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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 314-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Public Administration Committee
THE ROLE OF THE HEAD OF THE CIVIL SERVICE: SIX MONTHS ON
Tuesday 26 JUNE 2012
sir bob kerslake
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1-126
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.
Taken before the Public Administration Committee
on Tuesday 26 June 2012
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)
Examination of Witness
Witness: Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Sir Bob, welcome to this evidence session, which is a follow-up to our report on the role of the Head of the Civil Service, a week after the publication of the Civil Service reform plan. Could you please just identify yourself for the record?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes. I am Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service.
Q2 Chair: Thank you for being with us. Could I ask, to start with, how you judge your success to date in the four priorities that you identified when you took up your post six months ago?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think it has been a good period. We have achieved quite a lot. First, we have secured the production of the Civil Service reform plan. I have built strong working relations with Jeremy, so we have made the new model work. We have had considerable dialogue with Ministers on this process and the relationship with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister has worked well. I have built up a set of arrangements with permanent secretaries effectively to performance manage them and establish clear priorities for them for the year ahead. Overall, it has been a good period in which a lot has been achieved, but there is a lot to achieve from here on in.
Q3 Chair: Can you give any particular examples that would bear out those claims? Can you give an indication of how visible you are as the leader of the Civil Service among civil servants?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Many examples. First, we have had two sessions of the Top 200, which have both featured very strongly the issue of Civil Service reform, and I have played a key role in those. Secondly, I have made it my business to be out and about meeting staff on a Friday. In that capacity, I have met large numbers of staff, including crossdepartmental teams of staff at senior and middle level. I have now met at least half a dozen Departments, probably more, at the senior level. We have successfully concluded two permanent secretary appointment processes for the DfT and the DfE. As I said earlier, we have made very good headway on the Civil Service reform plan, and I have held many meetings on that as well. Alongside all of that, we have done a lot of written communication, and indeed used social media as well.
Q4 Chair: What about an example of your strong and effective relationships with Ministers, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister in particular?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I have met the Prime Minister on Civil Service reform eight times; I have met the Deputy Prime Minister two or three times on the same issue. I meet the Minister for the Cabinet Office at least once a week, and very often twice a week. Particularly in the development of the reform plan, it has been very much a joint process between myself and the MCO; it has been a collaborative effort. The outcome is a plan that both he and I own and champion.
Q5 Chair: How do you think your permanent secretary colleagues regard you-as "one of us" or as their boss? We all know that the Cabinet Secretary is competing for the top dog slot.
Sir Bob Kerslake: As Jeremy said to you last time he came, there are two top dogs. We both have distinct roles and work very closely together. How would permanent secretaries see me? I think they would see me as the visible leader of the Civil Service, who has made a lot of effort to demonstrate that in meeting staff in their Departments. They would see me as their performance manager-their boss, if you like-and that goes for 17 of the permanent secretaries, 10 being with Jeremy. They would see Jeremy and me working together very closely to provide effective leadership.
Q6 Chair: On a scale of one to 10, how well do you feel you have achieved what you have achieved over the past six months?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I am a tough marker, including of myself, so I probably put it in the six or seven category.
Q7 Chair: What has mitigated that score?
Sir Bob Kerslake: First, it is a learning curve. I have had to learn about all the Departments, which has been a rapid learning curve. Secondly, I have had to set in place new arrangements within CLG. I think that has been very effective, but it has taken time to put in place all the detail of that. Thirdly, we have had to focus particularly on the development of the reform plan. I do not regret that; it was one of the things I said I would do, but inevitably it has been a very demanding task. Having done the plan, I am now keen to focus on the implementation.
Q8 Chair: We will come back to that. What have been the top two frustrations that you think have made your job more difficult?
Sir Bob Kerslake: That is a very good question. Probably the first one is having the time to get out and meet civil servants. I would like to be able to get out and about more and meet them. However, inevitably, the challenge of having to be here and work through the detail of the plan has been one of those issues.
Q9 Chair: So, you have not had enough time.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Time is tight. It is not so much having enough time; it is balancing your time at particular points. Inevitably, getting the plan done has been very intensive, and that has had some impact on the visits. Even so, I probably got out one Friday in three. I have got out pretty regularly, but there is always the frustration that you would like to do more of that. If you asked me what the second frustration has been, it has been the ‘noises off’ in the media that have often inaccurately reported things that were nowhere near Government policy. Those would be the two things.
Q10 Chair: We know where all that has come from.
Sir Bob Kerslake: You can make an informed guess, Chair.
Q11 Chair: We did recommend that there should be a review of the top structure within six months. The Government has now insisted that this is not going to take place, and may not take place until as late as 2013. As a good Head, aren’t you constantly reviewing the top of the Civil Service? At what point do we need to decide whether things need to change?
Sir Bob Kerslake: As you rightly say, we constantly keep things under review. Every day I am asking myself how well it is working and how I can improve it, but it is sensible to give 12 to 18 months before you do a fuller review. That is what the Minister of the Cabinet Office has said, and I think that is right.
Q12 Kelvin Hopkins: Sir Bob, the Government’s response to our reported stated that you would have the necessary authority to "speak truth unto power" because of your regular contact with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister and attendance at Cabinet. We have heard about your contacts with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister over the reform, but how many times have you attended Cabinet since January 2012?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I have attended every Cabinet except for two, one being this morning because it clashes with your Committee. In every other respect I attend all Cabinet meetings.
Kelvin Hopkins: I am sure we feel honoured by your attendance in these circumstances.
Chair: You want to keep your distance from Lords reform anyway.
Q13 Kelvin Hopkins: When you attend Cabinet, do you sit at the table and have a speaking role, or are you in attendance to be consulted from time to time?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not sit at the table; I sit to the side of it, which is consistent with most officials there. When we took the Civil Service reform plan, I did both sit at the table and have a speaking role.
Q14 Kelvin Hopkins: You talked about reform, but are there other subjects-not just the reform plan but other matters-where you speak strongly with the Prime Minister about policy areas?
Sir Bob Kerslake: There are perhaps three areas where there is particularly a conversation to be had with the Prime Minister. First, there are some specific responsibilities that come with the Head of the Civil Service, such as the honours system and so on. You have already had quite an extensive discussion on that. There are particular issues on which I will be in dialogue with the Prime Minister. The second area, which as I said earlier is clearly a big part of the job, is performancemanaging permanent secretaries. There will be a conversation about how it is going in Departments-what the issues are and how well things are being delivered. That links to the third area, which is very much one where my role and that of Jeremy come together, and that is about the implementation of Government priorities. Clearly, successful implementation is both a combination of the policy and the capacity of the Civil Service to deliver it. Those are the three areas where I get actively involved in issues in which the Prime Minister will be interested.
