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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1582-iii
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Public Administration Committee
Role of the head of the Civil Service
Tuesday 15 November 2011
Professor the Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, Professor COLIN Talbot and Professor TONY Dean
Sue Cameron, Peter Riddell and David Walker
Evidence heard in Public Questions 180 - 261
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.
Taken before the Public Administration Committee
on Tuesday 15 November 2011
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor the Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History, Queen Mary, University of London, Professor Colin Talbot, University of Manchester, and Professor Tony Dean, University of Toronto, gave evidence.
Q180 Chair : May I welcome our first three witnesses to this session of our inquiry into the role of the Head of the Civil Service? Could each of you identify yourselves for the record?
Professor Dean: I am Tony Dean, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Toronto.
Lord Hennessy: I am Peter Hennessy, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History, Queen Mary, University of London.
Professor Talbot: I am Colin Talbot, Professor of Government and Public Administration at Manchester Business School.
Q181 Chair : Thank you very much indeed for joining us today. I start by asking a very broad question: do you feel that the post of the Head of the Civil Service is being downgraded by the changes being proposed by the Government?
Lord Hennessy: Yes.
Professor Talbot: Yes.
Professor Dean: Yes, certainly.
Lord Hennessy: Can we go?
Q182 Chair : Do you think the Prime Minister is cutting off his nose to spite his face by removing the Head of the Civil Service from his immediate environs and his immediate circle of advisers?
Lord Hennessy: Can I elaborate a little bit on my answer?
Chair : Please do.
Lord Hennessy: I notice that last week the Prime Minister said in reply to your question, Chair, at the Liaison Committee, "I really feel, in my bones, this is the right decision," but he wisely recognised straight away that a future Prime Minister might take a different view. I do not think there has ever been a right orthopaedics, as you might call it, here-to take the bone metaphor a bit further-because there has never been a configuration of Permanent Secretaries around the centre that has ever appeared to be in quite a steady state; it depends very much on personalities, the Prime Minister and the figures concerned. This configuration, as the Prime Minister made plain to you, does seem to fit his preferences, the strengths he has-or thinks he has-and those of Jeremy Heywood. However, it does not provide the strength needed by the Civil Service as a profession and a federation of Departments, which is why I was unequivocal in answering your first question.
Why is that? Reforming the Civil Service cannot be done on a truly part-time basis, with quick trips on Friday afternoons to benefit or tax offices. Running a big Department plus that job is a recipe for constant fire fighting and desperate time management, with not enough time for thought or discussion on developing a strategy for Civil Service reform.
It is also amazing, if you think about it, that the old Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service duality has been split into four: National Security Adviser last year; Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary this year; Head of the Civil Service this year; and Cabinet Secretary. To use a metaphor that might appeal to you, given your interest in defence, it is a kind of Trident missile front-end solution, because it is breaking up into multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles. That is not necessarily the right metaphor to choose, but it just shows how fragmentary it is becoming. I am pretty sure we will have a new front-end to the Whitehall configuration of Permanent Secretaries by the 2020s. This is not going to hold, nor do I think it is desirable for now.
Q183 Chair : In your metaphor, is the Prime Minister launching this missile or is he on the receiving end?
Lord Hennessy: He is the only one who is authorised to launch, Bernard, as you well know. That means we can all sleep easier in our beds.
Professor Talbot: The breaking up of the role into four or three-and I prefer the troika analogy of the Cabinet Secretary, Cabinet Office Permanent Secretary and Head of the Civil Service-
Chair : The Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Professor Talbot: Yes, it creates a very strange wiring diagram. I will concentrate on the Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service roles. It seems to me we are very much in danger of creating a Cabinet Secretary who has power without any responsibility and a Head of the Civil Service who has responsibility without any power to actually do anything. You have a Cabinet Secretary who is purely going to do policy; it is quite clear from the way it is described that the role is all about co-ordinating policy across the heart of Government. Obviously that is a particular concern for a coalition Government and probably needs to be done, but nevertheless the Cabinet Secretary is no longer going to have any real responsibility for implementation. That is going to be hived off as a separate responsibility, which seems to be divided somewhere between the Head of the Civil Service role.
Certainly in the job description of the Head of the Civil Service role, all of the objectives are about change, managing change across the Civil Service and implementation. That person is going to be outside of the core of Whitehall, in a Permanent Secretary’s job as their day job and with very little real power over other Permanent Secretaries. However, there is a real danger that they will be the person who takes the opprobrium when things go wrong with implementation, rather than the Cabinet Secretary, who has no responsibility for it.
So, as Peter says, I do not think this arrangement will hold. It is clearly entirely based on personalities of the moment and, in my view, that is not the best basis for making these sorts of configurations.
Professor Dean: Firstly, I agree with everything my colleagues have said: the further you move from the Cabinet Office and the centre, the more diluted your influence and power becomes. The job of a Permanent Secretary of a Department is huge in its own right, and to combine that with the job of the Head of the Civil Service is going to be troublesome.
I will step back and think about this from an organisational perspective. We have a national organisation with a global reach employing something like 450,000 workers, nationally and outside the country. A budget of something like £700 billion runs through the hands of the senior levels of that organisation. It has a massive change agenda, which you talked about in September in terms of leadership. Its work affects every aspect of people’s lives in the country and every aspect of business life. Would we look at an organisation of one-tenth the size and influence of that scope and think about giving leadership to a part-time Chief Executive Officer? I do not think so. The CEO job is huge. In public sector organisations generally we underestimate the importance of leadership, we do not elevate it enough or give it enough focus. This is a job that requires dedicated leadership, particularly given the scope of the change agenda in front of you.
When you look at the scope of the job description, which is a job description for a full-time dedicated leader, given all of the other challenges associated with this, the more dedicated and focused this can become, the better. We have been having a discussion about the relative merits of one part-time job versus another part-time job. The job, as it currently exists, is a part-time job. I have tried to do that job in a smaller context, with a workforce of only 66,000 people, and to juggle the job of Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service is an enormous undertaking.
What it has going for it is that one tends to be dealing with issues at the centre, either the Prime Minister or premier’s concerns or with corporate-level issues. If you start taking that job and mixing it with the issues of a Department, you make it much more complex and you reduce its status.
Q184 Chair : To press you a little further on this, your experience, if I am correct, is as Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Ontario Public Service. Therefore, you did the dual role of Head of the Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary for a much smaller organisation. How did you manage your time in that role-how did you split your time?
Professor Dean: I had worked in the Cabinet Office for several years before I became the Cabinet Secretary, and had the benefit of watching predecessors. As a result of that experience I went into the job with the view that I needed to take at least 50% of my time and dedicate it to the CEO role. Somebody asked me a couple of weeks ago: if I were to go back into that job and do anything differently, what would it be? It would be to devote more of my time to the Head of the Civil Service role. We had an organisation of 66,000, which is small in comparison with yours.
Q185 Chair : Does it have separate Departments like we have Whitehall Departments?
Professor Dean: Yes, it mirrors those Departments. We have 26 or 27 Ministries, each with a Minister and a Permanent Secretary. It is based almost entirely on the Westminster model.
Q186 Chair : The argument we often seem to come across, advanced by the Institute of Government and the Minister for the Civil Service, is that we have a much looser arrangement and a much more federated structure of Government Departments than a commercial corporation, and the analysis that you are putting forward does not recognise that. What would you say to that?
Professor Dean: I would say that I have worked not just in a federal constitutional structure but with a federation of Ministries. It is important to recognise the relative autonomy of those constituent Ministries. I also learned that we are one corporation-it is called the Government or the Civil Service-and its staff, managers and leaders have much in common. As much as we talk about a loose federation, we also talk about the necessity of joining up and integrating, both in terms of policy planning and delivery.
One of your three priorities from the September report talked about cross-departmental working. We are deeply siloed; the more negative language used around the looseness of federations is that we are deeply siloed and deeply departmentalised. My experience both in Government in Canada and since, in working around the world, is that you find that departmentalism and silo-based culture in lots of organisations, both in the public and private sector. Most people are trying to work across, and that does not happen on its own; it requires very strong leadership.
Q187 Chair : The Government is trying to address that by creating a more generalist top management to the Civil Service. For example, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence actually comes from another Department. Is that going to address that silo mentality?
Professor Dean: It will in part, but on its own it will not be successful. Departments develop their own culture. Ministers tend to focus on their own mandates and pull their Permanent Secretaries into those mandates. My personal experience and observation of other situations tells me that, unless you have a strong public service leader who has management supervisory control with direct lines of accountability from Permanent Secretaries, and who is spending an enormous amount of their time working to drive crossdepartmental working, it probably will not happen because you are pushing a large boulder up a steep hill.
Chair : Thank you Professor Dean. We are extremely grateful to you for flying over from Canada especially for this session.
Q188 Paul Flynn: Can God go through a metamorphosis and become a Trinity at nil cost?
Lord Hennessy: It depends how you measure cost. It costs money if you have a few more top jobs, but the cost is uncertainty: who is doing what and what the demarcations are. It is all very well for a Select Committee that knows its way around this subject very well and for, in my case, a creature of nerdery-I would not say my colleagues fall into that category, but I do-who has always been interested in this, but think how far down the line interest in this goes in the Civil Service. In the benefits office this week they are speaking of little else I am sure, but it will not last. Who does what? Who is the head of profession? Who do we look to if there is a row? Who do we turn to if the Civil Service Code or part of the CRaG Act seems to be breached? I think it just adds layers of confusion.
