Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 860 - 879)



  860. He was not sacked summarily, he was eased out after an interval.
  (Mr Mulgan) He has been playing a rather powerful role in recent months in British public life, I believe. As I say, it is not for me to comment on that. I think it is possible to make that transition. It depends upon the particular individual. I in the past worked with all parties and in many non-political roles, which probably made it easier for me to make the change than it would be for many special advisers. Clearly, in the event of an election and a change of Government, I in my current role would need to review with our new masters the PIU work programme and so on. That is a natural thing in Government. I would not want to generalise in any way about the implications of what I have done, how far other people could or could not do it.

  861. That is a shame. I thought that would be a very interesting question, because my next question was going to be, you are there as a unit to compensate for what must be seen as failings or weaknesses in existing civil service structure to some degree, otherwise you would not have been created. All Governments think there are things wrong with the Civil Service, and there probably are, and you are partly there to help rectify that. My next question was going to be, do you think that a lifetime career structure in the Civil Service as we have now at the top, with relatively little movement in and out—you are an exception, in a sense I was an exception, moving in and out—is the way forward, or do you think we need much better interchange between other walks of life, other careers and the Civil Service?
  (Mr Mulgan) I have three comments. First of all, on the first bit of your question, I think it is right that Governments of all political persuasions have tried to do what, in a sense, the PIU is part of trying to do, which is to find a way to make Government more strategic, better at doing policy, better at being longer term. Probably the clearest antecedent of the PIU is the CPRS which was set up by Ted Heath nearly 30 years ago. I would tend to agree with the implication of the next bit of your question, which Sir Richard talked about as well, which is that the Civil Service would benefit from having more interchange, more openness, more key people getting different kinds of experience in their working lives, but with the caveat—and I think it is a very important one which I believe this Committee has addressed as well—that that must not be done at the expense of the very clear core values, principles and ethos which bind public service as a whole together and make it different from other kinds of service. With that caveat, I think not only Government benefits from getting different kinds of experience and expertise—and the PIU is part of that, half our membership at any one time is seconded from outside Government—but also there is a benefit to the rest of society if more people working in the wider public sector, local government, business, know how central Government works, that it is not an obscure field which most people do not comprehend.

  862. I agree with everything you have said so far, and I particularly agree with that. How are we going to get it? You are the innovation unit. What is the innovative way to get this?
  (Mr Mulgan) I can only talk about what we do in that respect, because I have no responsibility for personnel policies across the Civil Service.

  863. Until you are appointed to do a study on how to get more people in and out.
  (Mr Mulgan) When we do that I will be delighted to give you a full answer. As for the moment, all I can say is that we are doing all we can to pull in as many people as possible from different walks of life into the PIU. You may have seen that we have advertised in the last week for people from all fields to offer their services, to come and spend six to nine months in central Government. We are very keen not only to get people from across business, voluntary sector, public sector, but also from abroad. We already have a number of people working in the PIU seconded from governments elsewhere around the world. We find that extremely useful. I hope we can to some extent act as the role model or pilot, if you like, for other bits of Government to copy. In a sense, that is part of the broader ethos of working in a very open, wide and transparent way.

  864. I have one last question which draws on something which the Chairman was talking about, which is the Strategic Futures Groups. Roughly how many people in each of the major departments are there in the Strategic Futures Groups? Could you tell us a bit more about them? I know very little. How many are there and how long have they been established? Who is setting their agendas—is it the Secretary of State, or are they generating their own? How does their role compare with what the CPRS has been doing for the whole Government, in this case at a departmental level? Tell me a bit more.
  (Mr Mulgan) I cannot give a comprehensive answer. They are pretty different in kind. The Foreign Office, for example, has long had a policy planning staff. The DTI has a futures and innovation unit which operates with a particular style in a fairly open way. In other departments these units are much more closely tied into core strategy-making by the department and by the Permanent Secretary. So it is slightly hard, it is impossible in fact, to generalise. I do not know the numbers involved as a whole across Whitehall. What I would say is that more and more departments see it as useful to have a specialist function within them which is looking further ahead than immediate policy priorities, which is identifying the factors in their external environment which may help or hinder; and also, critical for our work, looking at more cross-cutting issues at how things which may appear at first glance to be another department's domain may in fact impinge on their work. Often the worst policy disasters arise from not noticing something which appears to be in a different neighbourhood but which actually affects you. So I am afraid I cannot give you an answer on individual units.

