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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 664-x
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Public Administration Committee
Future of the Civil Service
thursday 18 April 2013
Sir Jeremy Heywood KCB CVO and Sir Bob Kerslake
Evidence heard in Public Questions 808 - 1024
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
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Taken before the Public Administration Committee
on Thursday 18 April 2013
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)
Mr Steve Reed
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Sir Jeremy Heywood KCB CVO, Cabinet Secretary, and Sir Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service, gave evidence.
Q808Chair: Good morning and welcome to this further evidence session on the future of the Civil Service. We have deliberately drawn our title much wider than the Civil Service Reform Plan, asking the question, "Does the Civil Service Reform Plan actually address the future of the Civil Service?" I wonder if our two distinguished witnesses could introduce themselves for the record please.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Bob Kerslake, Head of the Civil Service and Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary.
Chair: Thank you very much for being with us today.
Q809Paul Flynn: Mr Kerslake and Mr Heywood, will you now apologise for the overtly political nature of the article that you penned in the Daily Telegraph on Monday, which was a clear breach of the traditional neutrality of the Civil Service?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: No, I do not think we will apologise for it. We did not think it was a political article at all. It was not intended to be such.
Q810Paul Flynn: The main controversy going on in the country that may have passed you by is on the verdict on Margaret Thatcher’s period in Government. This is something that divides the country and divides this House, and it is the hottest political issue at the moment. Some claim that the Conservative Party is presently trying to gain advantage on the basis of her reputation. Others have held back because in the circumstances they did not want to be as critical as they should be on this. This is clearly the main political issue that divides the country at the moment. You penned an article that was entirely sycophantic about her role and no kind of criticism whatsoever on it. This is not what civil servants traditionally should do. Isn’t it a breach of Civil Service neutrality?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: No, I do not think that is a fair characterisation of the article at all. The article is about the Civil Service’s relationship with Margaret Thatcher as a person and as a human being.
Q811Paul Flynn: Could you not have found some way for a tiny bit of criticism of the fact that in her relationship with the Civil Service, she actually sacked 171,000 of them? Should it be balanced perhaps by suggesting that some of the things that she did were not as popular with the Civil Service as the shepherd’s pie she served to them late at night?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do not think the purpose of the article is to praise her politics or to attack her politics. It was to express some views that serving and former civil servants had about what she was like as a boss.
Q812Paul Flynn: That is outrageous. Look at the article. Every word in it was in praise of Margaret Thatcher. It may be entirely justified; other people have praised her as well. We have had a whole week of this. We have had debates in this House; many of them were balanced and some were not. Your article was entirely in praise: civil servants shoring up some of the exaggerated things that were said about her. There was no question of any attempt of balance, saying some things she did perhaps were not perfect. It was a hagiography.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I reread the article-
Paul Flynn: I have indeed. I have it before me. I read it several times. I have it here; I have it on my laptop. I read the article entirely. It is uncritically in praise of Margaret Thatcher. You are the Head of the Civil Service. If one of the civil servants in a humble position in my constituency were to act politically and praise the Labour or Tory leader of the local council, they would be disciplined. Why should the heads of the Civil Service be allowing themselves to be used in this way?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Let me just say that I reread the article again this morning and I entirely back Jeremy’s view that the article was about the reflections of civil servants at the time of how they found working with the Prime Minister.
Q813Paul Flynn: Okay, but do you not believe there is a controversy going on? It is very rare to have the effigy of a former Prime Minister being burned, as happened yesterday in this country; it may be very reprehensible. We go through the lot. I represent a town that is full of steelworkers. I worked in the steel industry for 30 years. There is great bitterness about Margaret Thatcher, not because she imposed financial discipline on the industry but because of the air of vengeance. The steel workers, like the miners, had been on strike and they feel great bitterness against her. They have been very restrained, I believe, and so have I as their representative here. You, though, have put an article in the paper that has been the most sycophantic towards her memory and you, as top civil servants, have supported the political campaign to establish her as a saintly figure.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We are going to have to agree to differ on this point.
Chair: Shall we have a short answer on this and move on?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I just do not accept that at all. I do not think it is sycophantic. It is an accurate description of what civil servants who used to work for Margaret Thatcher, both current and former civil servants, think she was like as a boss. It did not make any comment one way or the other about her politics. Whatever you might think about Margaret Thatcher, she was definitely a historically significant figure. Both sides of the House of Commons have accepted that over the last week, and I think it is perfectly legitimate for the Civil Service to articulate some thoughts on the subject.
Paul Flynn: Many of us have made some points.
Chair: Mr Flynn, order.
Paul Flynn: This gives open sesame to all civil servants to involve themselves in politics.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do not think so.
Q814Kelvin Hopkins: I do strongly support what my colleague has been saying. Paragraph four refers in glowing terms to "the abandonment of exchange controls and prices and incomes policies, the introduction of Right to Buy, a major overhaul of industrial relations law and the world’s first privatisation programme"-as though it is a wonderful idea. A lot of us do not think that is. That is a political position. Speaking about her as a personality who was kind and gave civil servants cottage pie in her home and so on is fine, but this is about politics.
Sir Bob Kerslake: If you read the whole of that paragraph, what it says is that alongside all of the things that she did, she also took on Civil Service reform-if you read the paragraph.
Kelvin Hopkins: Indeed.
Paul Flynn: Which you praise uncritically.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is not commenting on the policies per se, but saying that Civil Service reform formed part of her agenda. As I say again, the article was not intended to be a commentary on her policy, critical or otherwise. It was to describe how civil servants of the day experienced working with her as Prime Minister. It seems to me that is a perfectly legitimate thing for us to write about.
Kelvin Hopkins: I have said what I have said.
Q815Chair: I would like to move on, but may I just ask for the record: did anyone instruct you to write this article?
Sir Bob Kerslake: No.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Not at all.
Q816Chair: And obviously it was cleared?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: It was not cleared, actually. Bob and I decided to do it, we wrote and we discussed it with some of our predecessors, and got some thoughts from them and some anecdotes from people who had worked with Margaret Thatcher directly. At no stage did we get any input from the political side of Number 10.
Q817Chair: Presumably Craig Oliver had to see it before it went out.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I think we showed it to him as a courtesy.
Q818Chair: So this is entirely off your own initiative?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Correct, yes.
Q819Chair: It is one thing for former cabinet secretaries, former permanent secretaries or retired civil servants to express their personal opinions about an individual Prime Minister, but can we expect an article from every Cabinet Secretary and every Head of the Civil Service on every former Prime Minister? What would you write about Gordon Brown?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: We will have to wait until that moment comes.
Q820Chair: In retrospect, do you think that it was wise to enter this controversy?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Personally I do not think it is a very controversial article. Obviously I have noted the points that people are making here, but if you look at it very carefully it was in no sense supporting her politics. What Mr Hopkins has read out was a series of factual comments about policies she pursued. Everyone can see that the main thrust of the article was really about-
Q821Chair: What was the article designed to achieve from a public policy point of view?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: There has been a huge amount of public interest in Margaret Thatcher’s premiership over the last week or so, and this was just another contribution to that from the point of view of the civil servants who worked closely with her.
Q822Chair: Did either of you ever actually work for Mrs Thatcher?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Not very closely. I was obviously present at certain meetings she had, but no.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Certainly not in my case, because I was not in central Government. For me the purpose of the article was to record the experiences of civil servants who did work with her and how they found it to work with her as a Prime Minister.
Q823Paul Flynn: It was all hearsay. There was no direct evidence. You were not talking about your own experiences at all in this. It is what you have been told. I cannot understand what on earth provoked you to write this article and to enter into this fierce political debate that is going on and will continue for the future. It is entirely onesided.
Chair: After this answer we will drop this subject.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Truthfully, Chair, I am not sure we can add anything. We are clear that we were not entering a political debate. We were bringing together the experiences of civil servants on a Prime Minister who was a historically significant Prime Minister.
Paul Flynn: I was going to leave the meeting, not entirely for this reason, but I think there is no point in continuing unless we can press this issue to a conclusion. I believe what has happened is in breach of all the traditions of the Civil Service, and I believe you have prostituted your high office and deserted your political neutrality. I believe you have both behaved disgracefully.
Q824Chair: I think we will move on. If you do not want to ask your question, I will ask your question for you. What do we think are the root causes of concern about the Civil Service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Let me pick out three things I think are influencing the need for reform of the Civil Service. That is the way I would phrase this. The first is to say there are some very big challenges for the country economically, fiscally and in terms of issues that we face in society, for example in demographics. The Government of the day faces significant challenges, and that flows through to the Civil Service. That is the first point I would make. The second is that we are ourselves going through big change. As I have said previously to the Committee, substantial reductions are being made to the size of the Civil Service; over a period a number of Departments, including the one I also manage, are reducing by more than onethird. We are facing some big external challenges, we are delivering some big reform programmes and, at the same time, we are reducing in size.
That brings a third challenge. Those two facts test areas where the Civil Service has historically not been sufficiently strong. They bring to the fore some of our areas where we are weak. For example, programme and project management, and commercial skills. I would say those are the three things that are playing together: the external challenges, the huge scale of change that is going on at the moment in the Civil Service and in the Government’s programmes, and some underlying issues that we have had for a while but now need to be tackled.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I obviously agree with that. The fundamental point is that on some measures the economy is about 15% smaller than we thought it was going to be six years ago. By some measures it is 10%. Whether it is 10% or 15% smaller, that imposes a huge obligation on all parts of the public sector to look at how they can manage with less resource, how they can become more efficient and how they can respond to rising aspirations and demands from citizens with lower spending. The Civil Service is very much part of the public sector, so we have an obligation to constantly scrutinise how we can do things better. The degree of impatience amongst Ministers, Parliament and the public generally for improved performance is totally understandable. Combined with this requirement to spend less resource, this is a perfect storm of real challenge.
Q825Chair: These sound as though they are external challenges when in fact Ministers feel that the Civil Service is beset by internal challenges of dysfunction, failure of effective leadership and even of obstructionism. What are the issues that are giving rise to this degree of frustration amongst Ministers?
Sir Bob Kerslake: As I said earlier, Chair, it is not just about the external challenges. The external challenges highlight where we have weaknesses already. That was the point I was making. We are too federal; we have too much going on in individual Departments; we have systemic weaknesses in particular skills, such as commercial programme project management. There is a perception we need to be pacier in how we do things and less bureaucratic about the delivery of Government policy. We certainly need to have stronger processes for managing performance. All of these things are highlighted in the reform plan and all of them have been present in the Civil Service for a period of time. The challenge we now face makes it even more important that they get tackled. That is really the point I am making.
Q826Chair: How urgent do you think these challenges actually are?
Sir Bob Kerslake: They are urgent and that is why we are moving at pace in terms of the implementation of the reform plan.
Q827Chair: You say "moving at pace"; we are three years into this Government and one does not feel there is much pace.
Sir Bob Kerslake: The plan itself was published last June, and we have now formed a team working on this. I can give you good progress on individual actions, but we are moving ahead as fast as we can to deliver those actions. I would just say, though: whilst we are rightly honest and open about where improvement is needed, there is an awful lot that the Civil Service does well and there is an awful lot that it has achieved in the last two years in terms of change. We should not lose sight of that.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I just want to underline that last point. You started off by saying this is not just about the Civil Service Reform Plan; it is about the Civil Service more generally. If you look at what the Civil Service has achieved over the last three years, it is pretty enormous. We have a huge reform agenda that the Coalition Government has ushered in in pretty much all areas of Government policy, and we have managed to help the Government implement large chunks of that reform agenda whilst making 15% reductions in headcount across the whole Civil Service. That is the biggest reduction in headcount over a three-year period any of us can remember. It is probably the biggest peacetime transformation of Whitehall we have seen.
To focus simply on the Civil Service Reform Plan is to miss what is going on in each individual Department, whether Departments like the Department for Education, the MOD or Bob’s own Department. There are huge change programmes taking place right across Whitehall in individual Departments as well as some of these horizontal issues that we are managing from the centre.
Q828Greg Mulholland: This is particularly to you, Sir Bob. The Minister for the Cabinet Office has said categorically that civil servants block ministerial decisions. As Head of the Civil Service, what are you doing to stop that?
Sir Bob Kerslake: What the Minister has said is he had examples where he has experienced blocking. My experience, and I think his as well, is that the vast bulk of civil servants are very committed to delivering Government policy in the best possible way. My personal view is, if we have examples of blocking, Jeremy and I would take them extremely seriously. We would want to tackle them and address them. My view, and the feedback I have from many Ministers, is that civil servants are very committed to ensuring that Government policies are effectively delivered.
Q829Greg Mulholland: Are you saying no Minister has raised an example of a decision that they believe has been blocked with you?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I was saying that there have been examples raised, and the Minister for the Cabinet Office has been open in saying there have been some examples. There have not been very many, but where they have come up, we have sought to tackle them in a very robust way.
Q830Greg Mulholland: I presume you would not wish to share any of those examples with us, though of course you are very welcome to if you would like to. Do you believe, having looked at them, that decisions have been blocked? If so, what did you do to remedy that situation?
Sir Bob Kerslake: What we found were examples where I could understand why the Minister felt they had been blocked. The individuals who had been involved were spoken to very clearly about their responsibilities to deliver Government policy. In some of those instances, people have changed in terms of their roles. A number of things have happened there.