Above all, there is the effect on the Wednesday morning meetings, and I suspect it is very difficult to get the Wednesday morning meetings of the Permanent Secretaries to operate in a corporate way anyway. You could argue that, because our tradition is a loose federation-with Departments as individual regiments with special banners of their own and special formations-you have to be even more subtle and careful in your use of time if you are going to steer what is a loose federation, rather than a centre-gripped outfit, like Whitehall. So I think the costs in human terms and confusion terms are very high.
Professor Talbot: I would first of all add something about the context of all this. We have to remember that the Civil Service itself is going through one of the most traumatic periods it has been through in the last 30 or 40 years. There are massive job losses, pay freezes and pension issues, as well as a whole range of major initiatives that they are responsible for in imposing the cuts agenda on the other 90% of the public sector. There are massive reforms to welfare benefits, to education, to health, the localism agenda and the whole supposedly postbureaucracy approach of downsizing Government.
In the midst of all that, we have this confusion about these roles at the centre. It really is confusion. I take Peter’s point entirely; I find it difficult enough to get my head around what the separate roles of the Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office, the Cabinet Secretary and the Head of the Civil Service are going to be. It is entirely unclear to me what the three job descriptions are and how they are going to overlap. We have only had one job description, which is not even a job description but a brief outline of what one of the jobs is supposed to be.
Q189 Paul Flynn: I have 4,000 civil servants in my constituency, and they have difficulty understanding why at the top one job is going to be done by three people, when at the bottom one person has been asked to do the job of two or sometimes three people. This might cause undue woe and cause them to be even more upset than they are now. Do you think it is wise politically to go ahead with this?
Professor Talbot: I do not think that by itself is going to have a huge impact. To be fair to the Government, they are saying this is cost-neutral, but, as you say, in a context where civil servants lower down are being asked to do a lot more for less in most cases; that is obviously problematic. I do not think that is going to be the key issue; I think the key issue is going to be that nobody knows who is in charge.
Q190 Paul Flynn: Do you think it is sensible to adjust the roles of the job to the personalities of the people who are available to do the job?
Professor Talbot: No. Obviously you are always going to configure an organisation, to at least some extent, around the preexisting personalities. However, in most cases, in both the public and private sector, you tend to try to configure the organisation by thinking about what sort of organisation you want first, and then think about who should fill the various roles within it. This seems to have been built entirely around the predilections of the now Cabinet Secretary.
Q191 Paul Flynn: Almost all our previous witnesses have thought that the rupture between policy creation and policy implementation is a bad thing; would you share that view?
Professor Talbot: Absolutely, and I said that in my note to you. I think this is a continuation and almost a culmination of a series of changes, like Next Steps and Professional Skills for Government-which you have investigated before as a Committee-and this separation of the roles of policy making and implementation. That has always been the problem for the British Civil Service; that has been its one big weakness.
Q192 Paul Flynn: In your report to us you said that those who can do policy, i.e. the Cabinet Secretary, and those who cannot get the tedious job of managing the Civil Service.
Professor Talbot: That was a quote from a Permanent Secretary when the review was undertaken 10 years into the Next Steps programme. This did not appear in the report but it was said to Pam Alexander, the person conducting the review. The Permanent Secretary said to her, "Those that can do policy; those that can’t run executive agencies," and I think that is fairly emblematic of the sort of culture that still exists around this.
Q193 Paul Flynn: Do you know of any independent person who thinks this is a good idea?
Professor Talbot: The separation of the role of operations?
Q194 Paul Flynn: Yes, the separation of the role.
Professor Talbot: If you could get Sir Peter Kemp back, I am sure he would give you a strong advocacy for that position
Q195 Chair : To be fair, Sir Douglas Wass felt that it was a good idea.
Lord Hennessy: This reform is almost entirely friendless, as far as we can tell from the outside.
Q196 Chair : I think the reform as currently configured appears to be friendless. I wonder if Lord Hennessy could say a bit more about the role of policy making and the role of managing the public service. Do you think this panders to the prejudice still latent at the top of the Civil Service that advising Ministers on policy is the pukka job, and actually running things is the gulag?
Lord Hennessy: It goes back to the automatic pilot that the NorthcoteTrevelyan report created when it worked its way through. It is very powerful. One of the many purposes of Next Steps-and I was and remain an enthusiast for the Next Steps changes-was to try to ensure you could not get to any of these top jobs without having done a heavy-duty management stint on the way, as part of your portfolio. Jeremy Heywood is a very gifted man, an extraordinarily good man to have next to you in tough times, and I may be wrong but I do not think he has done any heavy-lifting managing jobs and I suspect he is a stranger to running an agency.
The reform of the 1980s was accepted by the Labour party in opposition and John Smith as being a party-neutral reform-an improvement of the state from which any Government could benefit. The particular aspect of it-that you could not really rise to the top without becoming a pretty ace manager or at least doing a good bit of time on the management side-seems to have lapsed. However, it is what people join up for really. If people are excited by policy, in the way very good graduates usually are, because it is interesting and fun and plays to their skills, there is something not only unglamorous about management but also frightfully sloggy and boring. It is tremendously earnest.
Q197 Chair : The prejudice exists in politicians as well.
Lord Hennessy: Absolutely. I am too polite to suggest that, but you are absolutely right.
Professor Talbot: I would just add that, in the mid-1990s, by the time Next Steps had been fully implemented, we had about 10% of the Senior Civil Service working in agencies with about 90% of Civil Service staff, and about 90% of the Senior Civil Service working in Whitehall Departments with about 10% of the Civil Service staff.
Q198 Chair : The implication is that must be wrong.
Professor Talbot: Well clearly, yes. The analogy I use-it is in the note I submitted to you-is that it is a bit like apartheid in South Africa, which was supposed to be about separate but equal development, but in practice one side lost out rather badly. That is exactly what happened with Next Steps. There are very few Chief Executives of agencies who have made it to be Permanent Secretary. Peter is absolutely right: the intention was that people going through the Fast Stream should go out and get this experience of managing and doing the heavy lifting, as he puts it.
Q199 Chair : To be fair, if you are running an agency, you need lots of troops. Policy making and policy advice do not need lots of troops.
Professor Talbot: No, that is true, but my point is that, if you were after the top jobs, you did not want to be in agencies. The reality was that most top jobs were never filled by anybody who had ever had any experience of running an agency. Michael Bichard is one of the few exceptions of people who made it to be a Permanent Secretary from having run one of the large agencies. I cannot name another.
Lord Hennessy: Geoffrey Holland had run Health and Safety before he became Permanent Secretary at Employment. There are others but they are rarities.
Q200 Chair : If you are an agency head, you are quite likely to be hunted down by the Secretary of State.
Lord Hennessy: Yes, it is not an easy position.
Q201 Chair : Do you have a comment on this, Professor Dean?
Professor Dean: As important as policy is, I think we can sometimes be in danger of overstating it at the expense of thinking about the culture of our organisations and the need to build capacity in those organisations.
Q202 Chair : That is an understatement, isn’t it?
Professor Dean: Yes. I grew up as a policy-maker in Government, and the higher I went in the organisation, the more I understood the importance of delivery and what it takes to work with the people in our organisations to try to shift us from good organisations-and yours is a very, very good one-to great organisations. You do not get there by thinking about the very best policy.
It would be one thing if in our organisations people were uniformly of the view that we had reached the pinnacle of policy-making excellence. I do not think that is the case; we hear lots of concern about the capacity in our organisations for good policy making. To get at that you need to get at the capacity of the workforce, the culture of the organisation, crossdepartmental working, bringing the best out of staff and bringing the best out of leaders.
So the work of a CEO, of a head of public service, is about that side of the business of Government. Take a step back, strip away the history and culture of the surroundings we are in, and the Civil Service is essentially, like other public service organisations, in the business of providing services. It provides services internally: policy planning, delivery, and communications to the Prime Minister, Ministers and to other civil servants. It also provides services externally to the public and to business through all of its Departments. You look at that organisation and ask what makes other complex, large, massive, influential, professional service organisations successful and powerful. Then we need to look at how we build the capacity, the architecture, the energy and the enthusiasm to make this organisation great. That is not all about policy making; it is about building organisations and sustaining organisations. It is about bringing the very best out of people.
It is sometimes the case that the people who are brilliant at policy making are not the best at bringing the best out of their organisations and managing their organisations. So policy is extremely important, but there is a whole lot of stuff that goes on in large and complex organisations like this one around policy that is important and that contributes to good policy making. In public sector organisations we sometimes downplay that stuff, and we do not give other types of work and professions the parity of esteem that we give the world of policy making.
Q203 Paul Flynn: Is it not revealing that both the Prime Minister’s evidence at the Liaison Committee and the evidence from many people who have come before us have referred to these changes in terms of the Yes Minister series? The Prime Minister is trying to solve the problem of Bernard and Humphrey and putting them together. In New Zealand we see the reverse of this change going on, with three jobs going into one. This owes much more to the neurotic desire of politicians to change things rather than to any perceived improvement that is likely to come about.
