Memorandum by Prospect (PSR 29)
Prospect, formed from the amalgamation of the
Institution of Professionals Managers and Specialists and Engineers
and Managers Association on 1 November 2001, is a trade union
which represents over 104,000 scientific, technical and specialist
staff in the Civil Service, research councils, other public bodies
and an increasing number of private companies. Our membership
profile has provided us with wide-ranging and significant experience
of engaging in the type of issues which the Committee now seeks
In our evidence we will concentrate on the central
government, predominantly the civil service and associated NDPBs,
although many of the principles will apply elsewhere in the public
service. Our members cover a huge range of occupations and specialisms
and for many of them the public service is the only place where
they practice their skills. Many are involved behind the scenes
on policy, advisory or regulatory functions or are in agencies
providing scientific and technical research services and have
little or no direct contact with the public but are nevertheless
part of the government machine for delivering health and safety,
defence, disease control and environmental protection. They include,
for example, research scientists, health and safety inspectors
and air traffic controllers.
The civil service which the present Government
inherited in 1997 had changed out of all recognition to the one
which existed in 1979. The Civil Service declined by one third
between 1979 and 1997 and in the process was transformed from
a unified civil service into a fragmented multitude of executive
agencies, quangos and various outsourced contractors in the private
sector. The Conservative Government's approach was dictated by
an ideological objective of reducing public expenditure (public
spending fell from 44.8% to 38.5% of GDP between 1979 and 1998);
a conviction that private is always better than public provision;
and a residual view of the state. As Stephen Dorrell, former Financial
Secretary to the Treasury, said in November 1992:
"We are no longer simply looking for obvious
candidates for privatisation. The conventional question was `what
can we sell?' That question must now be turned on its head. Now
we should ask ourselves `what must we keep?' What is the inescapable
core of government?"
It is Prospect's view that this approach and
the cuts, closures and fragmentation which resulted played a significant
part in enabling the BSE and to a lesser extent the Foot and Mouth
Disease crises to develop and in making the handling of them less
effective than it should have been.
Prospect has no desire to turn the clock back.
We wish to see an effective and efficient public service and as
far as the civil service is concerned we have been arguing for
reform since before the Fulton Report of 1969. Many of Fulton's
proposals for reform were ignored and some of the basic principles
he advocated still apply today.
A world class Britain needs a world class civil
service. It needs to be equipped to grapple with the technically
complex social, environmental, economic and other global challenges,
in a climate of constant change. It needs to be more responsive,
innovative and professional in its approach. But such an organisation
depends more than ever on the quality of its staff, the degree
of expertise and training they have or acquire, and their commitment
to provide a high quality service to the public and their political
superiors. Good quality staff in turn depend on good employee
relations and personnel management, equal opportunities for all
and the prospect of a rewarding career.
We support the Labour Government's commitment
to modernising government and the partnership approach which has
been adopted. Although we are disappointed that two of the largest
privatisations to affect our membersthe NATS and the DERA
public private partnershiphave taken place under the Labour
Government despite the opposition of the public and most expert
opinion in the case of NATS and against the background of major
concerns expressed by politicians and by experts in military matters
in Britain and abroad in the case of DERA.
Prospect, as IPMS, signed the partnership agreement
in 2000 with the Cabinet Office establishing the framework within
which we will work with Government and other stakeholders to deliver
quality public services. In order to do this, however, certain
conditions need to be met. These include:
Adequate funding for public services.
New public accounting and PBSR definitions
which correspond to the realities of financing and managing a
modern public sector.
More flexible Treasury limits to
enable the public sector organisations to compete effectively.
Willingness to use a variety of forms
of public company which can raise private sector finance for investment
without hitting Treasury limits.
Freedom of information and transparency
in both public, private and voluntary sectors involved in delivering
Effective audit by Parliament and
by public as customers and citizens to enable full accountability
and feedback into policy.
Robust procedures for disclosure,
review and management of conflicts of interest.
A shared vision and coherent framework
which links policy and execution.
A civil service more professional,
innovative and proactive in its approach.
In our answers to the questions we will elaborate
on these key issues.
PRINCIPLES AND STRATEGY FOR REFORMING PUBLIC
1. What should be the principles guiding
the reform of public services?
As far as the civil service is concerned the
constitutional position of British civil servants was established
almost 150 years ago following the Northcote-Trevelyan report.
Since Britain has no written constitution or legislation on the
status of civil servants, the framework within which the service
operates is a combination of various written authorities and conventions.
The three main principles underpinning the modern civil service
Ministerial accountability through
The objectivity, impartiality and
political neutrality of the civil service and of civil servants.
Fair and open competition in the
recruitment and promotion of civil servants.
Traditionally the British civil service has
also been a unified service. The concept was strengthened in the
1968 Fulton report leading to common methods of recruitment and
integrated structures for pay and grading across all grades and
levels. But the last fifteen years have witnessed an accelerating
break-up of the unified civil service, through devolution to departments
and agencies and the extension of private sector involvement in
the civil service via contracting out, strategic partnerships
with private companies, the Private Finance Initiative, privatisation,
and the growth of "spin out" companies.
During this process the civil service unions
have sought to defend the key principles of impartiality, integrity,
objectivity, selection and promotion on merit, and accountability
through ministers to Parliament. These principles were designed
to produce equal treatment for all citizens, on their merits and
without undue regard to considerations of profit and loss. We
believe these basic principles are still valid and must be protected
and enhanced. It is vital that these values, now embodied in a
code of ethics, should be built upon, disseminated widely, and
extended in appropriate form to all who perform government functions
whether public bodies or private contractors.
Within that broad context, however "What
matters is what works." Prospect takes a pragmatic approach
to whether a service should remain in the public sector. We say
they should be performed in the most appropriate place, and this
should be judged on merit. To make such an assessment we need
to have criteria by which to judge the appropriate structure for
government services (See Question 8). However, our experience
informs us that what works in public services is seldom "for
profit" provision, precisely because most services are inherently
unprofitable designed as they are to apply to all citizens, on
their merits and without undue regard to considerations of profit
and loss. Put them in the private sector and unless they are very
closely regulated access to services will become governed by ability
to pay, rather than need, and unprofitable areas will be eroded
and may eventually disappear.
In reality, most decisions on private sector
participation or outright privatisation of public services have
not been based on "What Works" but on ideology under
the Conservatives; and since 1997 it has been largely governed
by Treasury constraints and particularly the refusal to change
the definition of the PSBR to exclude expenditure on capital investment.
In the case of the National Air Traffic Control Service, for example,
it is a service which pays its way on the basis of charges but
because of the Treasury spending limits, and in this particular
case a "black hole" in the budget inherited from the
Conservatives, money for investment could only, it was argued,
be provided by the private sector.
A positive strategy for reforming the public
services must include adequate investment in infrastructure and
in skills and not be primarily motivated by cost saving.
2. Does central government have clear principles
and an effective strategy for reforming public services? Does
it need to have a strategy at all, or is it better to let public
bodies make their own arrangements for improving services?
Since the 1980s we have witnessed what some
commentators have called a hollowing out of the state. Government
functions have passed to a variety of agencies: some remain formally
within the civil service; some have been privatised completely;
some have been contracted out for finite periods; some have been
allocated to quangos of various types; some have been given to
voluntary bodies and charities. It is our view that no obvious
strategy or criteria has been used to determine any of the above.
For example, during the Conservative administration
the areas which happened to come under Michael Heseltine were
privatised wherever possible. For example, all the public sector
research establishments in DOE and DTI were privatised except
for the small National Weights and Measures Laboratory. But they
were privatised under a wide range of mechanisms including trade
sale (NEL), flotation (AEAT), company limited by guarantee (LGC,
BRE, TRL), and Go-Co (NPL).
It is essential to have a coherent strategy
and co-ordinated approach. If the organisation is fragmented and
has a wide variety of ownership structures even for very similar
services it makes it extremely difficult to operate as a coherent
entity. The customer-contractor principle and the tendency to
focus almost exclusively on price can lead to the neglect of long-term
capabilities. Government by contract may provide a degree of flexibility
for switching between sources of supply or attracting new skills
but it does not provide the long-term collective memory required
to maintain continuity. The funding cuts, privatisation and contracting
out have had a major impact on the ability of government to co-ordinate
effectively and to offer impartial advice in response to emergencies
such as the BSE or FMD. As Peter Riddell pointed out in relation
to the FMD emergency MAFF received much of the blame and certainly
struggled to keep pace with the outbreak.
"But the faults go much wider. As the initially
slow response to last September's fuel protest showed, central
government is no longer well organised to deal with unexpected
and widespread emergencies. Civil contingency preparations were
rusty. The Army has been the only body with the necessary expertise
and resources to organise the required logistics. Strengthening
the Government's ability to respond will be a post-election property."
It is also crucial to have within government
"intelligent" or "informed customers". In
the science and technology context they were described by Sir
Peter Levene and Professor Bill Stewart, then Chief Scientific
Adviser in 1993 as follows:
"The informed customer should identify whether
research needs to be carried out, have knowledge of the organisation
capable of carrying out the work, assess the merits of alternative
contractors and evaluate the end result. They note that the range
of expertise required is unlikely to be found in one person and
that the function needs to be properly resourced."
