Examination of Witnesses (Questions 443-459)|
THURSDAY 29 NOVEMBER 2001
443. Could I welcome the two witnesses. I am
sorry about the delay. I am afraid this happens often in the second
half of sessions, but it is very good to have you along from the
New Local Government Network, Professor Gerry Stoker, who chairs
it, and John Williams, who is Executive Director. Thank you very
much for your most interesting paper to us, too. Would you like
to comment, just briefly, by way of introduction, or shall we
just fire off at you?
(Mr Williams) Thanks very much. Is it
worth just saying, certainly looking at the list of luminaries
that you have had presenting evidence so far I do not quite fall
into that camp, so I wondered whether it was worth, just very
briefly, saying a little bit about who we are and what we do.
The New Local Government Network was set up in 1996 by a leading
group of academics, politicians, practitioners, to champion a
radical reform agenda in local government. We focus on three broad
areas; one, the renewal of local democracy, two, the transformation
of public services, and, three, the empowerment of local communities.
And I suppose what is a little bit different about us is not only
do we operate as a think tank but also as a do tank, in effect,
we are trying to promote change actively within local government
and get some messages across to central government as well.
444. Thank you very much for that, again. In
a nutshell, just tell us why we cannot go on as we are?
(Mr Williams) I think there is no doubt that, in the
last 20 years in particular, the public have experienced a level
of service, in a variety of different forms, one could say, to
give you an example of NHS Direct, in the last few years, which
I think has transformed people's access and experience of public
service at that particular point. Or, in the private sector, where
now, if you have got the desire, you can go and get your marmalade
at four o'clock in the morning, or you can go and check your bank
account at three o'clock in the morning. This sort of radical
transformation of our experience and access of services, in some
parts of both the public and the private sectors, has raised expectations
enormously about what the public should demand. And I think there
has been an increasing consumerisation, I suppose, of public services.
And so I think, now, people are looking for a radical transformation.
Technology, in particular, I think, provides real opportunities
to do things in a very different way, and it is very important
that public service, if it is to remain central to people's experiences
and people's lives, and, as the Prime Minister said, it is social
justice in action, if they are to operate effectively, then they
also need to radically change and perform to live up to people's
445. Is there a danger of throwing babies out
with bath waters, do you think?
(Mr Williams) In what sense?
446. In neglecting what is essential about public
services, in a sort of "gee whizz" approach to them,
and that falls in love with the private sector and thinks that
there is a world out there which is so much better and different,
and if only we could import that world into this world then all
would be well?
(Mr Williams) I do not think anybody would, I certainly
would not, argue for that. I think the main arguments that we
have been making are that it is really important, whether it is
in the public or the private sector, that there is real contestability
in the delivery of service, there is real choice for the consumer,
both in public services, both in private services, as well, and
that is what is important. So I do not think it is a question
of throwing the baby out with the bath water, we have got to be
pretty imaginative about the solutions that we are looking for
in the future if we are to meet the expectations and needs of
447. Let me ask the question I asked Steve Robson.
If that is the model, contestability, choice, and I know it is
not your particular province, but the argument is a general one,
how would that work in relation to the Health Service?
(Mr Williams) Obviously, there are examples abroad
where, very simply, you can choose which GP you want to go and
see; and I do not think there is an ingrained culture within our
own public services that responds to and provides choice to the
needs of those individual consumers. There really is, I think,
a sense of you get what is given to you. And, often, I think,
in our own public services, and health is as good an example as
any other, that is provided for at a relatively cheap unit cost,
compared with other services around the world, but what that means
is, I think, that is often at the expense of choice and diversity
448. We can choose our GPs now, if their lists
are not full, we can choose any GP we like, so that is already
(Mr Williams) But it does not operate; people do not
449. No, but the choice is there.
(Mr Williams) But people do not exercise that choice.
Chairman: Some people do, I do, you do.