Lord Hennessy: I think there is a lot in that, and last week I was talking to an old Cabinet Office hand who retired a while ago, and he said there is another Yes Minister problem, which is who is going to be the one to say, "No, Prime Minister" when necessary. At the apex of the Civil Service you have to have someone who really will speak truth unto power and say that something is just not on, not just when it is an obvious, flagrant breach of the Ministerial Code or the CRaG Act but when they really need someone to say, "Wait a minute."
Q204 Chair : That will be the Cabinet Secretary, won’t it?
Lord Hennessy: I hope so; Jeremy Heywood may well be the one to do all of that. Of course it cannot be in any job description here because it is faintly insulting about the political class, but it damned well should be. Who is going to say, "Come off it," or, "Wait a minute, no, Prime Minister"? Who is going to do the speaking truth unto power? It is not for me to suggest what you might put in your report-
Q205 Chair : Oh yes it is, you are a witness.
Lord Hennessy: That would not be bad for paragraph one though, would it?
Professor Talbot: I just wanted to add one thing to what Tony said. One of his compatriots, Professor Henry Mintzberg, who is a very well known writer on strategy, says that there is no such thing as an implementation problem; there is only bad strategy. I think you can translate that to: there is no such thing as an implementation problem in policy; there is just bad policy. A policy that has not been thought through in terms of the details of how you can actually make it happen, in terms of people, resources, capabilities in the Civil Service and the rest of the public service, clearly has not been thought through properly.
People who have no experience of actually managing public services or the executive end of the Civil Service have no real possibility of thinking through those sorts of problems. That is not to say you cannot have people who are very skilled in policy analysis as part of the mix, as Tony said, but part of that also has to be people who have skill at recognising the difficulties of actually implementing things. They need not just say "No, Minister" or "No, Prime Minister" in constitutional terms but also "No, Minister" or "No, Prime Minister, in practical terms that simply is not going to work." There are plenty of examples around at the moment where it is obvious that certain things are not going to work in existing Government policy, but nobody seems to have stood up to the Government and said that actually they cannot do that.
Q206 Chair : Peter Oborne has used the term "courtiers". Is that unfair?
Lord Hennessy: It is a little bit, but if you come up the super-Private Secretary route, which Jeremy Heywood has, it can look very much like that.
Q207 Chair : Is he a super-SpAd?
Lord Hennessy: No that is deeply unkind; that really is going too far. There is the human problem, though, of Prime Ministers. I do not want to be too unkind to the recently departed, because everybody else is being so unkind to him, and the one before-Tony Blair-but if you have an excessive sense of personal destiny, as I think Mr Blair did, you tend to surround yourself with people who reinforce your sense of specialness: how indispensible you are to your party, Parliament, the country, Europe and the world. There is a mixture of having people who tell you that and also a comfort blanket of people who think in the same way as you.
I always think the model for the private office or the top SpAd in Number 10 should be the Monsignor who walks in front of the Pope flicking dust into his eyes, metaphorically speaking, and saying, "Sic transit gloria mundi," which roughly translated means, "Watch it matey, you too are mortal." Destiny Prime Ministers do not look for the equivalent of that monsignor, and they should do. I do not think David Cameron is like that, although it is not for me to know, so I do not think it is as acute a problem as it once was. You hit real trouble with somebody with an excessive sense of personal destiny in Number 10 and the court that naturally grows around them, but you need a medieval historian to help you with that, not a contemporary British one.
Q208 Kelvin Hopkins : I want to pursue your point about truth unto power, Sir Humphrey and so on. This change undoubtedly will weaken the Civil Service as an entity. As I have said to the esteemed former Cabinet Secretaries in previous sessions, we have a unitary system of Government, and checks and balances are vital to make sure it works properly. Being both the Prime Minister’s man in the Civil Service and the Civil Service’s man in the Prime Minister’s office is important in that. Sir Jeremy may finish up being the Prime Minister’s man in the Civil Service and telling the Civil Service to get on with it, and there might be tensions there. We might see very significant changes in the relative power of the Prime Minister, the Civil Service and so on. These things could make very significant changes to our politics.
Lord Hennessy: It will be very interesting to watch. Given the magnitude and volatility of the problems that the country, Europe and the world are facing, leading to this extraordinary concatenation of big moving parts and uncertainty, what we really need is both professions in the governing marriage, the Ministers and the senior civil servants, to rise to the level of events. You really do need very self-confident Ministers if they are going to get the maximum benefit from, I hope, very self-confident civil servants. These are civil servants whose duty always, but particularly in tough times, is to tell them what they need to know rather than what they wish to hear. If you have a set of Ministers who are not self-confident, they tend to overdo the SpAdery-the comfort-blanket side-and tell themselves fairy stories about what a lot of clever deadbeats the Civil Service are. You therefore get a kind of degradation in the governing marriage. It is very important that the model at the top is set for that.
I think Jeremy Heywood is extremely good as a policy adviser in bad times; he has had enough practice when you consider where he has been when there have been eruptions, but this is the big stretching one. In all the periods in which I have watched Whitehall since I have been interested in it, from the early to mid-1970s, what we are facing now makes even the mid-1970s look relatively manageable. So the two professions in the governing marriage have to raise the level of their game and-this might now be deeply in the realms of fantasy and wishful thinking-the SpAds have to as well.
Q209 Chair : We might come on to them in another witness session, to which you may be invited.
Professor Talbot: I just wanted to extend Peter’s point about the relationship between Ministers and senior civil servants. It seems to me that the implicit contract in the British Civil Service has always been that the Civil Service gives its undivided loyalty to the Government of the day, in exchange for which Ministers take responsibility and accountability to the House. That principle has been eroded over the last few years, as can be seen in other Committee hearings going on today. Ministers have come up with all sorts of sophisticated reasons for dumping on civil servants when things go wrong, rather than taking responsibility themselves.
Q210 Chair : Some time we need to do an inquiry into the doctrine of accountability. Moving on: if it is reasonable, and it is not unreasonable to suggest splitting the role of Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, where should the Head of the Civil Service truly be? Isn’t the Cabinet Office the right place for the Head of the Civil Service?
Lord Hennessy: Yes, if he or she was going to have a proper job. Lord Croham, who died the other day, was a very interesting and very accomplished public servant-known as Douglas Allen in his Whitehall days-who really did speak truth unto power; he could do no other, like Martin Luther. I got to know him when he was Head of the Civil Service in the Civil Service Department, his own bespoke Department. However, when William Armstrong was Head of the Home Civil Service under Ted Heath, he got bored with implementing Fulton, to be direct, and was more than willing to be drawn into economic policy making. This experience meant that Douglas Allen, who had been a consummate economic policy adviser, was kept away from anything to do with economic policy when he was Head of the Home Civil Service, 1974 to 1977. At his farewell dinner in Number 10-I was not there-he said to Jim Callaghan that he was underused.
The Civil Service Department did some good, sloggy, decent work, and there were some good people in there, but it was very marginal compared with the Treasury and the Cabinet Office. The Head of the Home Civil Service very rarely saw the Prime Minister, compared with the Cabinet Secretary, and did not have the instruments of influence in the Departments that the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury and his people do. So it was the worst of all worlds. If you are going to split the job, they should-at least in terms of the geography of power-be absolutely central and therefore close in the Cabinet Office.
Q211 Chair : Should there actually be a reporting line? So should we accept that the Cabinet Secretary is going to be the top dog, and the Head of the Civil Service would report to the Prime Minister through the Cabinet Secretary? Then at least we would know where the power lay.
Lord Hennessy: I do not think any of them would accept the job under those terms, would they? The Cabinet Secretary will always be the top dog because of the nature of the job, although there was something of a dual kingdom about Jeremy Heywood being the Permanent Secretary in Number 10 and Gus O’Donnell being Cabinet Secretary. However, the Cabinet Secretary is the one in terms of access, clout, visibility and tradition.
Q212 Chair : So you do not see a more traditional Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer structure emerging from this split in the roles?
Lord Hennessy: I do not think so, no.
Professor Dean: First of all, it is essential that the Head of the Civil Service is in the Cabinet Office, both for its influence and its proximity to the Prime Minister. My view would be that the Head of the Civil Service and the Cabinet Office should have, at least formally, equal status, with both reporting independently to the Prime Minister and with access to the Prime Minister. The head of the organisation needs to be able to speak with the Prime Minister’s authority and would need the Prime Minister onside.
More important is the relationship between the Head of the Civil Service and the Cabinet Secretary, and their ability to work things out together. Once you split the roles, how they do the job together is more important than where they are reporting and what their titles are, although it is not more important than where they are situated. There needs to be a balance and an ability to speak with one voice on organisational matters. If they are going to jointly direct the Permanent Secretaries’ cadre it is absolutely critical that they speak with one voice. I think it is inadvisable to split supervision of the Permanent Secretaries; it should be resident in one position, and I think it should be the Head of the Civil Service. Being in the Cabinet Office and having equal status is critical to making the job work.
Professor Talbot: I agree with that almost entirely. The analogy that keeps being brought up is yours, Chair, of a private sector corporation, and I think there is a slight misunderstanding. The Chief Executive of a private sector corporation is not responsible for policy and the Chief Operating Officer for implementation; the Chief Executive is responsible for policy and implementation and the Chief Operating Officer takes additional responsibility for helping the Chief Executive with implementation.
