Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
MONDAY 17 DECEMBER 2001
1. Good afternoon and welcome to the Committee
of Public Accounts. Today we welcome Mavis McDonald, Permanent
Secretary at the Cabinet Office, who is going to talk to us about
joined up Government. Perhaps you would like to introduce your
(Mavis McDonald) Perhaps you would not
mind if I asked them to introduce themselves as there are rather
a lot of us today I am afraid, starting with Stephen.
(Mr Mitchell) Stephen Mitchell, from the Treasury,
from the Public Services Directorate.
(Ms Hogbin) Vanessa Hogbin from the Small Business
(Ms Casey) Louise Casey from the Rough Sleepers Unit
(Ms Eisenstadt) Naomi Eisenstadt from Sure Start.
2. Thank you very much. Perhaps I can just lead
straight into page one where you will see in the third paragraph
that obviously joint working aims to deliver better public services.
What evidence is there to support the fact that joint working
is leading to better public services?
(Mavis McDonald) Thank you, Chairman. Perhaps, just
before I give you a straight answer, it is probably self-evident
obviously but my colleagues are here because, apart from Stephen
from the Treasury to whom the report directs some of its recommendations,
they each represent units which were case studies for the NAO
study, so I hope you will not mind if I ask them to join me in
giving you answers from their experience in response to some of
3. No, as long as you do not ask them to give
an answer to every single question.
(Mavis McDonald) No.
4. Because my colleagues are time limited.
(Mavis McDonald) Absolutely. I understand that.
5. There have been problems in the past where
colleagues have not been able to pursue a line of questioning
because you obviously cannot know what is going on with all these
schemes. So my colleagues may well want significant detail with
(Mavis McDonald) Okay. If we are playing it wrongly,
I would be grateful if you would give me a steer.
6. All right.
(Mavis McDonald) In starting off in answering your
question, there are a variety of ways in which we can seek evidence
from the centre from things like the People's Panel and Focus
Groups, from the work that has been done on customer focus that
the new Office of Public Service Reform will take forward and
from things like the Learning Labs which the Centre for Policy
and Management Studies have promoted within the Cabinet Office,
which are projects which take place with a variety of partners
in certain places in the country to find out what kind of experience
they have had of different aspects of policy making and delivery,
including joint working. From each of the individual programmes
which are going forward we have the capacity for increasingly
better read back from the Government Offices for the Regions about
what is working well and what is not working well on the ground,
as the range of departments which are now represented in the Government
Offices has increased considerably over the last couple of years.
We have some new methods of working where the concept of a Local
Strategic Partnership has been rolled out with particular reference
to the neighbourhood renewal programme which, as you know, is
a programme that came out of the Social Exclusion Unit's work
on neighbourhood renewal and led to the setting up of another
cross-cutting unit which actually was not one of the case studies.
Through the Local Strategic Partnerships the regional offices
have the capacity, again, to look at what is working well and
what is not working well there. Broadly there is a difference
between what methodology is working, how the partnerships are
working as partnerships to pull things together better in terms
of analysing problems. But on quite a lot of the programmes, including
some of those reflected here today, the actual delivery of better
outcomes is going to take a little time to come through depending
on what kind of client you are looking at.
7. We might come back to evaluations in a moment.
The schemes we are talking about today are spending a billion
pounds so you are happy to advise this Committee that it is money
well spent and adds up to value for money?
(Mavis McDonald) Yes, in so far as we have outcome
results so far. We have from the Rough Sleepers Unit the immediate
results that they have been tracking against their target over
time and you might want to ask Louise more about that.
8. I will come back in a moment to that.
(Mavis McDonald) Again, Sure Start is a slightly different
programme with a ten year focus.
9. All right. Can you now turn to page 23 and
you will see paragraph 11 there. You have got there the four approaches
which you are using to promote joint working. How are you measuring
their successes, page 23?
(Mavis McDonald) I think I will take them as they
come. In developing new thinking, then the Cabinet Office itself
has led quite a lot of new thinking through the reports of the
Social Exclusion Unit (SEU), the Performance and Innovation Unit,
and we monitor and work with departments on the implementation
of those reports. On the whole of the SEU's work we have an implementation
committee which is not necessarily just a monitoring committee
but a mutual support, exchange of views committee which we have
just set up to follow through on that kind of work. I think what
we are finding is some things work well and some things are much
more difficult. As the report itself points out, each policy requires
a slightly different approach to joint working, each policy might
require a different approach to the way in which the money and
funding is set up and each line of accountability might be slightly
different. I think we would view developing new thinking as work
in progress still and that there are several areas, such as those
that we are looking at on relationships with the voluntary sector,
where not everything is perfect and there is more to be done.
