Examination of Witness (Questions 320-339)|
THURSDAY 7 MARCH 2002
320. Can I finally ask one last question about
the management relationship of people in the centre with regard
to departments. You have all been accused of being stuck in your
silos and you have made tremendous efforts to move out of that.
One of the questions earlier on was about Mike Granatt and the
Government Information Service and his links to the Delivery Unit
or the Office of Public Service Reform, a whole range of centre
organisations where there is the potential for double management.
Obviously with Martin Sixsmith going to Alistair Campbell, to
yourself and to Mike Granatt, it shows the dangers of that. Have
you thought through the implications of that?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I am in enough trouble without
talking about that, Chairman! The way in which the centre is now
organised poses significant issues for the way in which departments
have to work and we spend quite a lot of time thinking about how
to handle this. The point I would makeand it is a refrain
I have uttered to the point where just about everybody in the
system is bored silly with itis we need to focus much more
clearly than we tend to do on accountability and responsibility
for things. So if my Secretary of State is accountable for a set
of things within a constitutional doctrine, which rather parallels
the one we were talking about earlier, if he is accountable and
responsible for things and I am as wellwithout going into
the more recherché aspects about the difference
between accountability and responsibilitywe must be in
a position to justify the decisions that are taken. Therefore
we need to distinguish fairly carefully between who is responsible
for things and who is advising about things and we need to distinguish
very carefully between who is monitoring performance and who is
responsible for performance. These are quite different things.
We need to always ask ourselves the question about added value
in relation to these activities. I had better stop there before
I am in even more trouble. That is not to say that what has now
been introduced does not add value and is wrong. To give you two
quick examples, we are working with the delivery unit on aspects
of our Transport Policy and that process has added value. I am
working with Wendy Thomson, the head of the Office of Public Service
Reform, on how the Department might better organise itself to
implement the local government White Paper that we recently published,
and that process will add value. Lots of other processes which
we are engaged in may also add value. The question in each case
is, is this going to add value and, secondly, is the burden on
the organisation such that you can cope with all this stuff and
do its day job. That is the area that I focus on and I talk fairly
actively with people at the centre about these issues, I talked
too actively and too openly about them. Fortunately I did not
talk to Mr Sixsmith about them in general terms! You are not necessarily
thanked for raising these questions but they are, in my view,
fundamental to the success of the government in delivering what
it wants to deliver
Brian White: I think that demonstrates why Sir
Richard Wilson's successor's appointment is so critical.
321. In a way it is a bit of a mess out there,
is it not?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I would not like to agree with
that, Chairman. I think that it requires a lot of managing. If
I can say another thingnow I am going to get into a lot
of troubleI think that what is also very important is if
you are running a change programme in the Civil ServiceI
know quite a lot about this because I used to run the biggest
change programme in the Civil Service, which was the creation
of executive agencies in the Civil Servicewhat you have
to have in mind is that you will always be pushing people to change,
it has to be realistic that they can respond and they have to
understand what is being asked of them, and you must not change
your messages too many times, because I have discovered that it
takes quite a while, even with my best efforts, to get the message
I want to get over to my people in the organisation so that they
all understand it. You have to watch the half life of your initiatives
if you are not going to completely confuse the staff. I am not
suggesting that this has happened, if they get confused they just
switch off. Is that your version of a mess, Chairman?
Chairman: It was an elegant description of a
mess, I think.
322. I think we have squeezed the orange dry
on this one. What is the main lesson that you would draw from
all of this? You have spoken about a lot of things, special advisers,
inductions, and so on and so forth, for yourself what is the main
lesson that you have drawn from all of this?
(Sir Richard Mottram) For me personally or for the
way the system works?
323. Both in fact?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I have not drawn any lessons
for me, none that I would like to share with the Committee. Perhaps
openness is not always a good idea. I do not think there are big
lessons for the system in all of this. There are lessons for the
system but they are not lessons that say special advisers are
a bad idea. Some of the stuff which has been written about my
324. There is a simple point I wanted to get
to, this was just a personality clash?
(Sir Richard Mottram) On a big scale.
325. That is point one. Do you agree with that?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes.
326. These dysfunctional relationships that
have been written about are not systemic across the Civil Service?
(Sir Richard Mottram) They are not systemic in my
Department, that is the thing I really resent.