Q831Greg Mulholland: Have you had to have any talkings to with civil servants? Has there been any disciplinary action as a result?
Sir Bob Kerslake: As I was saying, it is probably not helpful to go into detail, but all I can say is, where we have had specific examples raised with us, we have acted in a robust way.
Q832Greg Mulholland: Can you give us an example of the number of examples that have been raised with you?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I am not keen to. As I say, they are small numbers. We are talking pretty small numbers.
Q833Greg Mulholland: I can understand why you would not want to give us names or particular examples, but I think it would be wrong not to share the numbers so that we get a sense of whether this problem is a serious one or not.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Less than double figures-perhaps of the order of up to five occasions.
Q834Greg Mulholland: Over the last…?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Over my and Jeremy’s time in our new roles. It is perhaps less than that, but of that order.
Q835Chair: Can I just chip in? Were they allegations of blocking or were you pretty convinced that something was being blocked?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I would say that they were allegations of blocking. As I said earlier, you could see why the Minister felt that the action had not been taken forward in the way they wanted. Sometimes it was a question of whether there had been a clear understanding, or it may not have moved forward with the enthusiasm it should have done. It was a mix of situations.
Q836Greg Mulholland: Is there now a clear procedure in place for Ministers if they believe their decisions are being blocked by civil servants?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I have not gone back and asked Gus O’Donnell, but I should say that I am quite sure there were issues of concern raised with him in the past in the same way. I do not think this is particularly a new thing.
Chair: We know this is not new. Mr Blair used to complain about pulling the levers and nothing happening.
Sir Bob Kerslake: In terms of process, it is a fairly simple process. It gets raised with us and we deal with it.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: It is quite important to be very emphatic about this. We do not accept that civil servants should in any shape or form block what Ministers want to deliver. Clearly there is a challenge process. If Ministers have a policy they want to pursue and the Civil Service thinks that it is impractical, too expensive or flawed in design terms, there is a legitimate debate there, challenges given and so on. However, as the Minister for the Cabinet Office has repeatedly said-and we totally agree-once that debate has been had, if Ministers have decided to do something, it is our job to implement it. We do not in any shape or form condone that sort of blocking.
Q837Greg Mulholland: What is your assessment of the current level of trust between Ministers and civil servants?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Actually I think it is high overall. One of the things we do as part of our jobs is to talk to Ministers about the performance through the year of their Permanent Secretary. That is one of the jobs we have. That means getting an assessment of how well it is going, how the relationships are going and how well they have delivered on the Ministers’ objectives. Actually, taken as a whole, responses are pretty consistently positive about the delivery of their civil servants. There is a lot of coverage of this, and I think much of it is overstated. Taken as a whole, there is a high level of trust between Ministers and their civil servants.
Q838Greg Mulholland: Sir Bob, you told us last year that the Civil Service Reform Plan reflected the views of Ministers. Do you think ministerial frustrations will be a thing of the past when that is fully implemented?
Sir Bob Kerslake: My view has always been that the reform plan was the right set of actions that we needed to take forward at that point. It did not only reflect the views of Ministers but the views we are hearing from civil servants. We have also said that it is not the last word on reform. We will be having a one-year-on report coming in June or perhaps early July. As part of that, we will assess whether there is further change needed. If we identify areas where there is still a need for improvement, then we should do that.
Q839Chair: You are being very reassuring that civil servants do not block and should not block what Ministers want. Why do you think Ministers have this feeling that they cannot get things done? What is the problem? Is it their problem? Is the problem between Ministers and officials, or is it something going wrong with the administrative system? It has to be one of those three things.
Sir Bob Kerslake: My experience is both civil servants and Ministers get frustrated at the pace at which we can do things.
Q840Chair: Why is the pace so slow? In the private sector, the pace of events in the public sector would never be tolerated. Business would go out of business. Why aren’t things more dynamic? I have to say, you are not giving an impression that you are gripping the Civil Service and turning it into the dynamic organisation that we need in these times.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Quite a lot happens at an enormous pace. If I can just give you one example from my own Department, the Chancellor announced an entirely new approach to supporting people to purchase their homes, with the Help to Buy scheme. That was in operation from 1 April, so it happened not within months but within weeks. There are many examples of where things have moved at pace. Taken as a whole, what we are seeking to do through the reform programme is very big; it is very complex and in some cases very difficult. The frustrations people have may be about the pace with which legislative change can be achieved and the pace with which we can change the approach of our key providers. There is a whole range of reasons why people feel frustrated.
Q841Chair: On the Help to Buy scheme for example, how many people are expected to avail themselves of the scheme in the first three months?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not have an exact figure on that, and we will not know because it is an entirely new scheme.
Q842Chair: Is it 100, 1,000 or 10,000?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It will be into thousands of people.
Q843Chair: It will be into thousands.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Absolutely.
Q844Chair: Very often we hear of these new schemes being announced and it turns out months later that tiny fractional events have occurred as a result of these new policies. The disease that Whitehall seems to have is that endless new policies and initiatives are announced, but the implementation down the line is what does not happen. Very often people feel they have implemented a policy that has very little effect.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not want to give the impression that we are saying everything is right about the process of implementation. We are not. We have done quite a lot to strengthen implementation. The Major Projects Leadership Academy and the Major Projects Authority are two examples of that. Jeremy and I do a very significant amount of work tracking progress on key programmes for Government-the progress and pace of implementation. We now have the Implementation Unit, which is routinely tracking and chasing progress.
Q845Chair: Three years into this Government how are we dealing with the backlog of asylum claims and visa applications in the Borders Agency?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I cannot give you a full programme on that now, but you will know full well we are happy to provide that.
Q846Chair: We know it is still very challenging. There was a BBC programme the other night that suggested that the targets set for dealing with the backlogs are just not being met. Yet somebody set these targets; somebody has decided that this is achievable; and then somebody has failed to achieve it. What happens then? Where is the accountability?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: On that particular occasion there was a huge amount of interest from the relevant Select Committees, and officials obviously appear before their Select Committees, as do Ministers.
Chair: Yes, but it does not seem to make anything happen.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: These things are difficult. They genuinely are very difficult.
Q847Chair: Now we hear that at the HMRC nobody answers the telephone because they are completely overwhelmed with telephone enquiries.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I think you are picking on certain examples.
Chair: I am. They are very big and significant examples.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: They are important examples, but equally you have to recognise that a vast amount has happened in the first three years of this Government at a time when there has been a huge reduction in headcount. If you look at the speed with which academies have grown in the Department for Education, for example, the huge restructuring that is taking place in the National Health Service or the dramatic reduction in citizens employed in the Ministry of Defence-wherever you look in Whitehall-there has been huge change in the last three years.
Sir Bob Kerslake: If you take the HMRC as an example, of course they have to do more on customer service. They know that and we know that. However, you should also balance that against the fact that they exceeded the targets they were set on collection this year. The danger is we pick out one area. Of course it needs to improve, but we do not look at these things in the round.
Q848Mr Reed: I just want to add to that, because in the same programme we saw an entirely empty office at the UKBA; the night before the original deadline for clearing the backlog, almost nobody was in there working. In other organisations when there is a critical deadline to be met, staff will be coming in willingly, as well as being required, to work late and at weekends to meet the objective. The lack of pace in the Civil Service means that that sense of urgency is not there.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I just would not agree with that. I cannot comment on the individual programme, Mr Reed.
Mr Reed: I am not talking about the programme but about the fact there was no one working the weekend before the deadline was about to be broken.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I could give you many examples of where whole teams have come in overnight over the weekends to deliver key targets and ambitions for Government. That happens routinely across all Government Departments, and it would be just a mistake to make a comment that suggests that does not happen. I could give you many examples of where that has happened.
Q849Mr Reed: Are there lessons to be learnt in that particular situation from the problems that existed with failing housing benefit services 10 to 15 years ago, where there were similarly huge backlogs, crates of files that had not been opened and people waiting months and months and months for a response when the deadline should have been a few weeks? You would have had experience of that perhaps in your former role as Chief Executive of a local authority.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is quite right to say there were big issues about benefits. You would have been very aware of that yourself from your previous experience. I know, as somebody who went around councils sorting this out and challenging them, just how long it took to sort some of those backlogs. Once you get into a backlog situation, it requires immense effort to get out of it. To their credit, many have done it now through different routes. It is the same set of challenges, but even more complex, in terms of UKBA. They have made some progress. It would be wrong to say they have made none, but there is still a big way to go.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Can I just comment on your sense, Mr Chairman, that there is a bit of complacency here? There is no complacency at all about this. I have said several times, even in this hearing, that I think a lot more is going on that you are giving credit for. In the areas where there are concerns, and there have been concerns, Bob and I have made it an absolute priority-not surprisingly, given the priority that the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister give it themselves-to up the pace of implementation.
Over the last 18 months we have got in place a very effective team in the Cabinet Office called the Implementation Unit, which is a 30-person team helping the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister to understand what the delivery blockages are getting in the way in precisely the sorts of areas you are talking about-where progress has not been as good as Ministers want. In addition, Bob and I have monthly meetings now with pretty much every Permanent Secretary to go through their performance on major projects, on implementation priorities and on emerging policy issues. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have a whole series of ad hoc meetings now to call in individual secretaries of state or junior Ministers to try to understand where there are blockages.
On a Department-by-Department basis we are upping the scrutiny; we have our own SWAT team that can go in there and actually talk to people at ground level to understand what the blockages are. We are also trying to learn some of the horizontal messages that are coming out of these reviews. One of the issues you have talked about is the low uptake of certain schemes. I think that is an absolutely valid insight; it is something we are very concerned about as well. It partly relates to the issue, as we have discussed in this Committee before, that we do not spend enough time thinking about the implementability of policy and how that policy is going to be marketed before it is announced. We have to improve the way that policy is designed.
We are not sitting here saying everything is fine; it is not. What we are saying is that there is an awful lot going on you are not giving credit for. Most people in Whitehall would regard it as one of the busiest, most ambitious periods of reform in modern times, accompanied by a very dramatic reduction in headcount. There are huge lessons to learn and we are trying to learn them.
Q850Chair: The question has to be asked: why are you, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister having to do all this? What has gone wrong with the leadership in Government Departments that used to see this done without the intervention of the centre? What has gone wrong? Why is the centre having to intervene so much more often?
Sir Bob Kerslake: To be blunt about it, I think you are pointing to a golden age. There has always been a need for the centre to drive delivery and implementation. The previous Government had the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit, and you can go back to previous Governments to see that as well. It is always going to be a combination of leadership in Departments and the centre testing progress, and then holding people to account as to whether they have delivered or not.
Q851Chair: The centre of Government, the Cabinet Office and Number 10, has been downsized along with the rest of Whitehall, but I would hazard a guess that proportionately it is bigger than ever before. When the Government was first elected, there were 1,000 more people in the Cabinet Office and Downing Street than when Margaret Thatcher left office. The centre is bigger than ever before.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do not think it is bigger than it was 10 years ago relative to the rest of Whitehall. It is quite complicated and has taken in lots of new functions: the digital service and so on.
Q852Chair: The centre is interfering more and more. You have said you have set up an Implementation Unit. This is very Blairite, by the way. It sounds very reminiscent of what the previous Labour Government struggled with. Why is this not happening in Departments? Why are Departments not able to implement these things on their own effectively?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I have been trying to say to you that actually quite a lot happens in Departments. Actually all we are doing is tracking that they have delivered what they said they would do. There are also specific areas, and you have referred to some today, that are particular challenging, particularly difficult and where progress has not been as good as it should be. It is the role of the centre to find those and then work on them.
Q853Alun Cairns: There are quite obviously confused messages coming through. Certainly that is what I am picking up. On the one hand, from Sir Jeremy we are told there is no complacency, and then from Sir Bob we are hearing that we are picking up on some areas but we do not consider the successes in other areas. Then we also hear a phrase, "That’s going back to the golden age." If that is not a demonstration of complacency, I do not know what is. To say quite a lot happens in the Departments and you are just tracking it, again to me is complacency.
Sir Bob Kerslake: What I am saying is this: we are in exactly the same place. We are trying to get a balance between recognising what has been done and done well in Departments and not getting to a position where we are saying nothing happens on time. That would be inaccurate, and we can find many examples. At the same time, it is recognising that there is a need to improve performance. We are saying both. It is absolutely the case a lot is done well, but we are in no way complacent and say we have done the job, everything is as it should be and there is no need for reform. Otherwise we would not have produced the reform plan in the first place.
Q854Alun Cairns: When you said to the Chairman he is picking up on one area-he mentioned HMRC-but not considering what is going on in other areas, it is complacent, to me, just to come out with such a phrase. A private-sector organisation will only be deemed to be successful if it is successful in every area, rather than saying, "Well, we’re okay on retail but we’re not so good on storage."
Sir Bob Kerslake: We want to be successful in every area. It is the same as the private sector. I am very clear, as is HMRC, for example, that it needs to improve customer service. In telling the story about performance in Departments, I am trying to say that we should look at their performance in the round and recognise areas where they have done well as well as areas they need to improve. That is not complacent about the areas for improvement. It is trying to tell a rounded story.