As a result of the privatisation, contractorisation
and expenditure cuts there was a continued decline in departmental
funding for science and technology and an associated decline in
the number of scientists still left in government to act as "scientifically
intelligent" customers and decision-makers and to provide
support in depth to the scientific advisory and regulatory structures.
The latest "Science Engineering and Technology Statistics
2000" on SET expenditure and SET personnel in government
show a decline of 25% from 1986/7 to 1998/9. The implications
of this decline and other factors for scientific capability in
government could be seen in the Council for Science and Technology
report "Review of Science and Technology Activity across
Government" of July 1999.
"In the course of our review it became clear
that overall the Government attaches considerable importance to
the way in which S&T are used by departments. We saw examples
of good practice in all the departments we visited, but we were
not convinced that any department was really staffed, organised,
or sufficiently aware to make the best possible use of science
and technology in delivering their short and medium term objectives
and targets; and in formulating their strategy for the longer
term. We are concerned that the resulting weaknesses in their
ability to understand, and to respond to, rapid change in the
external world create an increasing risk that wrong decisions
will be taken, with potential for substantial damage and costs
to Government and society"
The implications in the context of BSE and FMD
have been picked up by the Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor
David King who almost as soon as he was in post found himself
advising the Prime Minister on the handling of the FMD outbreak.
He said that the cuts in spending and staff in both MAFF and BBSRC
and the privatisation of Public Sector Research Establishments
(PSREs) had removed many sources of advice and experienced scientists
until senior policy making positions both within science and more
generally. As he said in a recent "Nature" article,
"The net result is that we've lost a fair
amount of the science base from within the civil service, so we
don't have these people bubbling up into top positions. The problem
with an organisation that out sources all of its resources is
that, if it does it too rigorously, it no longer knows even what
questions to ask."
A similar stripping of essential scientific
and professional expertise has also occurred as a result of the
privatisation of DERA from the Ministry of Defence. Establishing
and retaining such an "intelligent" customer or decision-maker
resource within government is even more necessary where privatisation
and contracting out have taken place. Expertise has to be acquired
which could previously be obtained through the in-house research
establishments. These costs will be substantial if the job is
to be done properly, but they are essential if departments are
to commission the research and professional advice on which good
quality decision-making depends.
Similar considerations apply to another technically
complex area - information technology. This has been a favourite
target for contracting out, e.g. in the Inland Revenue where EDS
was allocated a major contract covering a key part of the system.
But such contracting out also requires a highly intelligent customer
to specify the requirements. Indeed, many IT system failures can
be attributed to the faulty translation of highly complex needs
into a satisfactory computer specification. To contract out both
the technology and the function itself magnifies these problems
and reduces the ability of the department to specify its own needs
in future, or even to be aware of what is possible. Such capacity
will pass into the hands of the external contractor placing the
civil service at a severe disadvantage both functionally and in
terms of future costs.
It is therefore essential that a close link
be maintained between departmental policy-making and its execution.
Many executive arms of government are multi-functional, and to
compartmentalise their various tasks into separate institutions,
especially if privatised, removes a wide range of capability from
the remaining core. Above all it is vital that there should be
a critical mass of professionally qualified staff within the government
machine not only on professional and technical SET work, but also
to bring a professional and technical dimension to more general
decision-making in the civil service. The impact of the customer-contractor
principle and the need to rebuild technical and professional capacity
within the civil service are dealt with in more detail under questions
8 and 14.
A PARTNERSHIP APPROACH
As far as developing strategies for reform are
concerned these should be done in partnership. A good example
is in the Ministry of Defence where after a history of contentious
privatisations and "contracting out" of work the trade
unions and management have evolved a joint approach towards improving
efficiency in the department and assessing the options for improving
performance in-house before any commercialisation options are
considered. In addition training on "performance improvement"
is being given as part of the partnership approach. The new guidelines
on commercialisation options make it clear that there is to be
no pre-disposition either way for in-house or PPP solutions. All
of these developments are part of the Better Quality Services
Initiative within the Directorate of Business Improvement within
3. Do the devolved institutions and local
governments have clear principles and effective strategies for
reforming public services? Could there be a role for strengthened
Our comments in questions 1 and 2 would also
apply to regional and local levels. No doubt, strengthened regional
institutions would make a difference, however effective democratisation
of the process essentially depends on transparency, which has
been all too lacking with regard to the Private Finance Initiative,
for example, at every level. Whereas the public financing of public
infrastructure can, in principle, be scrutinised by the electorate,
the details of privately financed deals are too often shielded
from independent scrutiny.
As far as efficiency and effectiveness are concerned
devolution undoubtedly adds extra hurdles for communication and
execution and provides scope for conflict. So there must be co-ordination
to avoid confusion. It is vital that UK wide co-ordination of
standards and enforcement can be achieved and expertise called
upon easily, particularly on matters of health and safety such
as e.coli 0157 and BSE.
In cases where executive authority lies with
the devolved institutions there could potentially be serious divisions
on policy and execution if the government of the UK and the Scottish
Executive were from totally different parties. At the moment there
are clearly tensions and anomalies arising from different priorities
and policies e.g. in student grants and policies towards financing
elderly nursing care. But this can be creative and help show how
different way of doing things might work. In the case of agriculture,
for example, the Scottish system is much more "joined up"
with most of the educational, advisory and research services involved
in the food chain still in the public sector; whereas in England
and Wales they are much more fragmented. This may help explain
what appears to be greater speed and effectiveness in handling
disease outbreaks north of the border.
It is also important that resources are not
spread too thinly or produce wasteful duplication. In the case
of Regional Development Agencies, as the latest DTI Review recognises,
there needs to be a rationalisation of modes of delivery and strengthened
back up so that the roles can be carried out effectively. There
has to be a balance between local democracy and influence on the
one hand and effectiveness of the service on the other.
4. What would be the consequences if there
were significant differences between the policies adopted by central,
devolved, regional and local government on public service reform
It is not really a case of "what would
be" but what has developed already. We have already spelt
out in answer to Questions 1 and 2 how we believe the fragmentation
of central government has been detrimental to the delivery of
policy and the co-ordination of activities. But there is also
a crisis of public confidence and accountability. As Richard Mottram,
Permanent Secretary at DTLR has said, a principal challenge facing
government in the future is the reconstruction of those networks
through which government had previously secured policies and public
As far as devolution is concerned, as we have
said in Question 3 there already are serious divisions of policy
arising from the devolution of executive authority which can be
creative and experimental as well as posing problems. But it is
essential that coherence and co-ordination is maintained as far
as possible in order to optimise service delivery.
5. How do we know if public service reform
One way is through performance measurement.
But it has always been more difficult to measure outputs than
inputs. Effectiveness has been defined as the extent to which
policy inputs meet policy aims, or outputs achieve outcomes. In
its assessment of the Next Steps initiative, the Public Accounts
Committee stated in its 38th report that the quality of services
to the public should be given as much importance as improving
the economy and efficiency of their delivery. We agree. Accountability
for the nature of performance indicators and performance out-turns
is the responsibility of the National Audit Office, which carries
out both certification audits and value for money studies for
agencies and other bodies.
There needs to be more effective parliamentary
control of value for money with greater concentration on outputs/levels
of service and cost/benefit analysis of activities and less on
detailed study of inputs. We propose these reforms include:
More power to select committees to
monitor overall impact and to call for the Comptroller and Auditor
General (CAG) to carry out reviews of efficiency and effectiveness.
The rules of the Public Accounts
Committee, the Comptroller Auditor General and the National Audit
Office need to be clarified to ensure they have the power to monitor
new forms of public funding and service provision in both the
private and public sectors, including empowering the CAG to follow
public funds and audit all NDPBs and public companies.
Financial and managerial information
produced in relevant and intelligible format would greatly aid
effective monitoring of value for money. The widespread use of
"commercial in confidence" to restrict information must
be curbed. The role of external auditing and of the PAC is crucial
in maintaining standards of performance and probity in public
It is therefore essential that audits
of public bodies continue to be done by the NAO and the Audit
Commission and they are not privatised or contracted out.
The Financial Management Initiative encouraged
the development of performance indicators throughout the civil
service but they were often used only superficially. The Next
Steps initiative produced more serious analysis of performance
because of the need to set targets for agencies to pursue. In
theory a reliable system of performance indicators should enable
there to be hands-off control of the agency. The development of
effective performance indicators becomes even more crucial where
work is contracted out.
It is important that policy and the assessment
of reform is based on clear evidence. At the moment much of the
quantitative and qualitative evidence is lacking. We point out
elsewhere how the discontinuity of the project/contract mode of
funding has depleted and the science engineering technology database
but the same applies to the social sciences. Information is gathered
in a spasmodic and fragmented way and analyses are rarely brought
together. Just as science and technology capacity in government
has been damaged, so other knowledge specialists in government
are thin on the ground and have often been compartmentalised into
particular departments. It is worthy of note, for example, that
only in the latest DTI Review by Patricia Hewitt, has it been
suggested that a Chief Economist be appointed in that department.
Another way of testing performance is by the
direct reaction of the customer/client, an approach which gained
political impetus from the Citizen's Charter initiative. Although
consumerism on its own is not a sufficient test of performance
in the public services, especially for those with a strong political
dimension, it is nevertheless an important one. In many public
services, however, citizens will not have the normal consumer
options of taking their custom elsewhere. We might dispute the
merits of the Private Finance Initiative, for example, but if
we fall ill we may have to go to a PFI supplied hospital, whether
it is performing well or badly.
