Examination of Witness (Questions 860
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
860. He was not sacked summarily, he was eased
out after an interval.
(Mr Mulgan) He has been playing a rather powerful
role in recent months in British public life, I believe. As I
say, it is not for me to comment on that. I think it is possible
to make that transition. It depends upon the particular individual.
I in the past worked with all parties and in many non-political
roles, which probably made it easier for me to make the change
than it would be for many special advisers. Clearly, in the event
of an election and a change of Government, I in my current role
would need to review with our new masters the PIU work programme
and so on. That is a natural thing in Government. I would not
want to generalise in any way about the implications of what I
have done, how far other people could or could not do it.
861. That is a shame. I thought that would be
a very interesting question, because my next question was going
to be, you are there as a unit to compensate for what must be
seen as failings or weaknesses in existing civil service structure
to some degree, otherwise you would not have been created. All
Governments think there are things wrong with the Civil Service,
and there probably are, and you are partly there to help rectify
that. My next question was going to be, do you think that a lifetime
career structure in the Civil Service as we have now at the top,
with relatively little movement in and outyou are an exception,
in a sense I was an exception, moving in and outis the
way forward, or do you think we need much better interchange between
other walks of life, other careers and the Civil Service?
(Mr Mulgan) I have three comments. First of all, on
the first bit of your question, I think it is right that Governments
of all political persuasions have tried to do what, in a sense,
the PIU is part of trying to do, which is to find a way to make
Government more strategic, better at doing policy, better at being
longer term. Probably the clearest antecedent of the PIU is the
CPRS which was set up by Ted Heath nearly 30 years ago. I would
tend to agree with the implication of the next bit of your question,
which Sir Richard talked about as well, which is that the Civil
Service would benefit from having more interchange, more openness,
more key people getting different kinds of experience in their
working lives, but with the caveatand I think it is a very
important one which I believe this Committee has addressed as
wellthat that must not be done at the expense of the very
clear core values, principles and ethos which bind public service
as a whole together and make it different from other kinds of
service. With that caveat, I think not only Government benefits
from getting different kinds of experience and expertiseand
the PIU is part of that, half our membership at any one time is
seconded from outside Governmentbut also there is a benefit
to the rest of society if more people working in the wider public
sector, local government, business, know how central Government
works, that it is not an obscure field which most people do not
862. I agree with everything you have said so
far, and I particularly agree with that. How are we going to get
it? You are the innovation unit. What is the innovative way to
(Mr Mulgan) I can only talk about what we do in that
respect, because I have no responsibility for personnel policies
across the Civil Service.
863. Until you are appointed to do a study on
how to get more people in and out.
(Mr Mulgan) When we do that I will be delighted to
give you a full answer. As for the moment, all I can say is that
we are doing all we can to pull in as many people as possible
from different walks of life into the PIU. You may have seen that
we have advertised in the last week for people from all fields
to offer their services, to come and spend six to nine months
in central Government. We are very keen not only to get people
from across business, voluntary sector, public sector, but also
from abroad. We already have a number of people working in the
PIU seconded from governments elsewhere around the world. We find
that extremely useful. I hope we can to some extent act as the
role model or pilot, if you like, for other bits of Government
to copy. In a sense, that is part of the broader ethos of working
in a very open, wide and transparent way.
864. I have one last question which draws on
something which the Chairman was talking about, which is the Strategic
Futures Groups. Roughly how many people in each of the major departments
are there in the Strategic Futures Groups? Could you tell us a
bit more about them? I know very little. How many are there and
how long have they been established? Who is setting their agendasis
it the Secretary of State, or are they generating their own? How
does their role compare with what the CPRS has been doing for
the whole Government, in this case at a departmental level? Tell
me a bit more.
(Mr Mulgan) I cannot give a comprehensive answer.
