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Amendments Nos. 118 and 119 would put an explicit requirement on the board to lay its reports before both Houses of Parliament. This is unnecessary. Section 1(1) of the Laying of Documents before Parliament (Interpretation) Act 1948 already provides that a reference in any Act to the laying of any instrument, report, account or other document before Parliament is to be construed as a reference to the laying of the document before each House of Parliament, unless the contrary intention is stipulated. The reference to Parliament in Clause 26 therefore will ensure that reports will be laid before each House, without the need for further elaboration. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured by that answer.
The noble Lord said: This is a relatively minor amendment but I think it would improve the wording and, possibly, the practice. The board, as we have been hearing, has to lay reports from time to time to this Parliament and to the other Parliaments and Assemblies in the UK. The amendment says that reports should be published,
Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: As we have heard, Amendment No. 120 would require any report produced under Clause 25 to be published at the same time as it is laid before Parliament. Those reports are particularly
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We envisage that, in most cases, the laying of a report before Parliament and its publication will happen almost simultaneously. The Bill provides for publication as soon as possible after laying the report before Parliament. However, the procedure set out under this clause, under which the reports are available first to Parliament and then more widely, is the correct one. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that that is proper. With this explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.
Lord Newby: I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply. He was doing all right until he suggested that Parliament should have a period of grace. I thought he was going to say that there was no real difference between the Bill and my proposal, which would have been easy to accept. I will read again what he has said but, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: The Government should be able to accept Amendment No. 124A. First, it would affirm that the board may locate its statistical activities in any place in the UK if it thinks it necessary or expedient for the exercise of its functions. I affirm the importance of spreading public services, including Civil Service work, around Britain, and I have been involved in a good number of such exercises. However, a certain finesse is needed where the function is by its nature a central Whitehall function; hence the three factors in the amendment which we say the board must take into account: first, the need to recruit and retain suitably skilled and experienced employees; secondly, the need to maintain effective contacts with users of statistics, particularly in central government; and, thirdly, the need to maintain the influence of official statistics on policy.
In making the case, I am relying substantially on a briefing from the Association of First Division Civil Servantsthe FDAwhich is the union for senior civil servants. It is a TUC affiliate, so I am told that I should declare an interest in that FDA members also help to pay my pension. The central issue raised by the amendment relates to the location of the ONS and whether the board will have a coherent job of work to do. If the determination of the location of ONS staff is excludedif, for example, the board is precluded from deciding that the national accounts section must be at the heart of WhitehallI fear that the standing and reputation of the board will be negligible from the start.
Looking beyond March 2008 the Governments plans to convert the statistical side of ONS to become a non ministerial department reporting to an independent governing board ... These organisational changes will have little or no impact on the ONS relocation programme ... however any decision taken after the conversion will be the responsibility of the independent governing board.
There is some reluctance on behalf of the National Accounts Group and the Methodologists to embrace the proposed change to re-locate outside of London and they hold strong views on the likely risks to the business if this change is adopted. Their concerns are mainly around the ability to retain existing staff and recruit new, suitably qualified and experienced staff outside of the London area. This may have an impact on the quality of statistical output in relationships with key customers and stakeholders.
I submit that it must be part of the boards scope to conclude, if it so wishes, that the current move to take all ONS activities out of London, mainly to Newport, has caused a loss of morale and efficiency. The surveys figures on senior civil servants are quite astoundingI shall give them in a moment. All colleagues who have taken part in these debates will have seen the FDAs evidence to the Treasury Select Committee to which I am referring. The FDA points out that it is not simply making a trade union point, by any manner of means; it is expressing deep dismay at the impact on professional standards. It points out that no other country in Europe, with the exception of Germany, which has a highly federal structure, has a significant national statistical office presence in its capital city. Moreover, the demotion of ONS is not just from the outskirts of London, but from what we have always known as the Treasury building just across the road. We all know that in whatever walk of life we come from, access to and location close to the highest level correlates with the degree to which our function is taken seriously. If, in effect, none of the functions of the staff of the ONS is located in Whitehall, it looks a bit like a circus animal. The ONS will have a small presence here just to serve the board, with everyone else somewhere else.