As to providing guidance and carrying out initiatives, we have
ourselves a best practice website which gets a significant number
of hits and we monitor the take up of people who hit the website
to see whether they have found it of any use at fairly regular
intervals. Also, we are members of something called the Public
Sector Benchmarking Service where we set up with Customs a benchmarking
scheme to cross the wider public service and not just the Civil
Service. We still, of course, have the Charter Mark scheme where
the continuing interest of people in public service delivery right
through from the centre of departments to the front line is some
indicator that the key policy set out in modernising government
which sets some of the benchmarks for the current Charter Mark
are still being pursued at various levels throughout Government.
On encouraging and facilitating experimentation, I would not really
want to add to the examples, particularly, given in the study
there. On resources and skills, I think, as you are aware, we
have got a range of programmes designed to improve policy making
including project management skills, risk management skills and
leadership skills across the Civil Service.
10. If we now turn to page 43, particularly
paragraph 2.15, you will see there under the headline `cross-cutting
Public Service Agreements' examples such as Criminal Justice System.
Have these agreements helped the departments to work together?
(Mavis McDonald) Could I ask Stephen Mitchell to answer
(Mr Mitchell) Yes. We believe that they have. There
is evidence both of some successful achievement, for example,
on the persistent re-offenders target where the target for the
length of time from arrest to disposal of sentence has been halved.
11. Could you speak up, please.
(Mr Mitchell) Yes. That target has been achieved ahead
of time which shows that at the outcome end of it some progress
has been made. There is also a sense that new structures have
been put in place, that having a PSA around which all Government
departments can focus their attentions has made sure that there
is a real transmission of will down the system and that some of
these departments that are working on common areas have to get
out of their silos.
12. That is quite a positive answer. If you
go straight back to page three, paragraph ten, you will see that
". . . local partnerships told us that while joint working
was now much better locally, they considered that departments
needed to work together more centrally". What is your response
(Mr Mitchell) I think departments can always work
together more at the centre. We feel that where the cross-cutting
Public Service Agreements have been put in place that has encouraged
that to start happening, or happening more than it would otherwise
13. Let us just pursue this business of people
not working together as well as they might. If you now go to page
92 you will see there is a comment there in paragraph 20. It says:
"In 1998, half of partners surveyed said that a lack of co-ordination
between central government departments was an important barrier
to partnership development because departments had differing roles,
areas of responsibility . . ." etc. How are you helping departments
to tackle these barriers?
(Mavis McDonald) I will ask Vanessa to answer that.
(Ms Hogbin) Obviously 1998, that was before we actually
introduced the Small Business Service. One of the reasons that
the Small Business Service was introduced was particularly to
tackle this issue about trying to get a more joined up approach
across Government to the delivery of services to small and medium
enterprises. Particularly, as you say, the feeling amongst the
partners on the ground, so to speak, was that they were trying
to deliver services to customers but were having to deal with
a variety of different funding streams with different objectives
added to them and, therefore, one of the main objectives of the
Small Business Service obviously is to pull some cohesion into
all of the funding streams to actually be able to deliver a more
coherent package direct to the customer.
14. Let us pursue some of this integration a
bit further and go back to page six, paragraph 14. You will see
there it says that units such as Sure Start have been set up to
integrate services because of the number of departments and organisations.
What is being done to ensure that their new methods of working
are adopted by other departments?
(Mavis McDonald) As the report itself points out,
there are a number of different kinds of approaches to joined
up working and not all models are necessarily the right ones.
There is not one model that fits all kinds of sets of circumstances.
I mentioned in an earlier answer the potential role of the regional
offices to feed back information about what is working on the
ground. The new White Paper on Local Government takes on the thinking
about working locally with local authorities and through different
kinds of partnerships further, and, of course, within the structures
at the centre of Government, including Cabinet Committees, there
is the capacity for oversight of issues to decide that an issue
needs a cross-cutting approach between departments. Sometimes
it is about bringing together thinking about the policies straight
away through one of these committees, sometimes it might be about
delivery and different ways of delivery, thinking what kind of
approach is required. Again as the report says, increasingly we
are trying to do this through area based initiatives looking at
whether an existing partnership or unit or authority might have
the capacity to lead on an issue that requires a degree of joined
working or, indeed, whether you want something very specific and
very targeted which has a one-off set of targets with a time limited
remit. What we are really trying to do is to bed down this thinking
in the way in which we approach policy development. As the report
suggests, thinking is needed about where you need to join up early,
who needs to analyse the problem, who then needs to own it and
implement it and choose which model best suits what is going on.
Across the whole of that there is the capacity for the PSA monitoring
processes and the targets set within the PSAs and SDAs to provide
a framework for a more or less continuous monitoring.
15. Okay. On to the bit about administrative
burdens, just for a moment. If you look at page eight, paragraph
20, you will see that some of the organisations may be small and
have a limited experience of working in the public sector. How
will you minimise the administrative burdens on these smaller
(Mavis McDonald) In terms of the relationships with
the voluntary sector, which are key players in a number of service
deliveries, we actually have a cross-cutting spending review looking
at the interactions on service delivery with the voluntary sector
which has as its terms of reference the scope for making that
relationship easier. The Regional Co-ordination Unit has been
doing some work on regeneration funding which is about making
the processes easier and we are trying to bring the two of those
together. The kinds of things we are thinking about doing are
about not expecting different requirements every time somebody
gets a grant but seeing the extent to which there can be an agreed
framework within which all departments ask the same kinds of questions
and the variation relates to the specific programme. We are also
looking at the capacity for things like only being accredited
by one department and if one department provides that accreditation
other departments will accept it without requiring small voluntary
bodies in particular to keep going through a costly process. All
this is work in hand. Those are the kinds of things we are tyring
to do to reduce the burden of that kind of impact.
