Letter from The Rt Hon John Prescott MP
At the session of your Committee which I attended
on 18 October, along with Lord Macdonald and Mavis McDonald, I
undertook to write to follow-up some of the questions. It may
also be helpful if I further clarify some of our answers.
Brian White asked (Questions 45-48) about the
work of the Office of the e-Envoy on e-Government, in particular
about the way in which pilot projects become mainstreamed and
how the roll-out of projects would be addressed in the forthcoming
Spending Review. The Office of the e-Envoy (OeE) is working closely
with HM Treasury to ensure that the 2005 target (to have all government
services available electronically and in a customer-focused form),
and the roll-out of electronic service delivery projects to meet
it, is fully integrated into consideration in the 2002 Spending
Review. Officials from OeE will be working with the Treasury spending
teams looking at Departments' bids and assessing the impact of
the e-government projects therein.
Annette Brooke asked (Questions 54-67) about
the transfer from me to the Prime Minister of a Parliamentary
Question from Mark Oaten MP (8224) on the role played by the Delivery
Unit in placing Railtrack into administration, and generally about
the role of the Delivery Unit in such matters. The Parliamentary
Question was transferred because the Delivery Unit reports direct
to the Prime Minister, although Lord Macdonald has the day-to-day
supervision of the Unit, as set out in the Prime Minister's Answer
to Graham Allen MP (7162) on 19 October (Official Report, Column
It may also help if I seek to clarify further
the role of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit in relation to
policy decisions of this kind. As set out in the memorandum which
we provided to the Committee before the hearing, the role of the
Delivery Unit is to ensure that the Government achieves its delivery
priorities during this Parliament across key areas of public service,
namely health, education, crime and asylum and transport. Working
with the Treasury, the Delivery Unit helps in holding the relevant
departments to account through the established PSX monitoring
process to make sure that they meet their agreed PSA targets.
So do Lord Macdonald and I as members of PSX Committee; Michael
Barber is also invited to attend the Committee. The coming Spending
Reviewalso considered in PSX Committeewill determine
the funding allocations to the Departments needed to deliver their
PSA targets. The Delivery Unit works with the stakeholder departments
on the end-to-end process of delivery, specifically: planning
for delivery; helping to resolve problems as they emerge; monitoring
progress; and disseminating best practice.
However, responsibility for policy development
and delivery ultimately rests with the departments concerned.
We would not expect staff in the Delivery Unit to be involved
in every departmental decision. It is for that reason that there
was no involvement of the Delivery Unit in the recent decision
to place Railtrack into administration.
Ian Liddell-Grainger (Question 103-108) asked
about the role of the new Forward Strategy Unit (FSU). It may
help if I clarify our answers on these points, in particular about
the staffing and structure of the Unit. The FSU is headed by Geoff
Mulgan, who also remains Director of the Performance and Innovation
Unit (PIU). Its role is to undertake private studies of long-term
challenges facing government for the Prime Minister and other
ministers. A number of outside advisers have been appointed to
work part-time and unpaid on reviews within the FSU, including
Lord Birt (who is strategy adviser to the Prime Minister), Adair
Turner, Arnab Banerjee, Nick Lovegrove and Penny Hughes. The work
of the FSU is primarily supported by staff from the PIU, although
the FSU also employs a number of additional staff seconded from
departments and from outside government.
Kevin Brennan asked (Question 114) about my
responsibility in relation to the devolved nations in the UK.
It may help if I clarify the role of the various Committees which
operate in this area. As chairman of the Cabinet Committee
on Nations and Regions (CNR) (which takes forward UK Government
policy on the English regions and devolution to Scotland, Wales
and Northern Ireland), I am responsible for overseeing devolution
policy and managing the UK Government's relationships with the
devolved administrations. The Devolution and English Regions Division
of my Central Policy Group supports me in this role.
My membership of the plenary Joint Ministerial
Committee (JMC) predates my arrival in the Cabinet Office
and my assumption through CNR of oversight of devolution policy
(reflecting the wider membership which includes the heads and
deputy heads of all the administrations, together with the territorial
Secretaries of State). My membership of the Committee also gives
a direct voice on English issues. The Joint Ministerial Committee's
formal terms of reference are:
(i) to consider non-devolved matters which
impinge on devolved responsibilities, and devolved matters which
impinge on non-devolved responsibilities;
(ii) where the UK Government and the devolved
administrations so agree, to consider devolved matters if it is
beneficial to discuss their respective treatment in the different
parts of the United Kingdom;
(iii) to keep the arrangements for liaison
between the UK Government and the devolved administrations under
(iv) to consider disputes between the administrations.
In plenary form, the JMC is tasked with maintaining
a general overview of devolution and relations between the administrations.
In practice it has never acted in its dispute resolution role.
I also have departmental responsibility for
the British Irish Council (BIC) (referred to by some as
the Council of the Isles). Although there are links between the
JMC and the BIC, and there is an overlap in the membership, in
formal terms the two institutions are entirely distinct. My role
is to support the Prime Minister in his BIC work. This may include
chairing meetings of the BIC, but chairing responsibilities lie
with the host administration and it is likely to be some time
before the UK next chairs a Council summit.
We also discussed the provision of an organisation
chart of the Cabinet Office, which you should now have received
from my department.
I hope that this further information will be
of assistance to the Committee. I would, as I indicated during
the hearing, be pleased at the Committee's convenience to answer
any further questions which may arise.
The Rt Hon John Prescott MP