Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 768 - 779)




  768. Can I welcome our witnesses, on behalf of the Committee, all from the Centre for Management and Policy Studies: Professor Amann, Director General, Robert Green, Director, Corporate Development and Training, and Ewart Wooldridge, Director, Civil Service College Directorate. You are here, gentlemen, because of our inquiry into the Modernising Government programme, Civil Service reform issues, and we would like to explore aspects of your role in the scheme of things with you. We are very grateful for the very concise memorandum that you have let us have. Perhaps you and I ought to confess that we knew each other in a different life. Perhaps I ought to tell the Committee that you are also a Kremlinologist, are you not?

  (Professor Amann) I was, Chairman, yes.

  769. And maybe therefore ideally equipped to sort out Whitehall. Do you have an opening statement that you would like to give us?
  (Professor Amann) Yes; thank you, Chairman. We are delighted to be here and tell you something about CMPS. If I may, I would just like to pick out a few points from the memorandum, perhaps to set the scene, as it were, for our discussion. CMPS is, as you will know, a new organisation, it has existed for just over 18 months; it is a complicated organisation, which has been created at the heart of Government, and, as you are aware, we have a number of key responsibilities within the Modernising Government White Paper, contributing to culture change through developing new approaches to policy-making, and developing the skills of the Civil Service so that they can meet these new challenges. CMPS incorporates the Civil Service College, which ceased to be an Agency on 1 April of last year and is now a Directorate of CMPS, within the Cabinet Office. During the last 18 months, to cut a long story short, we have moved from constructing a vision of the organisation, actually creating the organisation in all its various parts, it is now complete, and delivering the first range of products; some of them are original, and I think interesting. I will not go through all of them but there are just one or two that I would like to pick out. First of all, the development of the new programme for Ministers and for senior civil servants; as far as we are aware, there is no other country in the world that has yet developed a programme of this kind. We have developed a programme of peer reviews of the different departments, we have carried out five of those reviews already; and that really is the beginning of the Civil Service opening itself up more and becoming more of a learning organisation. We have reviewed all our corporate programmes, the corporate programmes include things like the Top Management Programme, and we have developed new programmes for the Senior Civil Service in areas like handling information technology and a version of our Top Management Programme which brings together civil servants from the UK and Europe, called Insight Europe, and that has been very well received throughout Europe. We have redesigned the entire training portfolio of the Civil Service College to bring it in line with the priorities of Modernising Government; in fact, I have brought with me—it is literally hot off the press, we have not even shown our staff this yet—the new CMPS Portfolio, which contains all our training. If I may, I will leave that with you. And, finally, we are developing new approaches to policy-making, based on the latest developments in knowledge management, and that is one of the most original things that we are doing to try to make policy more joined-up and evidence-based through the use of information technology. So I think it is reasonable to ask the hard question, "You had a Civil Service College before, so what is new about CMPS?" and I have been asked that question many times. And my answer to it is, firstly, that the span of CMPS is much wider than any pre-existing organisation, we cover the whole range of training, right up to the ministerial level. Secondly, we are directly intervening to create best practice in policy-making, not simply to collect it and disseminate it but actually to develop new approaches and create it. And, thirdly, and I hope I am not putting this too grandly, CMPS, in a sense, represents, or could represent, the final achievement of the original Fulton vision of using research and amassing intellectual capital and linking it into training, something which has never really happened in the history of the Civil Service College, and became more problematical during the period when the College was an Agency. So these are still very early days, but I hope that we have made some significant progress, and certainly we very much welcome the opportunity to come before the Committee and share some of our thoughts with you.

  770. Thank you very much for that. If I could just kick off by asking two or three questions. In a nutshell, I know this is a very difficult thing to answer, but, in a nutshell, what was the problem to which CMPS was the solution?
  (Professor Amann) I think the central problem, in a nutshell, was one of market failure. I think the Civil Service College, operating as an Agency, operating as a business, was trying to maximise its income stream by giving customers what they wanted, and, indeed, it was very successful in that, in its relationship with individual customers, it was successful financially, and people who had attended courses at the Civil Service College gave them high marks in evaluation. But what individual customers think at the moment when they leave a course is different from what the Civil Service as a whole needs in order to meet its corporate objectives, and the real problem was whether the Civil Service College, as an Agency, was set up in the right way to be able to respond to the new Modernising Government agenda. And, to get back to the point that I was making about Fulton, I think the central problem was that it had not really amassed the resources that would allow it to generate the sort of intellectual capital that could develop those programmes; and so a wedge of central funding and a stronger connection with the Cabinet Office was required in order to move things forward.

  771. Thank you for that. And, if I am following this right, the pay-off from your existence will be that we shall get better and more informed policy-making?
  (Professor Amann) Yes.