Q15 Kelvin Hopkins: Just to get a feel for the relationship, do you take the initiative in drawing up an agenda, or do you just respond, effectively, to the Prime Minister’s agenda?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I would go with a set of items for the agenda. Clearly, there will be things the Prime Minister wants to raise as well, but it is a combination of both of us and what we feel it is necessary to talk about. I have not felt in any way an inability to say things as they are.
Q16 Lindsay Roy: On the question of your progress, a six would suggest robust self-evaluation; a 10 might have suggested self-delusion. Can I ask if you have made any refinements within the existing structure, as part of your monitoring in the light of experience, to make the system more fit for purpose?
Sir Bob Kerslake: There are two or three things we have looked at. First, with Ian Watmore’s departure, we will be advertising for the permanent secretary there. We have looked a bit at how that role works and how it sits alongside the Head of the Civil Service, so that is one area. Secondly, you will know that we were unsuccessful in filling the Director General of Civil Service Reform post. We are now thinking through that post and what we need there, in particular what skills we need in the team to move from developing the policy to implementing it. That is a second area we have worked on. The third thing I have looked to refine is what I do in CLG versus what I delegate to my team. I now have a full and permanent team in CLG, and that is the third area where I have reviewed and refined where I put my time.
Q17 Lindsay Roy: So, it is very much a dynamic process.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is absolutely a dynamic process. I monitor how much of my time I spend on one job and how much I spend on the other. I think very hard about how I use my time, because it is quite true to say that there are time pressures on the job and it is important to focus on priorities.
Q18 David Heyes: You have described the Civil Service reform plan as a collaborative effort with Ian Watmore. I guess his departure must be a setback.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Ian has been very good news for us; he has done some very important things, including setting up the Major Projects Authority, and the work he did in helping to deliver the efficiency savings. We have been very fortunate to have Ian on the team. He has now chosen to do something different, for a range of personal reasons, and I wish him well with that.
Q19 David Heyes: Was that a surprise to you? He was just six months into the job.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is not quite six months. Bear in mind that prior to that Ian was Chief Operating Officer, so he had been there for two years in that role. He had gone out into the FA, having previously been in Government, and, as he said himself, he has worked away from home for an awfully long time. To that extent it was understandable. I did not know per se that he would make that decision, but I can understand the reasons why he has done it.
Q20 Chair: But it is a disappointment, isn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Clearly, having his skills there has been very helpful. I am sorry to see him go, as I said earlier, but I think we can now make progress, partly because he has done so much to get us to the position we are in now.
Q21 David Heyes: I guess there is going to be a hiatus. Is that going to hinder the progress of the reform plan?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We have pretty quickly put in place Melanie Dawes as the acting permanent secretary, so we have not left that uncovered. We will now move quickly to recruitment of that post, and we have arrangements to cover other work on both efficiency and the reform. We will keep the momentum of the work going, but we need to conclude and put people into permanent positions now.
Q22 David Heyes: You will remember we recommended that there was a strong case for combining the Permanent Secretary of the Cabinet Office with the Head of the Civil Service, and that was rejected. From what you said, you have already made the decision to go ahead and recruit. You are not going to take what looks like an opportunity to combine the jobs. You have looked at that and rejected it. What was the process for doing that?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We consider all options when we get a vacancy. That is the proper process. I am very clear that there are a great number of advantages in my holding responsibility for a main Government Department as well as being Head of the Civil Service. A key one of those is that when I speak on an issue, or express a view, people know that I have an understanding of what it is to deliver an agenda for a Government Department. There is always a risk of anybody who is solely in the centre being characterised as understanding only the centre and not Government Departments. There is real value in my doing it the way it is done now, and I am keen to keep it that way.
Q23 David Heyes: What I am taking from that is that it was a very brief think and a quick decision to stay as you are.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We gave every option thorough consideration and then we took a view.
Q24 Chair: You do believe, obviously, from the Civil Service reform plan, in a stronger centre of Government, as we recommended in our report.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think you need a strong centre, but most importantly for me what we need is more of a single unified Civil Service. That is achieved by a much greater sense of corporate leadership of the Civil Service, where there is shared engagement in the decision making and it is mandated when we have taken a view.
Q25 Chair: So, the implementation unit will be run by the new permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, will it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We will have a Civil Service reform DG who will lead the work and will be supported by the permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office. At the most senior level I take responsibility for implementation, and it will be a very important part of the job. The point I am trying to make here, just to distinguish the different ways of looking at things, is that if we tried to run everything out of the centre for a Civil Service of 425,000 people, it would not work. What we have to do is run things with a shared leadership. That is why I have created the Civil Service Board, where we collectively reach decisions on issues, and then they are implemented and mandated across the Civil Service. The centre has to be strong, but it does not dictate everything to everybody else. You have to get the other parts of the senior leadership of the Civil Service involved.
Q26 Chair: This is a bit difficult to understand. This seems to be the perfect opportunity to consolidate leadership of the Civil Service, and yet you are determined to keep a foot in both camps, if you like, as a departmental permanent secretary and Head of the Civil Service.
Sir Bob Kerslake: For the reasons I have just explained, Chair, I think there is great value in being able to see the issues from a departmental point of view.
Q27 Chair: Yes, but you have done that job; you can see that. You have already told us that you do not have quite enough time.
Sir Bob Kerslake: No, I did not say that; I said that, like everybody, my time is at a premium.
Q28 Chair: But this seems to be a perfect opportunity for you to apply for the job. Well, it would not be an application; it would be a consolidation. You would move into the permanent secretary’s slot at the Cabinet Office as Head of the Civil Service. That would be logical.
Sir Bob Kerslake: That was clearly an option at the time the new model was created, and it was not the option chosen. As I said earlier, I think there is a lot to be gained by having someone who understands continually, not just for a period, the issues of running a department alongside leading the Civil Service.
Q29 Chair: But it suggests you do not really believe in the role of Head of the Civil Service.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Quite the contrary; I am a great believer in the role.
Q30 Chair: Why not give it 100%?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do give it 100% in the role that I perform, and it would still be a shared job if I was permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office. The point is that it is perfectly possible to do both. It is because I believe in the role, and I think it is best done in the way we have set out, that I have gone for that.
Q31 Chair: But Head of the Civil Service would have far more synergy with permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office than with permanent secretary in a major Government Department.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I would beg to differ with you on that. There is a huge amount that comes from leading a Department and being Head of the Civil Service, and that was the job that I went for.
Q32 Chair: It does not sound convincing, Sir Bob.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We all have to take a view on things. I think it can and does work, and I see no reason to change it.