6. Is the concept of a public service an
Certainly not. Public services are not like
other commodities. They exist to support the social, economic
and environmental well being of communities and/or where a community
decides that the market alone cannot provide a particular activity.
The state then assumes some degree of responsibility for the service:
by funding the service or by regulating its quality and delivery.
In undertaking this, the state also assumes the ultimate responsibility
for the risk of the service failinga risk for which there
can be no adequate financial compensation and a risk that cannot
be transferred from government, no matter who actually provides
the service. The cases of Railtrack, the London Tube and the National
Air Traffic Service (NATS) make this absolutely clear. Railtrack
has been taken into "administration" because of a total
loss of confidence in its safety record as well as its ability
to raise capital. The PPP for the London Tube is raising serious
safety problems because of the number of "contractual interfaces",
a problem also found in Railtrack and a potential problem in the
privatised NATS if it starts dismantling its engineering staff
and contracting out its maintenance services in "Railtrack"
fashion. Moreover, the new NATS PPP which was established primarily
to take the burden of raising capital off the Treasury books,
finds itself, ironically, facing major problems of finding both
capital and running costs in the post 11 September environment.
Although in the case of both Railtrack and the NATS PPP it could
be argued these problems are a result of catastrophic incidents
it is precisely the risk of these sorts of incidents, as well
as the issue of passenger safety, which means that the responsibility
must lie with an accountable government and cannot be permanently
shifted to the private sector with any degree of confidence.
Opinion polls show that the public believes
that there is a public service ethos. Asked whether it matters
if NHS services are provided publicly or privately, so long as
they remain free at the point of use, a clear majority of people
say it does not. The same applies to the private management of
public hospitals. But ask people if, in general, public services
should be run for profit and two-thirds say they should notwith
virtually half saying they should always be run by the public
sector:- (see Question 17 for more details)
Nicholas Timmins is probably nearest the truth
"What the public's attitude may well in
fact betray is an attachment to something even less easily defined
than a public service: the public sector ethos- the sense that
caring for people, whether pupils or patients or passengers or
the elderly should come first; the sense that there is a willingness
to do what is right, without an eye on the balance sheet or this
quarter's profits". (Financial Times, June 4 2001).
Further illustration of this is provided by
our members in ADAS. ADAS is the advisory service to farmers and
others in the agricultural field, which used to be an agency under
MAFF, and was privatised in April 1997. Our members report that:-
"ADAS management have spent the last four
years trying to change the public service ethos and replace it
with one more suitable to the private sector. The Foot and Mouth
crisis gave a clear demonstration that the public service ethos
with regard to the delivery of work is still alive in ADAS even
after four years of trying to replace it. Many ADAS staff were
called to the front line to assist with a wide variety of duties.
A significant number of staff, whilst struggling to keep up their
normal work spent evenings and weekends on Foot and Mouth duties.
Even when it was known that no overtime would be given they still
felt the need to go and do whatever they could for the industry
which they `served'."
At this individual motivational level we believe
there is on the part of most public servants, particularly where
a conscious career choice has been made to enter the public service,
a preference for working for the public good as opposed to private
profit or to provide commercial products or services. Hence there
is often great resistance to "privatisation" of areas
such as DERA which goes well beyond the uncertainties over future
careers or fear of change.
However, the notion of a "public service
ethos" can be defined much more widely to cover the fundamental
values and characteristics of the public service, and the management
structures, with their associated logics, by which they are carried
out. As far as the civil service is concerned the Treasury and
Civil Service Select Committee's report on the Role of the Civil
Service in 1994 stated clearly that:
"It is our conviction that the values of
impartiality, integrity, objectivity, selection, and promotion
on merit and accountability should act as unifying features of
the British civil service."
These values have come to the fore again particularly
in the concern over standards in public life and the subsequent
In doing our own analysis of the civil service
and its future (IPMS "Civil Service 2000" June 1996)
we came to the conclusion that there were certain key characteristics
which recurred as underlying justification for civil service provision.
They included not only values or standards but also degree of
"public interest" and mechanisms for advice, management
and delivery. These key characteristics include:
The lack of alternative, competitive
sources of external supply
Consistency, quality and reliability
of service delivery
Efficiency and effectiveness
Depth and range of expertise
Retention of basic "intelligent
Integrity, impartiality and independence
Confidentiality, security and political
Over-riding public interest
Good employment practice (including
Some of these characteristics, especially those
relating to accountability and impartiality are unique to the
public service. Others are not and would be common to the assessment
of many services in the public and private sector alike. Analysed
into its separate elements there is probably no single defining
characteristic but taken together the "public service ethos"
can be seen at one end of a continuum of characteristics and "buccaneering"
private capitalism at the other end.
8. How is the public service ethos different
from the private (or voluntary) sector ethos?
As far as motivation is concerned there may
be little difference between the public and private sectors. This
is especially likely to be the case when the voluntary sector
is brought into the equation, where one might argue that their
high standards of "altruism" and concern for the particular
communities which they serve have been a major factor in their
use by central and local government to deliver services. But the
key issue is that regardless of the "intent" of the
workers, commercial requirements in the private sector may serve
to distort or inhibit their ability to deliver public service.
Private sector business has a different logic and economy of incentives
to the public service.
George Monbiot in his book, "Captive
State", puts it thus:
"It is also true that many corporations
are efficient and well managed. But they are, by definition, managed
in interests at variance with those of the public. Their directors
have a fiduciary duty towards the shareholders: they must place
their concerns above all others. The state, by contrast, has a
duty towards all members of the public, and must strive to achieve
a balance between their competing interests" (Pages 13-14).
A member in the privatised ADAS, having experienced
it both within government and as a privatised organisation, puts
the difference as follows:
"The public service ethos in terms of delivery
is different from that of the private sector as it is not orientated
about financial gain but is about doing a good job, providing
a service. It is about using one's skills and experience for the
good of others. It is about providing the customer with everything
that the person who is giving the service thinks they might need
to know even if they have not asked for it. In the private sector
this is seen as over delivery, inefficiency, wasteful of resources.
The Private sector ethos is about doing the absolute minimum to
fulfil the contract. Only doing what is being paid for. Not going
that one step further for the benefit of the customer. That is
not to say that work is skimped or below standard but on the bottom
line the driving force is always financial and not for the good
of the customer."
Loss of Government Expertise and Synergy through
One of the impacts of privatisation and contractorisation
which has not been sufficiently acknowledged by government is
the fact that many of the core public service functions have been
dropped or made more difficult and previous synergies between
policy and execution lost, as well as the loss of scientific capability.
An illustration of this issue is provided by
the experience of our members in the privatised Building Research
Establishment (BRE). The following are elements of its original
public sector role within the Department of Environment and Transport
(now part of DTRL), which BRE either no longer fulfils at all
or has reduced:
Some areas of expertise have disappeared
No more "free" instant
advice to Government unless within a contract
Reduced free advice to the public
There is a focus on short-term financial
gain rather than long-term investment
There is a reluctance to maintain
capabilities without guaranteed funding
Government is commissioning less
Additional layers of management to
pay fori.e. the research management contractors
As Government sponsored research
reduces, the organisation moves into private "consulting".
In addition there has been a loss of overall
scientific capability to the Government and to the UK as a whole:
Sale of Cardington means loss of
key unique large fire and structure research facility
Loss of key staff through privatisation
Some remaining staff demotivated
and less committed.
High staff turn-over since privatisation
causes loss of continuity
New staff do not have long term scientific
commitment to the organisation
Reduction in standard of scrutiny/quality
assurance of advice and publications
Perceived loss of independent status
has led to loss of co-operation from industry
Reduction in scientific competence
Construction has lost its special
status in transfer to DTI
Previous ethos was scientific excellence
- now client gets only what is paid for
New ethos undermines building a career
based on technical excellence
No longer regarded as a "scientific"
Move away from experimental research
to desk based work
Scientific work no longer necessarily
reaches the public domain
Similarly on the Transport side of DETR, when
the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) was privatised the department
lost both its main research arm and most of its "intelligent
customers". A 1997 report by the Central Transport Group
heavily criticised the lack of scientific and technical expertise
within transport policy making, claiming that it was as a consequence
losing political credibility within both UK and EU government
circles. Quite simply, locating expertise away from the core has
resulted in it becoming a less flexible resource. Problems need
to be anticipatedresearch cannot just be turned on and
off like a tap. There must be a strategy and an ability to co-ordinate
and call up the required expertise. This is much more easily done
if there is a critical mass of scientists in government and research
There is also a general concern about the impact
of privatisation, commercialisation and the "contract-culture"
on the public service. In the science and technology context the
Council for Science and Technology (CST) in its review of SET
activity across Government makes the important point that many
R&D programmes are long term in nature; they "cannot
be turned on and off". A reading of the BSE Inquiry report
makes it abundantly clear that reaction to new developments and
crises depends heavily on the continuity of pre-existing research
lines and an ability for government policy makers to know who
or what research to call upon, as well as an ability to quickly
initiate new lines of research. There is a tension between the
two objectives of co-ordination and rapid reaction required for
crises such as BSE, together with the need for free flow of information;
and the "commercialisation" approach which relies on
competition, commercial secrecy and often very short term contracts.