Q213 Chair : That is why I suggest it.
Professor Talbot: If you are going to split the roles, then it would seem to me that would be some sort of logical split, and you could try it and see if it worked. However, that person would have to be in the Cabinet Office. To have that person do the Chief Operating Officer role as a second job to their key Permanent Secretary role seems, to me, completely unfeasible.
Q214 Chair : So is this all an understandable fudge so that the Prime Minister can bring in someone as Cabinet Secretary who has never run a Government Department?
Lord Hennessy: Well, he obviously feels the need for Jeremy Heywood at his side; he has got used to working with him and obviously rates him very highly. I always have some sympathy for Prime Ministers, because it is an immensely tough job, even in the relatively easy patches of British history, of which this is not one. You want somebody next to you with whom you have a symbiotic and natural relationship, and he obviously has that. It seems that is the first bit they have put into place: they want Jeremy Heywood to be the Cabinet Secretary, and are looking at how best it can be organised. I suspect that Jeremy Heywood is more than glad not to have to do the sloggy management bit, so the design, the blob of DNA, from which all the rest follows is that particular central relationship between the Prime Minister and Jeremy Heywood, and the rest is consequential.
Q215 Greg Mulholland: Looking specifically at the issue of time commitment for this role, first of all it seems very strange that the job description does not say what the time commitment should be, which is unusual to say the least, yet it lays out all the tasks expected of the Head of the Civil Service, which clearly appears to be more than a part-time role. What would you say the time commitment should be or would need to be, and is there any way that some of those tasks can be delegated, and to whom, to make that at all realistic?
Lord Hennessy: I thought Robert Armstrong answered this very well when he came before you. It depends on the events and the moments. If you have problems in battalions, as he had with the Ponting affair whilst Cabinet Secretary, much more of his time for a few weeks would be devoted to Head of the Home Civil Service-type jobs than normal. It is not an easy flow, and it is not a flow you can anticipate in terms of demands. I take the point that it could have been a good idea to give a rough balance in here, but the nature of the job is not like that. I thought Robert Armstrong was very convincing when he described how it felt to have to do the two jobs.
Professor Talbot: I think there are two separate issues here. One is the episodic nature of the Head of the Home Civil Service job in relation to crises and dealing with those, and I completely agree with Peter about that. It seems to me that there is a much wider issue as well, which is that the Government seems to be advancing an extremely radical change agenda for the Civil Service. This is in a context where the capability reviews that were conducted five or six years ago suggested that there were major managerial problems across the Civil Service. There have been a whole series of problems in implementation areas, which has been highlighted by your Committee, PAC, the Treasury Committee and other Select Committees. There is an awful lot to be done in terms of continuous change across the Civil Service. Gus O’Donnell, with the high profile he has adopted, has been very visible in conducting that sort of change campaign. It seems to me that, unless you have somebody doing at least as much as Gus O’Donnell has been doing on the change front, not just on the fire-fighting front, there is a very real danger that the Civil Service is going to fail to meet the challenges posed by the current period. I think we are all saying that those challenges are extraordinarily large.
Professor Dean: The job description very well describes a full-time leadership job-not a management job but a full-time leadership job. Yet what is proposed is the combination of two more than full-time jobs. Permanent Secretary is a full-time job and it is a big job; so is the role of Head of the Civil Service. Episodes do not create gaps in those jobs; they make them more difficult.
Q216 Greg Mulholland: It is interesting that you mention Lord Armstrong. Lord Wilson and Lord Turnbull effectively said that the proportion of their role had doubled in terms of what they had to do for the Head of the Civil Service role since the time of Lord Armstrong.
Lord Hennessy: Yes, that was a very interesting point, because Andrew Turnbull was appointed on the grounds that he would take the lead on delivery. That was also the first time, if I remember correctly, that candidates for the Cabinet Secretary role had to put in personal manifestos. Chairman, you should know this: did they have to put in personal manifestos this time for the Cabinet Secretary’s job? Have they had to put in personal manifestos for the Head of the Civil Service?
Q217 Chair : One of our questions is whether Parliament should be better consulted about this process, because we were not consulted.
Lord Hennessy: There was an attempt under Freedom of Information to get the personal manifestos out from the last time but one, but it would be interesting to see that. I think it is entirely wrong that you should have to make a pitch like that, I really do; it goes against my traditionalist instincts. However, you have the right to send for persons, papers and records, and it would be terrific if you got the manifestos out. That would be a great service to history.
Q218 Chair : That would suggest that they have a policy-making role rather than just an executive service role.
Lord Hennessy: Also touting for jobs is deeply undignified at that level.
Chair : That is what we do.
Q219 Greg Mulholland: To take it back to the time commitment, on 8 November the Prime Minister said at the Liaison Committee that, "It is perfectly possible to combine that job [Head of the Civil Service] with being a Permanent Secretary in another Department".
Lord Hennessy: How does he know?
Q220 Greg Mulholland: Do you agree with that and, whether you agree with it or not, what impact do you think it will have on the current Department of that Permanent Secretary?
Professor Talbot: As Peter’s question indicates, I thought what was interesting about the exchange with the Chairman and the Prime Minister was that we did not even get what is jokingly called policy-based evidence. The Prime Minister advanced absolutely no evidence whatsoever as to why this would work or even, frankly, why it was happening. He simply asserted that he felt it was the right thing to do.
Q221 Greg Mulholland: Do you share the concerns of our witnesses last week that, if the Permanent Secretary is in a major Department of State, they will not have time to fulfil the role, but, if the role is taken on by somebody in a smaller Department, they will not have the authority for the role?
Professor Talbot: Absolutely.
Lord Hennessy: It is Hobson’s choice.
Q222 Kelvin Hopkins : Lord Armstrong suggested that if he were a serving Permanent Secretary he would not apply for the post of Head of the Civil Service.
Lord Hennessy: I think Richard Wilson said the same.
Q223 Kelvin Hopkins : I am almost certain he did. It has been suggested that it might only appeal to someone who is coming to the end of their career as Permanent Secretary, who will apply and sail off into the sunset doing that job, knowing that he was not going to go any further. This would not give a strong lead to the Civil Service, would it? It would not be somebody who is going to challenge the Cabinet Secretary or represent the Civil Service very strongly; it would just be somebody coasting into retirement.
Lord Hennessy: It is unlikely to. If the person concerned was really quite remarkable, and had been one of the most formidable figures in his or her generation, it could work. I simply would not touch it. It is probably of great relief to the country that I would not, because my management skills amount to zippo.
The Prime Minister has many gifts but his jobs in life have been special advising and press officer to a television company; admittedly, trying to run the Conservative Party is not quite the easiest of Chief Executive jobs, but it does not give him the background to know, any more than I would know, the do-ability of the Head of the Home Civil Service job going on top of a Permanent Secretary job. I think the thing to say about the Prime Minister when it comes to management is his gifts lie in other directions. Is that fair?
Chair : No comment.
Professor Talbot: Somebody coming to the end of their career who had the status that Peter was talking about would obviously be capable of saying "No, Prime Minister" or "No, Cabinet Secretary" with some authority on critical issues; I think that bit would be okay. However, the idea that somebody at that stage of their career is going to be the person who leads the sort of transformational change the Government claims to want to see in the Civil Service is far-fetched, to put it mildly.
Q224 Kelvin Hopkins : Do you think it might just be viewed as a mistake in a couple of years’ time and might all be reversed?
Professor Talbot: I would put money on it.
Lord Hennessy: I think more than a couple of years, as pride is involved.
Q225 Paul Flynn: I want to ask about the Adam Werritty question. Liam Fox said that "with hindsight, I should have been more willing to listen to the concerns of those around me", which I presume were the ones in the Ministry of Defence. Can it really work if we have a Head of the Civil Service who would have a real conflict if there is a Minister in his Department who is suspected of flagrant misconduct, as happened in this case? Where is his instinct-to protect his Minister, which appeared to happen in the Liam Fox situation, or to act in his role as Head of the Civil Service? Is there not a problem that will be created by this change that is quite unnecessary?
Lord Hennessy: Again the configuration is secondary to that; it is a human problem. Hugh Dalton, in the Treasury after the War, in one of his outbursts described the Treasury officials as "congenital snaghunters". In some ways that is part of what we keep them for, which is why we give them the equivalent of tenure, while they are not politically appointed. Of course you cannot congenitally snag everything because it would drive people to distraction and everything would be overdone.
However, on questions of propriety or the interpretation of the various codes that are terribly important to all of this-and a lot of it is written down-you do need Permanent Secretaries at the centre and in Departments, whatever the configuration, to be prepared to do that when they have to. The only occasion when they have to is the Permanent Secretary’s accounting officer’s note; that is their tactical nuclear weapon. There is so much more to the job than that, but whatever the configuration at the centre, it is that human requirement, and usually it is at immensely difficult times with a lot of emotional baggage involved as well.
Q226 Paul Flynn: Sue Cameron has posed the question of which of the Trinity will take over the role in future in another Liam Fox situation. Who will do it?
Lord Hennessy: Well, it would be a combination of Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Home Civil Service.
Q227 Paul Flynn: A combination?
Lord Hennessy: That is the problem: it could fall to either.
