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CORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 644-i
House of COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE the
Public Administration Committee
The Future of the Civil Service
Tuesday 8 January 2013
Patrick Diamond, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield and Professor Christopher Hood
Sean Worth, Rt HON. Peter Riddell and Andrew Haldenby
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1-82
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.
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Taken before the Public Administration Committee
on Tuesday 8 January 2013
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)
Mr Steve Reed
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Patrick Diamond, University of Manchester, Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield, Queen Mary, University of London, and Professor Christopher Hood, University of Oxford, gave evidence.
Chair: May I welcome our three witnesses to this first session of evidence on the future of the Civil Service? Could I ask each of you to identify yourselves for the record?
Professor Hood: I am Christopher Hood from the University of Oxford.
Lord Hennessy: Peter Hennessy, Queen Mary, University of London, and the House of Lords.
Patrick Diamond: Patrick Diamond from the University of Manchester.
Chair: And a former special adviser in the Labour Government.
Patrick Diamond: Yes, I was a special adviser in the previous administration between 2000 and 2005, and then between 2009 and 2010.
Q1 Chair: Your perspective will be extremely interesting. Can I start by asking each of you just to say, in no more than three sentences, what is wrong with the Civil Service? What is going wrong with the Civil Service? What is your analysis of the issues that must be addressed by a Civil Service Reform Plan?
Professor Hood: From my perspective, I have just done an analysis of 30 years of running cost control or the lack of it in the Civil Service, and what I found was that, over successive attempts to contain costs, running costs rose in real terms over that time. I think that is a major challenge for the Civil Service, but I do not think it is the only one.
Q2 Chair: That would seem to be a symptom. What are the causes of that particular failing that represent the fundamental problem with the Civil Service?
Professor Hood: It is something to do with the way that management works, as between the professionals and the politicians.
Lord Hennessy: In the long sweep of the history of the Civil Service since Victorian times, when its modern shape was pretty well determined by Gladstone, it is underperformance, because it is less than the sum of its parts. It has always attracted a remarkable array of gifted people but, somehow, it is always less than the sum of its parts. On top of that, the particular circumstance now that worries me is that the governing marriage, as one might call it, is in trouble. The governing marriage is essentially two groups of people, transient Ministers and career lifers, civil servants, but there is a half in it now-Patrick’s old trade, special advisers, who can sometimes make it even harder for the marriage to work.
The marriage, to an outside observer like myself, at the moment seems to be in more trouble than usual. The relationships are particularly scratchy. The whole system depends on confident Secretaries of State and very confident senior civil servants if it is going to work. At the moment, there is a high degree of mutual antipathy, which is not completely widespread across Departments-of course it is not-but it is at a much higher level than usual. The Civil Service Reform Plan, particularly the section that I have no doubt we will come to, action 11 on ministerial choice in permanent secretaries and all that, reflects this lack of selfconfidence on the part of the two governing professions and the particular scratchiness of the relationship since 2010.
Q3 Chair: But what is the cause of that breakdown?
Lord Hennessy: It has been long in the making because when you have a country that is in steep economic difficulty most of the time, there is a high level of disappointment and political life has its adversarial element at all times, there is a tremendous trouble when the country is in tremendous danger, or when a country is in some trouble, of mutual scapegoating. The easiest target for Ministers who are not up to it, who are exhausted, or who feel immensely got at by everybody, is to blame the servants. I used to say in the old days-in the Thatcher years actually, when we had a version of this although it was different from the version we are now looking at-that the First Division Association should put in a bid for extra pay, the national scapegoating premium, because they are always blamed by Ministers first. It usually happens halfway into a Parliament. It is almost on cue this time, two to two and a half years in. The first people you blame is the press office, because "The message is terrific; it’s just you tossers are no good at putting it out." The second group of people you blame is the career Civil Service as a whole, so the coalition has been absolutely on cue, but it is scratchier than it has usually been in the past.
Q4 Chair: You seem to be saying that this is a problem of leadership.
Lord Hennessy: Yes, there is, in both senses, because the selfconfidence point covers that. You have to have some very selfconfident Ministers who want a group of selfconfident civil servants, who really are going to speak truth unto power, to spare you nothing, to always and everywhere tell you what you need to know rather than what you wish to hear. That requires leadership on both sides of the governing marriage. I do not think the permanent secretaries are in particularly good nick either.
Chair: We are using a lot of colons and semicolons in our three sentences.
Patrick Diamond: I will just add to what has been said and make two very brief comments. The first is that I think one would have to understand that the context in which Civil Service performance is being assessed has changed, in some ways quite radically, over the last 30 years. To give one more concrete example, I would say that the increasing focus on delivery in government and the capacity of the Civil Service to contribute towards the delivery of public services and state services as a whole is a relatively recent development. It did not start under the Labour administration; it began, in some respects, under John Major’s Government in the 1990s and has been developed and accelerated since then. That has changed quite significantly wider sets of political and public expectations about what the public service and the Civil Service are expected to deliver.
The only other point I would add briefly is that one has to make assessments of Civil Service performance in the context of the broader shape of the political system, and one would have to say the United Kingdom is a relatively centralised polity. The Civil Service is having to work within the context of a high degree of centralisation and central organisation of services, and that does affect the way in which it works. One has to have that broader context in making judgments about how the Civil Service performs.
Q5 Chair: Peter Hennessy seemed to be saying that actually the politicians get the Civil Service they deserve.
Patrick Diamond: Of course there is some truth in that, and Lord Hennessy is quite right to suggest that relationships between the Civil Service and politicians have become more contested and more contentious over the last 20 or 30 years for a wide variety of reasons, but with an important set of implications.
Q6 Chair: Do we think the Government’s Reform Plan is going to address all these failings?
Lord Hennessy: It would take a Second Coming to do that, Chairman. This Coalition has got virtues, but it ain’t in the business of the Second Coming is it?
Professor Hood: To start with the problem that I adverted to, the cost issue, if you compare the reform document that we are speaking about with its equivalent 30 years ago, the "Efficiency in Government" reform paper that came from the Thatcher Government then, in that case the efficiency and reform plan put containing costs at centre stage. It did contain, in contrast to the 2011 document, some evidence about what was happening to costs and how they could be contained. It was, in that sense, a paper that contained more evidence and a clearer, more coherent argument; nevertheless, running costs rose under the Thatcher Government and did not fall.
Q7 Chair: Does the Civil Service Reform Plan, in the view of each of our witnesses, set out a vision for the whole of the Civil Service about what the Civil Service is for, how it should be constructed, and how it should be led and governed?
Professor Hood: May I comment on that?
Chair: Lord Hennessy shook his head or indicated dissent, as they say in Hansard.
Lord Hennessy: One of the problems with it, and again I am very much to blame as well as others, is that we tend to concentrate when we get a Reform Plan on the bit that is truly contentious. There is a pacemaker element to these plans, which captures the imagination and the press pick it up, quite rightly. In this case, it is the ministerial choice in the top permanent secretary jobs. Putting that to one side-
Q8 Chair: Is that the fundamental problem?
Lord Hennessy: It goes to the problem we have already been talking about, the scratchiness of the relationship and the nature of the governing marriage. It is not really good on the first order question of what you keep a Civil Service for, but it touches pretty well everywhere on the wider question of whether or not the model of Crown service, recruited and promoted on the basis of merit rather than political belief, is the model to stick with; so in that sense, it does address the firstorder question and the Gladstonian settlement, if you want to call it that, from the mid19th century, on which we have operated.
Each generation revisits this particular question and each administration finds its frustrations with it so, in that sense, it goes to the heart of one of the problems, but I do not think this will go down in the annals of administrative history as one of the great documents. In many ways, it does not have the bite that Ted Heath and The Reorganisation of Central Government had in 197071, which was much more applied to the needs of highquality policymaking, because we have been distracted to some degree by the curse of management babble in the last 30 years. The creeping virus of the MBA has come into all these documents, the endless acronymia. If these Herberts had written the Sermon on the Mount, not one of us would be Christians, Chairman.
Chair: He had 12 spads.
Professor Hood: Of course I take Lord Hennessy’s point, but I think that this Reform Plan does not really tell us which country we are talking about, and surely there are major issues about the future of the United Kingdom, or even of Great Britain, that are just not covered at all in this document. Surely, looking ahead, those are really big issues that will be facing the Civil Service. It also does not refer to the tradeoffs that inevitably have to be faced when you are designing organisations, and it assumes that it is possible to have it all-cheaper, high quality, for example. It does not really talk about how we might trade off these rival desiderata. Thirdly, it does not give us any indication of the standards on which we should judge whether these reforms have been successful or not. We are not given any indication of that. Looking from the perspective of an evaluator, how will I know whether it has worked or not?
Patrick Diamond: I would add two points. Firstly, the Plan is not always clear about what exactly is being defined as the object of reform and what exactly the Civil Service it is attempting to reform is. I do not think there is sufficient clarity in the document between the Civil Service in Whitehall and the broader Civil Service, as in the civil servants who are employed in a range of different Government agencies and public bodies, many of whom are closer to the task of delivering services. That does have implications.
The second point I would make is that there is an ageold debate in civil service reform, which goes back to the mid19th century, about whether we want civil servants to be generalists or whether we want them to be specialists. There are some allusions to this debate in the Plan, but again a lack of clarity about what is really envisaged in terms of that distinction. Just to emphasise that, we cite in our evidence a very interesting speech that Oliver Letwin gave in September to the Institute for Government, in which he appeared to celebrate in many ways the tradition of the generalist public administrator in British public life. One would have to say, firstly, is the account that Oliver Letwin is giving completely sound? I think some would have reason to doubt it. Secondly, how does one square Oliver Letwin’s account with the kind of Civil Service reform that is envisaged in the Plan? I think one would have to say there are some contradictions.
Q9 Chair: We will probably draw these points out as we go through, but just very briefly on the NorthcoteTrevelyan point, in a word, if we are throwing out NorthcoteTrevelyan with the Civil Service Reform Plan, are we throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Should we stick with NorthcoteTrevelyan?
Lord Hennessy: Most certainly we should. The danger is it will be like losing a good clean water supply: we will only realise we have lost it when it has gone. The danger of seeping politicisation is very real in this document-even though the admirable Joshua Chambers, in Civil Service World, the last edition, indicated that Francis Maude is having a pause on all this. That is the real worry. If that goes, the 19thcentury settlement will be undone but, if it does, it will not be in a great dramatic fashion necessarily, although I think it would need primary legislation, given the CRAG Act. That is my view, but it would be a huge own goal, a national own goal of serious proportions, if we got rid of the NorthcoteTrevelyan principles.
Professor Hood: I would not put it as strongly as that, but I would fully agree that there are real dangers of moving away from an impartial professional appointment system. I think that it might be possible to retain what Lord Hennessy calls the "marriage" in other parts of the system while creating a new class of civil servants, as was done with the creation of special advisers in the 1970s. I think that the risks are real; I would agree with that.
Patrick Diamond: I would just add that, firstly, the values that the NorthcoteTrevelyan settlement embodies are clearly very important ones. In a debate where there is a tendency to criticise both British democracy but also the performance of the Civil Service, it is worth reminding ourselves that, as a country, our administrative and public administrative history is in many ways a very proud one and has many elements in it that are worth cherishing and valuing.
One would have to say, secondly, that there have been instances in which some of those values have come under pressure. Politicisation is a real issue, as Lord Hennessy refers to it. I would put the problem in a broader context and say it is not just a question of politicisation; it is a question of what are the arrangements that are overseeing and regulating the kinds of relationships, particularly the relationships between Government Ministers and civil servants in Government. In his evidence to this Committee, Dr Andrew Blick talks about the importance of Parliament and the role of Parliament in overseeing the Civil Service. Again, that is a crucial issue that is not really alluded to or referenced in this Reform Plan.
Chair: Thank you for the flattery.
Q10 Lindsay Roy: Mr Diamond, you mentioned a trend for increasing centralisation. Is not the real issue a lack of coherent strategic planning, a lack of clear overview and, indeed, the power of individual Departments-the silo mentality?
Patrick Diamond: I should perhaps preface my earlier remarks about centralisation by saying that, since the late 1990s, the devolution settlement has had again very important implications for the organisation of the Civil Service. Another piece of evidence that was presented to this Committee by Sir John Elvidge from the Scottish Government does have important and interesting things to say about how the devolved Governments have gone about the task of reforming and restructuring the Civil Service. One important element of that has been the attempt to try to replace very rigid departmental boundaries with a more corporate approach to government, with Ministers sharing objectives and civil servants working in a more collaborative way. There are lessons that one can undoubtedly learn from devolution, and Whitehall has much to learn from the performance of the devolved administrations.
