Examination of Witness (Questions 1140
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
1140. Is it also true that people from the regions
will come to you and say "Can you help us with a problem?"
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) People in the regions
will not come with individual problems but the regional offices
will, from time to time, say there is a problem with this initiative
or that particular activity in Government but it will not be in
reaction to a particular region with a particular problem. It
is more about the process by which Government delivers.
1141. Do the heads of the regional offices meet
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) They meet monthly. They
meet every month.
1142. In London?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In London, yes. They meet
from time to time elsewhere. They have had awaydays.
1143. Do you meet them?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I meet them monthly.
1144. That is your meeting?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, I go to the meeting.
Other things happen as well. For example, other ministers will
talk to them about particular proposals they have about delivery
of a particular activity in the regions. They will also meet with
other departmental officials who will talk to them about delivery.
They will have a proper and profound contact with Central Government.
They are an arm of Central Government. They are Central Government's
voice, eyes and ears and co-ordinator in the regions.
1145. You report to the Deputy Prime Minister?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do.
1146. Your accountability in terms of Parliament
through DETRI do not know how it is done Select Committee
wisewould you expect to regularly appear before any Select
Committee? Who are you accountable to?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have appeared before
the Select Committee for the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
That is the one I think that Rob Smith, the Director-General,
would regard himself as being responsible to.
1147. That is very helpful. I was baffled when
we went to Newcastle at the number of different initiatives and
the number of different organisations on the ground.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
1148. Many of these are new initiatives, I understand
that, and regional offices are still in their infancy and have
a history we all understand. Fundamentally I could not see why
you had a Government Office and a development agency. Do you have
any personal views about that?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do. The RDAs are there
to promote the economic well being of the region. They are there
to set a plan and a direction economically for the North West,
the North East, whichever region it might be. They are not an
arm of Government whereas the Government Offices are, as it were,
the emanation of Central Government in the region. So, take an
example, the Government Office will play a part in co-ordinating
Sure Start which is for nought to fours, Connexions which is for
14 to 19 year olds, the Children's Fund which is for five to 14,
those are three separate initiatives that Government has. They
involve different age groups of children but huge numbers of problems
that children face are family driven problems rather than individual
children type problems. The role of the Government Office in part
is to assist those three initiatives coming together. They ensure
that the Government's delivery is done in a co-ordinated way.
That is a totally different exercise, it seems to me, from the
Regional Development Agencies which are there to say what the
economic strategy for the particular region should be.
1149. When we were in Newcastle we had a number
of examples, but particularly on the police side, of initiatives
that the correct person did not know were coming in or did not
know were being pruned.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sure. The correct person
in the Government Office you mean?
1150. Yes, working in the team of the Government
Office, working for the Government Office, that is absolutely
right. It did seem to me that there would be an interesting clash
of some sort if a Government Office and a RDA should ever disagree
about something. Does one have power over the other? Does one
supersede the other in certain things?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Regional Development
Agencies are, as I say, trying to set an economic framework for
the particular region and the economic goals. In doing that, they
would plainly have regard to what Central Government's policy
is on training and skills, on social exclusion, on economic activity
1151. Whose job in the regions is it to make
sure that works?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) "That" being
1152. That these are co-ordinated or they understand
each other, these two wings of Government?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is for the Government
Office to make sure that the Regional Development Agency has a
proper understanding of what Central Government's policy is. It
is for the Regional Development Agency to set what it thinks the
economic framework for the region is and then to get it approved
by the regional chamber which has happened in every case, I think.
It is not a question of clash because any sensible RDA is obviously
going to have in mind, whatever the complexion of the Government
may be, they have to have regard to what Central Government's
policies are in trying to set an economic framework for the region.
1153. People will always in their minds refer
back to London and wonder who is behind a particular organisation,
how high up the political pecking order the principal of the organisation
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In the example given,
how high up the chairman of the RDA is, you mean?
1154. No. If you turned up in a region
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Which I do quite regularly.
1155.when you want to poke around and
do this, that and the other, they will say "Here is someone
with the ear of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister,
we must take life dead seriously". That may be true of some
Government Offices, it may be true of some RDAs. It does not alter
the basic politics of it which is where the power resides.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) In terms of the Government
Offices' role, if we deliver over the years in relation to this,
what you would want would be the Government Offices being perceived
to understand what goes on in Central Government, to be the eyes
and ears of Central Government and to be somebody who can speak
for Central Government authoritatively in the regions and be able
to co-ordinate what Central Government is seeking to do.
1156. One last question. The Government Offices
do seem to be a very successful amalgamation of people from different
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
1157. Is that a model which could be looked
at in Whitehall?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes. The problem you have
in Whitehall is a problem of departmental-itis but can you conceive
of any model for Central Government where there were not health
departments, education departments, home departments? You have
to divide it up in some way because Government cannot just be
a great amorphous one department. The Government Office is Central
Government in the Regions where, in a sense, you are dealing primarily
only with delivery of particular things and co-ordinating delivery.
At the centre of Government while you would like to replicate
that I think in practice it would be very difficult to do, therefore
you need countervailing pressures within Central Government to
countervail against the departmental-itis of each individual department.
I cannot see how you can have a model where there is only one
great entity with no departmental-itis or no departments.
1158. There are those cynics who would say that
many of these initiatives or units were designed to increase the
power at the absolute centre, the Downing Street centre of Government,
necessarily in power terms at the expense of departments and responsible
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think that. Take
one product of what the Social Exclusion Unit has done which is
the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit which is placed in DETR. The purpose
of that Unit is to provide a pressure within Government to address
the problems of social exclusion. Social exclusion is a problem
that health, education, a whole range of departments will come
up with, if you have some pressure in Government for saying "When
you think about health, when you think about education, be informed
about social exclusion, bear it in mind" that looks a sensible
way of organising a Government. It is nothing to do with trying
to strengthen the centre, it is actually in DETR but it has got
a free standing quality to it that puts pressure on departments
to bear in mind social exclusion.
1159. I can understand why Government ministers
are reluctant to say it is to strengthen the centre. Some Members
of this Committee think it is a very good idea, some do and some
do not. For a long time some of the departments have just worked
their own way in a rather ill defined perhaps ill directed way.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.