Professor Talbot: It says in the job description for Head of the Civil Service that they are going to be the guardian of the Ministerial Code, so logically it ought to go to them. I think the problem is not so much the one that you have posed, which is statistically unlikely-the same Permanent Secretary having to deal with an issue that should be referred to the Head of the Civil Service-but more likely to be where it is another Permanent Secretary and you are the Head of the Civil Service in another Department. It is going to be extremely difficult, even though you are nominally the Head of the Civil Service, for a Permanent Secretary in one Department to tell a Permanent Secretary in another Department that they have got it wrong, should have done it differently and the Minister has overstepped the line. I cannot see that happening. Also there will be a third layer in the sense that the Cabinet Secretary will be there as well, and will clearly have more authority than the Head of the Civil Service.
Q228 Paul Flynn: Who do you think should police the Ministerial Code? There is criticism of allowing Gus O’Donnell to do it.
Professor Talbot: I seem to remember there is supposed to be an independent-
Lord Hennessy: There is.
Paul Flynn: He does exist.
Lord Hennessy: Sir Philip Mawer, isn’t it?
Q229 Paul Flynn: We need a seminar on the existence of Sir Philip Mawer, but he is still there, living and breathing, I understand.
Professor Talbot: There was a reason that was put in place, and I am surprised it has not been used.
Lord Hennessy: The Cabinet Secretary will always be asked by the Prime Minister, "What do you make of all this?" It may not be in the job description, but the Cabinet Secretary’s intimate relationship with the Prime Minister means that, when a problem has arisen that is making the political weather, as the Adam Werritty-Liam Fox thing did for about three weeks, he is bound to ask the Cabinet Secretary what he or she thinks, whatever the job description says.
Q230 Paul Flynn: Liam Fox made a welcome return yesterday; he wants to turn London into a war zone for the Olympic Games, I understand, by having surfacetoair missiles. That will bring the tourists.
Chair : Order.
Lord Hennessy: That is a Type 45 question.
Chair : I would like to thank you all very much for joining us today. It has been a wonderful session. A particular thanks to Professor Dean for flying over for this; it has been excellent. I note that you do not want to comment on the Werritty affair on the policy of not wanting to intrude on private grief. Thank you for that.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Sue Cameron, Journalist, Rt Hon Peter Riddell, Institute for Government, and David Walker, The Guardian, gave evidence.
Q231 Chair : Welcome to our three new witnesses. Could you each identify yourselves for the record?
Peter Riddell: I am Peter Riddell from the Institute for Government.
Sue Cameron: I am Sue Cameron. I am a journalist, recently of the Financial Times but I have now left. I am going to be writing about Whitehall for the Telegraph in the new year.
David Walker: I am David Walker. I began as an apprentice Whitehall-watcher under the tutelage of Peter Hennessy decades ago. I learnt many things from him, except how to tell jokes, which he does admirably. I am now a contributing editor of The Guardian’s Public Leaders Network, whose distinguished editor is taking a record of our proceedings today.
Q232 Chair : Welcome and thank you very much. I will start with the same question: is this a downgrading of the role of the Head of the Civil Service?
Peter Riddell: Yes, but with an important caveat looking at the nature of the change. As proposed it is a downgrading, but because there are two changes involved, not just one.
Q233 Chair : Could you explain that?
Peter Riddell: As Lord Turnbull pointed out to you last week, there are actually two splits involved. One is the split between the Cabinet Secretary and the Head of the Home Civil Service; the second change, which I think is the debateable one-the downgrading-is putting it out to a Departmental one. It would not be a downgrading if you had the Head of the Home Civil Service in the Cabinet Office and in charge, but as proposed, with it going out to a Department, it is.
Q234 Chair : So do you favour a revival of the Civil Service Department?
Peter Riddell: No, I do not favour that. I believe that the workload is too big for one person, and that has proved true over the last 15 or 20 years because various bits have been farmed out to other quite senior people. We now have a National Security Adviser; we also have Ian Watmore, who will effectively carry on doing his current job in charge of Efficiency and Reform. The issue is: do you delegate a responsibility or do you split a responsibility? I think that is defensible, but putting it out to a Department in practice will not work and will prove to be, as Professor Talbot was saying earlier, pretty short-lived.
David Walker: I think it is a great shame that this Committee, with your colleagues in Parliament, were not able to get in earlier. The work you did with the UK Statistics Authority proved that there is a role for parliamentary co-ownership of important public appointments. I fear your report on this matter might be too late to influence what your previous witnesses said was a mistake; I concur, and it will be shown to be a mistake in a period of time. Peter put it at five years; I think it could be less than that.
Sue Cameron: It is all very well to say that it will be five years, but Jeremy Heywood is 49, so it could be much longer than you all think unless there is a real effort made to change things. It seems to me to be a tremendous muddle, as Peter Hennessy and others have said, and I think undoubtedly it will be seen as a complete downgrading of the role of Head of the Home Civil Service, if for no other reason than he or she will not be as close to the Prime Minister, and that is what really gives somebody clout. However, there is a muddle over it and, as far as I can see, nobody has a good word to say for it.
Q235 Chair : As you have said in your very helpful note. What impact will there be on the conduct of Government if this arrangement continues for the duration of this Parliament?
Peter Riddell: It all depends on the individuals. We may learn the identity of the Head of the Home Civil Service later this morning. A lot will depend on how people get on. It is quite clear that Jeremy Heywood will be the most senior and most influential, partly because of his existing position and partly because of his closeness as Cabinet Secretary. People can get on if you have the right combination; however, it will raise lots of question marks-all the issues that have been raised before about a possible conflict of interest for the Department, which Mr Flynn mentioned, and so on. Those issues are liable to come up at some time, which is why I believe it will be short-lived. An alternative could have been made to work, but I think it will create uncertainty, particularly on the driving of reform, and there are a lot of ambiguities there.
David Walker: If I may say: your proceedings today have had a slightly relaxed feel to them. We live in fiscal emergency; whether you are on the right or left of politics, there are major problems about public revenues and public expenditure. The leadership potential of this role and the management potential of some better division of labour within the centre of the Civil Service is critically important to making the British state run better and to make it more effective and efficient. It is actually terribly important to get this right, and the fact is that the Government has proceeded without any evidence.
I look at two members of your Committee, who might at least have prayed in aid some evidence from what we now have in the United Kingdom as an example of how things work, albeit in smaller but in interesting and rich jurisdictions. We could have looked at Wales or Scotland; we could have gathered evidence from history-Peter Hennessy gave us some of that. The fact that this is being done on the hoof at a time when the role has such potential is, I think, shameful.
Sue Cameron: Also, it could lead to Jeremy Heywood very much being the Prime Minister’s man, which in some ways is perfectly understandable and very reasonable. However, it might weaken the return to Cabinet Government, certainly at official level, among the Permanent Secretaries. If he is very much the Prime Minister’s man, he is perhaps going to be seeing and discussing Civil Service matters much less often than he would have done if the two jobs had been combined, and that might weaken the closeness on that front.
Q236 Chair : Civil Service World clearly argues this affects the independence of the Civil Service. Do you agree?
Peter Riddell: There are ambiguities. Professor Talbot mentioned the point of guardianship; the new Head of the Home Civil Service will be guardian of the Civil Service Code, and presumably the Cabinet Secretary will be the guardian of the Ministerial Code. When a problem comes up, such as the Adam Werritty problem or the current problems in the Home Office, both the Civil Service Code and the Ministerial Code come into play. There is a prospect of confusion, let alone in a particular Department. According to the job description, it is the Head of the Home Civil Service’s job to be the champion of the Civil Service, both in terms of boosting internal morale and externally.
I think there will be problems, which is why the Head of the Home Civil Service and the Cabinet Secretary have to be seamless in saying the same thing when problems occur. As the first panel and Peter Hennessy said, it is when problems occur that the tests happen, and they have to make sure there is a clear line of who is saying what, because there is a potential clash. Let us say that something is raised between the Civil Service and Ministers where there are difficulties. There is a danger of the Head of the Home Civil Service speaking up for the civil servants, and the Cabinet Secretary very much looking at it from the point of view of the Prime Minister and Ministers. There are problems there. But I think there is a problem of the capacity, and that is why I do not think you can completely dismiss a split, but it has to be looked at in a different way.
Q237 Chair : Do we think the Prime Minister is, in the words of Lord Butler, "throwing away one of the levers of power" by dispensing with the Head of the Civil Service from Number 10?
Sue Cameron: I think it weakens the links to some extent. Lord Butler would know better than me, but I would not have put it quite that strongly. I do think there is this weakening of links between the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Secretary and then the other Permanent Secretaries, because, when the two jobs are combined, they are speaking to each other much more, discussing Civil Service issues, going to the joint Cabinet Secretary cum Head of the Civil Service with issues that can perhaps be nipped in the bud. Whereas, when you split them, it is just going to be policy matters much more often, with the Cabinet Secretary saying, "Your Minister needs to do x, y or z," and they do not have that second string to their bow of being concerned with Civil Service issues, which are often personnel issues, such as the Adam Werritty problem. That could, in the end, weaken the hand of the Cabinet Secretary, particularly when you have the idea, which most people think is barmy, of having another Permanent Secretary as the Head of the Home Civil Service. They are not going to be that close, particularly if it is going to be somebody with a big Department like Dame Helen Ghosh.
