Examination of Witness (Questions 640
THURSDAY 13 DECEMBER 2001
640. Do you believe there should be a Civil
(Dr Thomson) I think the Government is committed to
a Civil Service Act.
641. Are you a Canadian?
(Dr Thomson) Yes. I do not know which football team
642. Are you an enforcer of public services?
The Canadians have a federal enforcer of public services. Do you
think that that is the line that we should be going down?
(Dr Thomson) I really do not know the Canadian system.
I have been away a very long time.
643. The reason I am asking is that there is
an Office of the Ethics Counsellor or which looks after what you
are trying to do, enforcing public services, so you are not delivering;
you are actually enforcing the rights of public service. They
have a staff of 23 and they work very much along the same lines
as you do, but they are part of the federal government, very much
mainstream, looking after the ethos and the ability of public
services to deliver. Do you think that is the way that you should
(Dr Thomson) As I say, I am not familiar with the
644. I am just asking. I have told you the background
(Dr Thomson) In very broad terms. It is not what I
would describe as what we are doing. I do not see us as an enforcer
in public service.
645. So that would be Michael Barber's job,
(Dr Thomson) I do not think Michael would describe
himself as an enforcer either. We have a role to facilitate the
delivery of government objectives for public service reform and
we will do that by working with departments in the areas I have
described. My experience of change management, and I have some
extensive and varied experience to go on, is that you do not get
people to change by enforcing things. You need to persuade people
of the need for change and work with them to deliver it. It takes
a bit longer and sometimes telling them looks easier but it does
not actually work.
646. I am glad you said that. Principle two,
devolution to local level to encourage diversity and creativitythat
is part of what you just said. How do you create creativity in
the Health Service?
(Dr Thomson) One of the important aspects of the principles
we are describing is recognising that you get the most from people
if you provide clarity of purpose and clear standards. Once people
are in a framework like that where they have got responsibility
but also clarity of purpose, they are more likely to find creative
solutions. I think you will find lots of examples of that if you
go round public services where people have been able to find innovative
and different ways of doing things. We need to engender and motivate
people to do that. What we do not want is telling people what
to do and then having them merely comply.
647. Just one last question on that. I had a
delegation come up from my constituency, which is Somerset, so
it is very rural, and they were pretty cross to say the least
about the way public services are going, and you know they had
a demonstration out here recently. You are saying here that we
should be rewarding success so that good services prosper and
poor ones improve or are replaced. Are you in favour of privatisation
of public services?
(Dr Thomson) I am in favour of services that work.
648. Are you in favour of privatisation?
(Dr Thomson) I do not think we should be taking on
values that are in favour of privatisation or exclusive public
ownership. What has to me been helpful about public service management
more recently is that we have been freed up to think of how we
can best provide what the public requires.
649. So achieving that through PPPs, PFIs?
(Dr Thomson) A whole range of things. I have worked
in the voluntary sector and there is a long tradition there of
providing very much valued services, particularly in the personal
care services such as home care services, residential care, particularly
with people with different languages, black and ethnic minority
communities, who have not found the mainstream statutory services
satisfactory to them, so we have to find more diverse ways of
reaching those needs. To me pragmatism, as long as it is within
a framework of clear public services, is a great resource and
frees up resources to people to get the best deal for the public.
Chairman: Just before we leave this, I am still
not quite clear where you are coming from.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: Neither am I.
650. There are two schools of thought. There
are people who say public services are wonderful, they are infused
with the public service ethos, we need to protect them and defend
them, and there are those who say (which is the view of government
on the whole) that public services are pretty dreadful and we
have got to sort them out. You are an expert in change management,
as you describe it. On the one hand you seem to be saying that
in public services there are all sorts of exciting things happening,
all these dynamic people and so on. If that were true the other
thing would not be true, would it, and your office would not exist?
I am just wondering where you come from on this.
(Dr Thomson) I come from the reality that both things
were true, that there is excellence in public services and there
is under-performance, and that we have that variation in our public
services. No-one is saying as far as I am aware that everything
is perfect or that everything is all bad. We need to improve our
services that are not so good. My response to privatisation is
merely that we should be using whatever methods are available
to us to make that improvement work for the public.
651. On that same theme, your principle four
is the promotion of greater choice and alternative providers.
How realistic is it across the public service to have alternative
providers waiting in the wings to rush forward and pick up the
service if it fails?