Q855Chair: Can I just use a rather topical example of something that seems to be a microcosm of the challenges that you face? Lady Thatcher died on Monday 8 April and the funeral was yesterday, nine days later. This was an exercise for which Whitehall had been planning for about 10 years. I was contacted on the Tuesday by the Cabinet Office with regard to my invitation to the funeral and asked a whole lot of questions about where I lived and where the invitation should be sent. That is fair enough. Then I was phoned again on the Thursday to be asked the same questions again. I asked, "Why am I being phoned again?" and I was very honestly told-and I commend the official for being so honest-"There has been some confusion about who is phoning whom."
On Monday at 2 p.m. colleagues who had applied for tickets in the ballot were meant to be able to pick up their invitations from the Whip’s Office. None were available. That was considerably delayed. I then heard that the post was not being used to send out invitations because they were going out too late and they were being couriered to people’s home addresses. There seems to have been some logistical difficulties, and I heard that one colleague was told by an official, "You see, it is about how up to date the information was, which made it rather complicated." It sounds as though a great deal of midnight oil has been burned and there has been a certain amount of confusion over something that was entirely predictable and should have been more smoothly managed. Isn’t this a microcosm of some of the problems that you have in the Civil Service that we have today?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Obviously we will be learning whatever lessons need to be learnt from the last 10 days. I agree with you that some things have not gone so smoothly. The big picture, however, is that actually the funeral passed off incredibly well.
Chair: I agree with that.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: What was a difficult logistical exercise was handled through a lot of hard work and, as you say, burning of midnight oil and a lot of actually very useful prior planning. Probably, though, not everything was planned as well as it should have been as it turns out in the nitty-gritty systems work that underpinned the words on the page. I do not want to prejudge what will undoubtedly be an important lessons-learnt exercise.
Q856Chair: Have you actually asked for a lessons-learnt exercise?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Francis Maude is very keen to have one and we strongly agree that that is necessary, because I agree not everything went as smoothly as it should have done, given this was a plannable and planned event.
Q857Chair: Goodness me, what happens when something unplanned occurs? Going back, we have seen it with things like BSE, and foot and mouth. The system is not good at responding to unforeseen events.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: No, but I do want to put on record that I think a number of civil servants, special advisers and Ministers worked incredible hours brilliantly to put on the event.
Chair: I think we should place on the record our thanks to them, certainly.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: It was an absolutely superb performance overall, but I agree there are definitely some lessons to be learnt.
Q858Chair: Do you think it is a problem not of the competence of individuals but about who feels they are responsible for delivering an outcome and whether that person is able and has the power, command and control, and the authority to deliver the outcome? I bet there are problems of senses of divided responsibility or people not knowing whom to turn to when things are going wrong. Is that a fair analysis?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think we say in the plan that there needs to be sharper individual accountability and people being clear what they are being asked to do.
Q859Chair: Who was in charge? Was there a single official in charge of this exercise?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes, there were clear officials in charge.
Q860Chair: What is the leadership problem? There has clearly been a leadership problem.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: We need to understand exactly what went wrong on this.
Q861Chair: I think we would be very interested in this, just as an exercise, because the same thing seems to be happening in the Borders Agency, HMRC and elsewhere in very much bigger and more important matters. We could usefully learn something about what has gone wrong with leadership in our public administrative system.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: We can certainly seek to provide some further information on that when we have done the work. Clearly on this particular exercise, a plan was hatched 10 years ago or quite a few years ago, and I am sure not the same person has been responsible all the way through. One of the themes that came out in many previous discussions about the Civil Service was how you persuade people to stay with a project from start to finish or how you prevent turnover.
Chair: These are not unfamiliar questions and we are still living with them.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: That is exactly as I have just said. One of the issues is how you maintain that sense of accountability when the baton is passed or whether you insist that people stay for their entire career with one project. Getting the right balance between these things is one of those tricky issues that we have to deal with.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is also having very strong systems of managing performance, which we have talked about before, and ensuring that where people are underperforming, we tackle it.
Q862Chair: Is there any evidence that the Civil Service Reform Plan is having any effect on these problems?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is starting to have an effect. It is early days. As I said earlier, we agreed the plan last year, but we have put in place the new performance management system, we have put in place a new framework to measure people’s capability, and we are announcing today a new plan to identify where we need to improve skills. This will not happen overnight, but I think we are starting to have some impact.
Q863Kelvin Hopkins: My first question has really been answered. It was about how well the Civil Service Reform Plan is being implemented 10 months on. You have touched on that already, but I have been interested in this subject since I was a politics student 45 years ago. Many civil servants will have seen countless attempts to change the way Whitehall works. Why do you think the Civil Service Reform Plan will be more successful, or do you think it will be more successful?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I can come in on that and then Jeremy will want to add something. The first thing to say is that this is a plan for action. We have not produced a plan that is a grand analysis of the Civil Service that then sits on the shelf, which is the experience I think of some reform plans. The second thing is I think the plan is absolutely based on the areas that Ministers, but also civil servants, have identified as being the areas to improve. It is not just a plan foisted on the Civil Service; it is something that we own as needing to be delivered. The third thing, as Jeremy has said, is we have put in a lot of processes to absolutely ensure it is delivered across the whole of the Civil Service and within individual Departments. We are not leaving it to chance that it gets implemented; we are rigorously tracking how it progresses.
Those would be the three things I would pick out as to what we are doing that I think will make a difference this time. As I said earlier, though, we will take stock on this one year on and we will see where else we need to deliver improvements.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I would just add to that. This programme, compared with previous ones, has much more ministerial oversight and buyin. Obviously Francis Maude is leading the charge on this, but a number of Ministers are interested in Civil Service reform and are keeping a very close eye on the implementation. It is not at all as if once the plan was announced they lost interest. They have a very close interest. Second, as I said at the outset, a burning platform is perhaps too dramatic a term, but we have a clear and present need that has not gone away at all to reform the Civil Service. The public sector is under huge pressure and the Civil Service is an important part of that. We need to constantly look for better ways of doing the job we do at lower cost.
As Bob said, there is huge buyin to this from the senior Civil Service. He chairs a meeting of the Civil Service board every three weeks. That is a Civil Service board that did not previously exist before Sir Bob became Head of the Civil Service, by the way. That looks in rigorous detail at all aspects of this on a very regular basis. Therefore, you have the collective buyin of the permanent secretaries, strong ministerial leadership and a burning platform that requires us to keep focussed on this. All the ingredients are there, and that is why I feel more confident now than maybe a year ago that this is going to get continuing momentum as the Parliament continues.
Q864Kelvin Hopkins: I must say I have a somewhat different approach to some of my colleagues, because I have had long conversations with friends in PCS; I had a long conversation with a senior representative from the FDA, the trade union; I have spoken to recently retired senior civil servants; I have known people working in the Borders Agency and people working in HMRC. The view I get from them-and I sympathise with you-is that there have been savage staffing cuts and they are being forced to do things now to catch up without enough staff, without enough resource, and they are under pressure and, in fact, to an extent demoralised as well.
Sir Bob Kerslake: There has been a big reduction in staffing. As Jeremy said, we face a very huge challenge to cut public spending and balance budgets. But if you look at things like the engagement scores we measure-and a large number of civil servants do the engagement exercise and fill in the forms-they suggest that the numbers have held up reasonably well through pretty radical change. The numbers also tell you that there is a high level of interest and commitment from people in the work that they do. That extent of understanding and interest in the work they do is in contrast to quite a lot of organisations. Of course these are tough and challenging times for a lot of civil servants, but a lot of change is being delivered and we have managed to keep engagement scores pretty strong.
Q865Kelvin Hopkins: I personally put much more blame not on civil servants but on politicians. We have seen a decade or more of successive Governments who I think have taken a very relaxed attitude to tax collection, for example. They rather liked the fact that HMRC was not really chasing up the corporates and the billionaires to get their taxes, and now we have a situation where the massive tax gap has suddenly become an issue and we are pressing for them to catch up. We know, for example, that the chief of HMRC was having cosy chats with some of the major corporate tax evaders and tax avoiders. Now that has all come out in the open and other Select Committees have chased this up. I know people who work at the UK Borders Agency, and they say that there are immense pressures at Croydon, with mountains of files falling onto the floor because there are so many of them and not enough staff to cope. Now we are catching up with the situation because previous Governments, and this Government to an extent, have been very relaxed about immigration in fact and they wanted to let quite a lot of people in because you get cheap labour, undermine bargaining powers and so on. Isn’t that what it is about?
Chair: We have got the message.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: You clearly have to operate within the policy framework of the Government of the day, but I do not think that is an excuse at all for the administrative problem of files piling up and not being dealt with. Whatever the policy framework is, we have to do the best job we can as a Civil Service to actually carry out the administrative functions that are necessary to make that policy work.
Q866Kelvin Hopkins: My final question in this little section is one that perhaps I have used before, certainly with other witnesses who have been before us: in the historic past, the Civil Service had to cope with Governments that hovered between one-nation Conservatism and social democracy. They were essential statist though, and now as we have seen in your article in the Daily Telegraph, Mrs Thatcher has broken all that. The Civil Service finds it very uncomfortable to deal with a world where not just agencies are taking over but there is privatisation and the chaos in education, with any number of different kinds of regimes in schools. This is not the way it was and it is much more difficult to deal with. The Civil Service is effectively being asked to partially dissolve the state, which is their very raison d’être.
Sir Bob Kerslake: There has been a change in this way, and it has happened both in local government and in central Government. We have seen our role more as focusing on the quality of the services that people receive and the outcomes we achieve in terms of health or the economy, and less about how much money we fund into directly provided services. There has been a change, and you could argue that has happened across the political spectrum. That is what you might observe and why that is quite uncomfortable. The challenge to our senior Civil Service is to ask themselves whether they can deliver what they are required to deliver in different and better ways. Sometimes that will be reorganising how we do it through direct provision and sometimes it will be looking to others to provide on our behalf. I think that is a change that has happened, as I say, not just in central Government but across the whole of the public sector.
Kelvin Hopkins: I could ask more, but I will leave it there.
Q867Chair: On the Civil Service Reform Plan, there have been countless initiatives over the last couple of decades. Why is this one different? Why is this one going to be effective where others do not seem to have been effective?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think that is a slightly rephrased version of Mr Hopkins’ question. I guess our answer ought to be the same.
Q868Chair: Who is in charge of implementing this?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Me.
Q869Chair: Does your writ run sufficiently across all Departments? Only half the Departments report to you.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I cover a large number of Departments, as you say. Jeremy and I work very closely on this, and both of us, when we come to assess the performance of a Department with their Permanent Secretary, ask how they have played their part in delivering the reform plan. There is no escape for permanent secretaries. All of them are held to account for the part they play in delivering the plan.
Q870Chair: What role does Katherine Kerswell play in relation to you?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Katherine Kerswell’s role is to lead the reform team that supports the delivery of the plan, to work closely with Departments to ensure they know what they are being asked to do and, thirdly, to work very closely with the senior responsible officers who are leading particular parts of the plan. That is her particular role.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Can I just repeat the point I made a few minutes ago? This is not Bob’s plan or Bob and Francis’ plan. It is a plan that is owned by the entire Cabinet.
Chair: That is very important.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: It is totally supported by the collective group of the permanent secretaries who meet every three weeks in the Civil Service board to monitor progress. That is a very serious level of permanent-secretary engagement. This is not being visited upon permanent secretaries; it is partly their ownership.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is a point we have both made, by the way. The Civil Service owns the plan and it is trying to lead it.
Q871Mr Reed: The Civil Service Reform Plan attempts to make the Civil Service more efficient at dealing with the challenges it now faces. Have you considered the challenges that it will face and how they will be different in 20, 30 or 40 years?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We have done some of that, but in truth not enough. Jeremy has been leading a particular work on horizon scanning, understanding better the key drivers that are going to affect us in that sort of timescale. One of the things I guess you may want to know is where next in terms of beyond the plan. One important area is to understand better some of these long-term drivers and how they might influence the future shape of the Civil Service.
Q872Mr Reed: What are your thoughts on what those drivers are?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Some of them we can see now. We touched on earlier the issues around the economy and how well that is working. Clearly the environmental challenges for the country have not gone away. We are going to be in a world where the funding available on any calculation I can see is going to be less than we have seen before. At the same time we see some very big demographic challenges. People are living longer, but their health expectancy is not matching their life expectancy.
One last challenge I would add is that I think there is going to be a much higher premium on our ability to work across Government Departments to join up better on issues of common concern. Those are examples, but you could go on. There are issues around the security of the country. There are some of the issues we have seen about protecting the country against very damaging diseases coming in through plants and animals. There is a whole series of issues that we ought to understand better and be prepared to respond to.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Could I just add to that? One of the bits of work we have just started to do is to look at what sort of people we are going to need to recruit if we are going to remain able to recruit the best and brightest in Britain over the next 10 or 15 years, as attitudes change and the aspirations of young people change. It is another different dimension to it: who are the civil servants of the future going to be? That takes you into some other areas as well. These are digital natives-completely digital individuals. They do not envisage spending 40 years with one employer. They are very openminded, collaborative people. We need to think about how the Civil Service is going to attract the best and brightest of that group of people in five or 10 years’ time.