David Walker: It is not the question of the Prime Minister’s potency that is at issue but the effectiveness of Government. What we are all saying is the effectiveness of the Government machine has potentially been put at risk by this move.
Q238 Lindsay Roy: The Prime Minister recently described civil servants as the enemies of enterprise, and presumably he wants fairly dramatic cultural, transformational change as part of that reform. Professor Dean called for undistracted leadership from the top of the organisation, from a Chief Executive or Head of the Civil Service, to reform Whitehall. Can this new structure provide that leadership, force that cultural change and build that capacity and joined-up working that people are seeking?
Peter Riddell: The Chairman had an exchange on precisely that point with the Prime Minister at the Liaison Committee. The person we have not really discussed is Ian Watmore, who is a crucial figure in this in running the Efficiency and Reform Group. Effectively he is going to carry on doing his current job with a bit more responsibility for managing the Cabinet Office. Now he is the key figure who is already driving that forward and, as Colin Talbot was saying, an awful lot is happening on change, with changes to the structure of the Civil Service. That is partly because of the downsizing, which is massive, but on the whole has largely happened, certainly at the senior levels at the top, with changing approaches and all the things that are in your report, Change in Government: the agenda for leadership.
This is where the disconnect worries me: I can see exactly what Ian Watmore is doing and he will have a bit more status to do it, but basically he will be working with Francis Maude on that. There is the practical question of where the Head of the Home Civil Service will be based, but not to have him in the same building just strikes me as weird. You could certainly have a model where the Head of the Home Civil Service runs the Cabinet Office with Ian Watmore as his Chief Operating Officer, which is effectively what Ian Watmore’s job will be on Efficiency and Reform, which has some years to go. Having the Permanent Secretary in some Department maybe half a mile away and coming in a couple of mornings a week or something strikes me as diluting the push to reform by splitting off the role. It is an absolutely crucial time, as David Walker said, where you are facing a massive fiscal challenge, and to have that strikes me as strange. That is why I think it is temporary; it is all designed around the personalities at present, and that could change.
Q239 Lindsay Roy: Structural change is only part of a broader transformational and cultural change.
Peter Riddell: Yes, absolutely.
Q240 Lindsay Roy: That is the point I am trying to make.
David Walker: Peter is right: Ian Watmore is the ghost at the feast because it looked like, under Francis Maude, the Efficiency and Reform Group was driving aspects of change in Whitehall, which seemed to be central to the Government’s purposes. The logical step looked like giving this leadership job to Ian Watmore with an expanded term of reference, or for somebody to occupy that kind of role. It is puzzling that Efficiency and Reform has not seemingly played a major part in this.
Can I answer your question very briefly with a recent example and, in effect, a negative one? It is not just spending that is the problem; it is revenue. We have a big problem in the management of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. If I can cite some evidence from the Public Accounts Committee, when it came to a problem in the governance of that Department-unfortunately the Permanent Secretary has stepped down because of illness and her colleague the Permanent Secretary for Tax was in the wars-the question arose: who is he accountable to if there is no Minister in that Department? The Head of the Civil Service, the full panoply that Gus O’Donnell could bring to bear, was prayed in aid, and he appeared before your colleagues in the PAC last week to try to sort out an imbroglio in that Department. In the new arrangement, it is not at all clear whether that kind of problem could even be addressed.
Chair : It would be interesting to see them draw us an organisation chart; maybe I will ask for one.
Q241 Alun Cairns: I would like to pursue Mr Riddell just a little bit further because, with the greatest respect, you partly qualified it because of the workload-the volume of work is responsible-but would not the Chief Executive and Chief Operating Officer be a much more efficient way of delivering the goals, bearing in mind the workload you talk about?
Peter Riddell: It is certainly possible. The point I want to make there is the workload is massive. I think it was an interesting point that Mr Mulholland picked up on from the last weeks’ evidence about the 1990s Permanent Secretaries talking about it being between a fifth and a quarter. Then you had Lord Wilson and Lord Turnbull from 1998 onwards talking about it being 40% to 45%. You cannot do it all. Even Lord Turnbull had Sir David Omand doing the intelligence and national security work, which is now being done by the National Security Adviser. In fact, what we have had under Gus O’Donnell in the last few years is that effectively a lot of the policy stuff has been done by Jeremy Heywood, because he is very active in doing that and has a very good record. I know him a bit, and I do not think he is at all afraid to speak truth unto power; he is a very formidable figure in that respect. He also has some management experience.
The job has, historically, been divided up in the last 15 to 20 years. You now have a National Security Adviser-now Sir Peter Ricketts, but Sir Kim Darroch from January-and you have Jeremy Heywood doing what he has been doing. So you have a reversion to the past, with the Cabinet Secretary being chiefly a policy adviser, but there is the question of how you split it up: do you delegate it, which is what Mr Cairns is raising, or do you try to split it? I do not see that as being as dramatic a change if you have the right personal links. What I do not see working is what is proposed, because it is too much of a job to be done by one person; you either have to have delegation or some kind of split.
Q242 Alun Cairns : I would just like to pursue this a little further. In any management role, the manager cannot do everything-that is why they are a manager and they therefore delegate. Is it not the obvious choice to have the Chief Operating Officer working for the Chief Executive?
Peter Riddell: That is one alternative. I am less critical if you have the Head of the Home Civil Service in the Cabinet Office; I think that would be do-able and workable. I can equally see the model you suggest. You have to take account of the personalities in this, and my worry there is that you could see a downgrading of reform and the Head of the Civil Service role if you did it that way. In the current arrangement with the current people, the policy job would be regarded as the top job, and you could even have further downgrading if you did it that way. However, it is all to do with personalities.
Q243 Chair : Is there a danger that Ian Watmore will turn out to be more important than the Head of the Civil Service?
David Walker: That slightly depends on the politics of your party and Francis Maude’s weight in Cabinet. Clearly, if that were a leading push for the Government, the man delivering it, Ian Watmore, would become more significant. So the answer to your question hinges somewhat on the political potency of the push to deliver changes within the administrative machine. Some of us might feel that the momentum that was evident even as late as the summer has begun to die away.
Sue Cameron: I agree with that. If anything, the reverse is true. One has to face the fact that Civil Service reform and Civil Service matters on their own are not going to be top of any Prime Minister’s agenda most of the time. There are going to be other things: the economy, the eurozone or whatever. One of the great strengths of having the two jobs together is that you have somebody at the very top who can push reform, as Gus has done, and capability reviews, efficiency and all the sorts of changes that you talked about in your previous report. If you hive it off into the Cabinet Office-and not for nothing is the Cabinet Office known as the Department for Odds and Sods; it has so many bits and bobs in it-it would not quite sink without trace but it would be a huge downgrading of the whole Civil Service issue.
Ian Watmore is a very able man and a very well-liked man, but I do not think he is seen by the rest of the Civil Service as a potential Head of the Home Civil Service, partly because he has not been a civil servant for very long.
David Walker: That is also true of Sir Bob Kerslake, who is reported as being a potential holder of the role. Kerslake is interesting for two reasons. You may have already talked about the report looking at the accountability for public money in a situation where there is a lot more devolution, both political and commercial; there are big gaps and you certainly seem to need figures at the centre who have a system-wide consciousness. Kerslake, coming from a local government background, would bring to the party a sense that this is a system with interlocking parts; they may not fit together very well but we do need to think of the way we govern ourselves as a system, and you do need some people at the centre who can imagine, envision and maybe move forward the thing as a whole entity.
Peter Riddell: I would just make one other point, going back to the Change in Government: the agenda for leadership report. Underlying this is not just the personality issues but the relationship between the centre and Departments, which is a topic you have looked at a lot in this Committee. One of the most striking things is that, even if you have a unified role, the Cabinet Secretary does not actually command his colleagues. He may have the key role, along with the Civil Service Commissioner, in appointing them and the top-level people-the Directors General and so on; the top 200. That is part of his function, but beyond that, he cannot necessarily give them instructions.
It is very revealing, and I say this in my evidence to you, that the Wednesday morning meeting is described as a meeting of colleagues and it is very much in that framework. After all, constitutionally the Permanent Secretary’s primary responsibility and loyalty is to the Secretary of State and then obviously there are statutory responsibilities to the PAC and so on as Accounting Officer. Underlying that is the link between the centre and Department, which I cannot see being helped by the Head being in the Department themselves.
Q244 Kelvin Hopkins : In my own mind I am increasingly seeing Jeremy Heywood as a super-charged Special Adviser. Maybe that is writing him down, but he seems like a Jonathan Powell writ very large; somebody who is close to the Prime Minister and is their right-hand person but is somewhat distant from the Civil Service. In times of change and difficulty, the Civil Service has to have the sense that their man or woman is next to the Prime Minister-that they have a loyalty to him or her, and he or she has a loyalty to them, as well as being an adviser to the Prime Minister on policy. I am concerned that this gap might open up and we might see a situation where the Cabinet Secretary is seen only as the Prime Minister’s man in the Civil Service and not the civil servants’ man in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Sue Cameron: I think that is absolutely right and that is what will happen under the present arrangements. If you are the Cabinet Secretary, you are just with the Prime Minister a huge amount, and if you are in some other Department, or even in the Cabinet Office-which is physically very close-you are just not going to have the same access to the Prime Minister or the same opportunities to mention a Civil Service matter. For example, after you have discussed a crisis going on in some other area, you have an opportunity to say, "By the way, what do you think about this?" If you have the Head of the Civil Service coming in to discuss an issue, somebody has to arrange a meeting; it is going to take at least 20 minutes; they will have to come from their Department; and the Prime Minister is going to say, "Do I have to do this? Isn’t this a bit boring? There are more important things to do." They just will not have the same access and therefore the same influence.