To address your question directly about strategic planning, clearly strategic planning is not something which the Civil Service has traditionally particularly excelled at. There have been various attempts to create central units, which have had the task of strategic planning as their main priority. Under the Heath Government, there was of course an attempt to create a central policy review staff, which lasted for 15 or so years. There was then under the Blair Government the attempt to create the Strategy Unit. In brief, my view would be that the attempts to create central strategy units have advantages, but the risk of them is that they actually become quite isolated from the rest of the Civil Service. It seems to me that there is more that needs to be done in terms of embedding the capacity for good strategic thinking and good strategy within Government Departments, rather than resorting to a system in which we rely on the Cabinet Office and Number 10 to enforce that strategic planning from the centre.
Q11 Kelvin Hopkins: First of all, I agree very strongly with Lord Hennessy’s passionate defence of NorthcoteTrevelyan and all it stands for. Absolutely right. I like also his reference to it being like a governing marriage in trouble, but it is a marriage between incompatibles. On the one hand, you have a group of people who want a comfortable monogamy, the Civil Service; and you have another group of people, politicians mainly, who want to play the field, play around and do not really believe in the marriage at all in any case. There are ideological tensions. Would you agree that the ideological tension is between a civil service which has grown up hovering between onenation conservatism and social democracy on one side, and on the other side you have politicians driven by Hayek and neoliberal ideology who do not really believe in the Civil Service? They believe in privatisation and the market. That is the tension at the heart of it all. It came to a peak under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Lord Hennessy: It is very interesting that, in addition to the ideological element, which you have expressed so vividly, there is the anthropological problem. The two trades attract different sorts of people. I do not want to be unkind to your trade at all, but the Civil Service attracts people who are amazingly evidencedriven and believe in process almost to the level of fusspottery. In your trade, you do not rise to the top of your profession by the careful use of evidence, do you, Chairman? Some of you do, but some of you most certainly do not. The reason it is hard to make the governing marriage work, and the reason why it is so necessary to do so, is everybody brings different things to the table. It may be Treasury legend, but Hugh Dalton, as the first Chancellor of the Exchequer after the War, had this amazing outburst with his senior Treasury people when he called them congenital snaghunters. Well, the state does need congenital snaghunters to say to, in some cases, completely unformed politicians in terms of not having any previous ministerial experience, "It is not as simple as that. We tried it last time and it went wrong here. Are you aware of the following and are you sure?" That is what I meant about the need for selfconfidence on both sides.
The anthropological problem that Mr Hopkins has put his finger on is perpetually there. It varies according to era, administration and the level of ideological charge in British political debate or government at any one time, but it is always lurking there, and that is what I meant about it being in a particularly poor state at the moment, for a variety of reasons. I do recognise your picture. Also, there is the human problem that the one great consistent factor in British central Government since 3 September 1939 is overload; both the Ministers and the lifers have been overloaded. They are extraordinarily extended, even when the state seems to be much diminished now, in terms of privatisations, devolutions and so on. There is still the most overloaded and overworked set of people at the top in advanced countries in the UK, and this wears them out as time elapses in an administration. In the coalition it is even harder; the human tensions in the coalition are palpable, are they not? The Lib Dems are largely herbivorous and the Conservatives are largely carnivorous people.
Chair: There are many more lines on the organogram.
Lord Hennessy: That is right exactly, and people get worn out. You have more worn out and more overstretched Ministers and senior civil servants than is desirable, and that is a problem we never look at. Harold Macmillan, as one of his first acts as Prime Minister, commissioned a study on the burden on Ministers, which Clem Attlee chaired, but it has not been done since, and I would be delighted if one of your future investigations, Chairman, was on that. That is one of these consistent factors, but it feeds into what we are talking about today, because it wears people out in the governing marriage very quickly and the relationships get scratchy.
Q12 Priti Patel: Mr Diamond, in your evidence you have suggested that the Civil Service Reform Plan lacks any historical reference to what has gone on in the past and particularly what has been less successful in the past as well. Have you got any thoughts on this? Why do you think this is the case? In light of this, do you think what the Government is trying to achieve this time round, through the Reform Plan, can be successful at all?
Patrick Diamond: I would say on the historical reference point that, in our evidence, we were alluding to the fact that the Reform Plan goes into a lot of commentary about the failure of the Civil Service or the underperformance of the Civil Service. In fact, one could read very similar criticisms going back 30 or 40 years. In fact, if you were to read the Fulton report, which was published in 1968, I think you would see many of the criticisms in the Fulton report echoed in different ways in the 2012 Reform Plan. In that sense, what we were saying was that we did not necessarily want a document that was packed with historical references, but what we did want to see more of was a sense that the Government understood where previous reform initiatives have perhaps not succeeded in the way that the Government would have liked.
There is a tendency in all of these documents-as you know, I have in the past attempted to contribute to writing some of them-to use a very inflated form of rhetoric about the problem, but then, it is fair to say, to lack concrete measures as to how to solve that problem. I think it would be unfair to say that the Reform Plan that we are discussing today is entirely in that direction, but I think it is somewhat in that direction. That is something the Government needs to think more seriously about.
Q13 Priti Patel: Why do you think that is the case though? Is it simply that, while drafting this current Plan, there was perhaps an overall lack of vision and it is just about tackling certain aspects of the problem?
Patrick Diamond: First of all, and Professor Hood alluded to this, there has to be a stronger account of what it is you want the Government as a whole to achieve. There are different conceptions of what different Governments want to achieve, and this Government has a particular set of priorities in terms of the Big Society, in terms of fiscal consolidation and in terms of moving "beyond the bureaucratic age", as it puts it. You would need a Civil Service that was appropriately structured so as to fulfil those strategic priorities. There is not a very clear sense in the document about how the two things connect.
Another quick point I would just make is that, of course, one has to also accept that these reform plans are, by definition, produced by politicians, by Ministers, by special advisers, but also by civil servants. I think it would perhaps be unfair not to make the point that civil servants will themselves be attempting to shape, direct and influence the production of these documents. In that sense, one can start out with a very radical vision, which three or six months later becomes somewhat diminished. I would just say, very finally in conclusion on this point, that it is somewhat curious that for a Government that does have quite serious and quite radical ambitions, particularly in terms of reducing the size of the state, the solutions as posited in the document do not really match the radicalism of its ambitions. I think that that is curious and interesting, but I do not have the definitive answer as to why that is the case.
Q14 Priti Patel: Can I ask all three of you what is your overall view on how the future of the Civil Service should or could be considered? Should it be through some kind of parliamentary commission, or dare we go to a level much higher up-to a royal commission, in the manner of how the Fulton Commission was brought about?
Lord Hennessy: I am very struck by the fact that there has been no really wide look since Fulton. A great deal has happened to the world and our dear country since the 1960s and it is high time, I think, that we had a look at that. Fulton had one great weakness in it, because Harold Wilson insisted they did not look at the relationship between Ministers and civil servants, which is very perverse when you think about it, and it really weakened Fulton, but it was an attempt to look at it in the round and it was infused with a sense of history and how we got to where we were. I am openminded about who does it really, but I do think a wider look would be beneficial.
Royal commissions are not in fashion these days; we have czars. I have often wondered about why we have czars, because the fate of the czars is not exactly an exemplary tale, is it? We have czars and taskforces. Taskforces in the Blair years were everywhere; they were like a virus and they produced the square root of bugger all, as far as I could see. You never hear about them anymore. I would not go for a taskforce. It is not for me to say which other Committees might want to come in on it, because it is a very wide thing to do. Your Committee, Chairman, are the central core of scrutiny on all this, but it does involve the whole range of Government. A parliamentary commission may be on the model of the financial one, Andrew Tyrie’s one; that may be one way of doing it, or you could have a Fulton or indeed a royal commission, but we need to look at this in the round, because this is important and potentially very significant, but it is only a fragment of the picture. It needs context, background, synthesis and a proper discussion about the many possibilities. This gives me the feel of being written at relative speed and in a high degree of frustration and anger, which is not the best way to approach these problems. This is a hissy fit, this document.
Q15 Priti Patel: Mr Diamond, you had experience in Government and as a special adviser; was this subject ever raised or discussed in some detail? Was there a consideration in light of the fact that the Blair administration pushed devolution, more deregulation, and so on, and society has changed and the political map has changed quite heavily and significantly?
Patrick Diamond: Yes, there was a lot of discussion about the overall view that the then Government took about the role of the Civil Service and its performance. I do think it is important perhaps to just say that politicians and, in particular, Ministers do tend to have a very ambivalent view about the Civil Service. On the one hand, they become very frustrated and, as a consequence, produce hissy fits of the kind that Lord Hennessy referred to, in a sense of frustration about the perceived incapacity of the Civil Service to enable the politicians to deliver. On the other hand though, Ministers are hugely admiring of many of the features of the Civil Service. They admire the service that they receive in their private office; they admire the advice that they get from the very best policy officials; they admire often the work that is done on delivery and implementation, at least in some quarters of the Civil Service and the public service. It would be wrong to say that it is wholly based on conflict and based on a perception of underperformance. The relationship is more complex than that.
To come to your question about the Blair years directly, I think that the Governments were looking at the Civil Service reform issue from a particular perspective, which was the reform of public services. They had a view about the contribution that they wanted the Civil Service to make to, as they saw it, increasing the capacity of public services to deliver better services more quickly, but they never came to a clear conclusion about what the Civil Service’s role should be in that process, other than to focus on many of the issues that are alluded to in this Reform Plan about better project management and better implementation skills. I do not think that the previous administration ever came to a very coherent and clear view about what it saw the Civil Service as being for.
Q16 Chair: Do you want a royal commission or a parliamentary commission, Professor Hood?
Professor Hood: Let me just comment on the last four White Papers for reforming the Civil Service and compare them with the one that you are talking about now. The Heath Government’s 1970 White Paper was concerned with strategy; it wanted to have ways of improving strategic thinking within Departments, and it thought that the way to do that was to bring Departments together into large enough units, so that they could really plan and think strategically for the future. It also was concerned with overall strategy in Government as a whole, and so it thought that the key deficit in the Civil Service was strategic weakness.
The Thatcher Government White Paper in 1981, "Efficiency in Government", was solely focused, as I have already said, on costs. It was concerned with trying to reduce the costs of the Civil Service and make it more businesslike. That was its central focus, so it thought that the key weakness was an absence of cost control.
The John Major White Paper in 1991, the "Citizen’s Charter", was concerned with the quality of services that users or citizens got out of the machine. It thought that the real weakness of the Civil Service, or public services more generally it should be said, was in terms of what came out for users and citizens.
The Blair Government’s White Paper, "Modernising Government", 1999, was concerned with many things, but one of the key things it was concerned with was overall coordination in government, bringing things together, or socalled "joinedup government".
Each of those four White Papers had a different recipe for what it thought was mainly wrong with the Civil Service-the question that the Chair asked us to answer at the outset. Each of those Papers thought something different. This most recent White Paper does not have a single core problem that it identifies, so it is a kind of melange of all of those previous four, in a sense. In that sense, this is why it is harder to get a sense of an overall problem to which this White Paper is an answer.
Q17 Lindsay Roy: From this melange then, can we try to put things into perspective? How serious and valid are the recent concerns that have been expressed about competency in the Civil Service?
Lord Hennessy: There have certainly been some spectacular failures, haven’t there?
Q18 Lindsay Roy: Absolutely. Is it pervasive?
Lord Hennessy: To be honest, I am not as up to speed as I should be on the rail one, which is the one in neon lights. It does seem to me to be a problem. Going back to something that was mentioned earlier, I am all in favour of the new emphasis on project management and the training system that has been put in. It should have been there years ago, ever since the state got into big businesses, which was in Lloyd George and Asquith’s time, when the labour exchanges were set up. There is a danger of something we have not talked about, which is the very high level of churn in the Civil Service, since the days when I used to come to the predecessor of this Committee and wrote about Whitehall for the first time in the 1970s-that was when I was a journalist. There is tremendous churn, lack of continuity and lack of collective memory.
In some cases, the hollowingout of the state has meant that basic sloggy capacities have been lost. The old routines of the National Audit Office and its predecessors, which the old Exchequer and Audit Act from the mid19th century imposed upon Government, all of that goes on. It is just that the hollowingout has meant that the system is much more fragile. This is not an argument for a bigger Civil Service, but there has been a danger that the hollowingout of the state has led to fragilities and vulnerabilities.