It reinforces some of the trends that Bob has already talked about. We are going to have to be a completely digital organisation and we are going to have to be much more open. We have already embarked on quite a few initiatives to open up our policymaking, but we are going to have to do more of that. We are going to have to appeal to people who only want to spend five or 10 years of their career in the Civil Service and then move out. In a whole, profound set of ways, we are going to have to rethink what the Civil Service is. It is not just what the challenges are that the Civil Service is going to have to deal with, but how it is going to have to look as an organisation if we are going to attract the best and brightest of the next generation as well as this one.
Q873Mr Reed: So there are enormous changes in both what Government will do and what citizens will expect from it. Some of it will be enabled by technology. The current plan is not addressing that. How often will we need new Civil Service reform plans?
Sir Bob Kerslake: You are right to say that the current plan was very much focussed on the next three years and perhaps the next five years, and taking some action now. That was a conscious decision because of the points made earlier about the confidence of delivery-the need to be seen to take through changes that were important and necessary. We are going to review the plan on an annual basis. We have committed to that. There will be a one-year-on report, and in that one-year-on report we will look to some of these longer term changes that need to be made-some of these bigger scale issues we have just talked about.
Q874Mr Reed: A lot of organisations of the scale of the Civil Service will be looking at the horizon for five, 10 or 50 years’ time and then working back to make sure that the current plan fits in to their best estimates of what the future will look like. Is that not a shortfall in the reform plan?
Sir Bob Kerslake: As I said at the beginning when you were on your first question, I think we need to get stronger on that, and we are putting quite a lot of time into strengthening our horizon scanning, both in terms of those external drivers of change and change within the Civil Service. Our view at the time we produced the plan was that there was, as the Chair said, an urgent need to address issues here and now. We are doing that longer term thinking alongside it.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: You should not underestimate what is in the plan. As Bob said, the plan is not the final word. The plan will continue to be refreshed and so on. You will see in the plan a very strong argument, for example, that all senior civil servants in future need to have better digital skills. You will see in the plan a real focus on opening up the policymaking process and making the Civil Service policy function more contestable in some way. You will see an emphasis on horizon scanning. For a lot of the things that Bob and I have just talked about, we are beginning to put the platforms in place in the plan. One of the reasons why you should not expect to see the complete success of the plan over one year is that a lot of this stuff will take five or 10 years to have its full effect. You will see in the plan quite a lot of the building blocks that will be necessary to create the Civil Service of the future we have just talked about.
Q875Chair: 10 years?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: In some cases, yes-the full effect.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Let me take the example of what is happening in the Ministry of Defence with the Levene Review. Everybody will accept that that is not going to happen in the space of a couple of years. It is a longterm plan.
Q876Chair: My only concern is we do not have 10 years. The problems you are dealing with are more urgent than 10 years.
Sir Bob Kerslake: As I said, Chair, there are some here-and-now issues that need to be tackled, and they are being tackled through the plan. That is not going to be the whole story, though. There will be some changes that are going to take longer than that, and we are really just saying that you are going to have a mix of things we need to do here and now, and things that are going to be long-game changes.
Q877Mr Reed: Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the Civil Service Reform Plan is an efficiency programme and what we really need is a transformation programme?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I would not say it is entirely about just increasing efficiency. There are some quite transformational things in that plan. We touched earlier on the publication of the Capabilities Plan. If we are able to take that forward in the way we want, it will transform the capacity and skills in the Civil Service to take forward digital, for example.
Q878Mr Reed: Maybe your thinking was if you made it too big, it could not deliver even the smaller things, but it is not looking at what outcomes we as citizens want in 10 years and how we can change the Civil Service, however radical that may need to be, including adopting new models of technology or new accountability directly to citizens. What does that mean for the transformation of the Civil Service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: As Jeremy said, the plan was always to try to have a balance of the urgency that the Chair spoke about as well as the longer game thinking. What we sought to do in the plan was to identify the action that was needed now, but put some of the foundations of that longer term change within the plan. You will see more of that as we come to the one-year-on report.
Q879Chair: I would put it to you actually that the quality of leadership of our administrative system needs to be addressed now and very urgently. You mentioned things like how you are going to attract people and how you are going to deal with population changes. These are second-order issues. The first-order issue is what kind of leadership we need for our administrative system, both Civil Service and governmental, to deal with the challenges of the future. How are you addressing that question?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I have made some reference to some of those, Chair, but if you look at the plan we are publishing tomorrow, one of the key priorities is strengthening leadership and management.
Q880Chair: Forgive me, you have made these points, but the point I am making is that the quality of that leadership depends on what sort of country we are, what sort of country we aspire to be in the future, and what the character of government will be from now and into the future. How are we addressing that?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Personally I think you can do a lot around leadership that will vary according to different Governments’ ambitions. Whatever Government is in power, we are going to need strong public leaders within the Civil Service. There is a lot we can do-and this is perhaps the point where we just need to test it a bit further-to strengthen leadership within the context of the challenges we know about now: the need to drive value for money and so on.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I agree with the point Bob has made. Let me just take one area of leadership: project management or project leadership. We have 300-plus major projects and hundreds of billions of pounds tied up in the performance of those projects. Before trying to boil the ocean and do lots of strategy, let us at least make sure that the leaders of each of those projects are world-class leaders. As you implied earlier, Chairman, that is something that is a very urgent matter indeed. That is why we put in place the Major Projects Leadership Academy. That is why we are insisting that everybody who wants to run a big project in future goes through that academy and gets a proper qualification. That is why we are tracking the performance of those projects. That is an area where you can, rapidly, within the space of a year or so, get proper leadership of hundreds of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in an area where the Civil Service acknowledges it has been weak in the past. That does not depend upon your future view of the country. That depends upon having proper quality project management now.
Q881Chair: You are effectively agreeing your remit is to deal with the second-order issues and that this big question about what sort of Government we need to take us into the next few decades is outside your remit.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do not think the Public Accounts Committee would regard project management as a second-order issue. It is a massively important issue.
Chair: No, I am sure that is right.
Sir Bob Kerslake: My personal view is that whatever shape government takes in the future to meet the needs of the country, we are going to need people who are effective at leading change; we are going to need people who are effective at leading projects.
Q882Chair: I agree with all that. The point I am coming to is we are getting an increasing amount of public and private evidence suggesting that we need to have a much more comprehensive look at the strategic direction of our governmental system, much like the Fulton Committee or going back to the original, the NorthcoteTrevelyan Committee, or the eight Royal Commissions that sat between NorthcoteTrevelyan and Fulton. We have had nothing of that comprehensive nature since Fulton, have we?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think we have had something of that nature.
Q883Chair: Is it now overdue? Given that so much is changing in the world, the nature of government is changing so much, so many issues are internationalised, we live in a much more unpredictable international climate, the challenges and demands of our citizenry are so much more sophisticated, and there is this issue between the political class and the administrative class that keeps now surfacing in the media in a way that is completely unprecedented, isn’t this the time to have some kind of royal commission or parliamentary commission to look at these things in the round? You keep going away from that and you keep going back to the second-order, consequential issues, rather than the primary issue.
Sir Bob Kerslake: As you know, it would be a matter for Ministers to decide whether they have a Royal Commission, not for us as civil servants.
Chair: It would.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Our role is to make sure that we are delivering the things that we know need changing now.
Q884Chair: Can you understand why your evidence today seems to reinforce the view that this Committee may well be coming to?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Actually I do not. As Bob says, this is ultimately a matter for Ministers, but I think the most important thing is to isolate what the weaknesses of the Civil Service are-and there is quite a broad consensus as to what they are from the Civil Service itself, parliamentary committees and from Ministers-and have urgent plans to rectify those problems. That is what we are trying to do through the plan. At the same time, we must deal with some of these longterm capacity issues through improving the skill set of the Civil Service and some of the incentives that civil servants face and so on, so that we can, as far as we can predict, deal with some of the issues that will confront us in five and 10 years’ time. Anything that distracts us from that very urgent and important task at a time when the country is facing a major economic and fiscal challenge would be a distraction, but if that is what Ministers and Parliament decide they want to do, then obviously we will cooperate with that.
Q885Mr Reed: Isn’t it actually an opportunity? You are trying to reshape the Civil Service for what will be a very changed world, and we can see many of those dynamics and drivers now; you have already talked about them. Isn’t now exactly the right time to do that, when the financial crisis is forcing change on such a scale that you can reshape and adapt the Civil Service within that space to better tackle both the future problems we will face and the immediate problems of inefficiency that we have now?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is a judgment whether a Commission would be a better way of addressing those sets of issues you rightly identified than the approach we have taken so far. That is ultimately an issue for Ministers, as we have said before, but actually I think the real risk would be-and we just have to see the risks-that actually we lose a lot of time when vital change needs to happen now.
Q886Chair: You are more or less saying that it is not your remit to do this longterm strategic thinking.
Sir Bob Kerslake: No, I did not say that at all.
Q887Chair: I was thinking of what Sir Jeremy said. He more or less said that there is plenty to get on with and plenty of very material challenges to address, and we do not need to be distracted by these long-term problems. In fact, a lot of the problems you are dealing with are a consequence of failing to address the long-term strategic challenges that Government and the administrative system face in this country.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: What I thought I was saying was that we have a lot of very urgent and important challenges right now that are tractable or can be dealt with, but in doing that we must also put in place the building blocks for dealing with the challenges in five or 10 years’ time.
Q888Chair: And you must not be distracted from that.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: We must not be distracted by-
Q889Chair: Isn’t that an argument for doing this outside of Government in some form like the Fulton Committee, a royal commission or a parliamentary commission? That is the argument for the Government asking some outside body take this on.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: You asked for our honest views. My honest view is that we know very well the challenges facing the Civil Service right now.
Q890Chair: Do you?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I think we do. We have gone through them very carefully. I can go through them again, but I think there is a fair degree of consensus about what the issues are. We are, step by step, trying to deal with them through the plan.
Q891Chair: It is this administrative system you are overseeing, which has not been seriously challenged since the Fulton Committee of 1966, that has led us to this particular position. I know that you say there are lots of good things happening, but there are lots of bad things happening too. You are saying that these challenges are made much more intense by downsizing, cost pressures and the economy being smaller. Why is this not the right time to have a comprehensive rethink?
Sir Bob Kerslake: What we have said on a number of occasions is the judgment is what the right vehicle is for driving the changes that need to be made. Our judgment is that we are approaching it in the right way. Clearly there can be different views on this.
Chair: There can be different views on this.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Can I also say that I think the questions you are interested in, Chair, are not just about the Civil Service? They are about the system of governance, the distribution of Departments and so on.
Q892Chair: I think that politicians get the civil servants we deserve. The politicians and Parliament are responsible for the kind of Civil Service that we have, so if bits of it keep going wrong, I think the politicians are ultimately responsible. I think we do need to look at the nature of the relationship between Ministers and civil servants as well, particularly as it has become such an issue.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I personally think that the media debate about this is exaggerated. I do not think the issues are as serious as you imply. As Bob said earlier, I think the relationship between Ministers and civil servants generally is one of trust. Of course there are frustrations and of course there are things that Ministers would like to see done more quickly.
Q893Chair: I would say the evidence we are getting suggests that that is a very complacent view.
Sir Bob Kerslake: One thing I would make as a point, Chair, is that having read a lot of the evidence, much of it is based on opinion rather than actual fact. For example, it was suggested that the Civil Service is a kind of monastic order, yet if you look at the numbers at the director-general level, 42% of them have come in from outside the Civil Service. If we are going to have a conversation about it, some of this needs to be informed by some evidence.
Q894Chair: Let’s look at a success story, the Department for Education, which was certainly one of the most problematic Departments when the new Government was first elected. It seems to be an example of where a Secretary of State has implemented extremely effective departmental leadership and is now carrying out a zero-based review. What lessons do you think we learn from this zero-based review and from the nature of departmental leadership in the Department for Education?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is important to say the review was done with the Permanent Secretary closely involved in the process.
Chair: Yes, absolutely.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think the key point to make here is that it was a new Permanent Secretary coming in to his role. He inevitably, as any new Permanent Secretary coming in, would want to look at how his Department was organised and managed. What they undertook, with the support of external consultants, was a pretty fundamental review of how the Department worked, and they are implementing some big changes. That is, I think, a very successful programme, as you rightly say, but it is not the only Department where that kind of process has happened. If you look across Whitehall, you will see that many Departments have gone through similar exercises to achieve the scale of change and reduction that they need to.
Q895Chair: Given the success of what has happened in DfE, however, why is that approach not being mandated across all Government Departments?
Sir Bob Kerslake: What I am saying to you is many Departments have already done something that is very similar in terms of the nature of the fundamental review.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes. In Defence, they have done-
Q896Chair: Can you give examples?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I have just given you one.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Defence, and the Levene review; in the case of my own Department, we have taken out over a third of the staff through a pretty fundamental review of our role.
Q897Chair: Would the Ministry of Defence recognise the term "zero-based review"? Would they recognise that term?
Sir Bob Kerslake: They may not have used that phrase, but what they have done is a fundamental zero-based review.