Q33 Kelvin Hopkins: Obviously, you were appointed because you are exceptionally able, but you are doing a part-time job as head of a major Government Department. Does this suggest that other permanent secretaries could do their jobs parttime?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I will make two points about that. First, the role of Head of the Civil Service has always been parttime and combined with another job. If you go right back in time, it was combined with the Treasury, and, more recently, with the Cabinet Secretary, and so on. This job has always been parttime, unlike other permanent secretary jobs, which clearly have all been fulltime. That said, we do allude to the fact that, if you look at local government now, a number of local authorities have a shared chief executive, with one chief executive running two departments. Maybe there is something the Civil Service should learn from in future.
Chair: We will talk about the time commitment.
Q34 Greg Mulholland: Sir Bob, before you took up the role as Head of the Civil Service you told us you estimated that you would spent two days a week on your new responsibilities in that role, leaving three days for your role as permanent secretary in DCLG. Is that how things have panned out?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I anticipated this question, so I went back and looked at the diary. Since 14 May I have worked roughly 118 hours at DCLG and 147 hours as Head of the Civil Service, which works out at approximately 44.5% at DCLG and 55.5% as Head of the Civil Service. The balance has been more towards the Head of the Civil Service.
Q35 Chair: There’s a surprise.
Sir Bob Kerslake: That does not surprise me, because, as I said earlier, there has been a very intensive period of getting to know the job of Head of the Civil Service, getting out there and being known, and preparing the plan. I am therefore not surprised about that weighting, but that is how the numbers work out for that period.
Q36 Greg Mulholland: You have made it clear you believe that being Head of the Civil Service is so important and useful. Has your job as permanent secretary of DCLG suffered?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think it has.
Q37 Greg Mulholland: Well, 44.5%.
Sir Bob Kerslake: If you look at the performance of the Department, I do not think it has suffered at all, and there are good reasons for that. In terms of the delivery of its structural reform plan, the Department was just second to one other Department, so we have delivered well on the plan. The big priorities of Ministers have been delivered. On basic things like managing budgets and closing accounts, we will certainly hit the accelerated timetable for closing the accounts. On all the basic things you would expect to see in the Department, it has performed well. The reason that has been possible is that I have a strong team supporting me, and we have very clear arrangements for delegation of day-to-day functions. It has worked well, and it can work. What I am saying is that, not surprisingly, in the first six months of this job and with the Civil Service reform plan, the weighting has probably been slightly more towards the Civil Service job. I always indicated that there was going to be a balancing issue here in that early period.
Q38 Greg Mulholland: From what you say about the Department structure it almost sounds as if we do not need a permanent secretary.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I would not say that for a moment. I was spending nearly half my time in that very short period with the Department involved in key issues. What I am saying is that we have a good team and it has been possible, therefore, not to be there fulltime and do both jobs.
Q39 Greg Mulholland: It is not sustainable, surely, to be the permanent secretary, the top dog, in a major Government Department when you are not even a half-time permanent secretary.
Sir Bob Kerslake: No. What I gave you was the time division between 14 May and now. I did that deliberately to point out that this was in the peak period of preparing the Civil Service reform plan. That has been the weighting recently. Now the plan has been published, I think we will see a readjustment of that back to the normal timing. However, you asked me the question, so I thought I should give you the answer. It has been a particularly intensive period because of the plan.
Q40 Greg Mulholland: So, you think it will settle back into two days a week.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It will settle back into the balance: broadly, three days for CLG and two days for the Head of Civil Service job. However, as I have always said, it will vary from week to week and month to month.
Q41 Greg Mulholland: You have made it clear you do not think that the Department has suffered from your being only part-time in that role. Clearly, the Civil Service reform proposals have now come forward, but do you not think all of that demonstrates there is a very strong case for taking this opportunity to combine the roles? Then, you would not be taken away from an important Department for any days of the week; you would have a job that had different roles but much better synergies.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I am not sure I share the point about the synergies. There are huge benefits in my being able to see the reform agenda from the perspective of running a Government Department. That outweighs the disbenefits one might otherwise have. I would also say that being in the role of Head of the Civil Service is beneficial to CLG in other ways. Clearly, I have a connection and perspective on issues across Government that you would not have as strongly if you were simply the permanent secretary in that one Department. There is a range of very good reasons why it was set up this way; indeed, this was the whole basis on which the job was advertised. If I had not done it, somebody else running another Department would have done it, as well.
Q42 Chair: If you were offered the choice of being Head of the Civil Service in the Cabinet Office or remaining permanent secretary of DCLG, which would you choose?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is not a choice that needs to be made because we have a job that I have already applied for and got, which is to be permanent secretary of CLG and Head of the Civil Service.
Q43 Chair: But it is like a chief executive of a company-he does not have to be manager of a subsidiary in order to understand how to run a subsidiary. It just does not work like that, does it, in the private sector?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It works in different ways. If you look at the private sector there is no one pattern. I think from where we are now in the Civil Service this is the right model. It is difficult to answer any hypothetical question about where the review might take us in a year’s time.
Chair: Mr Mulholland, I apologise for cutting across you.
Greg Mulholland: I was about to ask virtually the same question.
Q44 Lindsay Roy: With all due respect, "I’ve just been" is not a very sound rationale, in my view. The big challenge, as far as I can see, is not just structural change but cultural change within the Civil Service. You have indicated there are bold and ambitious plans. Do you not feel that more time is required to monitor and pursue that?
Sir Bob Kerslake: If it was all down to me, clearly it would be a different story, but what we are going to have is a strong team led by a strong senior manager. I was simply making the point when I said "I’ve just been" that we have set up this arrangement. I said to you earlier that I think it is working. Therefore, I need a good reason why I would want to change it. But I think it is perfectly possible to deliver the plan with the model we have, partly because we will have a very strong support team and partly because it has the buy-in of the senior Civil Service, who will play a key role in its delivery.
Q45 Lindsay Roy: So, they have made formative inputs to the development programme.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Absolutely, yes.
Q46 David Heyes: You said earlier that as Head of the Civil Service you were responsible for performance management of all permanent secretaries.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Not all of them; 17.
Q47 David Heyes: Who is responsible for your performance management in your role as head of DCLG?
Sir Bob Kerslake: As far as DCLG is concerned, clearly the Secretary of State will feed back on my performance into the appraisal process, and because I report to the Prime Minister, he will take a view on overall performance. It is a combination of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister.
Q48 David Heyes: It’s a bit woolly, isn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think so. One bit is very clearly about how I have performed in CLG; the second bit is clearly about how I have performed in my Head of Civil Service role, and the two come together in a single assessment.