Of course, we only see the orgies, do we not? It is Victor Rothschild’s favourite quote-he used to run the think tank-that life, like government, is a matter of "routine punctuated by orgies", which is an Aldous Huxley phrase. We all know the orgies, because the National Audit Office gets hold of them and the newspapers get hold of them and so on, but it is the routine you have to look at, and the routine worries me. I am not in a position to reach a judgment on that but, if you did have a parliamentary inquiry or a royal commission, that is exactly the sort of thing they should look at. It is related to the overload problem, which would also have to be a crucial element in such an inquiry. I cannot help at all, to be honest, Mr Roy, in terms of reaching a proper judgment or helping anybody else reach a proper judgment on the spectacular failures, but they are failures nonetheless.
Lindsay Roy: Can your colleague shed some light?
Patrick Diamond: I would just add by saying that, on the question of competence, one obviously has to think about the capacity of the Civil Service. On the question of capacity, it is important not to conflate two different issues. One is the numbers-i.e. how many civil servants we employ and where we employ them-but then another issue is what capabilities those civil servants actually have. Therefore, one should not necessarily conclude that a smaller Civil Service is a more incompetent Civil Service, although clearly it could lead you in that direction.
A comment I would add would be-we referenced this in our written evidence-that there are issues about capacity in some parts of the Civil Service. In his memoirs, Alistair Darling refers to his experiences in being Chancellor of the Exchequer during the last financial crisis, and he does make a number of important comments in those memoirs about what it was like to be Chancellor during a period in which he felt there was not the seniority, level of experience and expertise of the financial sector in the Treasury that one required to navigate through the particular challenges that were being thrown up in that point in political history. One would have to say we need to think harder about where we need good capacity in different parts of the service. That may not be about increasing numbers; it may be about seniority or bringing in good skills from outside, but there are issues, and those were only underlined by the case of the West Coast Main Line, where clearly there were big problems in how that contract was being managed from within Government.
Q19 Lindsay Roy: Are you aware of any successes then-highly effective practice within the Civil Service-which you can highlight for us?
Lord Hennessy: In terms of the coalition since 2010, the National Security Council is a very good innovation. We talked about this when you were doing your strategy inquiry, which was a hugely important inquiry. That is an example of innovation that is more than just process; it has led to a restoration of proper collective Cabinet Government, at least in that area of the Government. Also, it is the way to look at the problems overseas that face our country. Actually, it does not distinguish between threats; it is a sort of threat management body, but that is a success. It is very hard actually, because a lot of the success involves public money being properly raised and spent according to those purposes that Parliament has voted and no other. It is a clean and decent system. That is a success story. We still have, for all our anxieties, a clean, decent and proper system. When it goes wrong, we are still shockable and that is the test. If, as a country, we suddenly get to the position where we say, "Well, that is the way it is," and shrug our shoulders, then we would be lost, but we do expect a clean and decent public service and we have it.
Professor Hood: It is not obvious to me that the incidence of major errors has increased. At least, I do not think there is evidence for that. You do not have to think very far back, for example to the BSE issue of the 1980s and 1990s, to find equivalent kinds of major problems. In that case, we wiped out an entire industry. I would have to say that I do not know that there is evidence that the incidence of these problems is increasing.
As far as what there is evidence for, the document itself includes some numbers on survey attitudes towards civil servants and what citizens and voters think of civil servants. I have looked at a number of these survey questions over 30 to 40 years; in general, you do not see much change in those numbers. It is not obvious that there is a story that shouts out at you that suddenly public trust in the Civil Service is collapsing. That is not clear from the survey evidence.
Where you do see more interesting change is if you start to look at numbers for, for example, the incidence of complaints to the Parliamentary Commissioner, which of course reports to your Committee, which go through you, as MPs, from your constituents. There you see an absolute explosion in the incidence of complaints to the PCA, really growing from the 1990s. There is clearly something going on there in terms of change over time. Similarly, if you look at litigation against Government in terms of applications for judicial review and its equivalent in Scotland and Northern Ireland, you do also see a very big rise in applications for such review. If you are looking for evidence of things that might be going wrong, then certainly you can see the incidence of complaints via the PCA massively increasing in the 1990s. You see a very big increase in all the jurisdictions in litigation against Government, even when you take out the immigration cases, which are the biggest source of litigation. It will be that kind of area where you do see some evidence that suggests stresses and strains. There are also issues that we could look at in terms of quality of preparation of legislation, on which I could talk more, but perhaps now is not the time for that.
Q20 Paul Flynn: Time is going on and we have not even mentioned what is probably the most serious threat to the Civil Service at the moment and the possibility of politicisation, evidenced by David Kennedy. Having been accepted by the normal panel, headed by Bob Kerslake, and approved by the Secretary of State, he was then blackballed by the Prime Minister, possibly because his views on climate change were in opposition to the views of the flatearthers and climate change deniers on the Tory back benches. Is this not a worrying trend to have a Prime Minister acting to make a political decision on the choice of a permanent secretary?
Lord Hennessy: In the past, there has been prime ministerial influence and, indeed, there has to be because the Prime Minister forwards the names to the Queen and all that, but I do worry about that and I do worry about that bit of the Reform Plan, which is action 11. It is not just the bit about the permanent secretaries either, Mr Flynn; it is that secondary tier of getting people in on the basis that they have skills that the career lifers do not have and allowing for that. That is the bit I would urge you to keep a very close eye on, because the permanent secretary level is the bit that is attracting attention, for understandable and necessary reasons, but it is that next tier down-the second bit of action 11, people coming in at director general level. I am all in favour of getting outside skills in. The most successful manifestation of central Government we have had was in World War II, when all sorts of gifted outsiders were brought in on the basis that they knew things rather than believed things. That should be the test this time, too. I am concerned in the way you are by that story, although I do not know the inside story.
Q21 Paul Flynn: I think many Members of the Committee might feel we have been short-changed, having been overdosing on routine and undersupplied on the orgy section of this, but the Members of the Committee are not running the Government, because we do believe in evidencebased policies, not on prejudice and pressurebased policies, which most Members of the Government are concerned with. Do you see the rubber levers that are pulled on by doctrinaire, pressuredriven and tabloiddriven Ministers as possibly an advantage in slowing down the excesses and eccentricities of Government?
Lord Hennessy: Again, it is an argument that you do need congenital snaghunters so you do not rush into things. You can take that to extremes. There is always a reason for not doing something, and the past can be used as a precedent for blocking pretty well everything. I can understand the level of frustration, but I suppose I am deeply traditional about this. I know that. I am like Ralf Dahrendorf’s description of the Social Democratic Party; he rather unkindly said what they want is ‘a better yesterday’. I am a better yesterday man; I believe in the old model, but it does need attention and refreshing. One of the virtues of the old model was it was a "Come off it. Wait a minute; it’s not that simple" virtue, which I think, Mr Flynn, is what you are alluding to.
Q22 Paul Flynn: The saying is that the future is always certain; it is the past that is always changing. I think that is true. We spend far too much time rewriting history. Could I ask this final question? One of the things that is said about the Civil Service looking back is that the overriding ethos of it is the unimportance of being right. Those civil servants who go along with what their political masters do, their careers flourish. Those who object, their careers are often wrecked. I am thinking of one of the recent decisions, the disastrous decision, which was to go into Helmand province when we had lost two people in the Afghan war. We have now lost-there was another one this morning-439. There were people who said to go in there was stirring up a hornet’s nest and they were overruled by the politicians, but those civil servants who said, "It’s a great idea. We’ll be out in three years without a shot being fired," are the ones who are still running the Ministry of Defence now.
Lord Hennessy: I would not know whether that is true or not, but again it goes back to that point with which I might have begun in reply to the Chairman. Really selfconfident Ministers want really selfconfident servants who do not spare them anything. You do not want cheerleaders. What is the point of having cheerleaders? If you want a cheerleader, send for a special adviser, some jovial youth who will tell you every morning that the beauty of your political thought is exemplary, even if the press and your colleagues think it is bollocks. Let the special advisers do the cheerleading, not the career civil servants.
Professor Hood: I wanted to say that the issue of civil servants’ careers coming to grief as a result of falling out with Ministers is surely not a new one. I have interviewed people from many years back of whom that could be said. I am not convinced that it is a new problem.
Q23 Chair: Rather like Jesus in front of Pilate, Francis Maude, the Minister, asked the rhetorical question, "What is the risk of ministerial involvement?" He said he could not see any risks. Are there any risks?
Patrick Diamond: I would just add one comment, Chair, on the issue of politicisation, as Mr Flynn alludes to it. Clearly where politicisation has occurred in the postWar period, it has occurred within a system in which the constitutional checks and balances on the actions of Ministers are relatively ill defined and, in some cases, very unspecific and implicit. One of the issues that the Reform Plan raises is whether there is a case for trying to put appointments on a more formal statutory footing, in which there is stronger oversight, including from Parliament, in which you could have Ministers exercising some role in decisions about who is appointed to key posts within the Civil Service, but within a context in which there was absolutely transparency. There is an allusion in the Reform Plan to the New Zealand example, which I gather Francis Maude is particularly interested in. The New Zealand model raises a lot of very profound questions. To suppose that one could simply translate it into the British context-
Q24 Chair: And the risks are?
Patrick Diamond: The risks are that you are imposing a model that has been created for a particular system in a particularly small country, with a set of particular parliamentary arrangements. You are transplanting that into the British context, in which our parliamentary arrangements are quite different. You would have to ask whether there was the likelihood of appropriate statutory oversight of the system.
Q25 Chair: What would it mean? What is the risk to the public?
Patrick Diamond: The risk to the public would be that you would be appointing permanent secretaries and senior civil servants. Ministers would be playing, arguably, too great a role in those appointments. As a consequence of that, the country is not being given the kind of governance that Lord Hennessy referred to in which there is a capacity for the Civil Service to say "no" where it thinks mistakes would be made.
Q26 Chair: They have this system in America and it does not seem to threaten them. Does it?
Lord Hennessy: It is a shambles, absolutely. I think so. I like and admire Francis Maude, but does he really want to go down in history as the man who undid Mr Gladstone?
Chair: I do not think he does actually.
Lord Hennessy: Good. I am relieved. We seem to be heaping calumny on Francis Maude’s name, which I am not in the business of.
Q27 Chair: Before we leave this question of senior civil servants, what about this business of the churn at the top? It is probably very unfair of me to mention names, but Jon Thompson is an accountant who came from outside the Civil Service and is now the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Defence. He does not strike me as the apostolic successor to Sir Frank Cooper or Sir Michael Quinlan, who were worldrenowned experts in defence and deterrence in their day. Have we lost a degree of corporate memory and expertise at the top of Departments and what effect does that have?
Professor Hood: The risk of loss of corporate memory is that you lose the knowledge of what has been done in the recent past. I did a study in the 1990s of a Civil Service organisation that had 40% turnover a year and, as a result, it had virtually no corporate memory; it could not even remember things that had happened three months before, and it had to spend its whole time in meetings socialising people to what had been happening. That is what happens when you have very high turnover and you cannot remember things. In fact, the only memory in that organisation, or serious memory, came from the consultants, who were the only people who stuck around for any time. It may be quite seriously something that the Civil Service needs to think about, even though consultancy is a dirty word at the moment. If you are going to have memory, that is one way of getting it.
Q28 Chair: I understand it was the directive not to use consultants that hamstrung an inexperienced and deluded team on the franchise in question in the Department for Transport.
Professor Hood: Indeed that too is an issue.
Patrick Diamond: When we talk about policy development in particular, we should just remind ourselves that of course a lot of policy in the Civil Service is being made not by permanent secretaries or by people right at the top of Departments, but by grade 7 and grade 5 civil servants, as they were formerly described. On the question of the evidence about churn, one would have to say that the evidence I have seen suggests that there is more churn in grade 7 and grade 5 appointments. Civil servants at that level are tending to spend a shorter amount of time in key posts. I think that raises issues about the quality of governance and about corporate memory because, if you have people moving very quickly through key policy management positions, then there is clearly a problem that experience of previous policy initiatives is lost and there is not sufficient memory about what has succeeded and what has failed in the past.
Q29 Chair: So we need to restore vertical career structures within Government Departments?
Patrick Diamond: I would not necessarily go that far, Chair, but I think we have to pay greater attention to career development and career structures within Departments, yes.