Q898Chair: Here we have one of the most effective change programmes in Whitehall, and if you are going to implement a change programme, part of the leadership is developing the language and spreading the idiom of thinking that has led to its success. How can you possibly say that the same thing is happening in other Departments if they are not even using the same language?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Because I do not agree with your point, basically. It is perfectly possible for people to have done fundamental, root-and-branch reviews of how they are organised and how they do their functions, and not have called it a zero-based review.
Q899Chair: Isn’t this kind of zero-based review much more fundamental about focusing the effort of the administrative system on what matters than perhaps the Civil Service Reform Plan?
Sir Bob Kerslake: No, I do not agree with that either. I think it is a useful technique. I have done it myself, and so have many others. It worked well in Education, but it is perfectly possible to do a fundamental review in different ways.
Q900Chair: I come back to this point: there is no evidence that this success is being spread across Whitehall. Is there a lessons-learned pack that has been developed and offered to other Departments? Wouldn’t that be a useful thing to do?
Sir Bob Kerslake: There has been a lot of work done to say, "How did the review happen in Education? What can we learn for other Departments?" They have been very good in explaining what they did and how they did it to other Departments. There has been a lot of transferring of learning on the review, and other Departments have picked up from that, so that is already happening as part of the change programme. All I am really saying to you is we should not assume there is only one way of skinning a cat here; there are different ways of doing fundamental reviews.
Q901Chair: That suggests that the problem is that maybe Departments are too autonomous, and administratively, at least, whatever policy initiative has been shorn from the leadership of those Departments, they can enforce their own will and do things in their own way.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I said earlier that I think the DfE review was a good exercise and it was absolutely right for that Department.
Chair: I feel I am being stonewalled a bit here.
Sir Bob Kerslake: No, I do not think you are.
Q902Chair: Surely, this is something that has really worked and you should be taking with enthusiasm across other Departments visibly. It is called leadership.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I have said that we are using the example of Education across other Departments, but what I am also saying is it is not the only Department that has successfully delivered a fundamental review of their Department, but they have done it in different ways.
Q903Chair: If you could send me a note about other zero-based-style reviews across other Government Departments, I would be quite interested in that. That would be helpful.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I will do that.
Q904Mr Reed: If I may chip in on that as well, we seem very wedded to the existing silos and structures of government at a national level but also, to some extent, at a local level. If you want to tackle, as I am sure Mr Gove does, issues like underachievement, you probably need to be harnessing aspects of the work of a number of different Departments, like Education, youth offending, health, housing, nutrition and poverty, which would bring in a range of Departments. Do we not need to start zero-basing based on outcomes rather than just the silos and structures we currently have? Does that, therefore, not call for something much more holistic and comprehensive across the whole Civil Service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think it is a fair challenge to whether we have got as far as we need to go on being more holistic in how we deal with issues. I think it is a very fair challenge and, indeed, this issue is, in part, picked up in Lord Browne’s review of how we manage major projects. It is also fair to say-and Jeremy will say a bit more about this-that in the area around open policymaking, we are specifically doing some work on how we can get more effective and joined-up policy across Government Departments and how we can look at pooled resources to deliver in key policy areas. I absolutely would agree with you, then, that this is work in progress and more change is going to be needed.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I think it is fair to say we have only taken very tentative steps down the road that you are suggesting, but I think you are absolutely right to raise the issue. I think we are trying, in the Cabinet Office, in a small way to pilot an outcomes-based budgeting mechanism-very small but a pilot. I think, frankly, for over a century now, there have been very strong departmental-based public-spending controls, which Parliament insists on, and it has served the country very well in many respects, but one thing it does militate against slightly is cross-departmental working and the pooling of budgets.
I think one of the issues we do need to explore over the period ahead is how we can strike a better balance between departmental control, which is entirely important, and making it easier for Departments to come together, pool budgets and bid for resources on the basis that they are going to achieve certain outcomes, rather than getting certain inputs, as it were. As Bob says, I think one of the issues we need to think about alongside that is whether we can do better sharing of policy resources, so that not every Department needs to have its own set of officials dealing with a particular policy. You can have one shared policy pool, from which Ministers will be able to take their advice. We are not there yet but we are looking for one or two examples where we could trial that.
Q905Mr Reed: It strikes me as a missed opportunity not to have the focus on outcomes, because I do not really see what Government is for if it is not for that.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I tend to agree with you. I think that is the right direction of travel, but it is quite difficult, because the whole system at the moment is based on the Treasury controlling departmental budgets, and Departments accounting directly to Parliament for the way they spend their money. An outcomes-based approach that spreads across departmental boundaries cuts across both of those mechanisms. That is not to say it is wrong, but it just means it requires quite a lot of thought and re-jigging of institutions.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think you will know, as well, of some of the examples where I think we are making progress. The Troubled Families initiative is expressly linked to outcomes-a very tough and challenging agenda, but it is a cross-government agenda. Similarly, the work that has been done with local government on community budgets is focussed on changing outcomes.
Q906Mr Reed: I think those are both good but they are relatively small.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think they have the potential to be a lot bigger, and particularly community budgets, as a way of doing business, definitely.
Q907Kelvin Hopkins: Jack Straw recently came to give evidence and he told us that the churn of officials affects the performance of Departments. What steps have you taken to reduce the churn at the top levels of the Civil Service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Taken as a whole, the Civil Service turnover is lower than both the private sector and, indeed, the wider averages for the country as a whole, so this is not an issue that applies across the whole of the Civil Service. Similarly, we have had quite a lot of change recently in terms of turnover, but when we look at the analysis, much of it has come from people who have left as part of the downsizing that you referred to earlier, so that in itself has driven turnover. We are doing two or three things about it. One is, for major projects, the Major Projects Authority now tracks the level of turnover of senior responsible officers. This is a critical thing that we just did not know before, and we now do. There is some evidence that it is coming down, but we have more to do.
The second thing we have done is to introduce this year, as part of the pay settlement, what we have called a pivotal-role allowance, which will apply to a small number of people where we see their continued occupation of that role as critical to the delivery of a Government area, and we will have the opportunity to increase salaries for those people. I think the third thing-and this would be something that would come back quite strongly from the Major Projects Authority-is that it is not just about what you do when they are in the role, but getting the role absolutely clear when you appoint them to positions, and the support into that role.
There is, then, quite a lot happening. It is too early in terms of its impact. There has been a small reduction but I would say we need a bit longer to see if it is fully sustained.
Q908Kelvin Hopkins: In our papers, we see that 14 out of 16 permanent secretaries disappeared in two years. That is a dramatic turnover. Isn’t that inevitable when the Civil Service is cutting numbers and public spending? The people who go are those at the top, and then you get promotions and people leaving jobs half-done to take these promotions. Inevitably, it is the most experienced people who have been there longest who take early retirement, which denudes the Civil Service of their best brains, in a sense.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We have about 36 permanent secretaries at the moment. The typical period might be four years in a role, but longer for some and shorter for others. You are, then, always going to have a proportion of turnover over time. In the last two years, the turnover has been higher than would have been ideal, but there have been some particular circumstances. For example, a number of permanent secretaries stayed in role over the period of the election, with the expectation that they would move on once things had been fully established with the new Government, so there have been specific factors that have influenced the turnover for permanent secretaries. I do not think we should overstate the issue. It has been about eight in the last year and eight the year before, out of about 36, and there would always naturally be a level of turnover for permanent secretaries. I am hoping and expecting it to come down in the next few years.
Q909Kelvin Hopkins: One example that has come up many times in our discussions is the West Coast Main Line franchise fiasco, and the staff turnover in the Department dealing with that was almost continuous. Every few weeks, people would move on. It does occur to me too that sometimes civil servants in those positions, where they have a hot potato, want to move on because they do not want to be around when the policy fails. They cannot be blamed, and I understand that entirely.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes, turnover was a factor in the West Coast Main Line but it was not the only factor. As you will know, the Laidlaw review highlighted a number of things that needed to be addressed in that report. Yes, you are right, though: we need to keep people longer in roles. We are quite clear that our ambition when people take on big projects is that they should stay with the project for either the whole of its duration or at least to a key gateway, so that they do not move randomly between these key gateway-review points. That will be the way in which we manage things in the future, and we have some controls on that, but we also have, as I said earlier, some ways in which we can reward and recognise people who do stick with projects.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do think your basic point is, if I may say so, correct. We talk to a lot of Ministers. This is the one issue that comes up more often than any other.
Chair: I am very pleased to hear that.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: "We have a good official dealing with this really high-profile project. For heaven’s sake, find a way of making them stay for not three years but five years." We totally understand that pressure. It is a point that comes up time and time again, and we basically agree with it. I think this pivotal-role allowance that Bob mentioned is a very useful new tool. It will not be available to many civil servants, but I think, for those critical jobs in the Senior Civil Service, when they are dealing with a major project or one that is a very high priority for Ministers, and Ministers want them to stay, trying to persuade them to stay on for another two or three years rather than taking a promotion that they may have been offered somewhere else is a really important way in which we can, in a practical way, address a genuine concern that Ministers have and that we fully share. I think there is no point having a permanent Civil Service if they move around more frequently than Ministers.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think the question is about taking practical steps to do it, which is what we are doing.
Q910Kelvin Hopkins: This is the response of Lord Adonis, who, in his experience, said that the Head of the Civil Service in his time as Secretary of State was not able to prevent key officials from moving to new posts as part of their career development. What you are saying, then, is that these new measures will help to stop that.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think one of the problems in the past-and we are acknowledging, as Jeremy said, that this has been an issue that now needs to be tackled-was what the expectation was when people were appointed to major projects. We are now saying very clearly that, when you are appointed to a project, the expectation is that you will stay with the project either for the whole of the project or until a major review point for that project. If you are clear, when somebody gets the job, that is what is expected, I think there is then a much higher chance that they will do that. If we add in the pivotal-role allowance, we have an incentive for them to do it as well.
Q911Kelvin Hopkins: A final question on this area: should permanent secretaries have a level of specialist expertise within their own Departments to retain, so that you can keep some continuity with their specialist expertise? Other officials may move on but a degree of specialist expertise is retained in these specific areas.
Sir Bob Kerslake: You certainly need retention of specialist expertise in Departments. It may or may not be what you are looking for in the Permanent Secretary; it depends on which particular Permanent Secretary role we are talking about here. I do not think I would want to commit to saying that they have to have expertise. In fact, what we are often looking for are people who will be able to lead and manage their Department over time, so that is a key requirement that we have. Within the Department, however, there must be a balance between movement and retaining knowledge-that is absolutely right.
Q912Chair: Sir Jeremy referred to the typical four years in a role. In the private sector, it would not be expected that a chief executive of a major company would get a grip of that company until he or she had been doing that job for three years. Four years, then, is quite short.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I think this is an issue that needs to be agreed case by case, in the case of permanent secretaries, with the Minister concerned, but I would have thought that four or five years-something in that ball park-is the right sort of assumption.
Q913Chair: Let us consider a Government Department as analogous to a FTSE 100 company. What is the typical tenure of a chief executive of a FTSE 100 company? It is a good deal more than four years.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I truthfully cannot answer that question. We are happy to go away and think about it.
Q914Chair: I do think that this needs to be addressed. Would you agree that getting the right people into the right jobs is absolutely the fundamental task of leadership of any administrative system?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Absolutely right.
Q915Chair: The enormity of what you are admitting is that that is not being achieved.
Sir Bob Kerslake: No, I am saying something different.
Q916Chair: No. Consider West Coast Main Line, and there are plenty of other examples of where Ministers have found the very good official they have been dealing with has been removed without their knowledge and consent, and they find themselves with somebody completely new who knows far less and has far less experience in that particular role. That is a common occurrence, is it not? Sir Jeremy admitted that, and I am very pleased he did, because I think it is a very important point.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do not know how common it is, but it is definitely stated quite commonly by Ministers to me and Bob that this is a concern that they have. It is not stated that it always happens; it happens in isolated cases.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I did want to try to come back on this point, because we are saying that we need to get better at this. We are not saying that everybody moves everywhere. I could give you the analysis of the figures, if you want it, that illustrates what has and has not happened, but we undoubtedly need to get better at holding people in key roles and we need specifically to get better on the major projects. That is what we are saying.
Q917Chair: When it comes to permanent secretaries, however-and let us talk about major projects-when I worked at Ford Motor Company, which was then a pretty hierarchical, graded structure, where your remuneration and status very much reflected your grade, they had a system of protected status for people who were upgraded in their existing job or moved on a senior grade to a less junior job, in order to make sure that the right people went into the right jobs. Does that happen in the Civil Service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: When you say protected status, you mean they held their salary.
Q918Chair: I could be moved as a grade 9 into a grade 8 or 7 position and be paid and have the status of a grade 9, but I would be doing a grade 7 job, because that was what was required.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is possible for people to hold roles at different levels and keep their grade, but usually for a period.
Q919Chair: People would be promoted in post to a new grade, without being taken off the job. Do we do that in the Civil Service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: No, we do not have that at the moment, but it does link to my point about the pivotal-role allowance and how we recognise it. If people stay in projects for a long period of time, how do we reward and recognise that?