It is obvious that Jeremy Heywood is, to a large extent, going to be the gatekeeper when it comes to access to the Prime Minister. As he is not the Head of the Home Civil Service and the Prime Minister’s time is very valuable, he is not necessarily going to want to call in the Head of the Home Civil Service at every opportunity.
David Walker: In a sense the picture is worse than you have painted. It seems what we are going to have is that Cabinet Secretary’s role, which you have characterised as close in, would handle the Liam Fox affair and do politics quite well, and a cipher Head of the Civil Service who will be a departmental Permanent Secretary necessarily preoccupied by their Department. That will be the case even if they are from the Department for Communities and Local Government, which actually has an agenda, and the Government may have interesting things to say about housing that the Permanent Secretary of the Department should be concentrating on. Then you have a whole class of issues to do with the Civil Service and the public service at large, for which it seems nobody will be proffering leadership and management: the capacity of the civil servants; their professional identity; their ability to service the present Government; and their ability to bring in revenue. These are large questions that somebody should be paying attention to at the centre.
Peter Riddell: I have one disagreement with you, Mr Hopkins. I think the Special Adviser comparison is wrong because Special Advisers often have a political role. Jeremy Heywood has served Prime Ministers of both parties very closely; there is a parallel with what Lord Butler did, who worked for Ted Heath, Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair during his career and was trusted closely certainly by the first four of those and more ambiguously at the end. The same is true of Jeremy Heywood; he has very good relationships across the parties.
There was an interesting question that was raised in your last session with Lord Turnbull and Lord Wilson about where he will sit. I know that does sound very Yes Minister but it is actually quite important. If he is covering the Cabinet as a whole, he will occupy the offices of the Cabinet Secretary in 70 Whitehall, which Michael Heseltine was prevented from occupying in 1995, rather than staying in Number 10. That is quite a symbolic thing, and, come 1 January, everyone in Whitehall will be watching which side he uses. It is no longer a green baize door; it is rather like where you come into Portcullis House with a swipe card. That is crucial and when you see him, which I am sure you will, that is a very important question to ask him, because that will determine how much he is the Prime Minister’s man as opposed to the Cabinet as a whole. I am not disagreeing with what either David or Sue said on the drive for reform, but those issues are quite important.
Sue Cameron: My understanding is that he is going to sit in both places. I am told he is definitely going to have the traditional Sir Humphrey office, but he will also have a place in Number 10 and he will be spending quite a lot of time over there. So it will be physically split as well as a split job.
Q245 Kelvin Hopkins : Following up on that: we talk a lot about Sir Humphrey and how life has imitated art in that respect, but I remember in the series there were lots of occasions when Sir Humphrey was having lunch in his club with a Permanent Secretary and they were fixing things behind the scenes. That kind of relationship is important if you are running the Civil Service and if you are Cabinet Secretary as well. That relationship would seem unlikely to happen under the new regime.
Peter Riddell: I think it will continue to happen. Jeremy Heywood has been the fixer; if you have a problem anywhere in Whitehall at a serious level he sorts it out. It does not matter who the Prime Minister has been or what Jeremy Heywood’s job title has been; he has been the fixer. That involves having relationships with the other Permanent Secretaries. He is not a distant figure from them at present, I assure you, and he will certainly not be in future. He is a very shrewd guy and he has been around a long time, so I do not think he will do that.
David Walker: I would briefly take issue with the phrase "running the Civil Service". It is bad enough now, but under the new arrangements nobody will be running the Civil Service.
Q246 Chair : Except these days they would meet in Pizza Express in Victoria Street, wouldn’t they?
Peter Riddell: The key meetings used to be in Churchills café during the Brown-Blair era.
Q247 Alun Cairns : We have partly covered this already, but would a more effective arrangement be to combine the roles of Head of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office, and what would be the advantages and disadvantages of such an arrangement? I think we have partly spoken with Mr Riddell about this, but, Ms Cameron and Mr Walker, what do you think?
Sue Cameron: I think there is some merit in doing that, and it would be much better than having the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office or the Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government doing it. I do think there is a real risk that, even though you are physically close to the centre of power, the Civil Service would suffer a downgrade in much the same way. Even if it is only titular, and the Cabinet Secretary is only the titular Head of the Civil Service and all the work is done in the Cabinet Office-which it is anyway-it would be a pity if the extra drive, prestige and status that come from having the Cabinet Secretary holding both posts were lost.
David Walker: I think it would be a very interesting experiment, concerned with what happens in large organisations in the non-profit and profit sectors, to have a Chief Operating Officer or somebody responsible for the running of the machine. People say that we tried that with the Civil Service Department but that died a death in 1981, since when there has been a large increase in the general capacity of Civil Service management. Thinking has moved on, and we could and should experiment with the transformation of the Cabinet Office into a corporate centre for Whitehall headed by a potent civil servant, who would work out a division of labour with the Cabinet Secretary.
Q248 Chair : Given that the Minister for the Civil Service is in the Cabinet Office, would it be unreasonable to suggest that the Head of the Civil Service, even if he or she is the Permanent Secretary in another Department, should have an office-perhaps the office-in the Cabinet Office?
Sue Cameron: I just do not think that is real. I do not see how somebody from another Department is going to have the time. Of course you can give them an office there, but how often are they going to use it? How are they going to find the time to really be there?
Q249 Chair : They should be there for two days a week.
Sue Cameron: If you are the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office and your Secretary of State is deeply in the doo-doo, what do you say? "I am terribly sorry, Home Secretary; it is my Civil Service day and I am in the Cabinet Office today"?
David Walker: It is even worse than that. In that instance, Helen Ghosh may have issues with her management of arm’s-length agencies in the Department. Who in the system is going to be capable of taking a strategic view about that Department’s capacity to handle arm’s-length government? Somebody should, but if she were Head of the Civil Service it would rule that out.
Q250 Chair : Lord Butler suggested that it would be the Cabinet Secretary.
Peter Riddell: Another consequence is that within the Department, whichever Department it is, we will find a Director General in practice taking on a lot of the Permanent Secretary’s roles, just because of time. There is no doubt about that whatsoever; there is an obverse to that too.
Q251 Greg Mulholland: We have largely covered the time commitment issue and some of the questions arising from that. Very simply, do you think that the way the Head of the Civil Service post is being combined, and the job description has no sense of what the time commitment should be on some of the challenges you have mentioned, means that particular part of the role was set up to not function effectively?
Peter Riddell: I think it is one that will not last very long. I agree with the earlier witnesses; what you will find in the course of the next couple of years-and these things always happen quicker than one expects-is that it will not be sustainable. I am sure people can make it work because personalities always can; if it is any of the likely people, I am sure they can make it work, but over time people will say, "Hold on, there are holes here and we have to sort it out." We will have an announcement by the end of the Parliament saying that the Head of the Civil Service is now going to be based in the Cabinet Office.
David Walker: The answer has to be ad hominem, and I am sorry about that. If the Head of the Civil Service were Bob Kerslake, I am sure, because Eric Pickles has gone off the boil, he would have the time to spend gladhanding, meeting staff and doing the important symbolic aspects of the role. However, if it were Helen Ghosh, it is hard to see how she could possibly afford to spend a moment away from her Department. So it a slightly "horses for courses" answer.
Sue Cameron: One of the good reasons I have heard for having Bob Kerslake is that he might have a bit more time and that is a plus point.
I know you were talking in your report about having somebody manage the Civil Service. Over the past few years one should not underestimate some of the improvements that have been made with the existing machinery, partly because Gus has driven it, but things like the capability reviews, improving the professionalism of the Civil Service, more financial people and so on. Even under this Government, Francis Maude has been trying to upskill the Civil Service when it comes to project management, which they have never been very good at. I think quite a lot can be done in an incremental way, particularly if you have somebody at the top driving it properly.
Q252 Greg Mulholland: Can I just pick up on that point, David, which I thought was very interesting? Are you effectively saying that Helen Ghosh would not really be a suitable candidate-not personally or in terms of her skills, but because her Department and her responsibilities would make it unrealistic for her to do the role? Do you think that is fair or do you think it automatically necessitates that it will be someone from a smaller Department and a Department that is not embroiled in a lot of day-to-day issues and controversies? That has very worrying implications from an HR perspective for those senior people in the Civil Service.
David Walker: In your previous session people were slightly dismissive of the clerical workers out there in the great factories; they are very important, and they do need a sense of leadership and belonging. As long as we have a unified Civil Service, the person who is the titular Head of the Civil Service has to spend time talking to them, showing them there is an embodiment of that unity. That requires time. Maybe two days a week is a practical way of dividing that, but the question is: which Permanent Secretary can afford two days a week? I think the answer is very few of them, and the answer should be very few of them if they are doing their jobs properly.