The recently published Stage 2 Report of the
Quinquennnial Review of Research Councils also expresses concern
that the customer contractor principle is not necessarily the
best way of handling long term research needs. They point out
that the relationships between the customer MAFF/DEFRA and its
contractor BBSRC is much less satisfactory for ensuring full coverage
and continuity than the relationship between the NHS and MRC which
is not based on the customer contractor principle but a much more
collaborative approach. They say in Recommendation 4.4:
"Relations between Government Departments
and Research Councils should be more systematic and strategic,
take place within the context of science strategy for the relevant
areas, and be reinforced at working level. The effectiveness of
the customer-contractor relationship between Government Departments
and Research Councils should be examined, if possible as part
of the cross-cutting review of science and research."
The survey of our own members in November 1999
("What Future R&D" IPMS Bulletin) reflected many
of these concerns about the impact of the move towards more short-term,
customer-contractor based research which had already taken place.
In relation to the R&D undertaken, there is no doubt that
pressures to commercialise have made a difference in some areas
though there is uncertainty at this stage how the creation of
spin-off companies from public sector research establishments
will affect public sector science. One fifth of respondents expected
a positive effect compared with one third who expected negative
A large majority of respondents believed that
the limited duration of project funding interferes with the quality
of science and restricts opportunities for further development
of results. Four out of ten respondents believed that privatisation
had made a difference to tendering independent advice in the public
interest. Other respondents commented that they had not been asked
for advice since their organisations were privatised. A number
characterised their situation as "he who pays the piper calls
the tune" or "state the truth and lose your funding".
Respondents were asked about the "intelligent customer"
capability of their sponsor department or, in other words, about
the sponsor's ability to make well informed and timely decisions
about its research requirements and use of research results. 41%
of respondents considered that the "intelligent customer"
capability of their sponsor department had become worse over the
last five years. At the same time, one in five respondents reported
that more than half their work is done on a "commercial in
Prospect followed this survey up with some in
depth case studies which illustrate the problems of short-termism
and the contract-culture as it affects public interest research.
Examples A and B in the following pages (and C under Question
14) give detailed examples through the experiences of individual
members whose identities are disguised.
Example A: The difficulties of operating on the
basis of short-term contracts and lack of long term technical
"Patrick is one of a declining number of
scientists in his research institute whose post is supported by
core funding. He finds that he spends an increasing amount of
his time writing grant proposals to gain short-term staff and
The technical support for his role is virtually
non-existent, so he has to provide the long-term technical expertise
to support his short-term staff. Because of the demands on his
time, he is concerned that the maintenance of controlled environments
and of equipment is less than satisfactory. He is also worried
that staff are often inadequately supervised and is aware of instances
where scientific methods have been inappropriately applied and
analysis of data superficial.
For example, there is a tendency to ignore "unwanted"
data rather than checking and repeating experiments. Short-termism
leads to inefficiency. Data generated by short-term studies is
not adequately analysed or written up by staff who leave before
the end of their contracts. Due to this short-term approach, Patrick
says data may be incomplete but there is no opportunity to finish
Example B: The discontinuity of vital databases
and expertise generated by project contract method of funding
"Tony's area of research is the marine environment.
He tells how a series of investigations into condition impacting
upon the feasibility and safety of oil company operations and
rigs in the North Sea have failed to deliver the desired outcome
due to short-termism and discontinuity of expertise.
In the early 1980s the Department of Energy (DEn)
invested £500,000 in two programmes to measure currents on
the Scottish continental and West Shetland slopes. Unfortunately,
these contracts did not extend to analysing the data obtained.
Although the Department enquired from time to time what could
be done in the last three months of a financial year when funds
were found to be available, it was five years before the analysis
was eventually undertaken.
After the Piper Alpha disaster responsibility
transferred to the Health and Safety Executive but, in practice,
environmental investigations were directly funded by the oil companies.
The main participants around Scotland formed a consortium which
employed commercial sector oceanographers to take measurements
wherever they expected to place a rig.
This has resulted in far more data than under
the previous regime, but it has not been obtained in any concerted
way nor with much acquired skill in predicting future conditions.
In the early 1990s, the oil consortium invited tenders for a two
year contract to model currents. But the contract was over-specified
and ill-conceived. The group engaged did not succeed in fulfilling
the contract requirements. Five years later, the oil consortium
changed to another modelling group.
In 2000, HSE, on behalf of the oil consortium,
invited tenders for innovative proposals to improve understanding,
predictability and estimates of extremes from the large amount
of available data. The invitation to tender included a list of
the data obtained and data reports, but the earlier DEn research
and subsequent report were missing from the list.
Tony comments that this experience represents
a catalogue of changing or poorly-defined responsibilities and
attempts at short-term results quite out of keeping with the duration
of interest and the timescale for real scientific advance."
Overall, therefore commercialisation and the
"contract culture" have the following disadvantages:
Collaboration and the ability to
co-ordinate are often more important than competition. Indeed
competition can hinder collaboration. It can often lead to unnecessary
duplication of activities; blockages to the free flow of information
and resources; and inability to co-ordinate action from the centre.
Insistence on an institutional split
between purchaser and provider can denude the purchaser of the
resources to be an intelligent customer and deprive the centre
of independent policy advice.
Dispersal of work among different
contractors can lead to fragmentation, discontinuity and damaging
short-term perspectives which can severely damage the service
provided, eg long term data gathering and research and development.
Contractors will develop their own
missions or follow lines of work which will attract commissions
so that their approach may no longer match the public service
Transactional costs involved in the
contract culture can heavily outweigh any benefits.
Contracts can be very inflexible.
Once specified they are often difficult to change even if, for
example, new avenues of research emerge during a contract which
are more fruitful than those originally planned. Correspondingly
it is often difficult to add new specification without incurring
Lack of a level playing field may
result in inefficient external contractors being chosen and a
consequent loss of civil service facilities which are more efficient
To mitigate some of these negative effects there
must be the right mix of core longer term funding, with which
the research providers can replenish their research base, and
shorter term projects. The balance between core, usually longer
term, and project or contract based short term funding will vary
according to the specific department or PSRE's needs but in our
view 60% is the minimum acceptable level of core funding to enable
research institutes or agencies to plan beyond the short term
and to develop long term strategies which can protect and enhance
the science and engineering base. Moreover, where government contracts
are let for the application of S&T a percentage should be
earmarked for background long term research by the contractor.
The Rothschild principle laid down in the framework for Government
Research and Development (1972) set such a percentage at 10% and
we see no good reason for it to be less than this.
Where work is carried out by contract there
should be greater co-ordination between customer and contractor,
for example through the mechanism of "concordats", whereby
departments to agree longer term agreements with contractors to
enable them to plan on a longer term basis without removing the
element of competition and ability to change direction all together.
9. Is a public service ethos necessarily
a good thing? Can it be an obstacle to the effective delivery
of services to the public?
The public service ethos binds public services
together and protects standards of impartiality and integrity,
and need not be an obstacle to change provided there is a desire
by Government to work in partnership with public service workers.
The major obstacle to effective delivery of
services has been cuts in funding and lack of adequate training.
The public service ethos, even if it was perfect, would not be
sufficient on its own.
Clearly there are aspects of the public service
"ethos" which can hamper a more "commercial"
approach. Indeed, the worst situation of all is to have a poor
combination of both which has happened in many areas such as PSREs
where they are being urged to win private sector funding but are
saddled with restrictive Treasury rules which prevent them competing
on a "level playing field". Also the contrast can be
seen in newly privatised organisations where public service ways
of working can hinder their growth. Quoting again from a member
"In terms of management the public service
ethos is slow and cumbersome when compared with the private sector.
Too many people have their fingers in too many pies and the truly
relevant people are not able to get on and make decisions quickly
and efficiently. In the past there has been virtually no empowerment
which allows problems to be solved and ideas to be generated by
the relevant people.
Having had experience of the two it is possible
to see the benefits and weaknesses of the two systems. There is
a place still for the public service ethos in terms of delivery
but it would be improved if some of the ethos from the private
sector were taken on board, such as customer care and timeliness
of delivery. In terms of management then the PSE could be much
improved if guidance were taken from the private sector. The unwieldly
management structures could well be an obstacle to "effective"
Lengthy times for decisions to be made as too
many people had to be consulted and, even when decisions were
made, because so many people were involved in them there would
always be some who did not agree and would reopen the debate.
Many opportunities for the company to advance were lost this way."
However as far as many public services and the
process of government is concerned some of these elements of "bureaucracy"
may be necessary rather than its abandonment in favour of a free
wheeling entrepreneurial culture. Otherwise as Richard Reeves
(Director of Futures at the Industrial Society) points out
We risk losing "fairness, probity and reliability
in the treatment of cases and other forms of conduct that were
taken somewhat for granted under traditional arrangements".
Effective bureaucracy provides systems for ensuring
that the right person is held accountable for the right action.
Bad bureaucracy, the kind which has flourished in recent years,
dilutes accountability through the creation of lengthy paper trails:
e-mail, of course, simply fuelling this cover-my-back tendency.
Bureaucracy has become a hiding place for poor management in the
public sectorthe wall behind which some public servants
10. Would the creation of a single public
service help a public service ethos?
The creation of a single public service is not
desirable for other reasons. Nor is it essential in order to achieve
the key standards and characteristics set out in Question 7. However,
it is desirable that those values and standards should be broadly
similar even if their precise content differs according to the
types of the service being provided.