Q920Chair: Isn’t there an obvious answer? If we had had a single project manager on the carrier programme for the last 10 years, think of the billions we would have saved. Isn’t the answer to say, "This is your career; you will receive promotions throughout your period in this role to reflect your performance and seniority"?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Personally, I think there is a strong case for that, Chair, and I think we will need to look at that for these very long-duration projects.
Q921Chair: But also when it comes to other key roles in other Departments, not just at Permanent Secretary level.
Sir Bob Kerslake: No, I am talking beyond Permanent Secretary level.
Q922Chair: It is not just about project management-that is the point I am making.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is not just about project management. The pivotal-role allowance that I spoke about earlier is not just for projects.
Q923Chair: Yes, you invite me to look at the figures of the churn of permanent secretaries. There are, in fact, now four permanent secretaries who are the third Permanent Secretary in that Department since the election. The problem is, in the small minority of cases, when they are totally unsuitable. I am not going to be invidious and mention names, but we all know of cases where a totally unexpected appointment was made and where somebody with extremely limited experience finished up running some crucial agency or Department that they never expected to lead. That is a failure, isn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: If you get the wrong person in the job, of course it is a failure.
Q924Chair: Yes, but it has been happening a bit, hasn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I would not say a bit, but it has happened.
Q925Chair: In the case of a Government Department, once is once too often, isn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: You clearly want to make sure you get it right every single time, because the consequences of getting it wrong, as you suggest, are very big, but no recruitment or appointment process is infallible.
Q926Chair: But it has happened more than once. It has happened quite often in the last few years.
Sir Bob Kerslake: That is a judgment, isn’t it?
Q927Chair: It is. As I say, I do not want to invidiously mention names, but I very easily could.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: The question, though, is what we do about it. What we are doing about it is giving a lot more attention now to succession-planning, discussing with each Permanent Secretary who the people are in their Departments, in other Departments or outside the Civil Service who could potentially be their successor in two to three years’ time, what development they need, and whether there are other jobs that they should be moved to in the mean time to give them the experience. We are, then, focusing on what we can do about this for the future, having recognised that it has been a problem in the past.
Q928Chair: We have to admit, without putting words into his mouth, it was understandable why your predecessor wanted to hold back permanent secretaries in Departments until the new Government took over. In retrospect, however, it created more problems than it resolved, didn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think that, again, is a judgment.
Q929Chair: Come on: everybody admits this was a mistake, except the people who made the decisions. This was a mistake.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think, as I said earlier, we have had more turnover than would have been ideal in the last two years.
Q930Chair: As soon as the new Government was in, there were at least half a dozen permanent secretaries saying, "I want to move," so we finish up with, in some Departments, the Permanent Secretary having less experience of that Department than the new Secretary of State.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: There is a trade-off in this.
Chair: A trade-off, yes.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: There is a trade-off.
Q931Chair: The trade-off, though, was wrong, wasn’t it?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do not necessarily accept that. I think the trade-off is: does an experienced Permanent Secretary leave six months before the election, meaning that a completely new Permanent Secretary who does not know anything about that Department is the person who conducts all the conversations?
Q932Chair: There should not be a completely new Permanent Secretary, should there? Permanent Secretaries should all have extensive experience in their Departments.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: What I am saying is that they may be new to that Department. What Gus had to weigh up, with, potentially, an incoming Conservative administration, was whether we change the Permanent Secretary so that a completely new Permanent Secretary for that Department is the person conducting these conversations with the potentially incoming opposition.
Q933Chair: The problem that we have, however, is that we have the Civil Service Commission conducting these open recruitment contests. I hate to use the word "random", because it is not, but, if I may say, the golden age of succession-planning has long gone and we need to get something of it back, without compromising the principle that there should be open selection. Do you agree with that?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I would agree with you 100% on that. We are doing a lot more work on succession-planning. I still think it is right to have open recruitment based on merit, but we do need to make sure that we have the right calibre of people available to go into that process.
Q934Chair: Perhaps we should have much smaller shortlists, and experience in the Department should be a much more important factor. Maybe it should be axiomatic that deputy permanent secretaries are heirs apparent to Permanent Secretaryships in those Departments, because then you would get the continuity and there would be something permanent about our Permanent Civil Service that we do not seem to have at the moment.
Sir Bob Kerslake: My personal view is that we need a better management of succession. We also need-and this is something that we are putting in place, Chair-a better talent-management strategy running through the whole of the Civil Service, so that we pick out people who have the potential to lead at the top and we develop them over time.
Q935Chair: My final question on this is: I think that you are recognising that there are challenges and concerns around all this stuff about how the Senior Civil Service is managed to provide continuity, excellence and experience in these crucial roles upon which our public-administration system depends. What has gone wrong with the leadership of the Civil Service that has allowed these concerns to develop and allow these mistakes to be made? Isn’t that a very fundamental question that perhaps can only be addressed by a royal commission or a parliamentary commission?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We would be rerunning the earlier debate if I were to comment on that issue.
Q936Chair: You do not have an answer, really, do you?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think I have given you an answer, which is to ask what the most effective route is to strengthening the Civil Service, where it needs strengthening. Our judgment is implementation of the reform plan.
Q937Chair: What has gone wrong with the leadership that has allowed this situation to arise, where there is not continuity, where there are permanent secretaries with no experience in their Departments, and where people are being ripped out of jobs where they have a crucial role and being replaced by somebody with much less experience? What has gone wrong with the leadership of the Civil Service that has allowed this to happen?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think we said earlier that there have been specific areas that have not been given the attention they need. I do not think it is entirely about this leader or that leader not having done their role properly.
Q938Chair: No, I am not picking on individuals; it is about the nature of leadership in our public-administration system. Something has gone wrong with it.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: If you want my views on this, not enough weight was given to succession-planning, and not enough weight was given to continuity within Departments.
Q939Chair: How did they do this, though? How did they allow this to happen?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: These are judgments. The issue for us is how we put this right for the future.
Q940Chair: Have politicians interfered in it too much? Is that the problem?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do not know.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I am not sure, to be honest, that we are going to have a very useful conversation if we constantly look backwards at this. Our job is to focus on how we improve from here on in.
Q941Chair: If it stops happening instantly, I should be delighted, but I have no faith.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I think we are violently agreeing that one thing we do need to do is more succession-planning, so that, inside a Department, it is clear which people are being groomed and could potentially become a Permanent Secretary of the future. At the same time, however, it is perfectly reasonable, I think, to challenge the internal candidates against people who might be outside the Civil Service or in other Departments and have relevant experience. I do not think we should have a closed mind to that, but we believe, definitely-and that is why we are doing it-that we need to do more succession-planning. I think good private-sector companies and good organisations do that sort of thing, and we need to be better at doing it ourselves.
Q942Kelvin Hopkins: How much has all of this been affected by the increasing friction between senior civil servants and Ministers because of the radical drive of politicians over the last two or three decades? It is very different from the past. I knew Sir David Bell, for example, well. It is possible, shall we say, that Sir David was not keen on the direction of education policy and he retired or moved on. I think he was excellent, personally. When I met him, he spoke a lot of common sense, and I met him two or three times, but he moved on. I can imagine he would not be happy with the direction of education policy or the style of the Secretary of State, and his special advisers in particular, of whom there has been a lot of press coverage. Is there a tension between Ministers and civil servants that has been getting worse over time?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do not want to comment on David Bell’s particular case, but I do not think it is true to say at all that Ministers have been the reason why inadequate succession-planning has been done in the past. No Minister has ever really expressed a view to me about the issue of succession-planning within Departments. I think that is something that the Civil Service has to take responsibility for, and it is something we certainly intend to take forward in the future.
Q943Alun Cairns: This follows the theme of succession-planning and the role of Secretaries of State. Why do you think that Ministers feel the need to increase their role in the appointment of permanent secretaries?
Sir Bob Kerslake: They have always had quite an extensive role, but I think what they feel is that they are taking responsibility for the performance of their Departments and, therefore, they need to have, quite rightly, a big say in the appointment process for a key role, which is the Permanent Secretary.
Q944Alun Cairns: Do you agree that the way we appoint permanent secretaries has, on occasion, resulted in the wrong candidate being selected?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is very hard to judge, because I cannot go back over time and find out whether ones have not worked or have worked. What I can say is that we have put a lot of effort into ensuring that we have an appointment process in which Ministers are involved at every stage.
Q945Alun Cairns: It is only the Prime Minister who has the veto. Sir David Normington said that he thinks it should go back to the start of the selection process if the Prime Minister chooses not to appoint the Permanent Secretary, but doesn’t that, effectively, tie the hand of the Prime Minister or even the Secretary of State, because they are facing a potential delay in receiving the appointment of a Permanent Secretary?
Sir Bob Kerslake: No. I think, in fact, both the Minister and the Prime Minister would ultimately have a veto, so nobody goes forward to the Prime Minister unless the Minister is happy with their proposed appointment to the role.
Q946Alun Cairns: Do you agree that Sir David Normington’s proposal would, effectively, tie up the whole process? Would it lead to greater delays if it had to go back to the beginning of the selection process if an individual candidate was not appointed ultimately?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think the current process is that, if the Prime Minister or, indeed, the Minister is not happy with the name put forward, you do have to rerun the exercise. That is the clear way it works now, and has done for a while. What you would aim to do-and we do try very hard to ensure this-is not reach that point. Through the process of engagement with both the Minister and, indeed, the Prime Minister’s Office, when you reach the point of the appointment, the person would be acceptable as the candidate.
Q947Alun Cairns: Lord Wilson described the Government’s proposals to increase ministerial involvement in Permanent Secretary appointments as a slippery slope. Is that a fair assessment?
Sir Bob Kerslake: My personal view is there are clearly different perspectives on this issue of choice. Bear in mind we are only talking about one specific point in the process. We are talking about, right at the end of the process, whether or not a preferred candidate should be put forward, or whether or not the Minister should have a choice. Ministers have clearly expressed their view on this, but we have now agreed a process, which we are going to try out over the current year to see whether it addresses Ministers’ concerns and meets the views of the commissioner.
Q948Alun Cairns: How long does it take to appoint a Permanent Secretary from the notice of one who is moving on to the appointment of the next?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It hugely varies, depending on the quality of the field we get and how easy it is to identify candidates, whether we go externally or internally, but we can usually complete the process within three months, potentially less than that if it is an urgent need.
Q949Alun Cairns: What would be the longest?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I cannot give you a figure for the longest; I would have to go back and check.
Q950Alun Cairns: Do you not accept that period of a vacuum can lead to a Department without the leadership we have just been talking about, which then goes back to the issues about complacency because we are not delivering on all of the goals all the time?
Sir Bob Kerslake: You absolutely want to do the process as quickly as you can, and many of them do go through pretty fast. For example, the MOD post was a fairly rapid process. We want to complete the process as quickly as we can, but we also want to do it consistent with getting the right person for the job, as the Chair said earlier. On occasions it has taken a longer time because we have not had what we feel is a strong enough field for the role, so we have taken longer to get the right person.
Q951Alun Cairns: But doesn’t this come back to the point the Chairman raised about better succession planning, which effectively means there is almost an obvious candidate every time?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It absolutely does. I believe you should still be open to the fact always that there may be somebody better. You should always have a number of candidates who can go for every role. The hard truth is that for a number of posts we have filled in the last year or so-I will not mention names-we have not had as strong a field as we would have wanted. That goes to the quality of our succession planning. It also goes to the quality of our ability to attract external people as well.
Q952Mr Reed: We have heard a number of different responses to this question, but why don’t you involve Ministers through the whole process, including the final selection panel, in the way it operates perfectly well in local government?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We do involve Ministers right the way through the process, just as in local government. The only difference in local government is in the final stage, where typically in my experience, and I guess yours, councillors choose from a group of people who are above the line. There is a difference, in that the appointment is made by a panel and agreed by the full council in a local authority, including the opposition in that model. It is different in central Government in that respect. At the final stage Ministers are aware of who is on the shortlist, and under the new procedure they will interview all of those going on to the shortlist, and if we have two candidates who are very close, they will have an opportunity to see them again. We are now pretty close to the local government system. We are left with the last specific issue about whether in the final analysis there should be a choice for the Minister.
Q953Kelvin Hopkins: A recent example, which seems to support Lord Wilson’s concern about the slippery slope to patronage and politicisation, was the recommendation for Permanent Secretary at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, which at the last minute was stopped by the Prime Minister. With respect, that is very much politics getting in the way. There was something about the candidate that the Prime Minister and possibly the energy industries did not like, and he was stopped. That smacks to me of politics.
Sir Bob Kerslake: You will understand why I would not want to comment on the individual case for the position of the individual involved. What happened there was exactly in line with the procedure I referred to earlier. The Prime Minister has a role to play and he played it. We reran an exercise and, as a consequence of that, have an excellent Permanent Secretary.
Q954Kelvin Hopkins: With a view that no doubt was more closely aligned with the Prime Minister’s.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We have an excellent Permanent Secretary who has the skills and capabilities to do the job that is being asked for.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: The Prime Minister has always had a veto. There is nothing new about that at all; that has always been the position, but the fundamental point Bob is making here is that there is no more important relationship than that between the Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary. If that does not work, it does not matter what else you have got in the Department. The Department will not function as well as it should, so it is worth taking as much time as is needed to make sure we have somebody who, in the view of the Civil Service and the Civil Service Commission, is fit to do the job for this and a future Government, and also someone the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister can work with and have confidence in. Without that fundamental relationship working, the Department will not work properly.