  772. How shall we know that we are getting that?
  (Professor Amann) Well, that is the sort of classic question to ask: "How do you know that you are going to be successful?" It is always difficult to answer. And in an area like policy-making it is extremely difficult to know the answer, because there are so many factors that would have a bearing on the quality of future policy-making, that the input of CMPS is merely one variable and it is difficult to isolate its impact. However, we do take seriously the question that you are asking, because we want to try to do new things in the area of evaluation too, we want to do things that other departments have not done yet. What we propose to do in policy-making is to conduct a survey of current Government practice, a systematic survey which looks at what best practice is in different departments, and we have just started that; at the present time, we have sent out a questionnaire, we are getting the replies in the next few weeks, and we want to establish some base-line data, so that, once we have established it, we can go back to departments in the future, periodically, and measure the kind of progress that we are making. We are going to do exactly the same thing, and it is slightly easier, with the training that we offer. At the moment, we measure our success in terms of the forms that participants fill in at the end of their course, and that is pretty good, but, of course, the warm feelings that you have as you leave a course are different from the more mature reflections that you might have a year down the track, when you begin to ask yourself how useful this training has really been in helping you to do your job better. Now, because we want to build up networks of students after the event, so that they can follow up their training and we can continue their learning, we want to get ourselves into a position where we can consult them in the future, so we can see what real difference it has made, or they think it has made, to their own competence in the job, and also to evaluate in terms of how departments think that training has impacted upon the performance of departments.

  773. A simple soul might say, does this mean no more Dangerous Dogs Act, no more Child Support Act, no more rail privatisation, no more poll tax; is this going to so revolutionise policy-making that we do not have this trail of policy disasters any more?
  (Professor Amann) I think it might cut down disasters by a significant margin, it will never eliminate them completely, and you will never get away from making political choices, perhaps sudden political choices, if the circumstances require it. But I think what evidence does is to discipline and constrain decision-making, so that at the margin you are better informed, you are taking a broad, comparative view, and you do come to better decisions. Personally, I think the term "evidence-based policy" is incorrect, I think the proper term is "evidence-informed policy", but, since we are using "evidence-based", that is the buzz-word, but it is more accurate to say "evidence-informed policy".

  774. Just to explore another area, before I hand over, what I would put to you is that there is a problem here about when politics meets Civil Service policy-making, and you have referred to this, in talking about these innovative courses that you are doing with Ministers. These people inhabit different worlds and they have different requirements, and when the Cabinet Office did this nice report on `Professional Policy-Making for the 21st Century', it said: "One area of concern is that we found evidence of a lack of clarity about the prospective roles of Ministers and officials in communicating policy. In particular, Ministers want presentation that is `politically acute, not naïve,' while some policy-makers are uncomfortable with this, seeing it as at odds with their political neutrality." Well, is not that just a fact of life, that politicians operate in the short term, they want political pay-offs, they have to win elections, and they often do things which are daft? You come along and say to them, "That's daft, doing that;" they will do it, nevertheless. And, because this place works as it does, we shall all vote for it. Is not that the fact there?
  (Professor Amann) I think both of those elements are always going to be present, and, just because there is always going to be a very powerful political element, it should not, in my view, be a counsel of despair about the use of the best evidence. We see it as our job, in CMPS, to develop new approaches to policy-making, to develop external networks where we can allow Government to access, in a much more effective and user-friendly way, the enormous intellectual capital that there is outside Government, and to make that available to policy-makers. That is really the job that we will do.

  775. Let me give you an example, though, just to make it more concrete. If we summon up intellectual capital to the issue, there is no correlation between crime levels and funding of the police or numbers of policemen, this is a fact, established; and yet that does not stop politicians pretending otherwise and putting in place programmes that are built upon the opposite proposition. These are different worlds colliding, are they not?
  (Professor Amann) Yes. They are different worlds, but, if you could take a different example from the same area, the research evidence shows that if you concentrate resources on major crime and repeat victimisation you use the evidence to actually focus police effort; you can have more of an impact than simply, in an indiscriminate way, putting a lot of policemen on the beat. But there is a popular perception—and who is to say that it is wrong—people feel more secure; so there is an argument between a political imperative and what the evidence suggests. But in many cases there will be police authorities who will actually use that evidence in deploying their forces. So I think those factors are always going to be present, there is always going to have to be a judgement made in the final analysis. I think it is our job to inform that judgement as best we can.

  Chairman: Thank you for that.