Q49 David Heyes: It is particularly important in relation to DCLG, because I think you would acknowledge that it is not the bestperforming Department. All of the objective assessments that have taken place in recent times have demonstrated that, if anything, it is at the bottom end of the league table of performance in Government Departments. That suggests there is a greater need for a more rigorous performance assessment of the leadership of it. From what you saying, it is not there.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I would not agree with your view on that point. First, as I said earlier, on delivery of the set of tasks the Department was set, it is very nearly the top of any Government Department. Only one Department just squeaked ahead of it. We have delivered on the bulk of the structural reform plan and we have delivered on ministerial priorities. Secondly, the Department has successfully concluded a massive restructuring that saw 40% of its posts go, and it did that in not much over a year. That has been achieved well. Thirdly, on key things like budgets, finance and accounts we perform among the best of Government Departments. So it would not be correct to say that CLG is a poorly performing Department. I do not think anybody could say that. What I would say is that we clearly went through a lot of change last year and that impacted on the engagement scores, but I fully expect that to come back this year.
David Heyes: It is a question I might put to you again in my role as a member of the CLG Select Committee at some point in the future.
Q50 Chair: We must move on to the reform of the Civil Service, but before we do so, what would you say to those who might read into this conversation that you are not personally 100% committed to the idea of leading the Civil Service; you still hanker after being a big cheese in a big Department?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It would be completely misinterpreting what I am saying.
Q51 Chair: It is not what you are saying; it is what you are doing.
Sir Bob Kerslake: With respect, I went for the job of Head of the Civil Service because I wanted to do it. I put a huge amount of personal passion and energy into that job. The job has clearly never been a full-time one.
Q52 Chair: Doesn’t it need to be?
Sir Bob Kerslake: A huge amount is gained by it being seen alongside a Government Department. That is my view, and it does not in any way diminish my commitment to the Head of Civil Service job.
Q53 Chair: So, if you were asked to apply for the Cabinet Office job, you would refuse.
Sir Bob Kerslake: My clear preference is to stay with the arrangement we have now.
Q54 Chair: Have you been asked?
Sir Bob Kerslake: There is no process yet under way, but I am clear what I would want to do.
Q55 Chair: Do you think you will be asked?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is difficult to speculate, Chair.
Q56 Chair: We will watch with interest. Turning now to the Civil Service reform plan, in our report Change in Government: the agenda for leadership we asked the Government to set out a Civil Service reform plan. We are very grateful that the Government has now done so, but does it set out what the Civil Service is for? At the very top level, does it set out a vision for the Civil Service? It is bit more like a shopping list, isn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think it does set out a clear vision. If you look particularly at the section I wrote myself and the foreword to the Civil Service reform plan you will see very clearly where we are trying to take the Civil Service. We also set out in the first part of the plan what we see as the role of the Civil Service and in particular identified the three key roles of policy development, programme and project delivery, and operational service delivery. I think we have rightly identified a role for the Civil Service and a vision for what we are trying to achieve. We know it will be a smaller Civil Service but a stronger one, better able to serve the needs of the Government of the day.
Q57 Chair: This plan has been the subject of something of a tussle.
Sir Bob Kerslake: There is always a debate when you produce something like this. One of the things I have learnt in my role as Head of the Civil Service is that almost everybody is interested in the Civil Service and has a view. Some might have a view that we should look at a more radical model, but everyone has accepted that what is in this plan represents a good set of actions to improve the Civil Service.
Q58 Chair: Is this the Civil Service plan that the Civil Service wanted?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is a plan that reflects the views of Ministers. I have been in many discussions with Ministers on this. In particular, I have been in discussions on this with the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. It also takes on board the key issues for civil servants. That is why I think it is an important and effective plan that will get delivered.
Q59 Chair: What has been the reaction of the Civil Service as a whole?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think the reaction has been good. I have done many meetings myself, including a very well-attended one in my own Department. There has been a lot of recognition of the things that we say need to change in this plan. There will be issues on specific areas-what we mean by "terms and conditions", and so on-but, taken as a whole, the kind of culture we are trying to create and the areas we are trying to tackle have all been things that civil servants themselves have said need to be addressed. Therefore, the reaction has been good.
Chair: Let’s look at the appraisal system.
Q60 Greg Mulholland: Successive surveys, including the one quoted in the report itself and those carried out by Civil Service World, have clearly shown that performance management is one of the issues of concern throughout the Civil Service, and yet the new common appraisal system that is being introduced is only for the Senior Civil Service, which seems strange since it was clearly a concern of civil servants at all levels. Why has that not been introduced throughout the Civil Service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: There is a bit of a misunderstanding here. The clear intent and ambition here is for it to be something that can apply across the whole of the Civil Service. However, because of the way the Civil Service is constructed-as you will know, each Department is an individual employer-each Department has to take its own decision to adopt the new performance framework; it cannot be dictated. A number of Departments, including CLG, have taken it on board and are operating the new performance framework. I am confident that we will see that rolled out in this form across Government Departments, but in the plan, because of the formality of the issue as I have described it, we have to recognise that the only part of the Civil Service where it can be expressly stated it will be done is the Senior Civil Service. However, as I say, I fully expect all Departments to adopt a model very close to this.
Q61 Greg Mulholland: Which of the Departments have adopted this already, as far as you are aware?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We are running a number of early trials in Departments. I have not got the full list, but I will happily send that to you. I think three or four Departments, including CLG, are trialling the new model.
Q62 Greg Mulholland: That is certainly something we would like more information on, and to be kept updated with progress would be useful.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I am happy to do that.
Q63 Chair: Can we just be clear about something? When people talk about a microscopic Civil Service, they are really talking about the Senior Civil Service. If you think about what ran the empire in the 19th century, it was the Senior Civil Service, not the army of officials and public servants populating agencies and deliveries. We always had that but we did not call them civil servants. Is that correct?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think you are right. I am not an expert on the British Raj, but the reason it was so small is that it relied on a whole army of people, speaking metaphorically, who were not classified as civil servants, so it is not a sensible comparison.
Q64 Chair: So, this appraisal system is really concentrating on the most meritocratic, competitive bit of the Civil Service.
Sir Bob Kerslake: No. The model that will be involved in performance management here can and should be used across the Civil Service. As I say, it is the model we are using across the whole of CLG, so it can work. We start with the SCS, which is the part of the Civil Service that we can absolutely specify and say it will be done in this way. For Departments, it has to be taken up formally by each one individually because they are individual employers.
Q65 Kelvin Hopkins: A new central fund to commission policy making from outside organisations will be in place from July, and it will be evaluated after 12 months. How will you measure the success of the fund?
Sir Bob Kerslake: The success of the fund will come from whether particularly Ministers feel that it results in some fresh and different approaches to policies in key areas that they want to look at. For me, that would be an important test here. A second test is whether we are able to get the right relationship between the external group that is looking at the policy and the Civil Service, so we have been able to harness their different way of thinking about issues and bring that into the Civil Service. A third one is that what comes out of that process is policy that can be effectively implemented. Those would be three tests we would want to apply.
