Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)|
THURSDAY 18 OCTOBER 2001
PRESCOTT MP, THE
TRADESTON CBE AND
80. You are.
(Mavis McDonald) We have pretty well
doubled, largely through the addition of the Government Offices
of the Regions, since before the election. So we are approaching
5,000 staff where we were something over 2,000. These are estimates
yet because we have not got the final resources agreed for the
new structure for the remainder of the year. In total we expect
to be spending about £170 million a year more on administration
resource costs which is largely staff and capital.
81. Are these administrative costs, the ones that
are unique or the main responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister,
allocated to you and others allocated to No10? I think there is
a suspicion in some people's minds that there is increasing confusion
between what was traditionally No10 staff and traditionally the
Cabinet Office staff. Is the budget shared?
(Mavis McDonald) I am the Accounting
Officer for all the units, including the staff at No10.
82. A reverse takeover.
(Mavis McDonald) This is for the purposes
of the formal accounting and in the Departmental Report we send
to the Committee we give quite detailed break downs of that and
I would expect you to see the new attributions as we get them
through in supplementaries shortly.
(Mr Prescott) And the Cabinet Office has been involved
in that. I cannot remember the term, I think Mr Heseltine called
it the dust can or something.
83. Bran tub?
(Mr Prescott) Bran tub he said, yes.
Then he said that each Cabinet Office comes along and picks up
different pieces, it has got drugs and that goes to the Home Secretary,
and you must make a judgment as to whether that is right or wrong.
It has been a bit of a rolling stone on occasions and I suppose
that is a reflection of the importance that the Prime Minister
has put to things. Somebody was saying to me the other day "You
have got to make sure science is in No10", I said "Why
should it be in No10", "It used to be before".
It has picked a lot of things up and we all have to be judged
on the actions we take and what that balance is and we are presenting
to you today our balance.
84. Just as a matter of fact, perhaps to the Accounting
Officer, it would be the case, would it not, that No10 has invented
these new units, it happens to have located them in the Cabinet
(Mavis McDonald) Yes.
85. They will not count as an expansion of No10 because
they will count as an expansion of the Cabinet Office, is that
(Mavis McDonald) The whole account is
published as one account for No10 and the Cabinet Office. If we
are negotiating with the Treasury for resourcing in the Spending
Review then we are negotiating for the whole lot together.
86. In terms of numbers of staff, numbers of staff
will be counted as having expanded in the Cabinet Office despite
the fact that these units are working to No10 in fact.
(Mavis McDonald) I think it will be quite
clear where staff are located. They are located in the Cabinet
Office, some of the heads of the unit work through the Cabinet
Office through Ministers to No10. Some of the units are based
in No10, not in the Cabinet Office.
87. It is not a question of whether it is good or
bad but we are trying to get an account of it.
(Mavis McDonald) We have been spending
some time bringing units in and sending units out and setting
up the new units. We have also redistributed some of the work
that was going on before to fit in to the new agenda and the new
units. That is why we have taken a little time to produce the
organisation chart and update our website. We should have that
for you very, very shortly.
88. We look forward to that.
(Mr Prescott) And it could be easily
89. Is it possible that before the Secretary of the
Cabinet comes to us we could have the order because last time
there was a great delay and it was irritating to both of us?
(Mr Prescott) I am interested to hear
there was a delay before. It is just total hell, all of these
things, because everyone is concerned about their position on
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) To help
Mr Trend and his definition of the Delivery Unit, as the Deputy
Prime Minister said earlier his responsibilities are broad and
strategic; mine are very specific with the Delivery Unit with
day to day oversight of, as I say, 30 people working to the Prime
Minister who holds regular stock takes with the Secretaries of
State, at which we are present. We report regularly to the Prime
Minister on how his priorities are progressing, whether they have
been achieved or not. We also try to offer some solutions to specific
problems as they emerge or to identify those problems. In looking
to bring those solutions forward of course I work very closely
with the Deputy Prime Minister and try to ensure that the other
units inside the Cabinet Office, many of whom I have got no formal
association with, try to use their efforts to bring us the solutions
that are needed in the four priority areas of health, education,
transport and crime.
91. But why is it not sufficient for the guy in the
Treasury to do this as part of the PSA exercise?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) We work
very closely with the Treasury but they have got 160 PSAs so their
public sector teams obviously have a very wide spread of responsibility
across Government. What the Prime Minister has said is that there
are particularly challenging areas, not necessarily more important
but more challenging, on which this Delivery Unit will concentrate.
