then I think I joined in with everybody else who
was being considered as a candidate.
Q2 Chair: And had you had any dealings
with that headhunting agency before? Were you on their books?
Sir Michael Pitt: Probably in
the distant past. I think when I was Chief Executive of Kent County
Council we used Veredus for one or two appointments, but I cannot
think of any other occasion, but I think they have done some work
for the NHS quite recently in Cornwall.
Q3 John Cummings: Were you out of
work before you were approached by the headhunters?
Sir Michael Pitt: No, sir. I have
been involved in quite a lot of activities. I am not sure if you
want me to list them now but I have been doing probably about
five or six different jobs.
Q4 Chair: Are you still doing them,
or will you still be doing them?
Sir Michael Pitt: At this particular
moment in time I am still doing them. If I were lucky enough to
be appointed to this job then I will be resigning from all the
major activities I am currently involved in.
Q5 John Cummings: What would be the
Sir Michael Pitt: If I can run
through those very quickly for you. I currently chair NHS South
West, that is the strategic health authority which oversees all
of the NHS services in the South West of the country. I currently
chair two small companies, one is SEL, which is a small consultancy
company based in London, and another is the Direct Labour Organisation
of Swindon Borough Council, quite a large DLO with a turnover
of £60-£70 million a year and over a thousand employees.
I run my own company which undertakes quite a wide range of consultancy
work on behalf of both the private and public sector, and I also
chair a charity based in my home county of Wiltshire. So that
is the range of activities I am currently employed in.
Q6 Chair: Would all of this continue
if you were to be appointed?
Sir Michael Pitt: The things I
would like to continue with are the work with the charity, that
takes up probably about half a dozen days a year so it is not
a huge commitment, and the other one which I need to consider
carefully is the chairmanship of the Revalidation Board on behalf
of the General Medical Council. You are all wondering what that
is, but because of Shipman and other problems within the NHS it
is now going to be an obligation for all doctors, 150,000 of them,
to be appraised and revalidated on a regular basis for them to
carry on practising. I have been asked to chair, and I am currently
chairing, a board which is overseeing the implementation of that
across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That role
is 12 days a year but since I will be giving up my NHS chairmanship
of NHS South West I need to ask the General Medical Counciland
I should qualify my remarks by saying if I am lucky enough to
be appointedwhether they would like me to carry on in that
role or whether they feel that somebody who is an SHA chair is
better suited to it in the longer term future.
Q7 Mr Betts: I would just like to
pursue the issue of outside interests. In time commitments it
does not seem a great deal but I am sure you are aware of the
perception of the need to be absolutely independent and removed
from any of the decisions that not only you but the new Commission
is going to take. Do you think, therefore, it would be appropriate,
even if these two roles you identify, first of all, are acceptable,
that as a matter of general practice you would not have any interest
with any private companies or private organisations?
Sir Michael Pitt: No, I would
have absolutely no conflicting interests at all. If I were offered
this job, there is nothing I would be doing in the future which
would conflict in any way, and I feel very strongly about that.
There will be a code of conduct which will govern the way in which
commissioners carry out their jobs and they will be obliged to
conform with that code of conduct, and I think it should be pretty
strict in terms of when commissioners are allowed to make decisions
on individual applications.
Q8 Mr Betts: I think there is an
even greater need for you as the prospective chair of the Commission
to have absolute independence, because while clearly it will be
potentially possible for you to have an interest which you declare
and therefore do not get involved directly with a particular application,
that application will then have to be heard by a commissioner
who ultimately is responsible to you. I think there is an issue
here of perception as much as a direct conflict of interest.
Sir Michael Pitt: I completely
agree with the point you are making, and if I can turn to my personal
circumstances, I think either the role with the General Medical
Council or the role with the charity seem to me to be so far removed
from anything that the IPC might be involved in that it would
not create any conflict of interest.
Q9 Mr Betts: What is the charity?
Sir Michael Pitt: The charity
is a family mediation charity. It is about securing the safety
of children and their families and sorting out disputes between
teenagers and their parents or guardians. It is a relatively small
charity but it is something I was asked to do last year and I
was very willing to take on.
Q10 Sir Paul Beresford: And what
area is your own company consulting in?
Sir Michael Pitt: My personal
company is just me really. I have done work recently, for example,
for a unitary council. They had problems in relation to their
planning processes and I wrote a 20-page report with recommendations
for that council after a 3-month detailed investigation, and based
on their reaction to the report that has been very well received,
so that would be one example. I have done some work for a private
company which is involved in outsourcing, again giving advice
on how to deal with the public sector and how to market their
products, so a variety of jobs on a relatively small scale but
something which has kept me reasonably well occupied since I left
Kent County Council.