It is also vital that a government is able to
co-ordinate and direct both policy and its execution and to be
sure that the levers of power when pulled will actually work.
Many fear that the degree of fragmentation of the civil service
which has already occurred has impeded its ability to co-ordinate
effective action in an emergency as we have noted under questions
2 and 8.
11. Is it possible for profit-orientated
organisations to maintain the public service ethos?
It is possible for profit-oriented organisations
to maintain the "public service ethos" if the appropriate
performance targets and regulatory systems are in place. However,
this will depend on the types of service and the closer the task
to policy, statutory and regulatory functions of the state the
more difficult it becomes to secure the required co-ordination
and joined-up government required under a fragmented and privatised
There is also always the danger, since public
services are rarely natural areas for private sector provision,
that the need to please shareholders and to find money for further
investment means that the "bottom line" will override
other considerations such as safety. This has clearly happened
in the case of Railtrack and threatens to happen in NATS. (See
also Questions 6 and 13)
12. What measures, if any, need to be put
in place to ensure that the search for profit does not undermine
the public service ethos?
For reasons set out elsewhere in this evidence
we believe that in most cases the logic of private profit conflicts
with the requirements of the public service ethos. For areas of
public services which are already privatised and for areas which
may be considered for privatisation, contractorisation, or commercialisation
in the future the following measures need to be in place.
Agreement on key criteria such as
accountability, impartiality, quality, security as specified under
Questions 1 and 7 to evaluate the appropriateness of private sector
The National Audit office to review
civil and public service functions against those criteria whenever
a change of status is proposed
A Civil Service Act to define the
duties of civil servants to ministers and citizens and to clarify
the role of special advisers
Effective regulation of "conflicts
of interest" by strict codes of conduct for those carrying
out public service roles whether special advisers, members of
advisory committees, secondees, or civil servants engaging in
Professional codes of ethics and
best practice should apply across all organisations, whether public,
private, or voluntary sector carrying out public services.
Freedom of information and transparency
in all sectors involved in public service delivery. The claims
of "commercial in confidence" to be rigorously examined
with a view to maximising information available whether during
the process of handing over public services to the private sector
or afterwards to monitor service delivery.
Need to ensure that privatisation
and commercialisation does not damage overall public service capacity
to act as "intelligent customer" or decision makers
and ability to co-ordinate and respond to crises as they arise.
Monitoring of performance and accountability
to Parliament of all organisations carrying out public services
with public funds whether in the public, private or voluntary
Adequate training in public service
values of integrity, impartiality, objectivity and political neutrality
for all those engaged in public service tasks whether in the public,
voluntary or private sector.
13. Can lessons be learned from the experience
of private sector involvement in public services in other countries?
Lessons can be learned, although the UK has
gone further in the process of privatisation than almost any other
country. So lessons on the cost/ benefits of privatisation are
not always available. However the case of the California market
experiment in energy shows the dangers of allowing a free market
to prevail in key public services and not having the in-house
capacity in central or local government to handle a crisis situation.
The free energy market and California "brownouts"
In 1996 California passed landmark legislation
to restructure its electric power industries and give consumers
the right to choose the supplier of their electricity. This resulted
in fragmentation of an integrated electricity system, previously
dominated by state-regulated utilities into isolated components,
and opened electricity generation to market competition.
By summer 2000, these policies had resulted
in major problems in electricity supply and pricing. Crisis point
was reached in June due to a combination of hot weather, voltage
instability relating to gaming the previous day, import limitations
and power plants out of service. Prices were driven up dramatically.
During one week purchasers of California power spent $1.2 billion
on electricity, 300% more than they had paid during the same period
in 1999 and 1/8th of their cost of power for all of 1999. Even
so, there were inadequate supplies of power and over 100,000 customers
in the Bay Area of San Diego suffered electricity cuts. The State
of California had no influence on this decision.
Key points to learn from the Californian experience
There is no clear relationship between
price signals and investment in capacity in a private market.
Californian energy prices are expected to remain high due to market
structure and the tight supply of electricity. There is no obligation
on the generators to fund new investment in electricity supply
or delivery reliability. As private operators, they can take advantage
of higher retail prices to increase profit margins
The State of California lost control
and access over data needed to assess wholesale market pricing
and supply scheduling behaviour. Thus it is heavily dependent
on electricity suppliers that behave according to market signals
no security of supply or social considerations.
Competitive market structures have
not reduced prices for electricity consumers. Californians pay
substantially more on average for electricity than customers in
other States that have not shifted to competitive market structures.
The regulatory system is not working
effectively. State authority has been ceded to the federal government
and the bodies with a supervisory remit have no duty to protect
the public or to consider the retail consumer. In addition, there
are serious conflicts of interest because some members of the
supervisory boards are in positions to benefit either individually
or at corporate level from higher prices in electricity markets.
Also we can learn about alternatives. For example,
in the case of NATS the UK has gone further than any other country
in privatisation. But the "Trust Model" put forward
by Prospect (then IPMS) as an alternative was based on the Canadian
model of NavCanada.
The Trust Model:NavCanada
NavCanada is a Canadian trust. It was incorporated
in May 1995 as a non 'share capital corporation' under the Canada
Corporation Act. The Canadian government transferred to the corporation
all air navigation service property and assets for a price of
1.5 billion dollars and gave the corporation powers to own, manage,
operate, maintain and develop the system.
The Act gives NavCanada exclusive rights to
provide services and the ability to set and collect charges. Charging
principles are set by government, the key feature being cost recovery
not profit. The company is financed by debt; a 3 billion dollar
loan was raised from a syndicate of Canadian and other banks to
fund the acquisition and provide working capital and reserves.
This debt was subsequently turned into bonds. Safety is regulated
by government, and the Department of National Defence provides
separate air navigation services for military use. These services
have not been commercialised or privatised.
The Trust model secures a balance of interests
among key stakeholders, with no single stakeholder dominating.
The model provides strong downward pressure
on costs through the representation of users on the board, and
not having to finance equity costs. NavCanada is primarily bond
financed, with long-term bonds predominant.
Prospect believes the "Trust model"
was a viable alternative to using the PPP model in an organisation
like NATS. In the PPP model there will always be a conflict between
the prime objective of profit maximisation and the need to meet
other key objectives such as safety. We are not suggesting that
this conflict is incapable of being resolved only that the difficulties
of replicating the public service ethos and objectives in contractual
form cannot be ignored. This potential conflict is the main reason
why the commercial option for ATC has been rejected in every other
country where the provision of air navigation services has been
The Independent Publicly Owned Company (IPOC)
proposed by Prospect would involve establishing a company whose
shares are owned by the government (rather than the private sector)
but which would operate with similar incentives and objectives
to the private sector. A Charter with government would set out
any social objectives and other performance targets. The board
and management of the company would then be free to run the organisation
without government interference. In summary this model will allow:
Access to sufficient capital through
both public and private sources.
A separation of service provision
from safety regulation.
Greater accountability and transparency,
with a more formal role for users and a commercial structure of
incentives and disciplines.
Commercial freedom to develop the
business through a hands-off relationship with government and
access to capital.
Government as owner to have on-going
strategic control over the business, to enable the obligations
to be met and safety to be paramount.
It is interesting that the Transport Minister,
Stephen Byers, has put the trust model forward as a possible model
for the failed privatised Railtrack.
14. Do private sector people working in and
around government, including secondees, task force members and
others, undermine the public service ethos? Are special measures
needed to regulate their activities and prevent possible conflicts
The high standards of impartiality and integrity
established under the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms are still admired
throughout the world. Key elements of these, as already spelt
out in Question 1 are the:
objectivity, impartiality and political
neutrality of the civil service and of civil servants.
fair and open competition in the
recruitment and promotion of civil servants.
Politicians, independent experts, and previous
heads of Whitehall have expressed fears that the civil service
is fragmenting and in danger of losing the public service ethos
which has bound it together since the nineteenth century. As the
1994 Treasury Select Committee's report on the role of the civil
"The devolution of authority within the
civil service and the disappearance of traditional structures
of control reinforces the need for greater vigilance about standards
throughout the civil service. The disappearance of many tangible
common features of careers in different parts of the civil service
reinforces the importance of less tangible shared values, and
emphasises the need to make those shared characteristics better
known and understood throughout the service."
Of equal concern is the changing ministerial
attitude to advice from civil servants. Increasingly, such advice
is not sought at all, or is supplemented by external consultants
appointed with a specific brief, or politically motivated think
tanks and lobby groups.
A code of ethics was drawn up in 1995 as a result
of these concerns and pressure from the civil service unions.
It was accepted by the unions with the proviso that it was not
sufficiently comprehensive, particularly regarding the conduct
of ministers towards civil servants because it was felt preferable
to have the code in the public arena and to review its use after
a period of time. Since then the situation has deteriorated considerably
and there is major concern over the "creeping politicisation"
of Whitehall, whether this is the government using senior civil
servants as direct representatives on their behalf or the removal
of civil servants who are believed to be insufficiently politically
orientated in their approach, as happened to many civil service
information chiefs when the Labour Government took office in 1997
and again more recently. There is also concern at the expansion
in the number of special advisers to ministers.
The civil service unions moved a motion at the
TUC congress in September 2001 encapsulating their concerns. It
called for a new Civil Service Act to protect their independence,
statutory protection from political interference and a limit in
the number of special advisers to ministers funded by the taxpayer.