Mr White

  776. Is it not a fact that, you talked about policy, in answer to the Chair's question, the fact that you are the solution to the wrong question? And one of the problems, that the Civil Service has failed, over many, many years, is the whole question of implementation; that the Civil Service is very good at designing policy but implementation is tacked on the end? And your emphasis on policy is still missing the whole point of, unless we get implementation right then you can have as many policies, as many evidence-based things as you want but it is not actually going to change the reality on the street?
  (Professor Amann) Yes. I think it is a very good question and I welcome it, because it gives me the opportunity to go into, in a little bit more detail, what I mean. Because when I suggest that we want to improve policy-making, I am not seeing that purely as the intellectual exercise of assembling evidence and analysing it. I am talking about the entire policy process, that includes implementation; and policy is something that you have to manage as well. We talk as if management and policy-making are somehow very different, but, in fact, policy-making is an aspect of management. Through the use of information technology, and what we call Knowledge Pools, which would be sites on the Government Intranet, around which policy development would take place, it gives the opportunity to draw into policy discussion a much broader group of individuals, in what would be a virtual policy team. An important aspect of that would be to draw in those who are responsible for implementation, because not only do you want research evidence but you also want the advice of those who will be responsible for implementing policy, whether they are teachers, or nurses, whatever the area of policy might be; that should be something which is integrated into policy development at the very beginning.

  777. But it says, and Richard Wilson is talking about the Knowledge Network: "Direct access to the Knowledge Network is prohibited for any outside organisation or individuals." How are you going to get this wider group, when one of the most fundamental things about the way that the Civil Service is going to develop presentation of information to Ministers, the Knowledge Network, is going to be barred to people that you could be bringing in?
  (Professor Amann) I think I would like to make a distinction, first of all, between the Knowledge Network and what I am talking about. The Knowledge Network is a very specific network and its main function at the moment is to provide, as I am sure you know, policy briefing and disaggregated data down to regional and constituency level. For a short time, the Knowledge Network was the responsibility of CMPS; that responsibility has now passed on to the e-envoy. The reason it was with CMPS was that we were wanting to broaden the remit of the Knowledge Network. It is to do with knowledge sharing, fundamentally, so that, in just the same way it could be used for policy briefing it could be used for policy-making more generally. But the Knowledge Pools that we in CMPS are developing—and we are doing so on a pilot basis, we are hoping to set up four Knowledge Pools in different areas of policy-making—would be a way of involving a broader stratum of people throughout the Civil Service, both professionals and policy-makers, and perhaps involving people from outside the Civil Service. So it is different from the Knowledge Network.

  778. How much interaction will you have with the Information Commissioner, for example, in terms of freedom of information, and things like that, in terms of sharing that information, opening up the Civil Service to that? You were suggesting the sharing of information, it sounds like the right course, but, given the history of the Civil Service, given the statements that have been made, it seems to be in opposition to what potentially is going to happen. And, therefore, I am curious to see how you are actually going to get that sharing of information, get that outside influence, that you think is a good idea, and which I think everybody would accept was a good idea, when the pressures on the Civil Service are not to release information. We have had suggestions from Andrew Tyrie, earlier on, that he was getting blocked in answering Parliamentary Questions. How are you actually going to break down that cultural barrier to the sharing of information?
  (Professor Amann) There is good practice at the moment issued by the Government Chief Scientist regarding the involvement of experts in policy-making and giving advice. I think the presumption would be that a lot of the information that we are talking about is actually in the public domain, and we would presume that as much of that information as possible could be made public. One thing I am very clear about, once you get into the area of evidence-based policy and developing networks and better relationships with researchers in universities and independent research institutes outside, that relationship is not going to be sustained in the long term if the door opens in only one direction; in other words, Government cannot just simply suck in information into different areas of policy development, there has to be some entry from those outside, they have to feel that they have made an input.

  779. The final question I have got is, we live in a much more complex world, we have got the European Commission, which has a different style of operating its Civil Service, we have got the devolved authorities in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland, and you have got embryonic regional government, through the Regional Development Agencies, and regional government in London now, with the Mayor, you have got local government as well; how are the different cultures going to interact, or are you looking, purely, only at the British Civil Service, how is the British Civil Service going to interact with those other Agencies?
  (Professor Amann) Most of this discussion about policy-making is really talking about what is happening in Whitehall, in central Government departments, but if you move on to the training area, which is the other aspect of culture change, we are working very hard to develop our relationships, particularly in Scotland, where the Civil Service College Directorate has an organisation, and I do not know whether Ewart Wooldridge would want to bring us up to date on what is happening there.
  (Mr Wooldridge) Just to add to that, which is really the point about the wider context of the public sector, is this just the Civil Service or is it the wider context, and it is very much the latter, not only is it a fact that we have re-opened an office in Edinburgh, and, in fact, we also have a relationship with the University of Strathclyde, in Glasgow, we have therefore invested in Scotland. We are investing also in partnership agreements, arrangements, with local government, particularly with the Improvement and Development Agency, and are developing our work in that area; and, indeed, in the wider public sector, we are working with the IDA and the NHS Executive and other institutions on research in public sector management. Very much the brief of CMPS as a whole, the Civil Service College Directorate, is for the wider public sector; and our customers, as it were, at the College, come from a wide cross-section of that sector.

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