Q11 Sir Paul Beresford: You say you
are setting up the Committee for the GMC 12 days a year. Does
that mean that you are intending to set up the Committee in the
procedures and then chair the Committee itself?
Sir Michael Pitt: The Committee
is already established; it has met on one occasion so far. There
is a strong team based within the General Medical Council itself
which is undertaking all the detailed work, and my role in this
is to chair the board itself, to make sure that the meetings are
successful, and to liaise with the Secretary of State and other
interests within the NHS and Department of Health.
Q12 Sir Paul Beresford: Will it be
anticipating having hearings, et cetera, of doctors who
disagree with you and the Committee?
Sir Michael Pitt: That would not
be the role of this particular board, that is very much a GMC
role, but this board is focusing all of its energy on rolling
out the revalidation process for doctors across the four countries.
Q13 Chair: So they are not actually
doing the revalidation?
Sir Michael Pitt: No, they are
overseeing the arrangements. There are other boards, sub-boards,
one for each of the countries concerned, and teams in each of
the countries, who are doing the hard work. What we are trying
to do is oversee the overall process and make sure it keeps to
Q14 Chair: For the sake of completeness,
do you have any shares or interests in the companies whose boards
you have been chairing?
Sir Michael Pitt: No, not at all.
Q15 Chair: Just to get back to where
we were in the first place, what actually made you interested
in this job?
Sir Michael Pitt: I have been
involved in planning in some form or another and in infrastructure
very much so in the earlier parts of my career, and I think I
have always felt that there were significant improvements that
could be made to planning arrangements, certainly for major infrastructure.
I think the new Planning Act is exciting; I think it is a radical
change from the existing arrangements; I think the proposals there
are very much in the public interest, and I think this is a chance
to make real improvements in terms of providing better infrastructure
for the country and a better quality of life for people, but also
saving time and money getting through these complex and detailed
Q16 Chair: And given the range of
responsibilities and the powers you will be exercising, do you
think that "non executive" is an appropriate description
of your role?
Sir Michael Pitt: I think that
is a good question. I would say during the early stages of setting
up the IPC the chair is going to have to be quite hands-on and
directive. I think it is vital that the Commission establishes
itself as an independent organisation from Day 1; that the new
organisation is fit for purpose; and I think as a chair I would
be quite focused on action and delivery, hitting programmes, hitting
budgets, and making sure that we are recruiting the right people
as commissioners, and to the secretariat as a whole. I suspect
once the Commission is up and running hopefully the chair would
be standing back a bit more, taking a more strategic view of what
is going on, holding the chief executive and the secretariat to
account and being very involved in quality assurance. I might
come back to that later if I get a chance. I think quality assurance
will be a significant priority for the chair.
Q17 Sir Paul Beresford: You said
you had had quite a lot of experience in planning and looking
at the synopsis of your CV you have predominantly been at Humberside
County Council and then Cheshire County Council and then Kent
County Council. They do not have much to do with planningor
not the nitty gritty.
Sir Michael Pitt: I want to go
back to my earlier career. During the first 10 or 20 years of
my career I was very heavily involved in motorway design and construction,
a lot of the motorways that we now take for granted were being
built during the 1970s and I was heavily engaged in the planning
of that major infrastructure, and I can tell you about some of
those schemes if you like, and therefore I was caught up in the
making of main line, side road orders, compulsory purchase, public
inquiries and so on. If I go back far enough in my careerand
I do admit it is quite a long time agoI was quite heavily
engaged in the planning and evaluation of major infrastructure.
Q18 Sir Paul Beresford: That is 25
years ago. A quarter of a century.
Sir Michael Pitt: Indeed, sir.
Then, moving to more recent times, as a county council you are
the structure planning authority, the waste disposal authority
and the minerals authority, and so plans are being prepared by
the county. Added to that, one gets heavily involved in planning
matters across the board because of being a highway authority
as well. Then if I can just mention, the year I spent at Swindon
Borough Council, which is very recent, a unitary authority and,
therefore, with full powers in relation to all forms of development
Q19 Sir Paul Beresford: The problem
with a county is, as you say, it is strategic. You are going to
be looking in this particular role at individual applications,
okay they might be of strategic importance but they are quite
different from a strategic approach as a county. Do you feel there
are gaps there? How are you going to fill them?
Sir Michael Pitt: I think there
are always going to be gaps and I think it is up to anybody holding
an appointment of this sort to be constantly learning, building
on their experience, making sure that they really deeply understand
the business of the organisation. I am going to add, though, that
I think I have had a big enough variety of experience during my
career to move into this job without feeling that there are huge
problems or huge gaps in my background.