Lord Hennessy: One of the big changes was when the old Senior Appointments Selection Committee was replaced, in the sense that there was an era of succession planning, whereas now everybody has to compete for every job on the way up.
Q30 Chair: Is that not what Francis Maude is really complaining about? It is that you do not know who you are going to get as permanent secretary, because it is an open recruitment policy and everybody is allowed to apply.
Lord Hennessy: There are virtues and problems with that. I by and large think that there should be a republic of the intellect and that gifted people should be able to come in and out of Government and so on; you should not have to be a lifer. In the days of succession planning, it meant that the Quinlans of this world and the Frank Coopers were given a width of experience that went very wide, although usually related to their central core knowledge, though Frank Cooper ran the Northern Ireland Office and Michael Quinlan ran the Department of Employment. They were fully fashioned people by the time they got their-
Q31 Chair: It is impossible to groom people over a decade for a particular role, is it not?
Lord Hennessy: You think it is impossible.
Chair: It is now impossible.
Lord Hennessy: It is now, under the present circumstances, very difficult to do that.
Q32 Chair: You have got the complexity, albeit a laudable objective, of bringing forward more women, bringing forward more ethnic minorities, bringing forward people not from Oxbridge universities, not from public school, and then you have to give everybody a fair crack at the top jobs. It is impossible to plan people’s careers now.
Lord Hennessy: Yes, it is very difficult. You also have to remember, in the Frank Cooper era, that they had grown up in a slump and been in a war. They were very grownup people by the time they joined the Civil Service. They were an extraordinary generation. They were not perfect, no generation is, but they were the most remarkable people, partly because Hitler had made them grow up so much. They had seen things that nobody should have to see, by the time they were 25. That applied to people who had grown up on the home front too. This is not an argument for a slump and a war to give us a better senior civil service, far from it, but the Frank Cooper generation was quite extraordinary and it was noticeably different. It is very unfair, therefore, Chairman, to compare that generation and its formation with today’s formation, because it is very different.
Professor Hood: Can I just make one other point about churn and the worrying effects that it can have? Let us remember that we have been in a doubledip recession and, who knows, it may go on, but this is likely to be as good as it is going to be. When we get recovery eventually, whenever that is, then that churn is only likely to increase with more opportunities in the private sector. I cannot see this getting better in the future, which is why I think quite seriously, if you cannot keep memory in the system, you have to think about ways of outsourcing the memory and maybe consultancy is the only way to do that.
Q33 Chair: Or be prepared to pay top dollar to keep people in the system.
Professor Hood: Possibly so, yes.
Lord Hennessy: There are people called historians who can help now and again. I make the trade union point here.
Q34 Alun Cairns: Can I return to the frustration with Whitehall and address my questions to Lord Hennessy, in the first instance? There have been several examples of ministerial comments made in the public domain criticising civil servants. Does that help sharpen the Civil Service focus or does it increase greater frustration and is counterproductive?
Lord Hennessy: It can certainly diminish the bonds of loyalty. The Secretaries of State I have admired of all parties, in the past, if they have found things wrong with their Departments, will be very candid with the Department about what they think the deficiencies are, but they do not blab. They do not go public on it.
Indeed, the old arrangement, the NorthcoteTrevelyan arrangement, has rested on three deals really. One of the deals is that you carry the can in public for your Department if you are a Secretary of State, even if things have gone wrong that you did not have much control over in the first place. The other deal is speaking truth unto power, which we have talked about. The third deal is the continuity between administrations of different colours. Those are the three essential deals of the old system, but one of those deals means that Ministers do not dump on the staff in public. It may be cathartic, it may be deeply felt, but it does not make anything easier and it also snaps the bonds of loyalty.
Q35 Alun Cairns: What should a Minister do then, if he or she is frustrated with the Whitehall Department or their support?
Lord Hennessy: I think you do what Michael Heseltine did, who has always been a very confident Secretary of State and never blamed his civil servants, which was to produce a reform plan for the DoE, which he took to a Select Committee. He reviewed the 66 directorates of the Department of the Environment in the early 1980s and produced his own Management Information System for Ministers, MINIS, which was very good, I thought. He brought it to the relevant Select Committee. That is the way to do it. I am not here as Michael’s press officer, but you have a model in how it can work and it worked very well. It led to real reform.
Q36 Alun Cairns: Lord Heseltine publicly criticised civil servants just recently, in general rather than in specifics.
Lord Hennessy: Did he really? I am surprised.
Alun Cairns: He did when he said "frustrated by their inability to make Whitehall work effectively". He talked about levers of elastic-I am paraphrasing somewhat-and that we need to get the gears back into the levers.
Lord Hennessy: Michael did put gears into the levers, to mix metaphors. He did it. I would not see that as a criticism of the senior Civil Service; I think it is an observation, isn’t it?
Professor Hood: Could I say that letting civil servants take the blame rather than Ministers is not a new phenomenon either? If you can think far enough back-I think there might be one or two people in the room who can-to the Vehicle and General Insurance collapse in 1972, that is a case where the civil servant involved in the then DTI took the blame. That was 40 years ago. There are also plenty of examples you can find of Ministers blaming civil servants long before the current Government.
Q37 Alun Cairns: Can I come back to you, Professor Hood? What should a Minister do who is frustrated in that position?
Professor Hood: There is an accountability problem, in the sense that, if you really believe in the orthodox constitutional view, then Ministers become overaccountable and civil servants are underaccountable. The risk, however, is that if you start putting too much blame on the civil servants, Ministers become underaccountable and civil servants become overaccountable. That is basically the problem.
Patrick Diamond: I would just add one comment, which is in a sense a response to your question and also to the previous question. I think we should not forget that the Civil Service and Whitehall are both characterised in this country by hugely talented and well qualified civil servants. If you look at the data on those who are coming into the fast stream of the Civil Service, you can see that the Civil Service continues to be a very popular destination for some of our very best graduates. We should not forget that we have, in many ways, a very competent, very skilled and very administratively effective Civil Service. Lord Hennessy may be surprised to hear me, a former special adviser, saying that, but I do think that that is the case. I worked in my time in Whitehall among some really outstanding civil servants, including outstanding fast stream younger civil servants.
On your particular question about the sense of frustration with Whitehall, you are absolutely right to allude to it. In the 1970s, a number of trenchant criticisms were made of Whitehall, but they tended to be made by politicians in both political parties who were, I think it would be fair to say, on the more ideologically extreme sides of those parties. Tony Benn became very frustrated with his experience in Government, trying to run an industrial policy in the 1970s. Similarly, Keith Joseph became very frustrated with the difficulties of trying to slim down and make Government more efficient. In the intervening 30 years, the critique of Whitehall has become much more mainstream, and it is something that politicians are much more willing to have recourse to when they feel they need to blame somebody else for the failures of their own period in office.
To directly answer your question about what a Minister should do when they are frustrated, the classic response, and this goes back to administrations over the past 30 or 40 years and many different examples, is to bring in additional capacity. In other words, it is to try to sidetrack or steer around the problem by bringing alternative people in, be they consultants, special advisers, or even, in some cases, academics. It would have to be said that this is often a very unsatisfactory solution, because what you are doing is creating pockets around a Minister that are not properly linked into the rest of the Civil Service and not properly worked into the rest of the system of public administration.
Q38 Alun Cairns: Would you say that any one Department has been better than another in doing that, since 2010-the Department for Education, for example?
Patrick Diamond: I would not have the evidence to be able to comment on that.
Q39 Charlie Elphicke: On this issue about ministerial involvement in the selection of permanent secretaries and things like that, my concern is that we live in a fastchanging, fastmoving, 24hournewscycle, globalised world and we need a Government machine that will move really quickly, and we need the ability for Ministers to be able to direct and govern, move that machine, make decisions and move things forward equally quickly, because we are now in a global race. Given that, what I am trying to work out is why Ministers should not have much greater decision making power over who the civil servants in their Department are, particularly at the senior level. What is the problem with that?
Lord Hennessy: Two things. I absolutely recognise the 24hour cycle, globalisation and all that, but one of the problems with Government is that there is a tendency to overreact to breaking news. The rebuttal cycle that New Labour put in consumed them in the end. They disappeared up their own orifice on that. It became such a pacemaker that it was completely counterproductive, and the least believed people in the kingdom were those in Number 10, I think, who were operating that system of permanent rebuttal. I am not a great believer in the Government reacting in a 24hournewscycle way. Maybe that is unfair. I know you were making a wider point.
The real reason, Mr Elphicke, for the anxiety about Secretaries of State in effect choosing their own chief executives is that they will go for people who, by and large, share their ideological charge. You will have people there because they believe things, not because they know things. That is the risk. You can have people like Patrick and all sorts of very gifted people from the outside to help you in that, if you like, semiideological way but, right at the core of the Department, you have to have somebody who is there because they know things rather than believe things, who have a remarkable competence and a considerable background in Government before they get there. Without that, the governing marriage will not work. For all its difficulties, the governing marriage will not work and, at a stroke, you would change the nature of British central Government. We would have gone through a valve through which we will never return. That is why I think it matters.
Q40 Charlie Elphicke: Your argument then is that the NorthcoteTrevelyan reforms and the whole doctrine of the independence of the Civil Service and all the rest of it is something that you feel passionately about. What I am saying is, actually, the world has moved on. In America, they change the whole top tiers of their Civil Service.
Lord Hennessy: They always have and it is always a disaster.
Q41 Charlie Elphicke: It can be a very effective way of working in Government, changing Government, to actually have Ministers who can then decide, because Ministers are accountable to Parliament and the people. What you have is a machine under them, which is not really accountable to them. We should change that and enable Ministers to make real decisions and have a Civil Service at the top levels so that they can then say, "This is what we are going to do," and head in that direction. If it is the wrong thing to do, that is a matter for Parliament; it is not a matter for the Civil Service machine to hold back.
Lord Hennessy: We will have to disagree.
Charlie Elphicke: We will.
Q42 Chair: Does anyone agree with Mr Elphicke?
Professor Hood: Can I say that the American system is so massively different that we do have to think about that? In November, I did actually talk to the personnel directors who worked under both George W Bush and Bill Clinton, and both of them had been responsible for a pooled team of something like 13,000 people over the eightyear terms of those two Presidents. Think about it: this is one person with perhaps six graduate assistants appointing 13,000 people over eight years. It is just a totally different system.
As far as what is being considered here is concerned, the point about the risk might be that the Civil Service has a constitutional role; it is a constitutional bureaucracy and not simply an agent of whoever happens to be the Minister of the day. This is putting the view. This comes in, for example, when, as after the last election, there is a hung parliament and someone has to give advice about how a Government might be formed in those circumstances. Where is that advice going to come from? If you are going to have a constitutional monarchy, you have to have a constitutional bureaucracy for that sort of job. I do not think you can reduce the Civil Service to simply being an agent of whoever is the Minister of the day. It is more complicated than that.
Patrick Diamond: I would just add, Mr Elphicke, that firstly one would have to say that the perspective that you are articulating is a very important one. It is shared by a lot of Ministers and by a lot of politicians, in the sense that they get elected, they come to office and they have a huge set of expectations about what the public wants them to deliver. As a consequence, politicians feel very strongly that they want a system that is amenable to the mandate that they have been given, which enables them to deliver quickly and provide a sense of momentum. One understands where the sense of frustration comes from.
There are two particular risks that I would identify with moving towards a system of very widespread political appointment of senior posts. The first is a point to do with transition. Professor Hood alluded to the American system. If one thinks back to the transition that brought the Obama administration to power in 2008, I remember from that time there was a situation where it actually took many months to appoint senior officials to the US Government in key positions in the US Treasury, during a very serious financial crisis, because of the process of appointments that was necessary in order to bring senior officials into American Government. If you have a system that is wholly based on appointment, you would run up against significant problems in relation to a transition between administrations.
The other point I would quickly make, which reinforces something that has already been said, is that one has to be clear about the tasks that Ministers want civil servants to perform. I mentioned a moment ago that politicians want a responsive civil service, but they also want a civil service that enables them to navigate through the byways of Westminster and Whitehall. That includes getting legislation through Parliament; it includes working policy positions through with other Departments. Those require a certain degree of institutional memory and experience. If you are recruiting people from outside every four years, you lose a lot of that, so there are some significant downside risks to moving towards that system of appointment.