My day to day business is to report as regularly as necessary
to the Prime Minister on what is going on there and to ensure
that the Treasury also understand what difficulties might be emerging.
I think you will find if you have the opportunity to talk to any
Treasury officials that they will now see that we are able to
dive under the surface of problems in a way that would not be
possible for their units with such a broad sweep of responsibility.
92. Can I stick with this Delivery Unit business.
I think there are two imperatives driving the Labour Government
and they may be contradictory. One is to modernise structures,
let us take the Health Service, and the other is to deliver outcomes.
At the moment there is huge upheaval in the Health Service. If
I just look at my own area in Lancashire, we have got a new Primary
Care Trust, we have got the merging of two NHS trusts, my own
one and the one covering Jack Straw's constituency, we have got
the creation of a new Mental Health Trust in Lancashire and we
have the abolition of the East Lancashire Health Authority. That
is one of the 16 health authorities in the north-west which have
been collapsed down to three. And we have got all the changes
on patient representations, CHCs and so on. I just wonder if it
is possible to deliver the outcome that the Government wants to
see at a time of massive organisational change?
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) We are
looking at a perspective of four or five years for this Parliament
and inevitably at a time of change there will be distractions
clearly for the people involved. But by changing the structures,
of course, you might judge it much more likely that you will deliver
the outcomes that you need for the patients, for the customers
there. That is a decision that has clearly been taken in a number
of areas, many of them, of course, having gone through as Acts
of Parliament. I accept that, of course, there are difficult times
in prospect for those in the process of change. I accept too that
it is our job to try to reduce the complexity by ensuring that
one of the principles of public life is to try and put as much
of the responsibility down to the front line as is possible. We
can have national frameworks for accountability and performance
but the Prime Minister is very insistent in trying to get the
responsibilities down to the front line, as we have done quite
successfully in schools for instance. Those are the priorities
that we are pursuing, not just for the Delivery Unit but, for
instance, the Regulatory Impact Unit has been working and trying
to strip out red tape from elements of the Health Service as well
as the Police as well as the educational establishments. We want
to try to focus all of the activities of these various groups
on these key concerns which are the four priority areas.
93. You are much more than just progress chasers
obviously. I am interested in the relationship between the Delivery
Unit and individual Departments.
(Mr Prescott) Reform.
94. Reform, yes. What we have been talking about
is whether the Departments respond to the Delivery Unit initiative
or whether you sit down with the Departments and work out what
is possible jointly.
(Mr Prescott) I think this is an extremely
important point. If I look at New Deal for Communities I get the
similarity of all these Departments' programmes and our job is
how can you bring them together to deliver and focus on one area,
whether it is health or the New Deal for Communities. This is
a real problem for us in delivery, I do not think there is any
doubt about it. That is why the Prime Minister often mentions
reform is necessary for the delivery. You cannot just provide
the money, it is the outcomes we are talking about and not just
simply putting money in and then they will deal with it. All the
evidence shows that it is not. I must say in some of the evidence
we have got returning where we have been measuring the outputs
and seeing how we have done on the outcomes we have seen an improvement.
I think it was done in teachers, was it not? It was done in teenage
pregnancy. It is this cross-cutting how we get to achieve it.
We will not achieve all those targets unless we can achieve that
interface and the reform. That is what we are very much trying
to do. At the end of the day though if we find that you cannot
deliver itLet me perhaps give you an example which always
struck me as right for us to do what we are doing without perhaps
giving an indication of Ministers involved. We had a particular
programme for something and we said that should be done. I will
not get into all the controversial areas about it. We set it on
our cards, I went round the country and then we found that the
Department did not think that was an important priority and we
did not discover that until 18 months in and that is the first
period of a government. I think the Department probably had the
best side of the argument in this. We had made it a commitment
and at the end of the day they just were not delivering it. If
we do not know that earlier than 18 months before we are going
to have real problems about delivery. It may argue that is not
the right one you should have been promising, and I am sure there
are many arguments, but we learn from experience that perhaps
targeting was not done properly to begin with, perhaps we have
got to change it if we want to be successful. I have no doubt
the question that has been posed by yourself, how we reform delivery,
how we actually perhaps lift the burden of too many commitments
in too many areas and indeed be focussed on what we really want
from people is something that this Committee has always been concerned
about and we have got to be as concerned about the delivery and
the reform of it if we are to achieve those targets.