16. Thank you very much. I want to ask a final
question about evaluation, but before I come on to that I want
to turn to Ms Casey and refer to the article in the Sunday
Mirror of 16 December 2001 which was throwing doubt on the
figures that you adduced for the reduction of rough sleepers.
"But the Sunday Mirror discovered that 12 people were
sleeping rough in Sheffield, despite official figures showing
just one, and in Bristol there were 21three times the official
figure." Now, the article says the Public Accounts Committee
are going to quiz you about this so perhaps we ought to quiz you
(Ms Casey) Basically the Sunday Mirror, my
understanding is, went out and surveyed people who they thought
were rough sleeping on the streets. They did not take part in
the local authority and charity street counts and audits that
have taken place. Overall, over the last five or six years, so
before 1996, the Government adopted the methodology for doing
rough sleeping counts and that has been done in successive years
in and out, in and out, and we have adopted the same thing. We
are measured against a 1998 base line that was based on that original
methodology which was actually developed by Shelter and Homeless
Network. In relation to the Sunday Mirror my view is that
they are trying to trash what has been an extraordinarily positive
two and a half years of tremendous work done by voluntary organisations,
charities and local authorities across the country, and it is
a shame that they are doing it. We stand by the figures. They
are the most robust and consistent method, the street counts take
place in the same way and they have done now for years, since
17. Do some organisations, very worthy organisations,
have an impetus perhaps to exaggerate figures to encourage extra
(Ms Casey) That is for you to judge. My view is that
we have lots of methods as to how we scrutinise and look at the
performance of voluntary organisations that are funded by the
taxpayer to deliver services to help rough sleepers, to help them
come inside. We have got those mechanisms in place and they are
the people we have the relationship with.
18. Okay. Just finally on evaluation, Ms McDonald.
That is a very important area which other colleagues may want
to return to. If you turn to page seven, paragraphs 17, 18 and
19, you will see there have been very few independent evaluations
of these schemes' cost-effectiveness. For the average cost of
reducing rough sleeping it is £70,000 per person. That is
a lot of money on this. Should you be doing more to assess cost-effectiveness?
(Mavis McDonald) I think that we fully accept the
recommendation in the report that we need to get better at evaluation,
and that includes cost-effectiveness, in terms of joint initiatives
where some of our experience is relatively new in terms of the
kind of issues we are trying to address and the methods that we
are using. We would not want to disagree with the NAO on that
recommendation. I think we would expect the main evaluation to
be led by departments obviously but within a framework of the
monitoring processes of the PSA/PSX, the ministerial committee
that scrutinises departments' performance. I think too that we
recognise part of the focus on improved public service delivery
by ministers since the election and the setting up of the new
units in the Cabinet Office is designed to ensure that we, when
we are developing policies, are thinking through more about implementation,
how you tell whether it is working. It really goes back to some
of the discussions we have had about risk management as part of
policy making and having robust methods in the evaluation of what
is happening in order to enable you to know whether you are still
on track or whether you need to vary the policy. I would go back
to what I said earlier, some of the examples we have got here
are very specific with short-term targets, some of them are much
longer programmes and of much greater complexity where the actual
evaluation of the outcomes as opposed to what you are doing is
actually going to take some time to come through.
19. This goes against the whole grain of Whitehall,
does it not, joined up Government. It is quite a task you have
got but there is heavy impetus, particularly from the Prime Minister.
When this impetus comes to an end do you think you can sustain
this progress towards joined up Government in Whitehall?
(Mavis McDonald) I think there has been a lot going
on over the last two or three years to try and ensure we do see
joined up working as part of our responsibility as civil servants,
including the kind of way in which we set our own objectives against
which we are going to be assessed for our own pay. I think in
terms of long term sustainability through particular programmes
then we are going to have some interesting debates about exit
strategies from particular programmes to ensure that we can make
the successful programmes, where we brought different departments
together to deal with a particular client group or a particular
issue, sustain that interest over time. Those are some of the
discussions we are having now about how you might do that. I think
none of us would be confident that you just say "Well, you
set up a unit and you walk away" or you identify a problem
and walk away. Currently we have various kinds of machinery, like
that on neighbourhood renewal, for example, where there is a ministerial
committee supervising implementation. There is also a Permanent
Secretary Committee led by the Treasury. We have quite a lot of
new bits of framework, as it were, to try and ensure we sustain
Chairman: Thank you very much. I will now turn
to Mr Steinberg. Will you keep your answers as brisk as possible.