Q43 Charlie Elphicke: I am making the case that it is not about the issue of accountability; it is about giving Ministers the ability to appoint the top 100 or 200 senior civil servants, or the ability to replace them because, at the moment, there is no reason for a permanent secretary to take any action whatsoever if they do not feel like it, because there is nothing that can be done about them by the Minister concerned. If those top echelons know that Ministers can make changes in relation to them and get someone else to do the job that needs to be done, then they are going to be far more responsive, far more on their toes and hopefully far more productive. Lord Heseltine had his systems; Tony Blair, as you will know, had his systems of making them actually do what he wanted, which involved sitting on sofas and having chats. It is the same thing. It is different sides of the same coin, which is how to get things to happen. If you have the ability to fire, as well as hire, at the top level and have that ability to say, "If you don’t do what I’m telling you to do, then this is what’s going to happen," they are going to be more responsive, surely.
Patrick Diamond: That is a perspective that one could take. In my experience, in the last 20 years or so, permanent secretaries have become significantly more responsive. There are a number of examples of that. I do not think there are many permanent secretaries in Whitehall who believe that they can simply ignore the wishes of their Secretary of State. On the question of the previous administration, one of the methods that it developed was it tried to use information as a way of firstly assessing service performance in key Departments, or in relation to key Departments, but then trying to hold senior officials to account in terms of performance against those targets. The current administration has chosen to go in a different direction, which is of course quite legitimate, but there is an issue about how you use information in order to hold both senior officials and politicians to account, in terms of delivery. That may be an alternative to going towards a system in which you rely on lots and lots of churn and appointments, in a way that does have some significant risks.
Q44 Kelvin Hopkins: I disagree profoundly with everything that Mr Elphicke has said. I think he might have fitted very well into the Blair regime actually, but there we are. Talking about the Blair regime, it is a question to Mr Diamond. You have written that "Within the Number 10 Policy Unit, advisers were encouraged to be highly sceptical of departmental officials." Where did this instruction come from and what impact did it have on relationships between Ministers, special advisers and civil servants?
Patrick Diamond: In that comment, I was alluding to a general culture in the Policy Unit in Number 10 at that time and in other sections of Number 10, which was to be broadly sceptical about the policy development and implementation that was being carried out in Departments. I should caveat that by saying that the routine day-to-day relationships-the routine rather than the orgies, as Lord Hennessy would put it-between most Number 10 staff and Departments were actually very good. One should not paint a picture of perpetual conflict. As I say, there was a general culture in which there was scepticism to some degree about what Departments thought about policy, the capacity of Departments to deliver against the Prime Minister’s objectives, a generally sceptical outlook and a view that said you should adopt a sceptical perspective on what Departments were saying.
Q45 Kelvin Hopkins: I have described that regime as Leninist, in the sense that it was a central committee with commissars deciding things. A classic example is Lord Adonis, or Andrew Adonis as he was, who effectively ran the Department for Education. Indeed Estelle Morris walked away as Secretary of State because she felt she was redundant, and I suspect the permanent secretary felt the same. It was a profound political change, which I think we have rowed back from since then. Do you think that was a very bad relationship between Government and civil servants? Was it undermining of their confidence? Was it this marriage that stayed in being, but was really a marriage of people who disliked each other intensely?
Patrick Diamond: I would just add two points. The first would be that one should perhaps take into perspective that a lot of what the centre was trying to achieve through Number 10 was that, although there was an attempt by Number 10 to try to assert control over policymaking and implementation, in reality, the vast majority of policy decisions and the vast majority of delivery that was going on was being undertaken through Government Departments, not through Number 10. You allude to the example of Lord Adonis. He was indeed very influential on a number of key policy decisions undertaken by that Government, including most particularly the example of the city academies initiative, but to suppose that Andrew Adonis was therefore controlling all of the education policy coming out of the Department for Education would, in my view, be mistaken. In terms of your comments about whether the system that was created led to poor relationships, I think it did produce some poor relationships. There are many lessons that one could learn from the Blair administration, which I personally would not want to repeat.
Q46 Kelvin Hopkins: My final question: do you think that there are people in the Civil Service who would not want to live and work in that kind of relationship, in that kind of regime? Has it deterred perhaps some of these great intellects that we have traditionally had in the Civil Service from going forward? Have we actually got some secondraters now, because the top people do not want to do it anymore?
Patrick Diamond: As I mentioned a moment ago, I do not think the evidence necessarily supports that argument, because the numbers and quality of people coming into the fast stream of the Civil Service remain very high. I could not comment on your point about perhaps more creative or intellectual figures not necessarily wanting to come into the Service, other than to say that, anecdotally, that is not my perception; but I think you are right to say that civil servants want to operate within a mutually respectful relationship. If they are working in Departments, they want to feel that their voice is being heard on key decisions and that things are not being imposed from the centre. There always has to be a constructive relationship between the centre and Departments; otherwise, it produces bad policy and bad decisions. I think it is getting the partnership between the centre and Departments, Ministers and civil servants, right that is the key. Certainly the Blair Government did not get that right; no administration in postWar history has. The current administration is attempting to do so. I think that some of its reforms may work, but others are misguided. Overall, we need a much more fundamental rethink about the way these relationships work.
Q47 Greg Mulholland: Going back to the key issue of accountability, I notice, Mr Diamond, you talked about ministerial responsibility and said that "The doctrine of ministerial responsibility had been gradually obscured for at least three decades," so that by the time of the 1997 election, "The doctrine of collective and individual ministerial accountability was largely a myth that New Labour had been content to discard, however vocal the protests of former Cabinet Secretaries and Whitehall commentators." Really a question for the three of you is: do we still have this supposedly key concept in our system of ministerial accountability, or has it been eroded? Will it be eroded or, in fact, destroyed if we do move to an alternative model of accountability?
Lord Hennessy: I hope collective Cabinet responsibility remains the aspiration. Sometimes it is more of an aspiration than an achievement. One of the very interesting passages in Jack Straw’s memoirs that has not really been seized upon is his recommendation that we look at a Cabinet and Prime Minister Act to enshrine at least the notions of collective Cabinet responsibility, which are already there in the Ministerial Code. It is a very interesting passage in Jack’s memoirs, reflecting upon the world that Patrick has been describing, and it has been largely overlooked.
I am a collective Cabinet Government man for all sorts of reasons, not least because I am a traditionalist about most things, but also because not only do Prime Ministers who take shortcuts with collective Cabinet responsibility do considerable damage to their party and their Government, as it goes along, but it always ends in tears for them, because the gods of politics are wrathful bastards. If you take shortcuts with collective Cabinet responsibility, you light a fuse beneath yourself. For very practical, personal or, indeed, selfish reasons, if I was Prime Minister, I would take great care to keep that in real repair.
Indeed, the coalition has meant that it is a very collective approach, because it has to be-to be fair to David Cameron, he said he wanted to restore it anyway when he was leader of the Opposition. The National Security Council, which we talked a bit about earlier, is an indication that his instincts are that way. Cabinet Government has been written off at least five times in my lifetime, since I have been interested in Government, but it has had its little comebacks. John Major had a minicomeback between 1990 and 1992, and then life became so difficult in his Cabinet that he could not discuss Europe, because people had collective nervous breakdowns on it. That rather diminished the quality of Cabinet Government for the remainder of his premiership. If it does not remain the governing aspiration, Mr Mulholland, we are in real trouble.
Q48 Greg Mulholland: Individual ministerial responsibility?
Lord Hennessy: In the end, they have to be the cancarrier number one. We have not talked about the advent of the new Select Committee system in 1979, which made a big difference to accountability. It meant that civil servants were much more widely exposed to parliamentary scrutiny, which I think was a good thing, in a way that only the Public Accounts Committee really had routinely done it before-the Estimates Committee did it, up to a point; so did the Expenditure Committee, up to a point. That meant the accountabilities went wider. In the end, who was the number one cancarrier in chief? That is the question. If it is not the Secretary of State, who else would it be?
Professor Hood: I was going to say that I think that, alluding to this individual ministerial responsibility, rather than the Cabinet issues that Lord Hennessy has been speaking about, certainly there have been times in the recent past when Ministers have not acted as cancarrier in chief. Indeed, part of the whole architecture of creating special regulators and other intermediate bodies is that there is always someone else to fire if things go wrong. That certainly is a development that we have seen, such that the main thing that Ministers become accountable for is their own personal conduct, whether that is financial, sexual or whatever. That is where the lines have come to be drawn. I do agree with Lord Hennessy that some of the more extreme cases of Ministers blaming civil servants have tended to redound on those Ministers, because there is always some killer e-mail or some allegations that have come back to bite them. That does have a certain selfcorrecting effect.
Chair: I must ask you to be very brief.
Patrick Diamond: I am sorry; I will be very brief. Just to respond to the question, on the question of individual ministerial responsibility, the quote that you cited to me was one alluding to the complexity of the delivery machinery in Government, when you have a large number of public bodies, agencies and other organisations delivering services. That is clearly, to some degree, going to blur the boundaries, as they are perceived, of individual ministerial responsibility. On collective ministerial responsibility, I agree with a lot of what has been said. I would just underline it by saying that there has been a repeated issue going back a number of decades about coordination in Whitehall, the problem of departmentalism and the socalled issue of joining up. If you have a system in which collective ministerial responsibility is entirely eroded, then it is much more difficult to precisely achieve that kind of joining up. There are issues about where these doctrines become blurred and confused.
Chair: Moving on, Mr Reed. We are miles over time. This is a fascinating session, but I must ask you to finish off as quickly as we can.
Q49 Mr Reed: This is the problem with having a last question. Patrick, in your submission you talked about the Government missing an opportunity for a radical change in Whitehall structures. Indeed, the Plan does not propose changing the federalised system or removing the silos that underpin silo mentality and the problems that causes. Is it desirable for the Civil Service to work differently, as a single unified system?
Patrick Diamond: In my view, we should certainly look at reforms in that direction. In terms of the radicalism of the proposals, there are actually three particular issues that I will very briefly allude to, in terms of taking a potentially more radical approach to Civil Service reform. The first, as I was just mentioning, would be one that sought to go beyond departmentalism and was an attempt to try to reorganise the structure of Government in ways that did encourage much more collaboration. As I mentioned in response to Mr Roy’s question a few moments ago, in Scotland, there has been a very productive attempt to try to have a much more outcomefocused approach. Whitehall does need to think much more seriously about that.
The second point I would make is about open policymaking. This is a very interesting and important idea, which is alluded to in the Reform Plan. It raises a lot of issues about the secrecy and confidentiality that surrounds discussions between Ministers and civil servants, but this is something that has to be looked at, particularly in the context of freedom of information legislation.
The final point I would make about radicalism would be whether we want to move more in the direction of a unified public service. I know, Mr Reed, you obviously have considerable experience in local government. I would myself be interested in looking at reforms that did improve the degree of coherence and coordination between central and local government. I would conclude by saying I do think there is much that central Government can learn from local government, in terms of successful attempts to secure delivery and produce good policy around outcomes. There should be much more willingness in Whitehall to try to learn those lessons. I suspect you will not disagree with that view, but I think it is one that we have to take more seriously.
Professor Hood: May I put in a word for federalism, Mr Chairman? If you go to the Federal Republic of Germany, which has a very high reputation in terms of governance, you will find that the constitution requires that each Minister directs his Department, within the boundaries of the constitution, independently, so there is no equivalent of the Cabinet Office and all its many initiatives for reforming the Civil Service-no comparison. Is Germany much worse governed at federal level than the United Kingdom? I do not think so. It is called the Ressortprinzip, by the way, in the German constitution. The reason why it does not work that way is it means that each Department decides individually how to manage itself, and it only copies other Departments where other Departments have things that palpably work. That contrasts with the UK system, where you have a hyperactive Cabinet Office spewing out initiatives that perhaps have not been as fully thought out as they might be, with the consequence that the governance effects are not so good. There is something to be said for federalism.
Lord Hennessy: There will always be a federalist bias-I think one can call it that-because of the way we legislate: named Secretaries of States are given functions, which means resources, which means influence and all the rest of it, and legislative time, if you can get a place in the bill queue. In contrast, the statutes that say what the Prime Minister is for are very limited indeed, so the whole bias of our system is to put out functions to named Secretaries of State and Departments. We try to mitigate, to temper, excessive federalism, as some might see it, through the Cabinet Office mechanism, since 1916 with overarching Cabinet committees. Again, the National Security Strategy is the most recent example of this. It always produces tensions. To undo the federalist arrangement, Mr Reed, would take an entirely different way of legislating and also we would need a Prime Minister’s Department and a statute for the Prime Minister, neither of which I think is desirable.