Q66 Kelvin Hopkins: Obviously, there will be a cost in terms of Civil Service staff time in assessing the quality of what comes out of this research and analysing policy proposals commissioned from such organisations. Have you made some assessment of that cost?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We do not have a number for that, and it will depend very much on the model of external sourcing that is adopted, but you are quite right to say that there is a resource involved in commissioning it. I do not expect that to be huge and I would expect Departments to absorb that within their overall resources. It is important to say that this idea has not come through an endeavour to save money but through recognition that we should not have a presumption of a monopoly on policy making; we should look to others to source their thinking and ideas. Most times that will be about open policy making, but externally sourcing a bit of policy making would be a good thing too.
Q67 Kelvin Hopkins: There is also a danger that use of such external organisations will threaten the impartiality and objectivity of the Civil Service. I am particularly concerned about which organisations will be commissioned. Will they be chosen by the Prime Minister or by Ministers giving a particular political slant, or will it be much more objective?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think there is any intent to move away from impartial advice. Ministers will be advised by civil servants on whether there are issues. We are quite clear that in doing this we need to recognise potential conflicts of interest and ensure there is not interest group capture or any politicisation involved. This is not about any of those agendas but about a recognition that there will be people who have something to bring to the policy making process, and we should see if they can.
Q68 Kelvin Hopkins: This would include academic departments from universities, which would not necessarily be under the control of the Prime Minister and would not have a particular slant, but would just be highly intelligent, objective minds.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Exactly that. We want people who have expertise and knowledge in the field, and that could include universities, policy groups and so on.
Q69 Kelvin Hopkins: That leads me on to my next question. I am concerned about politicisation of the Civil Service. Indeed, I did raise this with the Cabinet Office Minister in his statement last week on reform of the Civil Service. I think I was the only one who raised concerns about the involvement of Ministers in selecting permanent secretaries, which I thought was worrying. To what extent would an increased role for Ministers in the selection of permanent secretaries threaten to politicise the Civil Service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think it needs to, or will. It is important to say that Ministers are already actively involved in the process of selecting permanent secretaries. I know this having just done two full processes. They are involved at the beginning in talking about what kind of person they think would be needed; they are involved when you get to the long list stage and the short list stage. The point of debate here is about the final stage in the process and whether a candidate is selected through the panel and then put forward to the Minister, or whether the Minister might be given a choice. As it says in the plan, there is no final decision on this issue; there is a discussion to be had with the Commission on this point.
Q70 Kelvin Hopkins: It was very noticeable that my colleague Jack Straw, a Minister in the Blair era, took a very different view from me. He relished the idea of being able to select his permanent secretaries and came from the era when there were evident attempts by Prime Ministers and Ministers to control policy rather than listen to civil servants giving advice. I am seriously worried that with moves in that direction, civil servants will say, "Clearly the direction of travel for Ministers in this Government is towards privatisation. Therefore, I shall forget my social democratic past and move towards a view of privatisation"-I am putting it fairly crudely-and they will be the ones who are preferred.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is important to say that one of the things both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister were clear about was that we do not move away from the Civil Service values that are enshrined in legislation and that we do not move away from an impartial Civil Service. We are very clear about that, as are Ministers. The point of debate is a very specific one about whether, having gone through a recruitment process that involves the commissioner, myself and indeed nonexecutives and reached a final stage, it is a candidate identified through the panel that is put forward to the Minister to decide whether to accept or reject-and they can reject-or they are given a choice from a list of appointable candidates. There is a further discussion to be had on that with the commission, but the principle of an impartial, objective Civil Service has not changed.
Q71 Kelvin Hopkins: To take an example from the past, there was a suggestion that when Nigel Lawson was Chancellor he surrounded himself in his private office in particular with civil servants-not necessarily the permanent secretary-with whom he felt comfortable and who took his own view, particularly on the European Union. He was very enthusiastic about joining, as indeed were a number of Ministers, the exchange rate mechanism at that time. A number of economists at the time, of whom I was one, said it was a terrible mistake. If you surround yourself with people who all agree with you, nobody will say, "Minister, have you thought about the possible consequences of this decision?" It all went very badly wrong. Would it be more sensible to have people saying, "The possible consequences could be disastrous; have you thought about it, Minister?"
Sir Bob Kerslake: Most Ministers I have worked with and come across are clear that they want impartial advice that sets out the pros and cons of different options. Part of our role is to be very clear about these issues to Ministers. They then make the choices. But I think most Ministers understand that it is not in their interest to have people who simply say, "This is your view. We’ll go ahead and do it without testing the arguments."
Q72 Kelvin Hopkins: A more extreme situation arose under Blair, with sofa government and civil servants and Cabinet Ministers being shut out of the policy process altogether. Have we moved away from that now, back towards a healthier relationship between Ministers and civil servants?
Sir Bob Kerslake: There is a healthy relationship. There is every evidence that Ministers do take advice from civil servants and are willing to hear advice that may not always fit with their particular perspective on something. I do not think that is an issue at this point with the Government. It is founded on the principle that it is in Ministers’ interests to know the arguments, issues and risks, but they ultimately decide.
Q73 Kelvin Hopkins: I will ask one more question about situations where you have wilful Ministers. I will give the example of Liam Fox. He was clearly a very strong Minister with a particular view of the world. Would he have chosen Ursula Brennan as his permanent secretary? She had difficulty constraining him, I think, and has now moved on. Indeed, both have moved on. Is there not a danger that if Ministers can select civil servants, Ministers could become too unconstrained?
Sir Bob Kerslake: As far as I can recall-this predates me-he did approve Ursula’s appointment to the post of permanent secretary. As I said earlier, we all recognise strong Ministers, but strong Ministers welcome having strong officials who give them good, clear advice on the options for them to make a decision on.
Q74 Chair: Sir Bob, on page 8 of the reform plan, dealing with the role of the Civil Service, it says: "The current model of a permanent, politically impartial Civil Service will remain unchanged". Why was it necessary to put that in the report?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Because sometimes stating the obvious is necessary. There is always a perception that any reform plan might take us in a different direction. There has been much debate about whether we should adopt the American model or the French cabinet model. I think that saying it clearly and precisely in this report was helpful.
Q75 Chair: But that has been part of the argument about how far towards a New Zealand, Australian, French or American model we should go. There has been quite a lot of discussion about that.
Sir Bob Kerslake: There has been some discussion but not a huge amount; there has been much more discussion about the specifics. The very clear weight of opinion from the Prime Minister downwards was to retain an impartial Civil Service and not move towards either the American or the French cabinet model.