The FDA believes that the ONS is at crisis point. The cumulative impact of the need to deliver efficiency savings, the
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I shall mention two of the survey results. Only 11 per cent of ONS senior civil servants think that the organisation is well managed, which is 40 percentage points lower than for the Civil Service as a whole. The second result is that 11 per cent of ONS senior civil servants think change is well managed in the organisation, which is 22 percentage points lower than for the Civil Service overall.
I have some sympathy with an observation that could be made: this is most unfair on the senior managers of the ONS. I think it is most unfair, but I have quoted the facts. It is most unfair that they are the people carrying the can in these circumstanceswe have all been there and got the T-shirtand have to take all the opprobrium of such a relocation.
I want to put on the record my personal thanks to the director of ONS for her courtesy and ready agreement to arrange for a senior colleague from Newport to come to the House of Lords and discuss with me over a cup of tea some factual questions concerning statistics on income distribution and how the £30 billion or £40 billion paid out in City bonuses fit into the published data based on averages for all employment pay increases widely quoted in inflation analyses, or excluded as the case may be. This is against a background where the board, if it is to have any authority, needs to have the whip hand over the Treasury on the publication of statistics on things like income distribution, not the other way around. Is that sort of signal being sent at this point in time? The answer to that question, in the vernacular, is You must be joking. The ONS seems to have been set efficiency targets by Gershon, on top of Lyons, hence the relocation targets. But I have to say that if anyone were to define cost-cutting as synonymous with efficiency, we would call it a caricature.
To recapitulate: first, after these changes, will there continue to be a significant London presence? I think the answer is no. Some 700 ONS staff are still here at the moment, but they will virtually disappear. Secondly, will it be possible to get staff with the specialist skills needed if London is closed down? The answer, I submit, is no. Thirdly, will there be a significant loss of experience through people resigning? The answer to that is yes. Fourthly, was there or is there still room for a compromise, such as keeping national accounts in London? That was rejected out of hand, so everybody will go. I do not see why that proposition has to be rejected out of hand.
My noble friend should be able to find a way to show ONS staff some light at the end of the tunneland I do not mean just the light at the end of the Severn Tunnel on the Great Western Railway. The location changes must not be set in concrete before the board gets to work. An assurance is needed that ifI believe whenthe board concludes that the comprehensive nature of the relocation has gone over the top and that it is damaging the quality of national statistics, the board will be able to make the necessary adjustments. So the changes cannot be set in concrete and some may need to be reversed, as the Irish
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Lord Newby: I am grateful to the noble Lord for bringing forward this amendment. At Second Reading and in Committee last week I raised the issue which he has raised in greater detail today. Since last week I have had a chance to read for the first time the FDA evidence to the Treasury Select Committee. That is the most damning document one could read of a decision to relocate any department anywhere in the UK given that one is talking about the FDA. It is not the miners union led by Arthur Scargill. One has to take what it says extremely seriously.
As a matter of principle, we on these Benches have been great supporters of relocation. Indeed, my noble friend in another place Dr Cable has argued that the whole Treasury should move to Liverpoola suggestion of which the Treasury has not approved with the alacrity with which it is forcing people from ONS to go down to south Wales. But there comes a point where, however much one might favour the principle of relocation, the cost and benefits weigh the other way. It seems to me that in respect of certain of the functions of the ONS, as the noble Lord, Lord Lea, explained, the argument for moving to Newport has not been made.
Last week I referred to information which had been passed to me from someone who currently works for the ONS. It was claimed that, as of a fortnight ago, of the division which produces the RPI and the CPIit has a staff of 35not one of them had chosen to relocate to Newport and that there were serious risks to the production of those statistics over the coming months. Does the Minister recognise those figures and that danger? What action will the Treasury take if it believes that there is a serious risk that major statistical series will be disrupted if the move, as currently planned, goes ahead?
As regards the role and powers of the board, if the amendment were passed, to reverse the changes, I fear that that could be extremely difficult unless it were possible to relocate back at a cost saving. As we have heard from the Minister, a five-year financial settlement has been agreed with the ONS which is predicated on the move to Newport being successfully concluded, with the reductions in costs that that brings with it.