Peter Riddell: It has only worked with Gus O’Donnell, who has done a lot of that, because quite a lot of policy work has been done by Jeremy Heywood and, more recently, Peter Ricketts doing the national security work. Gus O’Donnell has been able to do it because he has shed responsibilities in other areas.
Sue Cameron: But because he has both jobs, he has had the clout to be able to do all these other bits of the Head of the Civil Service job, like improving standards, driving reform, and also rallying the troops, which, as Peter says, Gus has done very well and has spent a lot of time doing. It seems to me, and to other people in Whitehall that I have talked to, that with the best will in the world it is utterly unrealistic to expect somebody like Helen Ghosh to do it. Even most of the other Permanent Secretaries would be really hard-pushed to do it.
Q253 Greg Mulholland: If some of the people who clearly are eligible to apply for a position, some of the most talented Permanent Secretaries, were going to go through this odd recruitment process and give a description as to how they could fulfil the role, then actually what they would be saying is that they did not feel they could fulfil the role because it is not realistic alongside what they are doing. So basically some of our most talented people, if they are going to be honest, will say that, because of the way this is being done, they could not actually do it.
Peter Riddell: The proof there is quite clear: they did not apply. There were some very senior Permanent Secretaries who made it very clearly known that they would not apply for the job because they did not regard it as satisfactory in relation to their Departments.
Q254 Greg Mulholland: So we may not get the best person as Head of the Civil Service.
Peter Riddell: All I am saying is that the field was narrower than you might have thought, given the nature of the post. Some decided they would prefer to stay where they are and doing what they are; I have struck this in conversation. That is not to say that whoever ends up with this may not be very good, and we will see who it is very shortly, but it is interesting that people who you might have thought of as very experienced quite consciously made it known that they were not applying.
David Walker: You could do a notional matrix exercise looking at the job, Departments, Permanent Secretaries, existing workloads and making some assumptions about how those workloads might change, and you would end up with a small number of cells whose occupants you could potentially make Head of the Civil Service. My tip-and naming a name is unfair and she was probably never interested-was the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Transport. That is because it is not a big Department-there is not a huge amount of management to be done because it is small; there is quite a lot of policy with the policy load carried by the Directors General. So Lin Homer, partly because of her own administrative background, would look potentially like someone who could do the hand shaking, the ribbon cutting, and all those bits of the job that are necessary but take a bit of time out of London.
Q255 Greg Mulholland: The evidence of the recruitment process shows that, when the Prime Minister said "It is perfectly possible to combine that job with being a Permanent Secretary", it actually clearly is not the case. The Prime Minister should have said it is perfectly possible to combine the job with being a Permanent Secretary, but only in some Departments.
David Walker: Yes, and it would need a thorough piece of research to determine which.
Sue Cameron: That does seem a rather bad basis: to say your field is only going to be the people who can possibly find the time, although no doubt some of them would do it well.
Q256 Lindsay Roy: You have spoken about beneficial change in reform within the Civil Service. What evidence do you have that it has been ad hoc or systematic? Are there instances of ad hoc-ery or have there been systematic approaches across the board?
David Walker: Sue and I may differ on this point. When the present Head of the Civil Service came into office, he did have an organised plan embodied by the capability reviews. Perhaps inevitably he got distracted, they ran out of steam and what had begun as an admirable push to transform skill sets and attitudes lost its momentum. So I think ad hocery then became a characteristic of the job. You get distracted by events and it is very hard, given the duality of the role in management and policy advice, to focus on one thing that desperately needed to be done, which was management change.
Peter Riddell: I would add that it is partly because you had a change of Government to one with a different approach, which had a bit impact on that, naturally. In some areas there have been some very big changes. As Sue quite rightly said, HR is taken much more seriously, and financial controls are an issue of Government. We had a session before the election with the chief financial people, virtually all of whom had come into the Civil Service in the previous two or three years, often from other bits of the public sector. A lot of that has carried through. I would not necessarily describe it as ad hoc-ery, but you have a totally different approach from the current Government to a lot of this and also a sharp reduction in numbers. So I would not underrate some of the beneficial changes there have been, but it has been in a totally different environment.
Chair : I have an oral question at 11.30, so we will either have to finish or Mr Hopkins will take the chair if we need to continue. We will go to Mr Roy, or are you done?
Lindsay Roy: I think we have covered my point.
Q257 Chair : Do you think there is a case for some kind of preappointment scrutiny for the role of the Head of the Civil Service? Do you think Parliament should be involved in that appointment or indeed in the Cabinet Secretary’s appointment?
Peter Riddell: I think Parliament should have been involved in discussing the process but not the appointment. It would have been desirable if, when the job specs were being drawn up, Parliament or the Committee were consulted on it. I think the actual appointment should be done under the Civil Service Commissioner’s role. Then you should have hearings with the three new people as soon as possible.
Q258 Chair : The Prime Minister might well argue, and reasonably, that this is the way he wants to run his Government.
David Walker: But it is not his Government; it is the Sovereign’s Government, and you are the legislators who secure the revenues through Tax Bills. You have been on a roll in this Committee. If you take your work together with that of PAC, the Home Affairs Committee and other Committees, this could have been a moment for Parliament to say, "This is a critical public appointment that we should co-own." Mr Hopkins is helping us find a new Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority; this is a far bigger job. I am sure you or a member of your Committee should even have been on the appointments panel to bring a parliamentary perspective to bear. Short of that, certainly some scope to vet the candidates is surely within the purview of Parliament.
Sue Cameron: I have to say that I disagree. I think civil servants are ultimately there to serve Ministers, and it is ultimately up to them to decide whom they want and how they organise it. As Peter said, if your Committee had looked at how the appointment was going to be made and what sort of job spec there was going to be, a lot of this mess and muddle might have been avoided, because people would have recognised it at an earlier stage and maybe the Prime Minister would have thought differently. Assuming the appointments are made-some Whitehall people have asked whether it will really happen-I think you should speak to them as soon as possible.
Peter Riddell: If you are actually involved in the appointment panel, and I disagree with David on this, you become part of the ownership of the people doing it. In order to hold them to account I am not sure you should be part of appointing individuals, but I think you should be involved in consultation on the process. There is a distinction there.
Q259 Paul Flynn: You all mentioned the pre-appointment system in your written evidence or your evidence this morning: how do you think it is going? It is in its infancy; it was proposed by this Committee after looking at what was happening in the United States, and we wanted preappointment hearings for a limited number of jobs. Reflecting what has happened, particularly with the Head of the UK Statistics Authority, do you think it is working and there is room for expanding it to other areas, or is it not working?
Peter Riddell: I think the range of posts the Select Committee is looking at is slightly haphazard. I know the Liaison Committee is doing some very good work on that and trying to rationalise it. The key thing is that you should be at the earlier stage, which did serve for the UK Statistics Authority, in looking at the job spec. That is the stage you should be at, and then have the pre-appointment hearing. Clearly in this case there was a mismatch of the two in the first appointment.
David Walker: I think we are seeing that the constitution is-bless the constitution- fungible, and you are making strides to change it. I can only encourage you, if I may, without wishing to patronise Members of Parliament, to push on this boundary. This is very interesting territory and there is a lot further to go.
Sue Cameron: I agree; I think there is a lot further to go. I did not think that you should be having a preappointment hearing for candidates for the Cabinet Secretary job, but I think there is a lot further to go. It is a really good thing. It strengthens the public’s sense of trust that they feel people are being scrutinised and it is not all being done behind closed doors. Personally I think one set of people you could do preappointment hearings on to everybody’s advantage is Special Advisers, SpAds.
Q260 Paul Flynn: Could we hear your answer to the question you posed, Ms Cameron, on Adam Werritty’s situation? Who should look at breaches in the Ministerial Code in future?
Chair : When the Ministerial Code is breached, who should advise the Prime Minister whether it should be referred to Sir Philip Mawer?
Peter Riddell: The key word is "advise", because it is the Prime Minister’s decision.
Sue Cameron: That is true.
Peter Riddell: The Prime Minister chooses who he has as Ministers and it is Secretary of States’ decisions whom they have as Special Advisers, although obviously the Prime Minister has a role. It is a puzzle to me, and you would have to ask Gus O’Donnell, why Philip Mawer was not involved in investigating the Adam Werritty affair; I do not know the answer to that. Cabinet Secretaries can only provide factual advice; it is a political decision and for politicians to take.
Sue Cameron: I do not know if it was Robin Butler, Richard Wilson or Gus O’Donnell who put it in, but it actually says that it should not be the Cabinet Secretary, the Permanent Secretary or other civil servant who enforces the code. They were trying to climb out of it. I think the reason they did not use Philip Mawer was a political one; there was this huge row going on, and he might be a very good guy but Sir Philip Mawer could have taken for ever, in their terms, to decide on this, and they wanted it fixed by the end of the week. Therefore Gus was brought in.
Q261 Paul Flynn: Do you still see this as a messy compromise, which is not going to help the smooth running of Government?
Sue Cameron: The division of the jobs? Yes, absolutely. It is an extremely messy compromise.
Chair : I am afraid I must draw it to a close, but thank you very much indeed for your evidence. There is a lot of material for us to draw on there, and we are most grateful to you.