Q76 Chair: It has been put to me that this model of the Civil Service, which goes back to Northcote-Trevelyan and Haldane, is now in the last chance saloon. The previous Government got frustrated with it; the present Government is frustrated with it. This really has to prove itself, hasn’t it? It has to adapt to the modern world, or it will not survive.
Sir Bob Kerslake: All Governments at some point get frustrated by issues. I do not think that, per se, is new, but I am very much with you in that there is an imperative on the Civil Service to maintain its standing and position with this particular Government and future Governments, and to do that we need to reform and deliver these reform priorities.
Q77 Chair: Do you agree with the implication of what Lord Butler said last week in response to the Civil Service reform plan, that the criticism and attacks on the Civil Service and its obstructiveness, slowness and all the rest of it has to stop in order to build up more trust and a more positive relationship between Ministers and civil servants?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We are very clear that we are accountable and we are going to have open debate. It becomes problematic where, as I described earlier, you get noises off that are very difficult to respond to if they are unattributable briefings to newspapers and others.
Q78 Chair: But these are all symptoms of lack of trust, aren’t they?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think there is actually quite a high level of trust.
Q79 Chair: In most Departments perhaps.
Sir Bob Kerslake: In most Departments, and I absolutely see that. I know that because I do the appraisals for permanent secretaries. I talk to their Secretaries of State about how they think things are going. As I say, the majority are happy with the model and what is being achieved. But it would be a surprising Government that did not experience some frustration about the pace of delivery at this point in its term.
Q80 Chair: So, there is nothing untoward; nothing is necessarily worse than it has ever been before in terms of the strain between Ministers and civil servants.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is hard for me to judge because I have not been in previous Government situations. What I can say is that the scale of the challenge we are facing, both as a country and as a Civil Service, is probably as great as it has ever been. Therefore, there is a huge premium on the Civil Service delivering.
Q81 Chair: You do recognise that the Civil Service has to prove itself through this reform plan.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Absolutely.
Q82 David Heyes: This Committee has recommended in the past that there is scope for departmental mergers and slimming down the Civil Service in that way and, alongside that, there may be scope for fewer Ministers. Is the Civil Service reform plan a potential vehicle for achieving that? Is it part of your thinking?
Sir Bob Kerslake: No. We are very clear in the plan that we do not assume any organisational reform for the Government. That is a matter for the Prime Minister to decide, so this does not presume any machinery of Government changes. However, what it does do is to say that in a smaller Civil Service the notion of a Department will change, so we will see more sharing of support services, expert services and potentially policy. As we touched on earlier, you could conceivably see Departments run by one permanent secretary over time. The notion of how a Department works will change, but how many Departments there are and what they do is a matter for the Prime Minister.
Q83 David Heyes: Is any work going on on that, to your knowledge? If it is not part of your responsibility as Head of the Civil Service, where does that responsibility lie?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It lies with the Prime Minister. I am not aware of any particular work going on on this, and it was not a presumption in the plan.
Q84 David Heyes: Is that not a missed opportunity?
Sir Bob Kerslake: That is a judgment for the Prime Minister to make about how many Ministers and Departments he has. The judgment for us in the Civil Service is to say, "If we are smaller and, as at present, are retaining those Departments, we have got to rethink the way in which Departments work".
Q85 Lindsay Roy: Sir Bob, the plan also sets out an expectation that former departmental accounting officers will return to give evidence to Select Committees on major projects and policies. Are you open to increasing even further the number of civil servants who give evidence to Select Committees?
Sir Bob Kerslake: That is clearly an option. I feel quite strongly that the responsibility should lie with the accounting officer. They can bring with them, by agreement with the relevant committee, supporting officials to be there at the same time, but I am a firm believer that the buck stops with the accounting officer, and they should be present. That is how I would want to run it as an accounting officer in CLG.
Q86 Lindsay Roy: What would be the impact of increasing the number of civil servants who provide evidence to Select Committees on the validity of the Osmotherly rules?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think the Osmotherly rules would still stand, because the principle there is about ministerial responsibility. It would apply in relation to other officials going, but there would be some risk if you brought in a lot of officials that we would start to lose the principle of ministerial accountability. That is why I think that by and large we have a clear model for Select Committees that starts with the Minister; we have a clear role for permanent secretaries as accounting officers; and we should be cautious about going too much further than that now. That said, as you know, the Lords Committee is looking at this issue and it will be very interesting to see what it comes up with.
Lindsay Roy: Can you elaborate on how you have engaged with Ministers to take forward the reform process in their Departments?
Q87 Chair: Before we leave it, can I ask one or two questions about accountability? You say we have a very clear system. How is it possible that billions can be wasted on major projects but no Minister resigns and no official is held accountable? That is not a very clear model, is it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: In the plan we do say a number of things about that. You are absolutely right: that is the central question of credibility.
Q88 Chair: I appreciate that in the plan there are proposals to improve the management of major projects, but in terms of accountability, it cannot be right that nobody is accountable for what has gone wrong, and that seems to be the case at the moment.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We do say things in the plan about that issue. First, we have strengthened the whole way in which programme management happens. We say in the plan that there should be considerable strengthening of management information and we say very clearly that accounting officers should sign off on implementation as well as policy. There is a very significant strengthening of the responsibility of permanent secretaries as accounting officers within this plan and, with that, a clearer sense of accountability. To take an example, if a project goes wrong and as accounting officer I have signed off implementation and the gateway reviews, clearly I must take responsibility for that. That is now unambiguously clear.
Q89 Chair: But it is SROs, senior responsible officers, who need to be held accountable. Accounting officers, permanent secretaries, change every two or three years.
Sir Bob Kerslake: They do not change every two or three years. SROs are clearly very important, but the responsibility for ensuring you have got a strong SRO in place lies with the accounting officer, and ultimately, on big, important, complex and risky projects the permanent secretary has to take responsibility. If they move, we have been clear in here that they can reasonably be called back within a given period of time to be held to account on a project they previously ran. I think it does work as a set of arrangements.
Q90 Chair: If a Select Committee want to interview a particular official, they have the right to do that, don’t they?
Sir Bob Kerslake: They clearly do. I have sat alongside officials at meetings, but I think that the focus on the Minister and the accounting officer is the right model.
Q91 Chair: The Osmotherly rules are a slightly artificial overlay. If the Select Committee want to see the senior responsible officer, or indeed the ex-senior responsible officer, they are entitled to do that.
Sir Bob Kerslake: As you know, Select Committees can call almost anyone to their meetings.
Q92 Chair: Provided the Select Committee are not asking about advice given to Ministers by officials; information about inter-departmental exchanges on policy issues; the private affairs of individuals; sensitive or commercial economic information-that is debatable-or information about negotiations with other Departments, Governments or bodies, such as the European Commission; and provided the questions are about facts and how something is being implemented, or has been implemented, that official should answer those questions. Yes?