Q50 Mr Reed: Can you do some of that through decentralisation, as Mr Diamond said? A lot of the radical thinking and change is happening at a local level, in cities or through local government. They feel quite stymied by the centralised grip of control that national Government retains over so many of the things that would work better if their communities had more control over them. Should we not be looking at a more decentralised model and, where we can achieve it, cutting through the silo mentality by abolishing silos and coming to a different structure for Government and decisionmaking?
Lord Hennessy: That would be dramatic, but every administration I can remember writing about either as a journalist or as a historian has had that as an impulse, but it has nearly always been the other way. Ever since the Attlee Cabinet in 1946 decided that they would nationalise the hospital service, make it a national service and take away the local authorities’ hospitals, the bias has almost entirely been one way. Of course, when you get radical Ministers at the centre, for all their lip service to what you have just described very eloquently, they find that the blockage of local government is immensely infuriating. Why do they have to do this? Why do they get in the way?
Q51 Mr Reed: This is part of that problem, because they also operate in a silo.
Lord Hennessy: It is related to that, yes.
Q52 Chair: Is the problem not crossdepartmental working? The Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street have failed to address crossdepartmental working just by accumulating more and more people who interfere more and more in Government Departments. All that does is create a sinking feeling in Government Departments when they hear somebody saying, "Number 10 wants this," or "Downing Street wants this."
Lord Hennessy: Receiving a phone call from Number 10 saying "Tony wants" was the low point of the week for everybody, for many years, wasn’t it? I am sure you had to do that once or twice. One’s heart sinks. One grieves for the people on the receiving end. I remember your session with Oliver Letwin, which I came to listen to, on strategy, which was fascinating about that, because it went right to the heart of this question. If you want a strategic grip at the centre and you want to push things through in your radical reforming Government, and the Deputy Prime Minister in his own way wants that as well, and yet you do not see it strategically, all this is very difficult. In the British way, we somehow muddle through. We have all sorts of conflicting competing systems. We have the anthropological differences we have been talking about, but somehow we muddle through. Maybe this is a concluding example, Chairman, of why we need a big proper look at this. We tend to look at it. We tend to isolate elements of these problems, and we do not look at it as a system. Perhaps it is time that we did.
Chair: We are doing our best.
Professor Hood: There are countries that have unified public services. Germany is a good example, where the same rules govern the public service at whatever level there is. As I have said, it is not obvious to me that Germany is a much worse country than the United Kingdom. In many respects, I think it is the opposite. As Lord Hennessy says, the constitutional and legislative changes that would have to take place to get from here to there are massive.
Q53 Charlie Elphicke: Mr Diamond, just a couple of very quick questions. First of all, when you were a special adviser or indeed in the Policy Unit at Number 10, on how many occasions did you advise that there should be a royal commission set up on something?
Patrick Diamond: Never.
Q54 Charlie Elphicke: On how many occasions was a royal commission set up on something? Was a royal commission ever set up on anything while you were a special adviser or in the Number 10 Policy Unit in the previous Government?
Patrick Diamond: Not to my knowledge.
Q55 Chair: You have been fantastic. Thank you very much indeed for your evidence. As I say, we have gone miles over time, but that is because everything you were saying was of such great interest. Thank you very much indeed.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Sean Worth, Policy Exchange, Rt Hon. Peter Riddell, Institute for Government, and Andrew Haldenby, Reform, gave evidence.
Chair: We are going to try to end at 12. Can I ask each of you to identify yourselves for the record, please?
Sean Worth: I am Sean Worth, currently working with the Policy Exchange think tank on a better public services project.
Peter Riddell: I am Peter Riddell, Director of the Institute for Government.
Andrew Haldenby: Andrew Haldenby, Director of the think tank Reform.
Q56 Chair: Thank you for joining us. I will start by asking the same question as I started the previous session with. What is wrong with the Civil Service and does the Civil Service Reform Plan actually address the failings that you perceive to be in the Civil Service?
Peter Riddell: One thing that did not emerge sufficiently in the previous panel was the fiscal context. What is wrong with the Civil Service has two elements to it. One is the longterm one, which is that the role of the state is changing. What we want the state to do is changing and that puts new demands on the Civil Service. In terms of the delivery of public services, we want it to be more customerfriendly; we want different types of project done. We are increasingly outsourcing to the private sector. That demands different skills of the Civil Service. What is wrong there, and it is widely acknowledged-some would say it is the difference between Ministers and civil servants-is that commissioning skills have to be improved. Management of big projects, noticeably IT, has to be improved. Those are just examples.
In addition, we are operating in an environment of substantial public spending cuts and squeeze, which is clearly going to last for most of the rest of the decade. Already there have been getting on for 30% cuts in the inner core, in administration, in terms of both manpower and the cost of central Government Departments. That puts immense strains on how the Civil Service copes in delivering services to your constituents. The real challenge is: can the Civil Service adapt to provide the services? For example, that means proper management information systems. Everyone goes on about MINIS. The interesting point Michael Heseltine always makes is of course it died when he ceased to be Defence Secretary-when he resigned over Westland in 1986. He tried to revive it when he came back later. It implies considerable strengthening of capabilities in various ways. There are a lot of longterm things wrong, because of the changes in the role of the state, which are accentuated by the change in the fiscal environment, which is putting enormous pressure on how to deliver good services to your constituents.
Sean Worth: First of all, I would echo the analysis. This is perhaps the first time when Government is being asked to do such a huge amount of system change on such a wide level of reforms, not just economically but socially as well. The analogy is often that we are trying to turn a super tanker, because you are trying to tweak system changes, but the problems-economic and social-are so huge that it would take such a long time to get those to work.
We have just done a survey on companies, charities and all the kinds of people who have to deal with Government-not us, not users of public services or whatever, but the actual contractors. They are all saying pretty much exactly as Peter said. Government is very good about the process knowledge; they value the institutional continuity, but they are terrible at the really important things like contracting and everything else. If we are going to have a Government that is more open and creating services that are more open to choice for people, then we do need to bring in new skills. I think Francis Maude is right.
However, I absolutely despair at some of the stuff that was being said in the last panel of witnesses, that somehow the Civil Service is special and we cannot have chief executivetype figures coming in here, because they do not know how things work. In every sector, in every other industry, business, charity or whatever, in the free and open world, you hire outside yourself if you want to make big changes. You hire people from other countries; they are not going to know anything about how you operate and how you set yourself up, but you have a system of support in place. What you are bringing them over for is their skills. Can they drive change? Can they inspire people? Yes, I would absolutely say that we need to focus much more on allowing Ministers more discretion.
Q57 Chair: We will come to that. I asked you what the problems were and I think you answered the question very well. Andrew Haldenby, what are the problems?
Andrew Haldenby: I would try to sum it up in one word, which is competence. If there was confidence in the competence of the Civil Service, we would not be having this discussion. There would not be such a political focus on the whole issue, so it is competence.
On the Civil Service Reform Plan, what has to be said is that the Civil Service Reform Plan has already been overtaken by events. The Plan was a defence of the status quo and was set up designed to do that. Francis Maude is on record giving evidence to the House of Lords Constitutional Reform Committee: "I do not think anything in our Civil Service Reform Plan is revolutionary, for sure." He presented a defence of the status quo.
Since then, something has changed and it is as if Lord Hennessy has turned around 180 degrees and become a huge supporter of Civil Service reform. So suddenly has Francis Maude. Shall I just quickly run through what has happened in the last six months? Giving evidence again to the Constitution Committee, in July, it was as if Francis Maude was a new man. He challenged the idea that political appointment was incompatible with the idea of appointment by merit. He said that, if Ministers had political appointment of officials, they would appoint the right ones to deliver policy; they would not choose the ones of their political flavour. He said that Ministers have actually long been able to choose permanent secretaries. In the debate on the Civil Service Reform Plan in the House, Jack Straw said that he had appointed three permanent secretaries whilst being a Secretary of State. Again, giving evidence to the Lords Committee, Charles Clarke said that he had moved a permanent secretary; he had lost confidence in Sir John Gieve. Michael Howard said that he had chosen a permanent secretary. Suddenly, there is this new mood, particularly from Francis Maude.
In August, the Cabinet Office announces the first ever open contract for research on policy. What is that doing? It is looking at radical reform ideas from Australia, New Zealand and other countries. In October, Francis Maude said in a speech to Peter’s organisation that permanent secretaries had blocked the implementation of Government policy. He never said that before. In November, the Department for Education produced its internal review of its Civil Service reform, which says that staff are pretty much working to their own devices on projects that have no endpoints and they are working on projects that are not aligned to ministerial responsibilities. Something, it seems to me, changed just after that.
Q58 Chair: Can I just test you on this?
Peter Riddell: Can I just say it is bizarre? Every single thing that Andrew said was in the Civil Service Reform Plan. The reference to the education review was in the Civil Service Reform Plan. All the permanent secretary stuff was in the Plan.
Q59 Chair: My question is: is the Civil Service Reform Plan therefore a wolf in sheep’s clothing and it really is tearing up NorthcoteTrevelyan; or is NorthcoteTrevelyan actually a liberation, in that you can do a great deal under NorthcoteTrevelyan, like giving Ministers more control over the appointments of senior civil servants, without actually threatening the NorthcoteTrevelyan settlement at all?
Andrew Haldenby: The agreement between Peter and I, if there is to be one, might be that the Civil Service Reform Plan, like all Government papers, has got a lot of ideas, a lot of statements and a lot of principles, but it could go in many different directions. What I am absolutely certain of is that there was a change in the mood of the Cabinet Office in regard to the strength of the argument that it wanted to make on Civil Service reform. The tone of the argument-this is also reflected in briefings to newspapers-changed markedly from the first part of this Parliament to July onwards.
On NorthcoteTrevelyan, I am sure each member of this Committee will of course be absolutely wordperfect in this document, so I hesitate to quote it, but NorthcoteTrevelyan did say that "It is of course essential to the public service that men of the highest ability should be selected for the highest posts. It cannot be denied there are few situations where it will be necessary to fill these positions with persons who have distinguished themselves elsewhere within the Civil Service." There it is. What it wanted was appointment on merit, the right person for the job and the wrong people for the job out of those jobs. It then goes on to say that, at those times, too many political appointments were being made of "men of very slender abilities". Of course, no one is saying that, but slightly contrary to what Lord Hennessy was saying, NorthcoteTrevelyan is consistent with the idea that there are some political appointments on merit.
Chair: Internal appointment as the default has become the culture, but that was not necessarily NorthcoteTrevelyan. Very interesting.
Q60 Alun Cairns: Can I pursue the issue of competence a bit further and come to you, Mr Riddell, particularly in relation to your comments to Mr Haldenby’s statements a little bit earlier, and refer us to the West Coast Main Line and the Laidlaw report? The Laidlaw report highlighted that the primary reason was that staff departing were replaced by more junior staff, that there was a ban on consultants and so on. Do you think those lessons have been learned across Government Departments, or has that report just been filed?
Peter Riddell: I think it was an enormous shockwave. Patrick McLoughlin was giving evidence to the Transport Committee yesterday. We are only part of the way through the process of learning the lessons and more will be coming this week on it. No, I think it caused a profound shock, both in the Department for Transport and to the Civil Service, and so it should do. There are questions about whether the process of the scale of cuts in staffing I referred to earlier has led to dysfunctional behaviour-in other words, not recruiting the right people.
One of the interesting points, and this is something which actually is in the Civil Service Reform Plan and something we have been advocating a lot at the Institute for Government, is there were three responsible officers for the franchise during the period of it. That is appalling. One of the key things is everyone goes on about turnover of Ministers, but actually as significant is turnover of civil servants, not necessarily at the top level but further down-at the key posts in charge of projects. If you look also at the regional fire service shambles, which cost £0.5 billion, which happened under the last Government, there was a whole succession of responsible officers. When you put someone in charge of something, you leave them there for some time. There are much wider lessons. Certainly my impression is, and as I say we are only part of the way through the process, the rest of Whitehall is looking very closely at that.
If I can give two further points that develop out of that, one is that there is a danger of looking at the Reform Plan, which came out in June-that is why I disagree with Andrew; I think the new mood was clear then-with the assumption that that was the beginning of everything. It was not. Individual Departments have been going through significant internal change programmes going back to 2010 and before. The Justice one started before the election. When you look at the Civil Service Reform Plan, it is only half of the story. The most interesting part of the story is what is happening inside Departments, because they have to cope with 30% cuts and major changes. The West Coast Main Line thing showed some of the problems with that. We at the Institute produced, two months ago, a report on transformation in Whitehall, which in many respects shows that the individual Department stories are actually more important than some of the things in the Reform Plan.