(Dr Thomson) The principle is just recognising that
the public prefer to have choice where they can. Research shows
that more popular services are about more information and more
information leads to more choice. I think that is what is being
recognised. Where we can do that we should. I do not think there
is any belief that we can do that everywhere all the time but
there will be opportunities. I would agree with you that there
is not a waiting capacity to provide an alternative provision
everywhere. In some places there are; in some places we need to
652. I would be interested in hearing some specifics
there because we have heard over the weeks that we have been conducting
this inquiry about alternative provision in education, alternative
provision in health, and I just wonder if you could identify areas
of public service where there should be alternative providers
waiting in the wings.
(Dr Thomson) I gave some examples in personal care
services that I have been responsible for in the past where I
really was convinced that diversity was very important for people,
because we were excluding some people from services unless there
was a range of choice for people. Home care services, residential
care services are two examples. I think in housing services people
want choice. The days when you could have one council house and
it is this one are no longer acceptable to people. I also think
there are times when, if there has been a public service failure,
you need quick solutions because the public will not tolerate
years and years of things not working, so a market was created
to deal with local education authorities who were letting down
the schools in their area. The schools rely on the services provided
by the LEA and it was necessary in a very small number of LEAs
for there to be alternative help and support to those LEAs.
653. But why as an alternative do you not do
something about managerial leadership in the public services?
Why not pay people in leadership roles a large sum of money like
Bob Kiley, and if they do not deliver you just sack them instead
of having all these alternative providers waiting in the wings?
(Dr Thomson) There is a lot being done on leadership
in the public service. If you look through at what is called capacity
building across government you will find a centre for school leadership;
there is the Improvement and Development Agency and a Modernisation
Agency and leadership centre for the NHS; you see a police academy
being developed for lead people working in the police force. If
you looked across the police you would actually see quite a lot
of investment in leadership, and I would agree with you that that
is a very important thing to do.
654. Am I right in thinking that we are four
or five years into this and in another four or five years it will
all be okay because everything will be firing on all cylinders?
Is that what you are saying?
(Dr Thomson) I think that the dilemma of any service
is that as it gets better people expect more. I cannot imagine
a time in public services where we are resting back and saying
that everything is finished. I imagine there will always be increasing
challenges being faced in public services.
655. I ask that question because I have just
had the report on building cohesive communities which is looking
at the disturbances in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley, and the Government
takes the view that it was a failure in local leadership. I thought
to myself that maybe they can predict these things in central
government where local communities are going to fail. Can you
look at councils, public organisations, out there that look as
if they are about to fail?
(Dr Thomson) It is difficult to predict, obviously,
but I think there are some good practices and features of well
performing councils which you can observe when you are there.
People who have visited Oldham and Bradford, places like that,
could see some of the seeds of community relations that could
be leading to some of the disturbances which we have recently
seen. You will see in some other communities different relationships.
In East London for many years we have monitored and done specific
things to improve race relations, but even in those relatively
healthy environments there are signs that you can still get incidences
of problems there.
656. In East London, in Newham, did you have
an answer to this? Did you have a lot of extra money going in
from central government?
(Dr Thomson) Yes.
657. Because I think resources may be the key
(Dr Thomson) There were resources as well in some
of the communities that were the object of this study as well.
658. Can I ask a question about national standards?
You say it is important to have national standards and yet the
Local Government Association people that are going to come on
after you say that there is a big tension here between national
standards and local government. Local government is not local
administration. You have got to let people decide things for themselves.
How do you deal with that dilemma?
(Dr Thomson) I would agree with the Local Government
Association that local government is about local democracy and
it certainly is not administration. The Government's White Paper
published this week confirms that view, that it is very much about
community leadership and local democracy. The Local Government
Association has been in partnership with central government creating
the national public service agreement between local government
and central government. It has done that in each successive year
and it will do that again in this review. My experience of the
reality is that what local people want is a lot of key services
and that central government priorities are quite often the same,
so it did not seem difficult to me for us to be expected to provide
achieving schools because that is what local people wanted. People
also wanted high quality, reliable social services. There is often
a synergy between what local people want and what national policy
is. Within that there is still quite a lot of flexibility. The
recent White Paper on changes around the modernisation programme
has given local government quite considerable scope for discharging
its new power of community leadership.
659. Who decides what the national standards
are? The national standards do not apply to all services offered
by local government. You mentioned education, you mentioned core
services. Why do they not apply to environmental health, for example?
Are there national standards for environmental health and, if
not, why not?
(Dr Thomson) There are certainly quite a lot of statutory
duties in that area of environmental health as it is a regulatory
service, so there are professional codes and expectations of how
their statutory duties will be discharged. The environmental health
services are inspected along with other local government services.
I think it is one of those areas where within that framework the
local organisation of environmental health has been seen to be
sufficient. It is a matter for government which services it thinks
are of such importance that it needs to assure its citizenship
that they are meeting a certain standard. Other areas seem to
be areas where government is prepared to allow local variation.