Review of Management and Services: Report to the House of Commons Commission Part 13



PART 13

THE NEED FOR CHANGE

 
The Ibbs settlement

13.1    We have described the Ibbs Report as a remarkable piece of work. It tackled critical problems and set out an integrated plan for the formulation of policy and the delivery of services. It will be clear from preceding sections of our Report, and from our recommendations on governance, that we believe that the Ibbs settlement had a great deal of merit, and that its principles are still valid. Where its recommendations have been fully implemented, they have benefited the House.

 
Progress since the Ibbs Report

13.2    However, in the years immediately following the acceptance of the Ibbs recommendations, implementation was relatively slow, partly because of the federal structure of the House and partly because of the conservatism of both Members and officials. Over the last two to three years progress has accelerated sharply.

 
Why change?

13.3    It is clear that the dissatisfaction and concerns which prompted the Ibbs inquiry have been addressed effectively. The JLA survey describes the change in Member satisfaction with the House as a place to work as “a remarkably strong improvement since 1990”. There has been “a substantial increase” (to two–thirds) in those who feel that the House is well managed. Significantly, there is a strong correlation between Members’ knowledge of how the House is managed and the view that it is well–managed (79%). The JLA survey asked respondents to select a service with which they had been dissatisfied; fewer than half the Members replying did not answer this question; and the majority of those who took no action on a complaint did not do so because of the low importance of the problem or lack of time rather than the feeling that nothing could be done, which was the major reason given in the 1990 survey.

13.4    Taking into account the accelerating progress on the management and financial aspects of the Ibbs recommendations, it would be tempting to conclude that the momentum was now established and that nothing more need be done.

13.5    This is not an option, for the following reasons:

  • the process of change already under way needs improved structures and methods, or it may falter; and there are some barriers to further progress
     
  • much more is now expected of a public body sustained by taxpayers’ money than was the case almost a decade ago when Ibbs reported. Good governance now requires, to a greater extent than ever before,
     
    • the ability to demonstrate value for money and the delivery of services at high levels of efficiency
       
    • clear aims, and the responsibility for achieving them
       
    • accountability and transparency
       
  • there is continuing change
     
    • in the working environment, as a result of advances in information technology and telecommunications
       
    • in expectations, related to political and constitutional developments, for example:
       
      • in the roles of Members of Parliament and the priorities in their work
         
      • the possible effects of devolution, the reform of the House of Lords, developments in the European Union, and other factors

       and the House must be in the best possible position to cope.

 
The benefits of change

13.6    We believe that our recommendations will:

  • underpin the continuing improvement in services
     
  • allow better identification and implementation of priorities
     
  • help achieve best value for money
     
  • equip the House to adapt to a changing environment
     
  • ensure that the House is able to resist any external challenge of the way it runs its affairs, or its stewardship of public money

 
The barriers to change

13.7    Two factors inhibit further progress:

 
Culture

13.8    The federal system of House Departments has some strengths. High Departmental loyalty produces a commitment to the success of a Department and the delivery of its services regardless of difficulties (Members’ recognition of this was demonstrated by the JLA survey). There is a culture of professional knowledge and improvement which produces extremely high standards in most areas.

13.9    But there are disadvantages too:

  • a lack of knowledge of other Departments means that their work is often undervalued
     
  • a failure to see the big picture means that the work of some parts of the organisation is less effective than it might be
     
  • team working is difficult
     
  • on broad issues affecting the House administration as a whole, there is a tendency to do one’s own thing, or fight a particular corner. This often means that policy cannot be implemented effectively, and that value for money is harder to achieve.

13.10    Better communication and understanding (assisted by the Investors in People process) will be crucial in removing the cultural barriers to further progress. This need not, and must not, prejudice individual Departments’ pride in the quality and worth of what they do. The process should be one of sharing aims and thus being better able to achieve them.

13.11    The understanding of Members is also essential to long–term success. Over many years the House and its select committees have been assiduous in seeking more accountability and value for the taxpayer’s money from Government Departments and other public bodies. The House cannot be called to account for what it does in its Parliamentary capacity, but it must be able to demonstrate that its own stewardship of public money is beyond reproach. Decisions about expenditure must therefore be informed, responsible and defensible.

13.12    The JLA survey found that less than a quarter of Members were confident that House services were good value for money (down from a third in 1990). 37% suspected they were not, and 38% felt they did not have the information to judge. Our inquiry shows that value for money cannot yet be properly assessed, but it suggests that there is scope for improvement. We assume that all Members would endorse the achievement of best value for money, but it is important to be realistic about the implications. We are not for a moment suggesting that services would be degraded; but that those which are required and authorised should be delivered in an economic, effective and efficient way. This means without lavish over–provision, and the additional capacity and flexibility that that implies. Members’ understanding of the practicalities of best value for money will be crucial in actually achieving it.

 
Organisation

13.13    The second barrier to change is also a product of the federal structure. A different culture will make it easier to work in a more corporate way, but this must also be reflected in the lines of authority. Ibbs gave the Clerk of the House “overall management responsibility.... for the execution of policy in relation to services”, but this was not reflected in terms of management authority, to ensure a corporate approach to the planning and provision of services.

 
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Prepared 26 July 1999