They are pretty different in kind. The Foreign Office, for example,
has long had a policy planning staff. The DTI has a futures and
innovation unit which operates with a particular style in a fairly
open way. In other departments these units are much more closely
tied into core strategy-making by the department and by the Permanent
Secretary. So it is slightly hard, it is impossible in fact, to
generalise. I do not know the numbers involved as a whole across
Whitehall. What I would say is that more and more departments
see it as useful to have a specialist function within them which
is looking further ahead than immediate policy priorities, which
is identifying the factors in their external environment which
may help or hinder; and also, critical for our work, looking at
more cross-cutting issues at how things which may appear at first
glance to be another department's domain may in fact impinge on
their work. Often the worst policy disasters arise from not noticing
something which appears to be in a different neighbourhood but
which actually affects you. So I am afraid I cannot give you an
answer on individual units.
865. Has this group ever met, to your knowledge?
(Mr Mulgan) The Strategic Futures Group meets in a
very low-key, very informal way. We bring in presentations, usually
866. That is one from each department?
(Mr Mulgan) Yes, one or two.
867. I am trying to get a feel for how many
people there are. I know something about the Policy Planning Unit
of the Foreign Office which has been around for a long time, as
I say, but I do not have any experience of the Strategic Futures
Group, and I wondered if you could help.
(Mr Mulgan) There are one or two people from a range
of departments at any one point. At one meeting there might be
20 or 30 people.
868. Would you be prepared to give us a note?
I know you do not have any formal powers in this area, but would
you be prepared to send us a note setting out how many people
there are on these committees, and any other information you feel
you ought to divulge?
(Mr Mulgan) I cannot see any problem in giving you
a note about this particular group. It is a very loose, low-key
committee, there is nothing particularly controversial about it.
What I cannot do is give you a note on the individual units within
departments, their work, who sets their programme and so on, mainly
because I do not know.
869. All right, I will table some PQs. It is
jolly hard work sometimes getting information, but are they all
always called Strategic Futures Groups?
(Mr Mulgan) No.
870. Could you give us a list of what they are
called in the case of each department? Would you be prepared to
(Mr Mulgan) Can I just clarify that. The Strategic
Futures Group is a committee, an informal committee made up of
individual units across a wide range of departments in Whitehall
and indeed beyond, which meets irregularly to share information,
ideas, to have presentations from outside. I am absolutely delighted
to share information about that group which we convene as the
PIU. What I cannot do is tell you in detail about what its members
do, what their work programmes are, exactly whom they report to
and so on.
871. Fair enough. Will you send me a list at
least of the named headings under which these groups operate in
(Mr Mulgan) Yes.
872. If you could send us a note of the areas
Andrew is asking about, that would be helpful.
(Mr Mulgan) Yes, I am happy to do that.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
873. Do special advisers sit on these committees?
(Mr Mulgan) No, not as far as I am aware.
874. I have a couple of questions to Ann and
one final question for Geoff before I move on to Ann. One of the
great initiatives the Government set up was a complete review,
with quite a number of pilots, but one of the issues that I see
that needs to be tackled is how do you turn the pilots into full
scale, right across the Government, particularly when departmental
budgets are departmental and not allocated to joined-up initiatives?
How do you actually tackle that?
(Mr Mulgan) I think this is one of the great issues
involved in making Government more evidence based. On the one
hand, in an ideal world, for every new policy we would have a
series of pilots which would be fully evaluated and assessed,
and then if they worked you would roll them out nationally. In
practice, life is too short for that.