Mr Prentice: I do not think I have any more
327. Surprisingly, Chairman, Gordon anticipated
my question. I was thinking of coming in at the end, I would like
to take you to a higher ground and ask you about lessons, but
Gordon anticipated that. You declined to answer that, you did
promise us at the beginning, in your introductory comments, you,
I think, optimistically hoped to keep us on the higher ground
and talk about lessons?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I think we have stayed on the
high ground. It is not for me to say, but I think the Committee
have been quite kind to me in that respect. We are on the high
ground. I think there are ways in which we should be clearer about
the role of special advisers, particularly the role of special
advisers that are dealing with the media. If you take the categories
of special advisers, the experts they slot ineveryone knows
what an expert is and they draw on them. There is then quite a
tension, which is, generally speaking, in my experience a positive
and constructive tension, between the sort of policy special advisers
and the department. If you are the Permanent Secretary what you
try to do, and this is one of the points I did promise I would
come back to, as the Permanent Secretary in relation to those
aspects is to say that having the grit of special advisers who
are focussing on policy is definitely to the benefit of the system.
To get the benefit for the system those special advisers have
to work, in my experience, in a certain way. The way they need
to work is they need to be open with the department in what they
are doing, what they are asking and what they are saying in return
for the department being open with them on information and in
personal relationships. You do not want to make it too cosy because
then you defeat the whole objective. These are very important
considerations in relation to how the government is now structured,
what the machinery of government is, and we must guard against
there being a special advisers network round which one set of
information is going and an official network round which another
set of information is going, because you can get very bad decisions
out of all that. You need openness and you need the challenge.
For the Permanent Secretary the thing you want to say to peoplenot
particularly the special advisers, although I do talk to them
quite a bitto the Department is, have a grown up relationship,
have an open relationship and then you will get something out
of it. The most difficult category is the ones who are principally
about briefing the press because that, quite clearly, categorically
and completely overlaps with the activities of the official machine.
If there is not clear openness between the special advisers and
the machine then you have great scope there for muddle. One of
the favourite games that civil servants playI am sure Parliament
does not do this, you are much busier and have more important
things to dois you spot who briefed about what. You can
spend five minutes doing this each day and you can see bits that
come out of Ministers and you can see the bits that have come
out of one bit of the machinery and then the bits that come out
of another bit of the machinery. If you are not controlling that
processcontrol is probably the wrong wordif that
process is not coherent the government can get into quite a muddle.
We do need to be clear about what these roles are and to have
a sufficiently good relationship between special advisers doing
media work and government people doing media work to make that
work. If I can say one more thing, that is a very long answer.
Partly, and I think this is the case also in relation to Jo Moore,
this is not an issue simply about or mainly about the competence
of special advisers. It is also an issue about the competence
of government information officers. They have to be credible,
they have to be able to do the business. One of the tensions inside
our Department was not that Jo Moore thought that all of the government
information officers were hopeless but she certainly thought a
few of them were not the greatest thing she had ever come across,
and she had a very high opinion about others, but that can create
tension within any organisation. You have to be more open about
that and you have to try and manage that better.
Chairman: Thank you very much.
Sir Sydney Chapman
328. Sir Richard, I am the newest member of
this Committee, so I am on a learning curve. I know that you went
to Keele University, and I share your view.
(Sir Richard Mottram) It was a "Nissan hut"
university, the last "Nissan hut" university.
329. It was not invented when I went to university.
I went to Manchester University and I would describe that as a
black brick university.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I agree.
330. I have listened to you with great interest,
I would like you to confirm or clarify one or two little issues,
to give, quite openly, if you wish to, your personal views on
them based on 22 years experience? First of all, there are really
two sorts of specialist advisers, are there not, the ones that
I call the experts, the technical people who come up through the
unit in the department as a defence expert, a transport expert,
whatever they may be. There are also political advisers rather
than special advisers who are there to promote the political mission
of the government in power. Did you say that once somebody becomes
a special adviser they become a member of the Civil Service?
(Sir Richard Mottram) A temporary member. A member
with a contract which defines the terms of their contract.
331. Do they have a different brief of the traditional
(Sir Richard Mottram) Some special advisers are former
civil servants, and some have become civil servants, rather successfully
I might add.
332. Are they bound by the Official Secrets
(Sir Richard Mottram) They are.
333. Would I be right in saying you feel you
could design a relationship between the special advisers and the
Department where it is not necessary for the special adviser to
have any role in media relations, that should be left to the information
office, or whatever it is called, of the Department of State?
(Sir Richard Mottram) What I am saying is you could
if you had an effective communications directorate and you could
run a department in that way. If Ministers preferred to have some
special adviser input into the media side I am not saying that
should be ruled out or in anyway interfered with, I just say it
has to be carefully managed.