95. This is in relation to one of the points Gus
Macdonald just mentioned about the Regulatory Unit. Something
which I have majored on for many years is deregulation. You mentioned
the Regulatory Unit as trying to tackle red tape. The reality
is that the Deregulation Select Committee, of which I am also
a Member, has only deregulated in three areas since Labour came
to office. That is on dancing, you can dance more in this country,
you can drink more at different times and you can gamble more.
Those are the three deregulatory areas which the Government has
been successful on. I would like to compliment you on that, we
have a much happier society.
(Mr Prescott) As a drinking, dancing
Member of Parliament.
96. There is a real problem about deregulation, that
it just is not happeningjust is not happening. You as an
industrialist must realise that what the Tories did was the easy
bit. We deregulated and really we repealed by secondary legislation.
We repealed things that would take ages to go through the Commons
and the Lords and we found a new device. As far as lifting the
burden, and I know the Deputy Prime Minister has been interested
in this as long as I have, it is not happening because society
is getting more and more complicated, there are more rules and
regulations coming out of Europe, and I am on the European Select
Committee as well. I just think the reality is very different
from the window dressing. If you have got 5,000 staff in the Department
I say to myself "there is the start of the deregulation,
cut that to 50". That would be your start of deregulation.
The best way to deregulate is to cut the number of staff because
they then cannot enforce.
(Mr Prescott) That happened in your previous
administration and you ended up with more regulations than you
started with and less staff.
97. When we had Michael Heseltine in front of us
one day in the last Parliament, I may not have the words exactly
right, he said something like "I did not believe a word of
(Mr Prescott) I am in that school, I
am sorry to disappoint you.
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) In reply to Mr Steen,
I was indeed one of those businessmen called before Mr Heseltine
and I took what he said very seriously at that time. I had no
doubt that his intention was to slash away at red tape and I am
sure it is an aspiration of every government. We are perhaps more
worldly now in realising just what a difficult job it is.
(Mr Prescott) It did not help in the food industry.
(Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) There may be some trends
that will help us. Chris Haskins and his Task Force are doing
good work. Lord Haskins believes, for instance, that the amount
of regulation coming out of Europe will now lessen considerably
that we are through a particular phase there. I think too we should
not underestimate the commitment that this Government has given
to it. As you say, we brought in the reform which offered the
Regulatory Reform Orders and I hope that Parliament will be as
eager as we are to see those processed efficiently because I think
that is an important new route for changing legislation quickly.
I have got a panel for regulatory accountability which calls Ministers
to account for their Departments' regulatory performance. We have
got plans requested from every Department so that we can make
an assessment of whether they are trying hard enough on this front
and there is a Minister for Regulatory Reform in every Department.
I can assure you that the Prime Minister is more passionate about
it than even I remember Michael Heseltine being. I think he means
every word of it.
98. The real test is if you want to dance more, if
you want to drink more, if you want to gamble more, thank Labour,
but anything more has not actually happened. I want to come back
to why and that is hygiene, because every time you want to make
something cleaner everybody says "let us pass a new regulation
and a new rule", so there are hygiene regulations coming
out from everywhere, and yet, in spite of that, there have been
more incidents of food poisoning everywhere than ever before.
Then safety: as a result of the current world security you cannot
stop safety regulations coming out, there will be more safety
regulations, and security, there is no limit to the amount of
regulations on security. What I am saying is we ought to be honest
and your unit ought to say "look, we are not going to succeed
on this, it is like King Canute, they are coming out from every
angle, hygiene, safety, security".
(Mr Prescott) Europe. Most of it comes
Brian White: The Committee has actually asked
for the Minister to come to the Regulatory Reform Committee. You
were not there on Monday.
Chairman: I feel a speech coming on, Anthony.
Mr Steen: I have finished it.
Chairman: We have heard it before and it is
a very good speech.
99. Can I come back to the Delivery Unit and regional
government. Who will make the assessment about whether the regional
government objectives have been met in some way?
(Mr Prescott) Our view is that regional
government will lead to a much more efficient and effective way
of delivering public services through the process of decentralisation.
I suppose you can make a judgment if you look at Scotland or Wales
whether they have achieved that because that is a matter of devolution.
Our judgment would be, therefore, in delivering services as we
have at the moment because most of the agencies are local authorities
who deliver in most of our processes.