Mr Wright: That is what it is all about, it
450. What I am interested in is how you apply;
the model sounds absolutely wonderful, we are all in favour of
choice, all in favour of contestability, all in favour of competition,
but then we have to say, well, tell us then, in relation to one
of the most pressing issues that we have got, which is how do
we change the Health Service, what would that mean, what would
(Professor Stoker) Could I try to provide some additional
elements to an answer, which is that, I think, within the National
Health Service, we are beginning to see some of the elements of
contestability coming almost within the public sector by the publication
of differential performance information, so that people are more
aware of the levels of performance achieved both by individual
hospitals and also by individual doctors. And that, I think, is
something which, in itself, because it provides information which
then can lead to challenge, can lead to improvements in performance,
because those that presumably are not doing so well have to ask
themselves why that is the case. In relation to choice, in terms
of access to medical services, I think you are absolutely right,
that at the moment you can choose your GP, although I think that
it is probably equally true that most people choose not to exercise
that choice; and people can, to an extent, choose who their surgeon
is, as well, especially I think, if they are middle class and
articulate, they can, I think, often try to work the system in
order to get access to the surgeon that they would prefer. I think
that what we are talking about, in the case of the National Health
Service, is a gradual extension of those principles, not an overnight
change from one way of operating to another. But I think, as you
are suggesting, you are already beginning to see those principles
being worked out within the NHS.
451. It is the movement from the general concepts
to the practical implementation in a way that will do more good
than harm is the problem that I think we have to get our minds
around. But can I just ask you about this public service ethos
that we are interested in, and whether you think that this is
part of what we have to ditch in the new order. In your evidence,
you describe it as an `aspirational concept'; does this mean that
it does not exist now, but we should aspire to create it?
(Professor Stoker) I think my reaction is that, if
we look at the available research evidence about what motivates
people when they work in the public sector, what it reveals is
quite a complex mix of motivations, some connected to enjoyment
in the job, some connected to a sense that they are doing something
worthwhile, some connected to the level of reward that they receive,
and the sense that they have a job that might be sustainable over
a period of time. So, in other words, the motivation is really
quite mixed at the moment, and I find it quite difficult to say
that there is enough evidence out there to say that, somehow or
other, people in the public sector are distinctively differently
motivated. But what I think is important and why I think people
are concerned about the idea of an ethos is that I think that
when a public service is involved, and what I would argue for
is a public service ethos, rather than a public sector ethos,
when anyone is involved in providing a public service, I think
there is a set of both ethical and moral requirements that we
should put down to them, and those are outlined in the paper,
I think that they should treat citizens and taxpayers with the
respect that they are due. I think that they should make themselves
available to a much fuller extent of accountability than perhaps
you would within the private sector alone, and I think that they
should also be prepared to make an overarching, joined-up contribution
to effective government. So I think that, in other words, what
we should do is try to actually request of people, who are involved
in public service, that they pursue a set of moral and value objectives
which I would regard as at the essence of what a public service
is. In a way, it fits in with the broader pitch of our submission,
which is, we have got to get beyond the formula of `what works
is what matters', because it is not simply a question of making
that judgement, there are values involved in here, and I think
we should be clear about what those values are.
452. And that is a very interesting answer.
This constellation of values that you describe, you think is not
to be found if private sector organisations are involved?
(Professor Stoker) Oh, no, I think that that constellation
of values are the values that we should expect of a public service,
because a public service is, to a large extent, funded from either
taxpayers" money or partially, at least, from taxpayers"
money; a public service has, in certain ways, responsibilities
to provide for the whole range of consumers, rather than an individual
batch of consumers. We do not necessarily demand that Marks &
Spencer provide services to everyone, but we would demand that
the NHS provides services to everyone. So I think that as soon
as we are talking about something that is a public service then
I think that we have the right to expect these ethical values
to be reflected in the way that they work and operate.
453. So, if private sector organisations come
in, they have to buy into public service values?
(Professor Stoker) Yes. I feel that very strongly,
that they should actually be signing up to this same public services
ethos that I have just outlined.
454. But, in principle, from your point of view,
it does not really matter who actually runs services, does it?
(Professor Stoker) No. What I clearly sign up to is
a distinction that a lot of people sign up to, which is, it does
matter who procures the service, and I want those to be democratically
elected and accountable; but, who provides the service, I am relatively
455. That is what I meant by running it; you
think this is immaterial to the public and it is immaterial to
(Professor Stoker) Yes.