334. Whilst I myself have been a great supporter
of secondments between the Civil Service and industry or business
or trade unions, or whatever, the outside world, would I be right
in saying that you think that secondment to an information department
of the government is not a good thing and that, in fact, those
who man them generally, although some come from outside, like
Mr Martin Sixsmith did, they should be traditional civil servants
who know how to manage, get the message out without the political
spin on it? We get into trouble when political spin is put on
statements from departments.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I think the Committee has been
through this, it is a very interesting set of issues. I have read
what you said and some of the evidence. Ministers, of course,
want to put a political spin on things and some of them want to
put it on themselves and some want others to help them. What is
very important is, while we have the present sort of Civil Service
we have, everyone is clear about the rules which apply to civil
servants. I think you can run quite an effective communications
machine where most of the people are putting out information within
the context of the rules. It has to be neutral. You can tell the
story about what the government has achieved, all of that is allowed.
Then the last bit of political spin, so to speak, of the personalisation
of things, is added by somebody else, either the minister him
or herself or they have a special adviser. All of that is manageable
and it is not rocket science to do it. Why I am sitting here squirming
is, if it is not rocket science, why did I not pull it off. The
answer is sometimes events catch you out.
335. Would I be right in concluding you do not
feel there is a great need to have new codes of conduct or strengthen
codes of conduct, except you, presumably, welcome the innovative
codes of conduct for special advisers?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I am a strong believer in the
Civil Service Code. I was in the Cabinet Office years ago when
a version of this Committee worked with the Cabinet Office in
producing the Civil Service Code. The Committee drafted it. It
was like my birthday when this happened because it was just fantastic.
The thing I most wanted to doI hope I am meeting your pointin
the mid 1990s was to create confidence in the then opposition
that they could rely on the Civil Service as being a completely
unpoliticised institution, they could rely on it, and the Select
Committee helped us enormously in underpinning that sense of the
political impartiality of the Civil Service as well as its commitment
to delivery. There is probably a similar role there in relation
to a Civil Service Act. I am a strong believer in the Civil Service
Codes, I am a passionate believer and I try and ram it down the
throats of my people, in the nicest possible sense of the word
"ram". I am a strong believer in values which go beyond
the code because I do not think it is enough to say that the reason
why civil servants exist is to be politically impartial and to
be recruited on merit. It seems very odd to have an institution
that is about itself. I am a strong believer that we must be an
organisation that the country can see has a purpose. And, therefore,
the values we defined for the Civil Service, work which I led,
was designed to show we had a purpose and the purpose was underpinned
by all of these amazing inventions which came out of the 19th
century. I am a believer in the Special Advisers Code, I think
that is a jolly good innovation. Ultimately, what you rely on,
however, is the culture of the organisation. You have got all
these books and so on, but the culture of the organisation is
the thing you have got to worry about. Do people understand what
it means to be a civil servant? The obligations of being a civil
servants are quite unusual. I have spent my whole life doing it
because I believe in it passionately. It is an idea about service
with some very particular rules. I believe those rules are valuable
for government in delivering what it wants. Government is not
going to be happy if it sees civil servants flouting them, half
applying them, seemingly being self-serving. I do not want many
more Codes. I want processes which are about training, induction,
selection and appraisal, which ensure you embody all of this inside
your organisation. If it is a question, which is very important,
about reputation and external credibility and the confidence of
Parliament, then let us have a Civil Service Act, if Parliament
can agree on it. That is my position.
336. That is very helpful. What I think you
are saying is you are talking about civil servants working in
your Department, rather like the Prime Minister has written in
the introduction to the Ministerial Code of Conduct for Ministers,
that civil servants in your case should not only conform to the
letter of the Code but also to the spirit?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Absolutely.
337. One very final point. You did say at the
beginning that this problem did start, and little fires break
out and they go out but something can happen and you can not lose
control but find it difficult to control events, especially when
they are recognised by our wonderful fourth estate. Would I be
right also in saying that you perhaps had problems in dealing
with these issues we have been talking about because events started
taking place outside your Department rather than still inside?
(Sir Richard Mottram) In what way, as I sometimes
338. You mentioned Number 10 and Mr Alistair
Campbell being in touch with X as well as you being in touch with
X. Is it your view, based upon your tremendous experience in the
Civil Service, that things got out of control because they necessarily
or deliberately were taken outside the boundaries of your Department?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Having absolutely tried to stand
up before the Committee and say I believe passionately in a non-political
Civil Service, I am reluctant to make the next remark because
then people will say, "Oh, we are not so sure about him."
Mr Alistair Campbell's role in relation to trying to deal with
the aftermath of Martin Sixsmith's resignation was, in my view,
wholly helpful and caused the Department no difficulty whatsoever.
Far from causing me any difficulty, it was a considerable help
339. In the aftermath?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes, I do not think he had any
role in the run up.