Q955Chair: How much do you think this initiative, which has been very passionately supported by some Ministers and former Ministers in Her Majesty’s Opposition, is a symptom of the frustration about people finishing up in the wrong jobs without the necessary expertise, the widespread failures of implementation that do not seem to occur and so on? It is to do with the frustration they feel about the current leadership style of the Civil Service. I do not know whether it is just style-I am not talking about the people-but the culture of leadership in the present Civil Service is not to their liking, is it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I have done a lot of recruitment of permanent secretaries in the last year, as you have alluded to, and all of the Ministers have been delighted with the people who have taken on the role.
Q956Chair: You said yourself that in some cases you just do not have the quality to choose from.
Sir Bob Kerslake: No; I said we did not have a wide enough field.
Q957Chair: It sounds like the same thing, Sir Humphrey.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is not quite, because what you are suggesting is that we do not end up with people who are up to the job.
Q958Chair: It sounds like you do not have the quality to choose from.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I am saying we did not have enough people on the shortlist in some instances, but we did end up with good people in the roles we were seeking. That would not have been altered by the specific issue we are talking about here. This is not the first time the question of choice has come up; it has come up before.
Q959Chair: I am agreeing with you on the very fundamental point that what Ministers hunger for is not going to fix the problem. It is not going to widen the shortlist from which they are able to choose.
Sir Bob Kerslake: What I am saying, perhaps not as well as I should, is that the issue is not the quality of the people they have ended up with as permanent secretaries. This is a point of principle about whether or not they should have a choice.
Q960Chair: I understand that, but why have they wanted to question the principle of the present recruitment system for permanent secretaries? It is because they are not getting stuff done that they want to have done, or they do not have confidence that the people who are going to be appointed by the present system will fix the system, which is broken in their eyes.
Sir Bob Kerslake: In some sense you need to talk to Ministers. I do not want to speak on their behalf. The principal issue they have raised in my discussions on the reform plan has been that, given they are accountable, they feel they should have greater involvement in that final stage.
Q961Chair: We agree on one thing: their expectation that this will resolve all their difficulties is likely to be disappointed, even if they get their way.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Clearly, the first thing you would need, if you are to give people a choice, is enough candidates of sufficient calibre.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I am not sure I necessarily agree with what you have just said. I think that choosing the right Permanent Secretary and having the right relationship between the Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary is about the most important thing you can do to ensure the success of the Department. Leadership is absolutely vital, so making sure we have a process that commands the confidence of the political team, as well as the Civil Service Commission, is one of the most important things in the entire Civil Service plan. It is vital that, as we continue to keep that under review, we make sure the system that has now been put in place is delivering permanent secretaries who are very capable of doing the job and have the confidence of their secretaries of state.
Q962Chair: I think we can agree that, if there is a massive dispute between the political class and administrative class about how these senior appointments are made, something has gone wrong in the leadership.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I am making a different point. If we end up with leaders of Departments who are not capable of doing the job and commanding the confidence of their secretaries of state, something has gone wrong.
Chair: I appreciate you are making a different point.
Q963Kelvin Hopkins: On the point about permanent secretaries being acceptable to secretaries of state, in the case of DECC the proposed appointee was acceptable to the Secretary of State but not the Prime Minister. That was a rather different situation.
Sir Bob Kerslake: The Prime Minister has the right of veto, and he exercised it in that case, so we cannot say any more about it in that sense.
Chair: Mr Reed has to leave in a second and he has another question that he wishes to ask.
Q964Mr Reed: Unfortunately, it is quite a big question. Is the Civil Service sufficiently accountable at all levels for its performance?
Sir Bob Kerslake: My personal view is that we have got work to do on that. We have done a lot to strengthen accountability at the top of the Civil Service. We are now rolling out a big programme of better performance management across the Civil Service so this happens right the way through it. It is happening this year; it is a critical part of the reform agenda. I will be able to tell you in a year’s time whether we have got that kind of robust performance management in place.
Q965Mr Reed: How are you looking at that accountability changing? Accountability to whom?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is quite clear that under our system we are accountable to Ministers and the Government of the day for the delivery of our responsibilities.
Q966Mr Reed: But you are looking at different models of accountability, like the New Zealand model for commissioning.
Sir Bob Kerslake: One of the pieces of work being done under open policymaking is for the IPPR to look at alternative models. We have not yet seen their report.
Q967Mr Reed: But is it your view that models of accountability need to change to reflect the changing circumstances in which the Civil Service operates?
Sir Bob Kerslake: You have to review it. An example of that is that we are reviewing the so-called Osmotherly rules, which govern the appearance of civil servants in front of Select Committees. There is already work going on, but we should not give the impression that we think the model itself needs fundamental change. We are looking more at improvements rather than a fundamental change to that model.
Q968Mr Reed: Would you personally feel comfortable about having a more junior civil servant appearing before a Select Committee?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes, and it does happen in specific circumstances. For example, I talked earlier about the senior responsible officers going in front of Committees for big projects. I would not be comfortable if that became such a practice that you lost sight of the ultimate responsibility of the Permanent Secretary for the work of their Department. In specific instances for major projects, that is fine, but the general rule is that we appoint permanent secretaries and they have the responsibility, and therefore should take it.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I have nothing much to add to what Bob has just said. The Prime Minister has made it quite clear that he is open to looking at this issue again. That is something we need to do with him, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office, but fundamentally our view is that the model works. To us, it does not feel as if civil servants are not accountable to parliamentary Select Committees. We try our utmost to cooperate and be helpful and open, but in the current system it is ultimately for Ministers to account to Parliament and we account to Ministers.
Q969Mr Reed: One thing that can be very frustrating is the lack of a named individual who is accountable for a significant piece of work. The instance Mr Hopkins referred to earlier leaps to mind. Do we need named civil servants accountable for pieces of work who work in office rather than people who may be several tiers higher up?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We are very clear about the need to have identified responsible officers for major projects. That is one of the things that has been strengthened through the work of the Major Projects Authority. They now hold a record of that; they track progress and whether they stay with the role or move on, but the key to success is having clearly identified people responsible for big tasks.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: The point Bob makes is a very important one. You cannot so fragment this that the Permanent Secretary then evades responsibility for the quality of work in the Department. It would be quite wrong increasingly to put the spotlight on junior officials and say, "You’re the person who was responsible for West Coast Main Line," or whatever. We are much more visible; there is much more transparency about what every member of the senior Civil Service does. One of the very earliest things the Government did was make organisation charts more visible, so no one should have any difficulty understanding which civil servant is responsible for which area of policy, as it were, but in the end Ministers are accountable to Parliament and civil servants are responsible to Ministers. The Permanent Secretary has to take responsibility for the quality of the work.
Q970Mr Reed: I think we can accept that principle but also acknowledge that in some instances more information can be gleaned from the individual who has had day-to-day responsibility.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I think that is a reasonable point.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We are very comfortable with that. I am also very comfortable with the idea that big projects need clear and permanent or sustained leadership by an identified person. You are quite right that for the West Coast Main Line one of the things Sam Laidlaw identified was that the project changed hands at least three times through its development.
Q971Chair: The problem Select Committees have is not that they want to bully junior officials about Government policy, but quite often it seems that officials-I have seen it even in the case of military officers-seem to evade questions of fact and administrative information in favour of the line to take. It comes as quite a shock to people to learn that even senior military officers are briefed by civil servants about lines to take rather than providing honest answers to questions, so they are drawn into the politics. Shouldn’t it be more explicit that civil servants have an obligation to answer questions in front of Select Committees provided they are not about matters of policy, and it should also be perfectly acceptable for a civil servant in front of a Select Committee to say, "I’m sorry; I’m not going to answer that question. That is a matter for the Minister"? That happens occasionally, but there have been cases where even a Permanent Secretary has stonewalled a perfectly factual question because the fact would be embarrassing to the Minister, and therefore he is effectively protecting the Minister from matters of fact. That is not what civil servants should do in front of Select Committees, is it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We have said before they should be as open and helpful in front of Select Committees as they can be. There are restraints on when they can give information on particular issues to do with official statistics or other things. There will be restraints, but we have encouraged civil servants to be as helpful as they can to Select Committees in getting behind the issues on a particular matter.
Q972Chair: We are all familiar with the Armstrong memorandum, which seems to me to overstate the singleness of the Minister and civil servant, and it certainly seems very out of date in this day and age. What revision of that memorandum would be appropriate?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We are happy to go away and see whether some revision might be needed to that. We are looking at the Osmotherly rules, which follow a very similar pattern, to see whether some change is needed.
Q973Chair: Select Committees do not recognise the Osmotherly rules; they are a creature of the Executive, not of Select Committees.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I understand that, but we are looking at them. If there was a case to look at the Armstrong memorandum, we would be happy to do so.
Q974Chair: I invite you to re-read it, because it looks awfully dated in this day and age.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I read it again this morning, as I knew you would raise it.
Q975Chair: Which of you is responsible for a new Armstrong memorandum?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I think it would be a joint responsibility. We can look at that and certainly update the language and polish it up a little, but eventually there will come a hard point, which is that if a Minister has decided that a piece of information should not be made public at a particular point, it is very difficult for the civil servant to countermand that.
Q976Chair: Would it have to be given in answer to a parliamentary question or freedom of information request? Is a freedom of information request to have more puissance than a chairman of a Select Committee? Is that what we have come to?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: This is an issue that needs more thought, given that the Armstrong memorandum was written before some of these developments.
Q977Chair: Have Select Committee chairmen got to start to do freedom of information requests rather than asking questions in Parliament? Is that where we have got to?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I see the force of that point. What we are saying is that the Armstrong memorandum was written before freedom of information, the evolution of thinking on openness of policymaking and so on. That is precisely why it would be sensible to have a look at it.
Q978Chair: Shouldn’t the standard guidance be that if any piece of information would be subject to freedom of information, it must be given in the Select Committee?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think it would be unwise to set up new processes on the hoof in this meeting.
Chair: I am merely making a suggestion in order to be helpful.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: If we were having a discussion with Ministers about this-this is entirely theoretical-we would obviously make that point: "If this question were raised through FOI, we would be giving it, and that is exactly why we need to give more guidance to people on this question."
Q979Chair: Can I just talk about what accountability feels like to officials? Accountability can feel very brutal and conflicting, can’t it? The Armstrong memorandum attempts to resolve that, but in this day and age we are not going to go back to where civil servants are pretty well anonymous; we are in a much more public age. How is this addressed in the leadership of the Civil Service?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Taking your first point, it is now more open and challenging. Select Committees are rightly more assertive about the issues and stronger when they think things have not been done properly, or think they are being evaded in terms of answers. That is just the world we are in, and civil servants need to be better equipped to handle that.
Q980Chair: Is not one of the things that has corroded the relationship between civil servants and Ministers that what used to be a very private space is now subject to a lot of public scrutiny? Even private conversations, memoranda, e-mails and even text messages between a Secretary of State and an official can suddenly appear in public in some inquiry. Isn’t this one of the really big changes and challenges to the administrative system?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: It could potentially change it, but most of those sorts of communications are protected under FOI. Despite FOI and all the other pressures we have talked about and greater openness, I do not think that in the end that has eroded confidential discussions that take place between Ministers and their civil servants.
Q981Chair: Isn’t this why so much more finishes up on the sofa rather than in more formal discourse?
Sir Bob Kerslake: No, because you have clear rules that exclude policy advice to Ministers from FOIs. It is perfectly possible to provide honest written advice to Ministers in a way that is protected.
Q982Chair: Has there been a proper and considered study of the scrutiny the relationship between Ministers and civil servants is now under and the effect it has had on our administrative system?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: There has not been a study of that through that specific lens.
Q983Chair: But isn’t that one of the really big changes in the context in which our administrative system has to operate?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: We look at the issue case by case. For example, over the last couple of years we have been reviewing the impact of FOI. One of the issues we look at as part of the review of FOI is whether the current rules have damaged the relationship between Ministers and civil servants and the willingness of civil servants to give fearless advice on paper, so you look at it case by case.
Q984Chair: Isn’t there a case for a comprehensive look? Wouldn’t a parliamentary commission or royal commission be rather a good place to do that thinking?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think it requires a royal commission. If there were areas to look at, we could certainly do that.
Q985Chair: I seem to be building up quite a list of issues that do not get the comprehensive consideration from within Government. You have just said you look at it on a piecemeal basis.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: In my view that is an adequate way of looking at it.
Q986Chair: But that is the way the system works, isn’t it? It does not do "comprehensive".
Sir Jeremy Heywood: The system quite rightly focuses on the important and urgent and prioritises it.
Q987Chair: But the evidence we have seen from the visible and very public breakdown of trust between Ministers and civil servants in some cases, which seems to happen much more publicly, embarrassingly and disruptively these days, is that this is a problem that the leadership of our administrative system has not addressed.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I do not agree with your thesis, which is that the safe space between Ministers and the Civil Service has been encroached upon in a way that has caused tension. I do not agree with its characterisation as a huge level of tension. For all the reasons we have discussed, we do not think it is as acute as you say.