One thing I commend you to look at is a great success story: the Olympics. It is a success story for Government. Sorry, I am giving another plug to the Institute, which is producing a report on this in two weeks’ time, which looks at if there are lessons from it. Some of the lessons from it are to leave the same people in place to do the job.
Q61 Alun Cairns: Mr Haldenby, do you accept the comments that have been made?
Andrew Haldenby: Yes, absolutely. I have very little to add. No, actually let me say this. One thing Lord Hennessy said was that all Governments have a timescale for their relationship with the Civil Service and, after a couple of years, it gets a bit scratchy. After whatever he said-30 months-they complain about the press office. He then actually said that he had not looked closely enough at the West Coast piece. I think if he had, he might conclude that there had been some rather significant things that have gone wrong, specifically under this Government.
Just a quick review of the reports by the Public Accounts Committee last year; I will not go through each one. Ministry of Justice: a complete failure to commission and manage its contract for language services in courts. Regional Growth Fund: the Department for Business and Department for Communities had no way of evaluating the spending of that fund of several billion pounds. Just the last two: Home Office, for mobile technology for the police, again had no way of evaluating value for money. Then major projects at the Ministry of Defence: great concern about the churn of civil servants.
The reason for saying this is we have heard this before. This Committee has commented throughout this Parliament on the absence of performance management in Whitehall Departments. You predecessors have as well. It is a perennial point made by Public Accounts Committee. The issue of competence does go quite deeply. The West Coast Main Line point is that it is here in every single detail. "The competition lacked strong project and programme management", so they did not know what they were doing. "There has been considerable turnover in departmental senior positions", "lack of management oversight and ownership". It is a problem with management.
Q62 Alun Cairns: Mr Worth, do you think the Laidlaw report was fair and, from the perspective of Number 10 when you were there, could it have been foreseen?
Sean Worth: I would just pick up on that and a couple of points. Yes, the Civil Service is facing unprecedented budget pressures and there are headcount reductions, but there has always been staff turnover. If you look at the financial pressure they are facing, financial pressure is being faced by every other organisation in the entire country. You have to deal with it, and that is the problem: it is the adaptability, the capacity to adapt, change and bring in new skills. We had Sir Terry Leahy, the former CEO of Tesco, over at Policy Exchange. He did a bit of a review of Government procurement, which was very timely given the West Coast issue. His main thing was that, actually, we should just drop this obsession around pay, who is coming in and who is not, and just hire very good people and pay them much more to do those really important procurement jobs, because the Civil Service, the way it is currently set up-I think even Gus O’Donnell said this-just is not working on that front. We should just bus in commercial people and pay them a lot of money to get things right.
Q63 Chair: Can I press you on this? It was Ministers-we raised this in our report on change in Government and leadership of change-who agreed that cuts across Government Departments should be flatrate percentage cuts and that departures from Departments should be voluntary, so the best people tended to leave to the private sector, leaving behind those who were perhaps less ambitious and less well motivated. It was Ministers who put the restriction on consultants, which meant for the first time a franchise was let without financial consultancy advice, and it was Ministers who signed off the decision without properly getting the figures checked. To be fair to Ministers, even Jeremy Heywood failed to spot that there were problems in the figures and the methodology that was used. Is this a Civil Service failing or actually a broader failing that the Government does not understand the Civil Service as it is? If Ministers are going to be effective, they have to understand the limitations of what they are working with.
Andrew Haldenby: Yes, that is absolutely right. The title of this inquiry is "The Future of the Civil Service". If it was the future of Government in the UK, one leg of it would be the Civil Service and the other leg of it would be the political side. The think tank is producing papers; we are just finishing our latest thinking on Civil Service reform and doing interviews with people around Whitehall and Westminster. There is grave concern over not only the ability of Ministers to do their jobs, but also the performance management of Ministers, the ability of Ministers to do better and to move in their careers. My impression is, from the discussions that I have listened to, that Whitehall sees the West Coast Main Line problem as frankly more of a problem on the Civil Service side than the ministerial side, but that is not to say that the issues of improving Ministers are not just as important.
Peter Riddell: On your point there, there is a distinction in the time that the Government has been in. Initially when the Government came in, under Francis Maude, there was a shockandawe phase, if I may say. You cut consultants; you put a freeze on everything. The difficulty is moving on and having a transition to a more sustainable phase, when perhaps you say, "Here is the limit on your total budget, but you in the Department can then decide how you want to allocate it. If you want to bring in consultants, you bring in consultants, but you have to find the savings elsewhere." One of the problems, which no doubt you will find from a lot of your future witnesses, is that the tight control you need for a period to shake the system up is not sustainable in the longer term. You now need a movement. You hear this; I have heard Bob Kerslake say this to the Civil Service too. You now need to move to a system where, albeit you retain a Treasurytype control on the totality, you allow the Departments more discretion, including probably on pay levels. The interesting point on the Olympics is that people were hired earlier at much higher salaries. Again, you do that within the overall budget and then you allow people to decide.
Q64 Mr Reed: I want to pick up on a point, Andrew, that you made. One of the things we are considering is whether we need some kind of commission to explore the future of the Civil Service. Taking up your point, are we being too constrained if we look at that only with regards to the Civil Service? Should we be looking at the future of Government or the relationship between the citizen and the state-big issues that are being debated out there, but which are not really impinging on what we are considering?
Andrew Haldenby: I suppose these are questions for the Committee to decide with respect to the scope. As I say, we have been doing interviews with people around Whitehall and Westminster in the last few months on the Civil Service issue. What we have found is that the abilities and the role of Ministers are the other side of the coin. They just are. There is endless discussion of performance management of civil servants, for example, but is there any discussion of performance management of Ministers? I do not believe that it happens in any way.
Peter Riddell: Can I take up that point? I agree. One of the key lessons, if you look at the successful transformation programmes in Departments, is the Secretary of State and the Civil Service leadership are aligned. It is absolutely clearcut. In an area you know very well, Mr Chairman, Defence, a lot of the problems earlier, to put it politely, were that the three participants-it is a rather complicated marriage in Defence-the Ministry chiefs, the Civil Service and the Ministers were going in different directions. One of the crucial things there was to align them and that is absolutely clear. We have done a lot of work at the Institute on exactly that point Andrew makes. Looking at ministerial performance, of course, there is no proper assessment at all, nor is there any actual buildingup of expertise, which there crucially needs to be, because you have to have the two together.
Q65 Kelvin Hopkins: On the West Coast Main Line franchise, I do not believe for a moment that it is to do with the incompetence of the Civil Service. Someone, somewhere, made a decision that they wanted to give the franchise to FirstGroup to get some upfront cash. That has been leaked in the press. They then tried to make the arguments fit that decision, and the civil servants were left with this problem of how to make it presentable. This decision was taken somewhere, we do not know by whom, but that is what it was really about. The question is whether what is effectively corruption is increasingly going to be the case with more contracts that are allocated by Government.
Peter Riddell: There is no evidence to back up what you are asserting. I would be very interested to see if there was evidence for that. There are arguments about the franchise process and there is a report coming out later this week on the broader franchise process, and we will see what that says. I think it is less corruption than the point Sean was making on competence. We have a big project in the Institute looking at outsourcing and how to do it. It is a complicated thing to do to get the contracts right. We have seen this with some of the welfaretowork stuff and we are seeing it in various other areas, with just how competently it is done. It is less corruption than pure competence.
Sean Worth: You are absolutely right. We must not allow a few highprofile instances where contracting to the private sector allows us to think giving services to the private sector, rather than others or just generally, is a bad thing. The claims you have just made were countered by claims that information was suppressed by the Civil Service. In each case, I do not think you will ever get an answer unless there is a proper inquiry that fleshes it out. The principle is that the Government has to move to a position where it tries to deliver less itself and it gets much better at commissioning. Everybody agrees that now. The job, if you are outsourcing, is to make sure that you are contracting properly, not allowing gross profiteering and all that kind of stuff, and then the public will be much more confident in it.
Chair: 18 minutes to go if I am going to fulfil my obligation to you to let you go at 12 o’clock.
Q66 Paul Flynn: Mr Worth, with your experience as a special adviser, did it match what Francis Maude has said and others, including David Blunkett, have said, that in every Department, under every Minister, there are decisions taken that are not implemented that are blocked by the permanent secretaries?
Sean Worth: I heard a lot. I was in Number 10 and I worked in Departments as well, so I had a bit of a view across the whole piece. Yes, there is certainly that. You get reports of that. I personally found nobody blocked anything that I asked for, but there were a lot of delay tactics. You ask for something to happen and it sort of disappears into a blancmange, and then a paper comes back that is slightly different from what you asked for, because it is very clear that they do not want to actually address the question. There are a lot of games that can be played, yes.
Q67 Paul Flynn: You said, Mr Worth, "If you want to do tough things, then you need political people to do it rather than Civil Service." What are "tough things"?
Sean Worth: I mean taking tough decisions.
Q68 Paul Flynn: Such as?
Sean Worth: Like reducing budgets for public services, the tough decisions that are being made, like changing cultures in the Civil Service.
Q69 Paul Flynn: If you think of the decisions political taken over recent years by Governments, particularly by Prime Ministers, maybe things we were reminded of this morning-the Citizen’s Charter, the Cones Hotline, the Third Way, the Big Society-all of them have ended in nothing. What we possibly need, above everything else, is stability, continuity and moderation in Government. Is it not a good thing that the Civil Service is acting as a brake on the extremes of political figures in Parliament? We are schizophrenic on this. We want the Civil Service to be prominent when our party is in opposition and politicians to be supremely important when our party is running for Government. If we take it that we are above these political considerations on this Committee, for the great benefit of the country, we want moderation; we want stability; we want continuity and we will not get it from the politicians.
Sean Worth: You are right that they can act as a brake on extremes. If somebody in a political position who happens to hold a huge amount of power wants something very bizarre and extreme to happen, then it is right that that is checked. My point on this is that if you look at other countries, our country is imbalanced. We have an enormous Civil Service, literally huge, and we have very few special advisers and very little ability for Ministers to use their discretion to hire people who they want in key delivery positions to actually make change happen. As we have said and I think everybody has said, the Civil Service is great, but it is not very good at adapting to change. It is in that change context and that is what I mean by "tough decisions", when you are literally changing the way things have been done for decades.
Q70 Paul Flynn: It was said that, during the regime of Mrs Thatcher, when there was an appointment being made, she would always ask, "Are they one of us?" Would you be in favour of a fully politicised Civil Service?
Sean Worth: Not a fully politicised one. My point on politicisation is that, if appointments are transparent, everybody knows they are happening and they know exactly what they are for, then you do not have anything to fear from Ministers being able to hire in people. They are not necessarily partypolitical, but they are people who have expertise and want to, for example, bring about a whole load of transparency in the way the NHS works and its results, which we still cannot see. There is no league table anywhere that shows me what performance my local GP has in comparison to others, like we have for schools. There is a huge resistance to actually bringing that out, and we need political people who will be crusading for that on behalf of people to make that happen, because it currently does not.
Q71 Mr Reed: You heard Mr Cairns, who has now left the room, refer earlier to some of Lord Heseltine’s frustrations when he was a Minister, pulling levers that did not have anything attached to them. What would need to happen to the Civil Service to make it more responsive to ministerial wishes and instruction?
Peter Riddell: Curiously, I think it is actually quite responsive. The question is a competence one. I do not buy the instructive model. Yes Minister is great fun, but it is 30 years out of date and the revivals show that. That is not the issue; it is an issue of competence in doing a very different task from the past. That is the challenge. We have talked about outsourcing and commissioning, but there are other areas. Management of big projects is where my worry lies. It is not so much that the civil servants are not responsive to Ministers. My impression is that they are extremely responsive. One of the arguments at the beginning of this Government is not that the civil servants are obstructive, but they ought to have said, at various stages, "Okay, this is your objective; there might be a better way of doing it." Curiously, they were so keen to show that they had not been politicised by the previous regime that they were almost not performing their function of saying "Hold on." My view is that it is the "hold on", not the "no". They should never say "no", but "hold on". That is my concern much more.
Andrew Haldenby: I wonder if some of this is not about a block in terms of something very dramatic and the writing of a letter. What is the word for the letter that is written?
Peter Riddell: Seeking a directive.