Sir Bob Kerslake: They should answer the questions. It is not a new thing. Prior to getting this job I have been at Select Committee meetings where directorsgeneral have sat alongside Ministers and I have sat alongside them. It is not a new phenomenon.
Q93 Chair: I tend to agree with you. This is not upsetting the accountability apple cart.
Sir Bob Kerslake: No, nor am I suggesting that.
Q94 Chair: But the reticence of some officials to answer some very basic questions has made this feel more difficult than it needs to be.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Officials have to be comfortable with being accountable for what they do, and that is a clear part of what we are saying in the plan.
Q95 Chair: But the Haldane Report of 1918 foreshadows departmental Select Committees. Interestingly, it says that Ministers as well as officials might have to give evidence to these Committees to make them effective, the emphasis being there that the revolution would be to have Ministers giving evidence to Committees, not just officials. It is axiomatic that for departmental Select Committees to work properly, officials have to give them the information.
Sir Bob Kerslake: They do, and they do it in writing through a lot of responses to questions and by attending Committees. However, the starting point ought to be the Minister coming along to explain the policy, as the rules dictate.
Chair: We all remember Jim Hacker being given an explanation by Sir Humphrey about the difference between the policy of the administration and the administration of policy, which I hope does not confuse Select Committee accountability.
Q96 Lindsay Roy: Can you elaborate on how you have been engaged with Ministers to take forward the reform process in the Departments and across the Civil Service? Indeed, can you tell us if you have met any strong resistance?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We have engaged in two or three different ways. First, the Minister for the Cabinet Office convened a number of informal meetings with Ministers to get their feedback on the plan. We also had, under the auspices of the Institute for Government, a meeting with former Ministers of the previous Government to get their thoughts on the plan. There were discussions on the plan at one of the Cabinet committees, and in virtually every Department the permanent secretaries had conversations with their Secretaries of State about the contents of the plan. There was extensive involvement with Ministers, culminating in a Cabinet discussion. I do not think there has been any resistance to what is in the plan. As I said earlier, there was debate among some about whether it should go further in a number of different directions-not always in agreement with each other about where it should go further-but there was not any disagreement with the core content of the plan itself.
Q97 Lindsay Roy: You have described yourself as a "champion of change" in the Civil Service and that requires strong and effective leadership, but also buy-in and a sense of ownership by civil servants and Ministers. What concrete indications have you got of real buyin? Can you give us some examples?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I guess it is a mix of the intuitive and the informal pick-up and the numbers. On the numbers side of it, we have got good feedback from staff surveys and the Tell Us How website about what civil servants think and where they believe improvements could be made. Those formed a key part of how we developed the proposals. On the more informal side, I have spent as much time as I can getting out and about meeting staff in Jobcentre Plus offices, HMRC, Transport and almost everywhere I go. The feedback on the issues for them has been very similar. We have got at least two routes of information: what the surveys have told us and what I have picked up from my direct conversations with civil servants.
Q98 Lindsay Roy: Have you had any formative input that has brought about change? In other words, have they had a real impact on the development of the plan?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think they have. What we put in the plan was definitely driven very much by what we heard from civil servants themselves. One of the earlier questions alluded to the need to tackle poor performance. That clearly came through from civil servants. The desire to move to a more flexible and less hierarchical culture definitely came from civil servants. One of the things I have picked up very consistently from civil servants is that you have to get the basics right. Talking about grand strategies when their computer does not work, or they cannot get the printer to work, or something like that, undermines the sense of whether you understand the real world.
Q99 Lindsay Roy: Would these be the bold and ambitious plans that you envisage being taken forward with the right resources, and therefore an indication of success?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes. When you add up all of these actions it amounts to a very significant change in the Civil Service. Each action itself is a very practical one, but it is also worth saying-and I have made this point before-that we should not see the reform plan in isolation. There is huge change going on in individual Departments themselves. There are big changes in Defence, Health and so on. The plan sits alongside these fundamental changes going on in Departments anyway. What we wanted was something that complemented the change plans in Departments. If you add it all up, this is huge change.
Q100 Lindsay Roy: Have you clear indications of dividends in terms of real outcomes? I know that people talk about action quickly and real dividends.
Sir Bob Kerslake: If you look at the actions in there, we have tried to put very clear time scales on them and say when we want things delivered by. We can and will quantify where some save money, for example on shared services; where we develop skills and capabilities, such as improving our management of major projects; and where we raise the quality of the Civil Service by consistent performance management. There is a very clear timetable for implementation, and therefore a fairly clear timetable for realisation of the benefits.
Q101 Lindsay Roy: What evidence do you have of real cultural change and empowering civil servants to engage?
Sir Bob Kerslake: The truth is that it is patchy and we have got a long way to go. You will see it absolutely on the ground sometimes-you will see empowered staff. In other parts, it is still very much the old way of thinking. This will take time. The change in the culture is the thing that always takes longer. You can deliver the actions but changing the culture is a longer-term process.
Q102 Lindsay Roy: What is being done to disseminate good practice?
Sir Bob Kerslake: The key thing about the plan and the main likelihood of success comes from seeing where things are done well and saying, "How do we make them consistent?" If we take, for example, the approach to learning and development, Civil Service learning is built on, "Where has it worked, and how can we use it?" As to the development of senior civil servants, "Where has it worked, and how can we use it?" As to performance management, "Where is that done well? How can we use it across the Civil Service?" There are quite a few examples where we have taken innovation and good practice and said, "This will now become the standard for the Civil Service".
Q103 Lindsay Roy: So, it is tied into an appraisal programme as well.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Absolutely. It is also tied in to capturing the best practice across the Civil Service.
Q104 Lindsay Roy: We look forward to further evidence of the success.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We will need to carry on evaluating the impact.
Q105 Lindsay Roy: I think we would want to explore exactly how you monitor the way in which things move forward.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes. The truth is that monitoring will work at different levels. One will be: have we delivered the tasks? The other is: what is the impact of those tasks?
Q106 Chair: Sir Bob, how have you engaged, or do you intend to engage, the nonexecutive directors of Departments in the reform programme?
Sir Bob Kerslake: They have been engaged in the development of the plan quite significantly. I have met with groups hosted by Lord John Browne, and they have actively contributed to the development of the plan. Things like strengthening management information have been very much issues that have come from non-executives. The nonexecutives will be involved in ensuring delivery in a number of ways. First, nonexecutives like Lord Browne will sit on the reform board chaired by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, so there will be direct involvement in how we are delivering. Secondly, they will play a key role within Departments in assessing whether that Department is taking on board the Civil Service reform plan. In particular, they will play a role in the new model that replaces the capability reviews. Thirdly, Lord Browne will carry on having cross-government meetings of nonexecutives to assess progress. That has been a very powerful development.