Q988Chair: Do you think it is going to get better or worse?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: As the various concerns people have expressed and the weaknesses we are aware of are addressed, hopefully the performance of the Civil Service will continue to improve, and that should reduce what tensions there are.
Q989Chair: Nothing comprehensive has changed and the pressures continue to increase. Why should it get any better?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: As we have tried to explain, we think the plan comprehensively addresses the various concerns there are.
Sir Bob Kerslake: As we get better at implementing what Government are seeking to achieve, that is bound to help the relationships.
Q990Chair: I am going to miss out one question except to ask: there are plans for reviewing the split between your two roles. When is that going to be concluded, and when will it be published?
Sir Bob Kerslake: As you say, it was one of the things that was agreed to be done. I guess it will be undertaken fairly soon. We have not fixed a date for that, and we are happy to let you know when that is determined.
Q991Chair: I think you made a commitment. We said six months in our recommendation. You said that was too soon and it would be 12 months.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I think we said 12 to 18 months.
Q992Chair: So it will be within the 18-month time frame.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We would certainly want to keep to our undertakings on that, but we have not yet fixed a date.
Q993Chair: But it is now more than 12 months.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes.
Q994Chair: So it is imminent.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I did not say "imminent"; I said we have not fixed a date for it, and we will let you know when we have.
Q995Chair: Is this a ministerial matter or something you can initiate on your own?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Clearly, it would need to be done with Ministers.
Q996Chair: So you need to ask their permission?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: We would expect them to want to be very closely involved in it.
Q997Chair: How will it be done?
Sir Bob Kerslake: That is to be determined.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: We have to decide that with the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Cabinet Office.
Q998Chair: Presumably, there would need to be some external or nonexecutive oversight of some kind.
Sir Bob Kerslake: That is certainly an option, but we have not fixed it. We need to have that conversation.
Chair: Can you send us a note about when and how this is going to be conducted?
Q999Alun Cairns: Can we also ask how long it is expected to take?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think this is a long exercise. I am being frank and honest with you in saying we have not fixed how we are going to do it yet, but it will be in the time scales we said we would do it within.
Q1000Chair: It seems to me there needs to be some independent external assessment.
Sir Bob Kerslake: We hear the force of your point.
Q1001Chair: It would be quite normal even to appoint a firm of consultants. Dread the thought. Moving on, yesterday you published in time for our Committee-thank you-the Civil Service Capabilities Plan. This is a comprehensive document that looks at a number of different concerns: leading and managing change; commercial skills and behaviours; delivering successful programme and projects; and redesigning services and delivering them digitally. The problem seems to be recruiting and retaining these specialist skills. What needs to change in order to make that easier?
Sir Bob Kerslake: In the plan we have said that it is going to be a mix of strengthening what we do internally, bringing in people from outside and also borrowing people temporarily to do projects. We are going to source the expertise we need in three different ways, and I think that is the right way to think about it. In terms of retaining people, one of the key things we need to get better at is giving them a clear career path in the area of expertise that they form a part of. You will see in the plan that our intentions are to strengthen the key professions that are important to the delivery of plans. The second thing about retention, which we touched on earlier, is that, when people are assigned to long-game projects, we need to ensure that it is in their interests to stay with them. A third one, which is quite critical to retention, is that they see that their expertise is valued; they are seen as parallel to, or at least as strongly needed as, what might be called conventional policy advice. How we retain people is about those three things in my experience.
Q1002Chair: Can we expect to see an end to the policy of voluntary redundancy because that seems to be a permission for the good people to leave and the dross to stay, bluntly?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think we will see an end to voluntary redundancy, but we have been very, very clear that it is not what I would call a put-your-hand-up-and-go policy; in other words, people cannot simply say they would like to go and the management say, "If you want to go, fine; off you go." Those who go have to be people who have been determined by management as those who are best able to be released. That is the key element of the policy. People may indicate they wish to go; we may be very happy with them going because we feel we can let them go and still deliver what we need to do, but we need to have no truck with people going simply because they want to go. It has to be determined ultimately by management.
Q1003Chair: We have a great ambition that there should be a more porous relationship between the Civil Service and the private sector and yet, particularly in areas like IT or project management, if you put one of these bright fast-streamers into the private sector they are most unlikely to come back.
Sir Bob Kerslake: That has often been said to me. One thing I would say is that people coming in from outside is much more prevalent than you would imagine.
Q1004Chair: But they have a disadvantage, don’t they? They are like fish out of water for the first 18 months or two years because they cannot understand how the system works.
Sir Bob Kerslake: That is absolutely right. It takes them a while. You have to invest in making sure they can understand how we work and we can adapt bringing in new people, but on the evidence I have seen probably around a third of the people coming into some of these key professions have been recruited from outside.
Q1005Chair: The people you are recruiting from outside very often come in on special packages, don’t they?
Sir Bob Kerslake: Some do, but increasingly less so now; we have been much tighter on that. Many make the choice because they want to work in the public sector, but your question was about people going out and not coming back. There is some risk of that. I think it is overstated. If they are attracted into the private sector simply because of the salary or those issues, they could do that now; they could go into one of those jobs tomorrow, so they have chosen to stay in the public sector.
Q1006Chair: Unfortunately, when you second people to the private sector they find a whole new world out there that is a good deal more remunerative.
Sir Bob Kerslake: They do.
Q1007Chair: Then their partners say to them, "Why do you put up with working for that ramshackle Government when you can have a nice well-paid job in the private sector?"
Sir Bob Kerslake: I am saying to you that it is a risk. Even though it is a risk, we should encourage people-
Q1008Chair: The point I am driving at is: should we not be more flexible about how we make sure that when we upskill these people in the private sector they are sufficiently rewarded when they come back, particularly in the field of project management where salaries can be very large indeed?
Sir Bob Kerslake: To be frank with you, we are not going to be in a position where we can match those sorts of salaries.
Q1009Chair: I know this is not Government policy.
Sir Bob Kerslake: Not only is it not Government policy; I do not think it will ever be policy to say we match the private sector.
Q1010Chair: I am not saying match but ameliorate.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: We do have flexibility. The Prime Minister has made it very clear that we can bring people in above his salary.
Q1011Chair: Does that include civil servants who have been on secondment?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: It could, theoretically.
Q1012Chair: If you wanted to create an incentive for civil servants to learn from the private sector and come back, knowing they would be rewarded for doing so-
Sir Bob Kerslake: I would be unsure about simply increasing their salary if they come back, but we take your general point about having flexibility to keep really key people and create an environment in which people want to work for the Civil Service, but what I am saying to you is: we are not going to try to chase in every case.
Q1013Chair: But arbitrary prime ministerial salary cap does not apply in these cases, does it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is quite clear that where a case can be made for a salary above the Prime Minister that can happen. It is not an absolute.
Q1014Chair: I take that as a yes.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It is a yes, sorry.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: I think this debate has missed a key dimension of the capabilities plan, which is the importance of making sure that existing civil servants upskill in the key areas of digital, commercial project management and leadership. This is not just about bringing in specialist expertise and seconding people out so they acquire expertise; it is making sure that it becomes part of the thinking that any senior civil servant has to do about how he or she trains up. They have got to have digital and commercial skills. Everybody in the senior Civil Service of the future in our view needs to be more commercially savvy and digitally literate.
Sir Bob Kerslake: It would be poor strategy if we thought we had to buy in all those skills. We should be developing them ourselves.
Sir Jeremy Heywood: This is a tremendously important plan. I do not want to labour the point. The fact is that it has been months in the creation. It is somewhat late compared with our original timetable, but it was worth taking the time to get it right, because fundamentally the Civil Service issues we have been talking about come down to: do we have the skills necessary to advise Ministers, implement policy, do the right sorts of deals with the private sector, and so on? This is really the heart of the Civil Service plan of the future.
Q1016Chair: We could do a whole inquiry on this subject, and we may well do so before the end of this Parliament. Just to touch on this, how are you going to monitor and encourage individual Departments? How are you going to monitor and measure how Departments are developing and retaining these key skills, and what are you going to do with Departments that fail to do so?
Sir Bob Kerslake: There are two or three things. First, because we now have a different way of organising our learning and development we can see immediately for each Department how much they have invested in these key areas, so we have an immediate way of assessing how well they have invested in the key skills Jeremy referred to. Secondly, we have increasingly better data about the turnover and retention of the professions and key projects I spoke about earlier. Thirdly, how do we hold them to account? It will be through reviews of their delivery of the Civil Service reform plan and the end-year reviews that we do for individual Permanent Secretaries.
Q1017Chair: Can I ask how this will be led? What will be the leadership of this programme?
Sir Bob Kerslake: The capabilities plan?
Sir Bob Kerslake: We are asking Chris Last, the head of HR across Government, to take the lead on this. We will establish a small team under Chris to take responsibility for that.
Q1018Chair: Where is he based?
Sir Bob Kerslake: He is based in DWP at the moment, but half of his job is to lead HR across Whitehall. He will take the lead on this project.
Q1019Chair: I notice there is a list of corporate actions, such as refresh introduction to Civil Service course to include awareness of four new priorities; introduce a corporate talent pool; the Civil Service high potential stream; launch of the new generalist fast-stream programme; exposing future leaders to digital service redesign; and corporate leadership development programmes. This is all very persuasional rather than directive, isn’t it?
Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think it is. Some of it might be persuasional. If I take the talent development area for example, there will be a requirement on all Departments to identify their key talent and those individuals will be actively managed in terms of their careers, so it is not persuasional much; it is an expectation.
Q1020Chair: There is to be a new Positive Action Pathway "Levelling the Playing Field", targeted at women and ethnic minority and disabled staff. Doesn’t that happen already?
Sir Jeremy Heywood: Not to a sufficient extent. In terms of mandation, we are also going to make it absolutely clear that, if you want to get on in the senior Civil Service, you do not need just the policy skills and so on; you will have to have the digital and commercial skills. You are quite right that in the end the only things that will get attention are things which senior civil servants understand they are going to have to do if they want to progress up the hierarchy.
Chris Last and his team are obviously very important in leading the exercise, but Bob has written or is writing today literally to every single senior civil servant asking them to talk their own staff and teams through this process. We want this to be a mass market product, if you like, across the whole Civil Service. This has to change the way every civil servant thinks about their future and what they should be spending their training time doing.
Q1021Chair: It comes back to the question of leadership. Half a civil servant in one Department cannot be responsible for an aspect of getting the right people into the right jobs. It is a very important aspect and this is a very welcome White Paper, but I am sceptical that the responsibility for achieving these outcomes is sufficiently focused in one person with enough power and sense of obligation and respect to get this done. It feels too scattered.
Sir Bob Kerslake: To make this happen, as Jeremy said, we need not just hundreds but thousands of people to take on board the recommendations, so it is in that sense something that happens in a lot of places and is diffused. As to the power to make sure it happens, this lies with Chris Last but also myself and Jeremy. We are and will be very clear with Departments that a key responsibility of theirs is to take forward the implementation of this plan.
Chair: Skills is yet another aspect that a royal commission or parliamentary commission might want to look at in an even more comprehensive way than you have in this paper. That is the thought on which I am minded to close this session, but, if there is anything else you would like to add, please do so after Mr Hopkins.
Q1022Kelvin Hopkins: I want to add something I have said before at these meetings. I hope we will continue to recruit to the Civil Service people whose concern is public service. They are different from people who work in the private sector. Fine people work in the private sector but their object is to make profit, and many of them make a lot of money. If I wanted to make a lot of money I would have become a property developer, not an MP, but I am perfectly happy with my role because that is what I want to do. I hope that the Civil Service will not simply become professionally skilled, digitally aware and all of that and forget public service, which is what it is about.
Sir Bob Kerslake: The public service ethos is central to why people are in the Civil Service. This is not exclusively the province of people who started in the public sector. When I go round the country and ask people whether they are career civil servants or they have come in, typically between a third and a half put up their hands to say they have come in from other parts of the economy. We know from our own surveys of staff that they find the work in the Civil Service interesting and varied, and they are very committed to the agenda they are trying to pursue. One of the things we offer staff is work that is important, has a major public good and is interesting and varied, which does not mean to say we cannot learn from the private sector about how to do things better.
Q1023Alun Cairns: My question is a related one but it is from a very different angle. The nature of devolution has changed the ways in which the civil servants employed in the devolved bodies and in Whitehall work. There used to be relatively free movement between civil servants in Cathays Park in Cardiff, for example, and those in Whitehall Departments. That generally does not happen now. That is anecdotal evidence, but I am pretty sure it is accurate. Is there any data you can share, not now but maybe in writing afterwards? Can I ask that you give consideration to that, because there is a need for experts within the Civil Service in Whitehall and in Cathays Park who understand each other’s organisations? I mean that for Scotland and Northern Ireland as well.
Sir Bob Kerslake: I strongly agree with your view on that. We are happy to give you the data. Both Jeremy and I are passionate about getting more interchange of both people and ideas. There are things we can learn, and we should be doing more of that.
Q1024Chair: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sir Bob Kerslake: No. I think you have covered the territory very thoroughly.
Chair: You have been very generous with your time, and I put it that way. Thank you very much for being here. It has been a very interesting and informative session for us. We are very grateful to both of you.