Andrew Haldenby: That’s right, making the Minister enforce their will. I suspect some of it is just down to the length of time that particularly new Ministers in this Government are finding for things to happen. Speaking to one or two of them recently, for example, they are very surprised by the ministerial office system. They are slightly confused that they cannot speak directly to civil servants. They think it is extremely timeconsuming that papers have to come all the way from over there, through there-it is a very complicated system-and back again and often on it goes. There is something about the ways of working that lead to enormous delay. That is what this Government is finding. David Cameron made his initial comment about the enemies of enterprise back in early 2011, and what he actually put his finger on was bureaucrats in town halls "who take forever with those planning decisions". That is just a statement about speed. It is not that those officials are contradicting Government policy; they are just taking longer than Ministers would want, so I suspect it is something about speed of action.
Q72 Greg Mulholland: Turning to the issue of trust, which is clearly a hugely important area, do you think that the announcements made as part of the Civil Service Reform Plan and other announcements have seriously undermined the trust between politicians and the civil servants?
Andrew Haldenby: As I was trying to say earlier, I think that something happened in that relationship in the runup to the Plan and around the time of the Plan. A change of heart has taken place. A breakdown of trust of whatever kind had already taken place, and that has led to this new mood that I have tried to describe after the publication of the Plan, which is about a much clearer and a new willingness, on the part particularly of the Minister for the Cabinet Office, to make the case for radical change.
Peter Riddell: There inevitably is a time for such restructuring and cutbacks, and problems of trust. It is not helped when there are stories in the press and when there are things about "The Civil Service is no good and being obstructive" and vice versa. You get it both ways. There remains quite a lot of mutual suspicion, and it is vitally important that that is bridged if you are going to get effective reform. The only way it is going to work is if Ministers and civil servants work together. There are faults on both sides. A lot of it is to do with ignorance and mutual suspicion. It is unfortunate, but it is Ministers realising the Civil Service is going through a hell of a lot of change. Also, I would say, and we see this a lot at the Institute where we work below permanent secretary level as well as at permanent secretary level, that there are a lot of very bright civil servants in their 40s who are very eager to change and reform, but they want that recognised, perfectly legitimately. They are keen on it.
Sean Worth: One point on that is you are right that briefings and counterbriefings between civil servants and political staff are not terribly helpful. They are usually spiteful rather than constructive but, actually, Andrew is right that to build a public case for change you have to expose some of the things that you do not like. If you even look at the Guido Fawkes blogs and exposés of the number of trade union officials who are being paid for fulltime trade union activity on the public’s payroll, that led to Government looking at that issue and they found nearly 7,000 of them there. We are having a debate about politicisation around special advisers, but there you are: thousands of people are doing trade union work on the public payroll. It can be very helpful, but you have to get the balance right and act in a proportionate way.
Q73 Greg Mulholland: Do you think it would be possible to get trust back, considering that Richard Mottram said that trust had broken down, not just that it was not there?
Peter Riddell: It has to be demonstrated by individual leaders in the Civil Service. There are successful examples. To portray it as all negative is completely wrong; there are a lot of very good public services, which have been improved over the years. There is the recent example of the Olympics. Trust can exist, but the key to that is the leadership demonstrating it-enthusing people and rewarding them, not just in the financial way but otherwise, for success. That is why the Civil Service Reform Plan is only a start. They are good intentions, but they have to be demonstrated in practice. That has yet to be proven. In the midterm review yesterday, there was a reference to a yearon review of the Civil Service Plan, a good thing too. The Civil Service needs to keep well up to it. You have heard evidence from Francis Maude saying some things have been slipping. Well, it is the role of your Committee to keep them up to it.
Sean Worth: Just one point on that. For every Sir Richard Mottram saying these cuts are leading to low morale and so on, which I think people can understand, there is a piece of evidence like today the Chartered Management Institute came out with: a bit of research that said public sector managers are 13% more confident and optimistic about meeting their challenges than they were this time last year. This is over a year where there has actually been an enormous amount of change communicated.
Peter Riddell: The Civil Service does an engagement survey every year. It is a horrible term, but it actually shows surprisingly high levels of overall engagement. Now, it does vary between Departments a lot and varies in various aspects of leadership. There are worries one can overdo the demoralisation, as Sean was saying.
Q74 Chair: They are low levels compared to the most successful private sector organisations.
Peter Riddell: Most, but some private sector organisations have their problems too.
Chair: They have their problems too, but a successful private organisation.
Peter Riddell: Yes.
Chair: Do we need to address appointment of senior civil servants again or shall we move on? Moving on, Mr Roy, accountability.
Q75 Lindsay Roy: Andrew, you have said that "The doctrine of ministerial accountability is a big problem-it has made the performance of individual civil servants invisible, which is obviously not true." Should the current doctrine of ministerial responsibility be reformed and, if so, how?
Andrew Haldenby: Yes. Actually I think it is already being reformed in practice. To tell you one or two things, there has been, as has already been referred to, a lot of discussion about whether civil servants should give evidence before Select Committees. That bridge has been crossed absolutely, and that seems to me to be an important justification of the fact that civil servants are personally accountable and should be answerable for what they are doing. The Lords Constitution Committee agreed with that very strongly in their recent report. Also, in the inquiry for that report, Lord Butler drew a distinction between ministerial accountability, which is broad accountability for what goes on in the Department, and actual responsibility. If I was the Minister, I am not responsible for what happened before I became a Minister. By extension, the implication is I am not responsible for some decisions that happen lower down in the Department.
The only other thing I would say on that is Margaret Hodge, giving evidence again to the Lords Committee, said that the Civil Service has changed and that the original Haldane proposals were done at a time when the Home Office was literally just a few dozen civil servants. Now it is many thousands, so it no longer applies. It is just that: the doctrine of ministerial accountability cannot apply now but, more importantly, it is already being changed to give more personal accountability to civil servants.
Q76 Chair: Haldane was specific that officials should give evidence to Parliamentary Committees, so it is not upsetting the doctrine of ministerial accountability for officials to give evidence directly to Committees. It is a question of what they give evidence about.
Peter Riddell: And how far you can name them too. I think that debate is evolving. I think things are moving compared to a year ago. One particularly for the PAC is that they go back to previous permanent secretaries, not the current one. It will be tested on named civil servants. The West Coast Main Line may well test that. I see this as a moving debate, rather than a static one.
Q77 Chair: On the question of a unified Service or federal Departments, do we have views?
Peter Riddell: We have views. I think Christopher Hood was being slightly disingenuous when he talked about the German example, because there the federal central government does much less, because it is a federal structure. I think that is a slightly misleading example. The interesting question, and an important one for you to look at, is, with Scottish and Welsh Members here, the degree to which, in practice, the Governments of Wales and Scotland are separating off. There is that sense of unification too. Within Whitehall, there is a perennial problem, and you see that going on now. Departments are saying, "We are doing our own reform plan. This Whitehall one? We will do our own thing." That tension is not resolved. It is a perennial one and it is not yet satisfactorily resolved.
Can I give you just one brief example with the heads of professions? There are various professions within the Civil Service: policy; IT, which they call information; and HR. Virtually all of them are in individual Departments. An extreme example of this is Bob Kerslake being a permanent secretary at DCLG as well as head of the Civil Service. A very interesting question, which I think you should explore, is the degree to which you can actually achieve change with the heads of these various professions being in individual Departments, as opposed to being in the centre.
Q78 Mr Reed: I wanted to ask in that where the user is in everything that we are discussing here. In the private sector, the most successful organisations are those that respond to or anticipate their customers’ needs, which are their users, but here we are just looking at alternative providerled models for the Civil Service, are we not? Is that enough?
Sean Worth: This is one of the key things that I have found in my research and this was something that Sir Terry Leahy also brought to us, when he did his review of how government works. There is very little focus on the end user, which is why we have such a big battle to actually bring in changes like allowing people a choice over different services or allowing people to even have the right to see what they look like and what performance is. Things that in the private sector and in charities are just taken for granted seem to be a massive deal in the Civil Service. My worry about all this reform debate is that we know that the Civil Service is great and it is good at doing certain things, but there is this massive bureaucracy. We keep coming up with plans and more bureaucracy to try to change it, but actually what we should be doing, as I think Sir Terry’s point was, is just to allow a lot more flexibility and discretion to hire very good people to do very big jobs and focus those jobs on delivery. Yes, pay them more than the Prime Minister if that is what is needed and don’t have a big witch hunt about that. Let’s just get it done.
Peter Riddell: Can I say one point? There is a great difficulty in the state being as adventurous and anticipatory as a private sector organisation would be, because of the nature of the public good that is being provided. Also, there is a tension. There are people I know in the Civil Service on the horizonscanning unit still. It goes back to the strategy interest of this Committee. There are people thinking about that but, on the whole, it is very difficult to be adventurous, because adventure equals risk. It is quite difficult for politicians to admit a risk. There are people thinking of these things, but it is quite difficult to be ahead of the game in that way.
Andrew Haldenby: My question is: who is the user of a central Government Department? I am not a user of the Department for Education, even though my children are at state schools. Ministers are users, I guess, because they are asking for policy advice; they are asking for support in taking through the Government’s agenda. Without wanting to have a bigger conversation, the idea that Departments start employing lots and lots of people to get involved with what individual consumers want, I am not sure that is it. It is about helping Ministers deliver the policy framework. That takes us back to so much of the context of this whole debate, which is about whether officials are supporting ministerial agendas and if things need to change in order to support that. That is one of the principles that the Department for Education’s internal review has ended up on.
Q79 Kelvin Hopkins: The Civil Service Reform Plan proposed opening up policymaking to outside organisations. What is the point of Whitehall, if not to offer Ministers policy options? Do they not have a range of ideas within the Civil Service to offer? Indeed, they can also take advice from outside-that is the difference-but actually making policy outside the Civil Service, what is the point of the Civil Service if we have to do that?
Peter Riddell: If you actually look at what is happening in practice, what they are doing is taking advice. There is a lot of hype on that. I am totally in favour of opening up policymaking for wider debate to Select Committees, think tanks like the three of us and all that. What was actually presented and the bid on looking at structures of ministerial/Civil Service relationships, what IPPR is now doing-we did not go into the bid ourselves, because we are already doing a project on it, which has produced two reports, and we decided not to do it and Andrew reached a similar decision-is fine, but it is not actually substituting for policymaking. It is broadening the debate, a good thing too. There was misleading hype on that on outsourcing policy. It is not outsourcing policy; it is broadening advice.
Q80 Kelvin Hopkins: Is there a danger that radical Governments, and I can think of one or two recent ones, might have an organisation outside that comes up with an idea and the Government just says, "Civil Service, get on with it"? That is the policy.
Peter Riddell: Interestingly enough, that happened in 1997 on a number of the changes that were then introduced. If you read Geoffrey Robinson’s book, a lot of the ideas on utilities tax and other things were actually being devised by accountants before the election. A file was produced for Terry Burns, who was then the permanent secretary, saying "This is what we want you to do." Similarly the Bank of England has done a lot of outside stuff, and a few ideas came from Policy Exchange and no doubt a few from Reform in 2010. The Civil Service then has to look at it and the rest of it.
Q81 Kelvin Hopkins: I know we are short of time, but there is one question that was of interest to us: why did your organisations not bid for funds from the Contestable Policy Fund? The Institute for Public Policy Research has got a contract.
Peter Riddell: We did not bid for it, because we were already doing a project on accountability, which has produced some work that your Committee has seen, and because I wanted to preserve our independence.
Andrew Haldenby: We do not do sponsored research. Perhaps it is possible to imagine that, one day, the Government might ask for something that actually we did want to do, but our rule, generally speaking, is not to do sponsored research.
Q82 Chair: Do you think there is an element of the Government buying the good will of independent think tanks by showering them with money? Is that a danger?
Andrew Haldenby: If only that would make a difference.
Sean Worth: On a practical level, there are some very bright people in a number of different organisations and the alternative would be to hire them into the Civil Service, put them on a pension and all the rest of it. It is a perfectly practical thing to do. It does not mean that those policies will not then be scrutinised very heavily by the Treasury in particular. All the processes are there. I think it is just a very practical open thing to do.
Chair: We are already into injury time. I do apologise to you that this panel was foreshortened because the other panel overran. It was my incompetent chairing, for which I apologise to you and to my colleagues, but you have been extremely helpful to us. If there are any other points you want to make, please do drop us a line and we will accept that as evidence. Thank you very much indeed.