456. We heard from Steve Robson earlier, and
it seemed, to me, anyway, that he was lionising the private sector,
but maybe was just exaggerating to make a point; but let me ask
you this. In America, the private security guards at airports
are being brought into the federal payroll; were you surprised
that the American President was prepared to do this?
(Professor Stoker) I am aware, I think, rather than
surprised, would be my immediate reaction. And my broader response
is that, in a way, what I am arguing for is not the lionisation
of either the public or the private sector, what I am arguing
for is the lionisation of a commitment to contestability and choice
in the way that we both look at public services, and particularly
at the way that we procure public services, that is what I want
to lionise. And I am happy to accept there are, in those instances,
examples where it would be better for the public sector employees
to do it, and in other instances where it would not matter whether
the public sector employees did it or not. Equally, I am happy
to accept that the private sector institutions do not always perform
wonderfully well, some of them perform badly; equally, "not
for profit" organisations sometimes perform well but not
particularly all the time. So the crucial thing is to have contestability
and choice for the procurement process.
457. I read your paper with great interest,
and in the concluding paragraphs you refer to the New Labour mantra,
`what matters is what works', but it seems to me that you feel
the Government, or the Prime Minister, has not given enough definition
to what is in its collective mind how it wants to see the public
services transformed; is that a valid criticism?
(Professor Stoker) Yes, it is.
(Mr Williams) I think, after the election, and during
the election, we all witnessed a real ratcheting-up of the rhetoric
about the role of the private sector in the delivery of public
services, but I think it became pretty clear, within a matter
of days and weeks, that we were not entirely sure what that would
mean in reality. And often people think, "well, there is
some hidden plan, somewhere, in the bottom of a drawer,"
and there was never any hidden plan, I do not think, that this
Government had about the role of the private sector in public
services. I think what it was trying to do, and what it has been
trying to do for the past four years, in some ways, is to demonstrate
that it can challenge the public sector to improve, and it will
do whatever it takes to bring about the reform of public services.
Where we have difficulty with a sort of `what matters is what
works' approach is, firstly, well, you never quite know what is
going to work, sometimes you have to take risks, sometimes you
have to try new things, but, also, as Gerry indicated, you have
to have a constellation of values that come together that give
you, and give others, particularly within the public sector, a
sense of what it is you are trying to achieve. If you are not
clear about what you are trying to achieve, you are not clear
about where you want to get to, then I think that breeds an enormous
amount of uncertainty, both in terms of the private sector and
also for those employees who are in the public sector as well.
458. Are you telling me that the Prime Minister
does not have a kind of ideological sheet-anchor, that he just
blows hither and thither, he does not have a clear idea in his
own mind? You mentioned consumerism, I must give you an opportunity
to answer the questions, but you mentioned consumerism, and Philip
Gould famously said that "the New Labour brand has become
contaminated." And I just wonder, in the Prime Minister's
mind, if the public sector brand had become contaminated in some
way, and something had to be done?
(Mr Williams) I think, obviously, the Prime Minister
can put his own case best.
459. He will not come here.
(Mr Williams) He will not come; dear, oh dear. I certainly
would not want to answer on his behalf. I just think what we have
been missing and the Government is missing is a clearer vision
of what it is trying to achieve with public service reform, and
the role of the private sector in that. For example, some of the
reforms in the last two or three years, take, for example, in
education, have been driven by a deficit model of the role of
the private sector in public services, "if it is working
out terribly badly then we'll turn to the private sector in a
sort of Rea Adair style, in you come, sort it out, and probably
get back out again, and everything would be rosy." And you
can see that even, as I am sure that will happen, even in the
publication of the "Local Government" White Paper, you
will see similar sorts of moves. Whereas, I think, from our perspective,
looking at how local government has developed in the last ten,
five years, in particular, since the introduction of, say, the
Best Value regime, there has been a much more voluntary attempt,
on behalf of the public sector, to think about working with a
mixed range of providers, private sector providers and voluntary
sector providers, in order to achieve the outcomes that they want,
not just on the basis of a deficit model. And I think the sort
of lack of clear messages that are sent out from central government
probably just reflect and underline a lack of clarity about what
it is trying to achieve with the role of the private sector in