875. There is an election coming up.
(Mr Mulgan) We have a variety of pilots, pathfinders
and so on, which by and large are fully evaluated four, five,
six years down the line, but in addition departments try to identify
the early lessons, the emerging conclusions, from their work and
scale those up. In my view, British Governmentand I think
this is a common feature in many other governments toohas
been relatively poor at quickly enough identifying what works,
what are the promising innovations, and then analysing which of
those are in fact replicable or not. Often they depend upon a
particular individual who has been very creative, or a particular
local circumstance which makes it possible to do something which
simply is not possible elsewhere. We do not have good ways of
identifying and analysing those, and then finally of quickly scaling
them up across the country. Some departments are better at this
than others, but as a whole our system is rather better at taking
a national command and implementing it in a standardised way,
than learning from pilots and, as I say, scaling up particular
innovations. This is not an issue which is unique to the UK, it
is one which, if you talk to many other governments, they are
grappling with. It is an issue where we have quite a lot to learn
from business, and bodies like the World Bank in the development
field, which put a lot of time and effort into thinking about
how you understand emerging successes, scale them up and replicate
them. I think it would be a fair criticism that the UK Government
is not doing this anything like as well as it should be.
876. Could I move to Ann. My understanding is
that you have got the government element of the e-Envoy's Office
and that the commercial element is elsewhere, is that right?
(Ms Steward) That is right, I have the responsibility
for the e-Government Group, one of three within the e-Envoy's
877. I was talking to Cable and Wireless at
lunchtime. They gave me their brochure about the GSI project and
e-Government. In the glossary at the back it has a whole series
of terms such as Government Gateway, GSC, GSI, GSI Extranet, GTS,
knowledge network, portals, etcetera, etcetera. Is not one of
the problems that e-Government has got that nobody knows what
it is, and the language is totally alien to most people?
(Ms Steward) Our work in the e-Government Group is
really trying very hard to present information back to the citizens
in a way that is meaningful for them, in a language that is easy
to read and that can be understood and relate to their own individual
life experiences as well. I think our Citizen Portal is exactly
a reflection of that; to be able to present information around
what we have termed "life episodes", so that they can
actually have greater clarity on that. We continue to work with
departments and agencies in terms of the content of the information
and services that they have, to ensure that they are presenting
it in a way that is meaningful and has greater clarity. Technology
does bring with it some of the acronyms and special language that
are quite unique to it, but we are trying to break down that difficulty
in presenting information in clearer language.
878. One of the criticisms of the Government's
Secure Intranet is that it is purely Government, and that there
is a whole local government world out there who would be quite
willing to share information with Government, but they can see
that they have not got the budgets to set up the links. Government
departments are quite willing to share the information with local
government, but they are not prepared to pay for the link to get
there. How are you tackling that interface between local government
and central Government?
(Ms Steward) We work very closely with local government
through their associations, the LGA and the IDeA, particularly
our central Government organisation DETR who are the leading authority
in that regard. We work closely with them, particularly the LGA,
in supporting work which they would have for their own online
initiatives. We support them in making available to them any of
the work we do on our frameworks, our standards, our strategy
documents, in fact any of the work that we do on areas like our
Citizen Portal where we have close links with them as well. I
think you would be aware that through the recent spending round
there has been additional money made available to local government£350
millionto assist them in getting online as well.
879. One of the criticisms there has been is
that the money that has been available for the investment in technology,
in wiring up different departments, has come out of the Invest
to Save Fund, and that the total of the money may be larger over
time, but because it is split up into very small chunks of invest
to save, the best has not been got out of it. Is that part of
the criticism of the programme, or is that just somebody who is
scaremongering? Do you recognise that picture?
(Ms Steward) The Invest to Save Fund I think is a
very useful and very valuable fund. It has clearly demonstrated
the opportunities that various departments and agencies can gain
through having access to the additional money to support new initiatives
that they could not normally fund to go forward. It is supplemented
also with the Capital Modernisation Fund which specifically targets
capital investment to be able to go forward in that. I think my
colleague might want to add a bit more information specifically
on the Invest to Save Fund.
(Mr Czerniawski) It is part of the intention of the
Invest to Save budget that it is really one of these new initiatives,
things that have not been done before, trying out ideas and being
ready to recognise that some will succeed and some will be less
successful. The scaling up of the new ideas is part of implementation.
The larger implementation falls back into the standard spending
review process. It puts us in the position to sponsor a wide range
of activities from which we can learn from industry what works,
encouraging a spread across the country.