Such an Act was recommended by Lord Neill's committee on standards
of public life in its report in January 2000 and was accepted
by the Government but, disappointingly, such an Act was not included
in the Queen's Speech. It is vital that these safeguards against
politicisation of the civil service are put in place.
There is also a developing problem with the
provision of reliable and independent public service information
and advice both in relation to special advisory committees and
through government encouragement of PSREs and universities to
take on more commercial work and increase their links with industry.
(Commercialisation has been given further encouragement by the
"Baker" Report on "Creating Knowledge and Creating
Wealth" and the July 2000 Science White Paper "Excellence
and Opportunity a Science and Innovation policy for the 21st Century").
In the case of scientific advisory committees
they perform an essential function of bringing to bear external
sources of expertise not available within government. But recent
controversial issues such as GMOs have highlighted the fact that
many of the experts on those advisory committees are from companies
who have a commercial vested interest in the product or process
under discussion. Prospect recognises that scientists and other
specialists who are leading experts in their field are likely
to be engaged in a range of activities for a range of customers.
Government cannot afford to ignore this expertise and it is better
to handle potential conflicts of interest than to forgo the necessary
There need to be clear guidelines on disclosure
of interest backed by active policies of annual disclosure and
clear criteria for decisions on whether interests are material.
Disclosure should extend beyond financial considerations, bearing
in mind that in the public sector experts giving advice fulfil
a variety of functions not all of which have a clear commercial
value. We therefore welcome recent moves to develop codes of practice
and have participated in the various consultations on "Guidelines
2000 on Science Advice and Policy Making" OST, July 2000,
which guides practice within departments and the more recent draft
Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees.
It is also vital for ensuring independence and
integrity that there should be sufficient in-house specialist
support to be able to assess and interpret specialist advice.
This was a point highlighted by Lord Phillips in the BSE inquiry.
In the case of BSE neither MAFF (now DEFRA) nor the Department
of Health were adequately resourced to meet either existing or
expanding workloads. This pattern is repeated elsewhere. For example,
several agencies responsible ultimately for public safety such
as the Medicines Control Agency are funded primarily by the pharmaceutical
industry whose drugs they licence and regulate. They are dependent
on data that companies provide.
The Department of the Environment Transport
and the Regions (DETR), as the controversy over Genetically Manipulated
Organisms (GMOs) has revealed does not have the in house resources
either. Thus Professor Beringer when Chair of the Advisory Committee
on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) complained that the specialist
support available within DETR at that time was being spread too
thin (see also Question 16). In 1999 he told the Science and Technology
Committee on the Scientific Advisory System and GMOs that:
"nine people . . . have to deal with all
the work to do with releases in this country, all the interactions
within Europe and all the international work and it just is not
enough. It has not been enough for nearly three years now . .
. People are working extraordinarily long hours; they are terribly
As a result the committee recommended that the
Government looks closely at the staffing arrangements for scientific
advisory committees and commits itself to providing large enough
secretariats to ensure the efficient working of the Committees.
As far as the pressure to commercialise in PSREs
is concerned as well as distorting or detracting from core science
missions in government departments and agencies it also raises
similar issues of "conflict of interest" and integrity.
In November 1999 survey of our R&D members
employed in the public and private sectors revealed:
concern that the contract culture
in public sector research laboratories has led to R&D practitioners
being asked to tailor findings to suit the customer, and
concern that objective and independent
R&D is being placed under threat by increasing commercial
pressure and that market forces are taking precedence over professional
These problems are illustrated in another of
our case studies:
Example C: Commercial pressures to tailor research
Joe is an experienced scientist. When Joe wrote
a paper attempting to balance positive and negative aspects of
GM to plant breeding, his research group was disbanded and his
management responsibilities withdrawn.
Joe believes that this is typical of an approach
that pushes scientists into a technical role, with little scope
for wider analysis. He notes that throughout the institutes, the
integrative science which could address the relevance and impact
of GM technology has largely disappeared. A general emphasis in
favour of GM has:
Pressured individual scientists to
accept the basic premises of the use of GM crops;
Weakened objective assessment of
the potential value of the technology;
Removed independent and critical
Prevented adequate assessment of
economic benefits and costs;
Prevented proper risk assessment;
Undermined public confidence in publicly-funded
Resulted in complete dominance of
molecular biology at the expense of other research disciplines.
In response to these concerns Prospect pressed
for effective regulation of conflicts of interest and agreed codes
have been developed. However we have also been concerned about
the impact at institutional level and the need to ensure that
mechanisms are in place to ensure that in both government departments
and NDPBs roles and lines of accountability for "quality
of life issues" and "independent scientific advice"
are clearly distinguished from those for "commercialisation"
and "industrial sponsorship" and that there is transparency
in the decision-making process within and between departments
and in government as a whole.
15. Many companies are becoming increasingly
aware of social and ethical issues. Does this make them more suitable
for work in partnership with the public sector, or does it make
It may make a difference at the margins but
the fundamental issue is the conflict between profit and public
services, and the resulting structural impact the profit motive
has on an organisation's ability to maintain a public service
16. Do the views, motivations and attitudes
of public sector workers differ from those in the private sector?
Does any difference in motivation have an effect on the delivery
of public services?
Our members would say that there is a difference.
They would say that they joined public service not only to earn
a living wage, but also to serve/adhere to certain basic values.
Motivation and staff morale is a key factor in the delivery of
services, not so much in terms of the public/private debate, but
more in terms of how the public expenditure cuts and the fragmentation
of public services have affected staff morale. Most other European
countries recognise the importance of a highly motivated workforce
in delivering high quality public services. For example the French
Charter states clearly that improvements in quality and the effectiveness
of public services depends upon motivating public officials and
broadening their skills.
Our survey of members employed in R&D is
also relevant here. The majority of respondents considered that
they were unlikely to progress in their career before retirement,
though very few respondents indicated that this was imminent.
A number of respondents commented that there were no suitable
opportunities for promotion with their current employer. The major
reason given was cuts in the overall budget, mentioned by 31%
of respondents. 61% of respondents reported a decrease in promotion
opportunities over the last five years compared with just 4% who
reported an increase.
These findings are confirmed by a recent study
of senior civil servants carried out by Dr Eileen Rubery she said:
"There is considerable evidence that many
feel trapped in dead-end jobs that are not fully using their skills,
yet are unable to see a way to move either within or outside the
Service. These people are bright, intelligent and potentially
creative, ie just the sort of people that the Service is looking
for, but at present many of them are not giving of their best,
nor being used to best effect".
Through the process of market testing, contracting
out, and privatisation, the civil service unions suspect that
there has been a further worrying decline in morale not only for
those staff working in the areas immediately under threat but
also for others who have seen services decline and their colleagues
facing uncertain futures.
The problem of low morale is also recognised
by other commentators for example David Marquard in the Guardian
(20.03.01) says that years of constant undermining, attack
and encouragement to mimic the private sector has caused enormous
"Incessant marketisation has generated a
culture of distrust, which is nibbling away a the values of professionalism,
citizenship equity and service like an acrid fog. For the marketisers,
the professional, public service ethos is a con. Professionals
are self-interested rent-seekers, trying to force the price of
their labour above its market value. The service ethic is a device
to legitimise a web of monopolistic cartels whose real purpose
is to rip off the consumer. There is no point in appealing to
the values of common citizenship. There are no citizens; there
are only customers. Public servants are inherently untrustworthy.
If they are allowed autonomy, they will abuse it. Like everyone
else, they can be motivated only by sticks and carrots. If possible,
privatisation must expose them to the sticks and carrots of market
competition. If not, they must be kept on their toes by repeated
audits, assessments and appraisals.
Twenty years of this mean-spirited rhetoric have
demoralised the public services and encouraged users who can afford
it to buy their way out."
Speaking after the election, as quoted in the
invitation to give evidence to the Select Committeee Tony Blair
said that the new structural framework for the public services
which the Government envisage will give power to "the frontline
professionals and set them free to innovate and develop the services
needed". The terms and conditions of frontline staff should
be "geared to proper recognition for the work they do, real
incentives for better performance, higher morale and greater fulfilment".
He continued: "So our strategy for public service reforms
is: national standards, local innovation and more and better rewarded
Indeed the Modernising Government agenda which
the Government and civil service unions are pursuing in partnership
also lays considerable stress on "Bringing in and Bringing
on the Talent" and "A better deal for staff". It
is crucial that these programmes are effective.
Moving from a hierarchical civil service based
on centralised rules which specified details of administration
to one which is devolved and innovative requires a highly motivated
workforce with a substantial investment in training and professional
In the rest of this section we will show how
we think the professionals and specialists whom we organise in
the civil service can be remotivated and better utilised to ensure
that the public service ethos and public service performance is
revived and improved in the way outlined by Tony Blair.
The CST Report highlighted the vital importance
of scientific capability in government to ensure that they are
equipped to meet the challenges of a highly technologically complex
global environment. There is a need for scientific and technical
(S&T) understanding for generalist posts in the senior civil
service and not simply for those in core science jobs. There is
also a need for generalists with a specialist background who can
interpret and interface between the specialist "expert"
and the "generalist" whether the latter be senior civil
servant or politician. It is therefore vital to open channels
for those with specialist backgrounds, both in terms of original
discipline and in terms of experience of a specialist or professional
nature, to reach the senior civil service where at present they
An important source of recruits for the unified
grades was the PSREs but as the CST Report itself highlights that
source has largely dried up because of privatisation and fragmentation.