Q107 Chair: Is that process of engagement with NEDs referred to in the plan directly?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is referred to. We have put a small section about the importance of non-executives in the plan. It is not a long treatise, but it is there and it is absolutely part of what we intend to use.
Q108 Chair: But that is the point, isn’t it? Doesn’t it need to be a bit more explicit?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We would be very happy to set that out in more detail, if you would find that useful.
Q109 Chair: Do you think permanent secretaries buy into the engagement of nonexecutive directors?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think they do. The view of permanent secretaries is that the nonexecutive directors have been a very positive development and they find them a very useful resource in the development of their Departments.
Q110 Chair: Isn’t the truth rather patchy? It is very different across different Departments, with some hardly engaging their NEDs at all.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is right to say it varies, but I would say most Departments have actively engaged their non-executives.
Q111 Chair: Could you write to us with a bit more detail about that, because we are quite likely to be taking evidence at some stage from nonexecutive directors?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I am very happy to do that.
Q112 Chair: I think it would make an important adjunct of your plan. NEDs with whom we have already had exchanges informally, mostly individually, are pretty sceptical about the degree of engagement that the Senior Civil Service has on this plan with the rest of the Civil Service. Engagement is a major concern, isn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes. We have to do better on it. Almost every Department has work to do on the issue of engagement, not just on the Civil Service reform plan but on the delivery of their own departmental plans as well. It is certainly an area to carry on improving in.
Q113 Chair: How are you going to address these very low levels of engagement among so many of the work force?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is going to be a combination of what we do in Departments. Clearly, each permanent secretary will have a responsibility for raising engagement levels. As you know, we do an annual staff survey and track very precisely how Departments are progressing in this area. Secondly, we will need to continue to do the work that I lead on engagement across the Civil Service as a whole. It is a bit of both.
Q114 Chair: How is this going to be different? We have had lots of Civil Service reform programmes before that have not engaged the Civil Service down the food chain. How is it going to be different this time?
Sir Bob Kerslake: First, the development of the plan has been much more open and engaging of civil servants to get this far, so it is already different. Secondly, when we come to the implementation plan, which we are working on at the moment, a particular feature of that plan is how it will actively engage civil servants at different levels in the process of delivery, so it will be part of the implementation plan as well. However, the real difference is the one I mentioned right at the beginning. This is a plan that has been drawn up with a very clear understanding of the issues for civil servants themselves, so we start already with a plan that addresses many of the issues that civil servants are concerned about.
Q115 Chair: All this implementation will fail, won’t it, if Ministers do not remain united and engaged with this plan?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes.
Q116 Chair: This is a question slightly above your pay grade, but what can you do to make sure that Ministers’ noses are kept to the grindstone on this?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I look to the Minister for the Cabinet Office to play the lead role in linking with other Ministers, and the Prime Minister as well.
Q117 Chair: Do you think Ministers are sufficiently united in their resolve to implement this plan?
Sir Bob Kerslake: They are absolutely united in their resolve to deliver the plan. I do not think any Minister has said the plan does too many things. The question might be whether in some cases they would want to go further. There is a common interest in making this plan work.
Q118 Chair: Do you think there is a danger that some Ministers will not be committed to this because it is not the plan they wanted?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think so. There will be a commitment to make it happen.
Q119 Chair: But that is a danger, isn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think it is a low risk, for the reason I have just given: there was not a challenge to what was in the plan per se; there was a question mark about whether it could go further.
Q120 Chair: Do you think this report has surfaced the leadership challenges that need to be addressed?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do. Leadership has been critical. In particular, if you look at the section around talent and skills, there is a whole raft of things we are going to do to strengthen leadership from middle managers upwards within the Civil Service. A key part of the plan is strengthening leadership, but we are also very clear that its delivery will be led by me and the Civil Service as a whole.
Q121 Kelvin Hopkins: Can I add a note of scepticism about some of the critics from outside? They make fairly strong attacks on the reports, the plan and on Whitehall. They talk about flawed structures and that there is a terrible situation. I must say I do not see it and, without being too flattering to yourself, I trust your judgment rather than theirs in these matters.
Sir Bob Kerslake: That is kind of you.
Q122 Kelvin Hopkins: I will keep an eye on things, as we all do. They talk about the flawed structure. What is it they want to see? I am puzzled.
Sir Bob Kerslake: As I said earlier, people come at it from different directions. Some come at it from a view that says the politicised model is a better one; politically appointed leaders should be the way forward. That is the American/cabinet style. Others say that the Civil Service should be drastically smaller. Reference was made to much bigger reductions in the size of the Civil Service. There are others who say that what we need is a big organisational change and there are too many Departments. There are views about more radical models, but they do not go in the same direction; there is no one view about this.
Q123 Kelvin Hopkins: One failing of the Civil Service we have identified is in IT projects. One of the arguments we put forward-I was particularly interested in it-was that we should have a stronger in-house capacity to manage IT, which means we have more and not fewer civil servants. The other area that has cost us billions is poor defence contracting and procurement, which suggests again that we want more expertise inside so we do not get ripped off by private companies all the time. We want a bigger and more skilled Civil Service rather than a smaller one with more and more handed out to the private sector, whose primary concern is to make profit. Public service is not their number one concern; their job is to make profits for their companies. I would argue that in some areas we want a bigger, stronger Civil Service.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I see your point. I think it is "stronger", not necessarily "bigger". As someone who is a relatively new civil servant, I have been genuinely impressed by the huge strengths within the Civil Service. I have also been impressed by the way in which the Civil Service has adapted to the very big change agenda of this Government. However, there are some areas where the Civil Service needs to get stronger. I do not think it necessarily needs to get bigger. We need to get better at commissioning, commercial skills and programme project management. All of those are about skills and capability rather than large numbers. We will get that right if we have a combination of centres of excellence and teams within Departments that draw on those centres of excellence.
Q124 Lindsay Roy: Is there one thing in this plan that is truly farreaching and innovative that will make a real difference?
Sir Bob Kerslake: For me, the biggest and most far-reaching change is moving towards a single, more unified Civil Service. That is a huge change that will materially change how the Civil Service operates. Historically, it has been a federal model. We will move to a more corporate model, and that is a fundamental shift in thinking.
Q125 Lindsay Roy: Will that lead to more effective joined-up working?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Absolutely.
Q126 Chair: But the most revolutionary change has got to be in leadership, hasn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: For me, that is the same issue, Chair; it is about corporate leadership across the Civil Service.
Chair: Great things are expected of you, Sir Bob. We will be watching the implementation of this reform programme and the other papers that we expect to see later in the year with very great interest. I expect that you will be before this Committee again quite soon. Thank you very much indeed for your diligence and your evidence.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Thank you very much.