Baroness Noakes: We have considerable sympathy with the amendment. We have debated several times the issue of relocation to Newport. I do not think that anyone has yet found any comfort in the situation in which the ONS finds itself.
There are two issues in relation to the amendment. First, in relation to Newport, is the position reversible? Does it have to happen? What are the cost implications
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My second set of issues concerns the future freedom of the board, which is also very important. We are told that this is a non-ministerial department, but we have never really had teased out what goes with being such a department. Does it mean that you get bullied by Lyons mark 2 or Goschen mark 3 into doing something you do not want to do or does the board actually have freedom? We have been told many times in Committee that the board will be trusted to do the right things, but we have never really had spelt out the constraints on the boards freedoms, so I welcome the debate that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, has allowed us to have on this issue.
Lord Northbrook: I, too, support the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Lea. The Government should listen very seriously to what he has said. The comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Newby, reflect the seriousness of the situation; that is, the statisticians who compile the CPI and the RPI will not be moving, which is a very dangerous situation. There will be a board, but no employees. The noble Lord, Lord Lea, is right to recommend that the board has the power to move to wherever it is necessary to get the right quality of employees.
Viscount Eccles: Perhaps I may briefly refer to cultural change. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, raised this issue at Second Reading and I referred to the 29 targets that the Office for National Statistics is bidden to meet. The noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, has thrashed out the bare bones of what we were asking at Second Reading. We have not had any answers to those worries. I referred earlier today to whether it is possible for the Statistics Board to hit the ground running. I simply do not believe that it is. I feel very strongly about the combination of where the Office for National Statistics is coming from, the regime under which it has been controlled to date and what is expected to happen with all this independence and rebuilding of public trust as the objective. Quite frankly, it will not happen unless someone takes a serious look at this Bill and makes many important changes between now and Third Reading.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to my noble friend for this amendment, which has triggered an interesting and important debate. We are in transition at present and, in any cost-benefit analysis, rather more of the costs are obvious than the benefits which
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The Lyons review argued that relocation offers value-for-money gains, with departments able to take advantage of significantly lower rents and potentially lower labour costs in other regions by aligning pay with local labour market conditions. Unnecessarily locating government activities in the most expensive part of the UK does not make sense. I ask whether anyone quarrels with those important propositions. Relocating posts out of London also increases opportunities in other parts of the UK, such as allowing people from other locations to join the Civil Service. Relocation delivers economic benefits for an area by creating valuable jobs. New locations can be a spur for new ways of working, adopting better business practices, processes and technology, and reforming organisational culture. That is why the Government are making steady progress across departments in terms of relocation. The Ministry of Defence has moved 1,900 posts, the Home Office is moving 1,300 posts and the Department for Work and Pensions is moving 3,900. They are not just operational posts; policy work is also moving. For example, DfID has moved various policy teams from London to Scotland. Specialist work is also being moved: 150 posts in the Department of Health and a former NHS information service have migrated from offices in London and the south-east to Leeds.
The ONS has a part to play in this wider strategy. It is relocating jobs out of London. I might add that accommodation costs are five times higher in London than they are in Newport, where most of the relocation is going. In circumstances where we all recognise the burden of London housing costs when it comes to the question of recruitment, the advantages that Newport offers will be recognised. This gives the ONS an opportunity to create a new structure, which will effect efficiency savings.
I recognise that my noble friend has rightly identified the concerns of the FDA about the dislocation caused by the move. Of course there are concerns at this stage, and it is important that the ONS responds to them. That is why there are significant relocation packages to encourage staff to relocate to south Wales and to provide support and additional training for them. It is recognised that asking staff to do this involves a degree of sacrifice on their part. But these are issues that the FDA and the other unions involved are well equipped to deal with, with regard to managers. I recognise what my noble friend is indicating; namely, that there is some dislocation that is causing anxiety at this stage. These issues need to be addressed, but he will also recognise that the current process is at probably its most stressful position.
I might add that Newport is not the end of the world, certainly not for statisticians. There is a significant ONS office already in Newport, so we are asking people to relocate not to a new site but to a well
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