"a key source of recruitment to departments,
particularly at middle management levels, has largely dried up
as a result of the privatisation of, or arm's length relationship
with, research establishments which were previously staffed by
civil servants. In the past these have provided a significant
source of supply both suitably qualified and experienced staff
to manage departmental R&D programmes and of scientifically
literate senior managers . . . It seems to us that departments
should now take action to ensure that careers in the Civil Service
for people who want to work with science and technology are good
enough to attract the brightest so departments can meet their
needs for and appropriate level of scientific expertise. We also
believe that there could be scope for more co-ordination across
In addition, even where privatisation has not
taken place the cuts in the civil service, including at senior
levels (where several senior professional posts were sacrificed);
the separation of agencies from core departments; and the delegation
of pay, grading and other personnel management systems has reduced
mobility and career opportunities, and removed any mechanism for
central management to monitor or facilitate career moves. Thus,
in DETR (now part of DEFRA & DTLR) for example, most scientific
and other professional recruits into the Headquarters policy-making
divisions were employed on fixed term contracts because they could
not offer them long term careers either in those departments or
There is scope for some fixed term appointments
or secondments at senior levels, particularly where they have
direct experience of industry or other economic sectors, and where
there are reciprocal arrangements for civil servants to move outside
to gain experience. But they have major weaknesses. For example
such external recruits may be at a disadvantage in holding their
own with administrators who will be much more experienced in the
ways of "Whitehall". Nor would they provide a suitable
source of candidates for promotion into the higher reaches of
the civil service as defined above.
Recent evidence of the difficulties comes from
a study of Career Development Centres by Dr Eileen Rubery (ex
DoH, medical professional). These Centres were run for staff at
IP3 to Branch Head (UG.5) level in Technical and Professional
Policy across Whitehall between November 1999 and October 2000.
"6.2.12 We have had several participants
who have recently joined the Department as part of the "Modernising
Government" intakes of outside experts, some of these have
found difficulty in understanding the DoH and in feeling that
they are making an effective contribution to the work of the Department.
They often have seemed at risk of becoming disempowered in the
Department and ending up by being neither effective within the
DoH nor able to transfer back into the NHS easily and happily."
In 1996 an internal DoE (prior to DETR) report
set out the need for a cadre of permanent scientists and other
professionals, although recognising that these might be supplemented
with the use of external advice or short term appointments. It
said it would always need internal expertise:
Where there is an ongoing requirement
for professional advice which is likely to be supplied more cost-effectively
and immediately by in-house staff than on a call-off basis;
Where in-house professionals can
act as "intelligent customers", specifying requirements
for outside professional advice and monitoring its quality, as
well as judging objectively the quality of outside representations;
Where continuity and familiarity
with the policy context are an advantage and the in-house professional
effectively acts as part of the policy team; and
Where issues of independence and
integrity are best served by those with no external conflicts
of interest or concern for future contracts.
Under the "Modernising Government"
agenda it is essential that all S&T and other specialist staff
must be fully represented in the drive to secure "a service
more open to people and ideas which brings in and brings on talent".
Included within the "bringing on the talent" programme
aimed at all staff is the requirement for departments to introduce
talent spotting and management development programmes; and the
scrutiny and analysis of career progression and profile of underrepresented
groups available to feed senior grades and then to target development
action as appropriate. For this to happen however will require
the opening of channels which have not been readily available
to specialist staff for the reasons outlined earlier. We hope
that the new diversity and "bringing on the talent"
initiatives will help in this task and that senior management
will adopt the policies and take the actions required to ensure
that specialist and professional staff as a whole grasp the opportunities
which should be opening up.
Another project to widen entry to the senior
civil service which may be useful for improving the number of
staff in senior decision-making positions with a specialist background
or qualification is the "Redefining and Renaming the Fast
Stream Project" which aims to broaden the entry, particularly
for underrepresented groups, without losing its market appeal.
It is important to ensure that specialist qualifications and experience
are included as part of that approach. In 1996 the then Deputy
Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine in a speech at the Civil Service
College, stressed in particular the importance of scientific and
technical expertise and greater professional competence in ensuring
a high quality civil service. He said:
"I begin with those providing advice to
ministers. I believe these civil servants need to be:
More inclined to quantify rather
than simply qualify the arguments. This requires greater numeracy
More scientifically and technologically
More knowledgeable about the private
sector, so that their advice can help create the wealth on which
we all depend.
And better managers themselves
These requirements were recognised by the Fulton
committee thirty years ago. A good deal has been achieved since
then. But as the White Paper made clear, the pace and extent of
change do not yet measure up to the rigorous challenges we face."
Equipping S&T and other specialist staff
to fulfil their potential within the civil service and to take
the opportunities which may open up is vital. To encourage staff
to sustain and improve their skills and to retain their professional
integrity, it will be increasingly important for departments to
commit themselves to full continuing professional development
programmes, including the obtaining of further qualifications.
There are several aspects to this; the need to keep abreast of
increasing fast moving technical and scientific developments;
and the broader management skills, including project management
skills; the ability to communicate knowledge to others within
the organisation and outside and the equipping of specialist staff
to fill more "generalist" roles through schemes such
as "SPATS", "Technological generalists" or
modern versions of the same.
It is essential that there be full co-operation
at all levels between professionals and administrators. A recent
study of diversity in the civil service by ORC International shows
that there are strong feelings among specialists in general that
their expertise and qualifications are not valued. Specialist
staff are also less likely than others to feel that their organisation
respects individual differences (eg cultures, working styles,
backgrounds, ideas). Moreover, on the administration side, the
"generalist" culture was highlighted as a problem. For
example those who wished to stay longer in a particular area to
develop expertise instead of constantly being moved between jobs
said their attitude was "frowned upon".
Evidence from the Rubery Report on Career Development
Centres shows that on both the professional and administration
side special skills and expertise are not highly valued and the
increased inability to move around Whitehall because of fragmentation
and departmentalism makes it difficult to maintain professional
identity and to develop expertise across the civil service.
The Report also comments on the position of
"generalists" and the fact, as noted above in the Diversity
Survey, that they get little opportunity to develop specialisms
and skills relevant to the job. The report says:
"The skills employed across
Whitehall are taught as a craft not a profession. They are not
valued outside Whitehall, although they may well be of value to
those outside Whitehall.
There are no recognised qualifications
for those who possess these skills.
Staff are aware of this and it adversely
affects their confidence, status and ability to seek posts."
The cult of the "amateur" which the
Fulton committee deplored is still alive and well. Thirty years
on from Fulton, with the technical complexity of many issues,
the need for dialogue both within and outside the civil service
and the need to deliver policies effectively, it is even more
vital for it to be removed. It is to be hoped that the Modernising
Government Agenda and particularly the "Bringing in and Bringing
on the Talent" initiatives will remedy some of these deficiencies.
The Rubery Report's view is that in spite of the White Paper on
Modernising Government and the rhetoric about changing culture
and training, there was little evidence that those attending the
Centres felt they had experienced much concrete help in making
the White Paper happen as yet. But it is early days and Prospect
is actively campaigning for a genuine attempt to change the culture
to one which appreciates, effectively utilises, and gives much
better career opportunities to those with relevant expertise for
the problems faced by the modern civil service. Without this radical
change in culture a "joined-up" civil service open to
ideas and expertise and open to dialoguea genuinely "open
government"will not materialise.
17. There is conflicting evidence as to whether
the public is in favour of private sector involvement in public
services (MORI polling, June 2001). What in your view is the truth
about public attitudes?
Most evidence so far has tended to suggest that
the public does not like the idea of public services run for profit
by private companies. For example, a recent NOP poll, carried
out for UNISON showed that 83% of respondents said that public
services should not be run by private companies for a profit.
The major Guardian ICM Poll on Public Services in March 2001 showed
that all voters, including Conservatives, wanted to see public
services run by the Government or local authorities and overwhelmingly
rejected the idea that public services should be run for profit.
Only 11% approved of the plan to privatise NATS.
There is, nevertheless, some conflicting evidence
arising from the polls both between and within surveys. Some of
this variation will depend on who has commissioned the survey
and set the questions. It probably also reflects a wide variation
in the degree of understanding among the public as to what is
meant by private sector involvement in public services and according
to the service being discussed.
The June MORI poll may have had conflicts within
it (see Question 7) but what appears to emerge is the public's
clear unease about the pursuit of the profit motive in public
services. However, what the polling also showed was that the public
was more relaxed about "not-for-profit" private companies
delivering public services.
18. If there are to be rules regulating private
sector involvement in public services, should they apply also
to, for example, the voluntary sector? Should there be less stringent
regulation where profit is not involved?
We believe there should be a level playing field,
regardless of who provides public services. As far as the voluntary
sector is concerned "Altruism" is not enough. There
should be standards which are enforceable. They should be proportionate
and relevant to the degree of vulnerability and risk that failure
poses to the individual citizen or the community as a whole.
Standards should not only relate to performance
but the other aspects of delivery such as the terms and conditions
under which people are employed. There must be full transparency
of operation and costs.
19. What kinds of accountability are most
It is important that ministerial responsibility
and accountability through Parliament is retained for services
which are contracted out or privatised and that full openness
and transparency in line with the legislation on freedom of information
is observed. Financial and managerial information should be produced
in relevant and intelligible format to aid effective monitoring
of value for money. These methods are best applied where it is
important to influence policy and monitor reform.
Where a more direct assessment of performance
on a day to day basis is required these are covered in more detail
under questions 27-31. But in general measures of performance
should be fair in their bases of comparison, suited to their purpose,
and subject to consultation with stakeholders. Care must also
be taken that the input of resources and the level of the base
line (eg in relation to league tables) are taken into account
when measuring performance. Performance data on services provided
through private partnerships and contracts should always be made
20. Is there sufficient coherence in the
accountability arrangements for public services?
No. Accountability at best appears to be ad
hoc, and reflects the fragmentation of the public services. We
need a common standard of surveillance appropriate to the particular
type of service. The involvement of private and voluntary providers
in public services should not lead to a dilution of public accountability.
The roles of the various bodies involved in the development of
government policy and its execution and the links between them
must be transparent and clearly accountable to Parliament and
The quality of services should be given as much
emphasis as improving the economy and efficiency of their delivery.
There should be more effective parliamentary control of value
for money, looking at the overall cost/benefit of activities including
those to the functions left behind when areas are contracted out
or privatised. As indicated in Question 5 more power should be
given to select committees to monitor overall impact and to call
for the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to carry out reviews
of efficiency and effectiveness. Also the roles of parliamentary
scrutiny and the auditing bodies should be extended to monitor
new forms of public funding and service provision in both private
and public sectors and to follow public funds. The application
of judicial review to service providers who are not in the public
sector needs to be clarified.
21. Is there too much accountability, or
The picture is varied. Prospect believes that
accountability should be proportionate to the type of public service.
However, the sensitivity of a particular public service or area
within it may vary over time so a certain minimum level of coverage
will be required for all. The provision of information is particularly
vital where ministerial control over routine matters has been
22. Does the new pattern of public service
provision require new forms of accountability?
Some "new" forms of accountability
are required. What is also required however, is the re-establishment
of Parliamentary accountability. The whole drift of the government's
contracting out and privatisation strategy has reduced the amount
of information available to the public and Parliament. The commercialisation
of government activities often puts information about them into
the "commercial in confidence" exemption category, and
privatisation puts them outside the scope of the open access provision
A growing area of concern is the degree to which
charitable foundation finance is replacing or supplementing public
finance in some areas. One area where this is happening is in
support for scientific research. For example, in the last two
rounds of comprehensive spending review finance for the "Science
Budget" has been matched by large amounts of funding from
the Wellcome Trust. The impact of this funding has been extremely
beneficial to the science and engineering base and without it
the Government would probably not have provided as big an increase
as it did. Nevertheless, there are concerns that this has also
involved an influence by the Wellcome Trust on the highest level
ministerial decisions such as the siting of the new "Diamond"
synchotrone at Oxford rather than Daresbury. It is not clear from
the public record and Parliamentary discussions on what grounds
the final decision was made and what influence the Wellcome Trust
had. But the suspicion is that its wishes were heavily influential
and may have swayed the final decision. Nor is the Wellcome Trust
except to the Charity Commission whose concerns are different,
for the scientific decisions in which it has such a heavy influence.
23. In the Government's overall programme
of public service reform, is the need for accountability to Parliament
and to other bodies properly taken into account?
No. The government's increasing reliance on
the private sector and the associated the commercial confidentiality
serves to prevent transparency of public service reform. Insufficient
attention is also paid to the impact of contractorisation and
privatisation on core government policy, statutory and regulatory
24. If the answer to the above question is
no, what measures should be put in place to ensure better accountability?
In addition to the points made under Question
20 which include wider remits for the CAG and NAO and a clarification
of the role of judicial review to enable a more coherent approach
to public service accountability whatever the specific mode of
delivery we would suggest the following:
The National Audit office should
work to a wider range of select committees than just the PAC.
Stronger oversight by Parliamentary
Statutory powers in the NAO to access
information on private providers relating to public contracts
beyond a certain size.
Ensure that private and voluntary
sector providers accept that higher standards of disclosure and
transparency apply in the public service sector than in the rest
of the economy.
The responsibility held by different
bodies in a partnership should always be made explicit. Public
authorities should remain responsible for ensuring that citizens
will not suffer as a result of contractual deficiencies.
Clear processes for enforcing contracts
should be specified and which public authority is responsible
for ensuring they are carried out.
Better annual reports by public bodies
to aid scrutiny by parliament and public.
25. Does the growth in private involvement
in public services threaten to reduce public accountability?
There is recent evidence that it does. Prospect
has many members in National Air Traffic Services (NATS), which
was privatised several months ago. Air traffic control requires
ongoing investment to ensure safety in the skies. Such investment
was promised as a condition of the privatisation. However, on
the 15 October 2001 the transport minister David Jamieson announced
that the new air traffic centre in Scotland has been delayed indefinitely.
This broke assurances given to staff, the unions and Scottish
MPs that the centre would be built and open within the agreed
The new centre is needed to replace the ageing
Scottish system, which will be nearing the end of its life by
2007. With no date fixed and long lead times for completion of
the new centre, there will be a shortfall in air traffic control
capacity. Prestwick, along with the control centre at Swanwick,
is part of a two centre strategy designed to maintain the integrity
of Britain's air traffic system, and ensure one operational centre
able to guarantee UK air safety in the event of the other failing,
or being subject to a terrorist strike.
Prospect poses the obvious question. How is
Mr Jamieson's announcement about withholding investment accountable
now that investment control rests with the PPP?
26. Do the demands of commercial confidentiality
threaten the accountability of public services when the private
sector become involved?
Prospect believes that the attitude to openness
is one of the most crucial issues in restoring public trust and
confidence, in maximising accountability and ensuring maximum
efficiency in policy making and implementation. The government
has taken several steps towards more openness including the Freedom
of Information Act although it doesn't go far enough and we are
concerned about the huge delay in its implementation. The open
approach of new agencies such as the Agriculture Environment and
Biotechnology Commission and the Food Standards Agency are other
welcome examples. Set against that progress, however, the whole
drift of contracting out and privatisation is moving in the opposite
direction. The commercialisation of government activities puts
information about them into the "Commercial in Confidence"
exemption category and privatisation puts them outside the scope
of the open access provisions altogether.
In the context of scientific advisory committees
and rebuilding trust and confidence we are pleased to see that
paragraph 30 of the Draft Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory
Committees says that "Information should not be withheld
from the committee on the grounds of commercial or government
confidentiality. The secretariat should make the committee aware
of the existence of any information that has been withheld from
the committee on grounds justified under the Freedom of Information
In addition we would argue that there should
be mechanisms to ensure that decisions about confidentiality are
always objective and exercised on a consistent basis across all
scientific advisory committees.
Also as it says in Guidelines 2000 on Scientific
Advice and Policy Making "Any claims for material to be protected
on grounds of commercial confidentiality should be rigorously
tested". We believe this is an excellent principle which
should apply to all areas of government which affect the public
interest and to any consultations concerning commercialisation,
contracting out or privatisation.
27. Does the Government's public services
reform programme have sufficient focus on users and consumers
of those services?
No. Prospect believes that priorities need to
change. The use of the word "sufficient" suggests an
acknowledgement that public services reform is not driven by the
needs of users and consumers of public services. Indeed, Prospect
believes it is the Treasury's concern over the level of the PSBR
which is the primary engine behind changes to public service provision.
28. If not, how can the position of users
and consumers be strengthened?
Open government and good channels of complaint
are vital. Also it needs to be remembered that there are users
and consumers of public services within government and other public
bodies as well as private organisations and citizens and their
needs should also be taken into account when reform, especially
privatisation or contracting out, is being considered as we have
indicated under Questions 2 and 8.
We would also support the suggestions made by
the IPPR Commission on Public Private Partnerships that:-
All PPP contracts should clearly
set out the grievance procedures through which individual citizens
The Cabinet Office and the Office
of Government Commerce should provide joint guidance on how to
conduct community consultation in PPP projects.
In areas of service delivery which
impinge directly on citizen's everyday lives (for example, housing
or schools), particular effort should be made to involve users
substantively in the selection of service providers.
Pilots for neighbourhood level "community
trusts" should be established which allow local people to
take a strategic view of the fit between existing public sector
assets and neighbourhood needs.
There should always be clarity about
what it is that the private sector is expected to contribute to
By the provision of enforceable remedies.
The emphasis on improved service contained in
the Citizens' Charter initiative is welcome. But for those agencies
providing services for external customerswhether these
be individuals, eg benefit claimants, or companies in receipt
of regional aidthere is always a political dimension. So
political accountability is important. The term "citizens'
charter" should mean what it says.
Citizens are not simply customers. They have
a right as citizens to be treated fairly and impartially as well
as to receive a given level of service; and they may wish to register
a view about the criteria lying behind these services. This distinguishes
public services for citizens, whether individual or corporate,
from private services. The Institute for Public Policy Research
put it thus:
"The public service is fundamentally different
(from the private sector) and cannot be reformed simply by reference
to market forces...As it stands consumerism is an inadequate theoretical
basis for the role of public services, failing, as it does, to
take account of the public interest and the need in a democracy
for public accountability".
Dr. Valerie Ellis
Assistant General Secretary, Prospect