  865. Has this group ever met, to your knowledge?
  (Mr Mulgan) The Strategic Futures Group meets in a very low-key, very informal way. We bring in presentations, usually from outside.

  866. That is one from each department?
  (Mr Mulgan) Yes, one or two.

  867. I am trying to get a feel for how many people there are. I know something about the Policy Planning Unit of the Foreign Office which has been around for a long time, as I say, but I do not have any experience of the Strategic Futures Group, and I wondered if you could help.
  (Mr Mulgan) There are one or two people from a range of departments at any one point. At one meeting there might be 20 or 30 people.

  868. Would you be prepared to give us a note? I know you do not have any formal powers in this area, but would you be prepared to send us a note setting out how many people there are on these committees, and any other information you feel you ought to divulge?
  (Mr Mulgan) I cannot see any problem in giving you a note about this particular group. It is a very loose, low-key committee, there is nothing particularly controversial about it. What I cannot do is give you a note on the individual units within departments, their work, who sets their programme and so on, mainly because I do not know.

  869. All right, I will table some PQs. It is jolly hard work sometimes getting information, but are they all always called Strategic Futures Groups?
  (Mr Mulgan) No.

  870. Could you give us a list of what they are called in the case of each department? Would you be prepared to do that?
  (Mr Mulgan) Can I just clarify that. The Strategic Futures Group is a committee, an informal committee made up of individual units across a wide range of departments in Whitehall and indeed beyond, which meets irregularly to share information, ideas, to have presentations from outside. I am absolutely delighted to share information about that group which we convene as the PIU. What I cannot do is tell you in detail about what its members do, what their work programmes are, exactly whom they report to and so on.

  871. Fair enough. Will you send me a list at least of the named headings under which these groups operate in each department?
  (Mr Mulgan) Yes.


  872. If you could send us a note of the areas Andrew is asking about, that would be helpful.
  (Mr Mulgan) Yes, I am happy to do that.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Mr Tyrie

  873. Do special advisers sit on these committees?
  (Mr Mulgan) No, not as far as I am aware.

Mr White

  874. I have a couple of questions to Ann and one final question for Geoff before I move on to Ann. One of the great initiatives the Government set up was a complete review, with quite a number of pilots, but one of the issues that I see that needs to be tackled is how do you turn the pilots into full scale, right across the Government, particularly when departmental budgets are departmental and not allocated to joined-up initiatives? How do you actually tackle that?
  (Mr Mulgan) I think this is one of the great issues involved in making Government more evidence based. On the one hand, in an ideal world, for every new policy we would have a series of pilots which would be fully evaluated and assessed, and then if they worked you would roll them out nationally. In practice, life is too short for that.

  875. There is an election coming up.
  (Mr Mulgan) We have a variety of pilots, pathfinders and so on, which by and large are fully evaluated four, five, six years down the line, but in addition departments try to identify the early lessons, the emerging conclusions, from their work and scale those up. In my view, British Government—and I think this is a common feature in many other governments too—has been relatively poor at quickly enough identifying what works, what are the promising innovations, and then analysing which of those are in fact replicable or not. Often they depend upon a particular individual who has been very creative, or a particular local circumstance which makes it possible to do something which simply is not possible elsewhere. We do not have good ways of identifying and analysing those, and then finally of quickly scaling them up across the country. Some departments are better at this than others, but as a whole our system is rather better at taking a national command and implementing it in a standardised way, than learning from pilots and, as I say, scaling up particular innovations. This is not an issue which is unique to the UK, it is one which, if you talk to many other governments, they are grappling with. It is an issue where we have quite a lot to learn from business, and bodies like the World Bank in the development field, which put a lot of time and effort into thinking about how you understand emerging successes, scale them up and replicate them. I think it would be a fair criticism that the UK Government is not doing this anything like as well as it should be.

  876. Could I move to Ann. My understanding is that you have got the government element of the e-Envoy's Office and that the commercial element is elsewhere, is that right?
  (Ms Steward) That is right, I have the responsibility for the e-Government Group, one of three within the e-Envoy's Group.

  877. I was talking to Cable and Wireless at lunchtime. They gave me their brochure about the GSI project and e-Government. In the glossary at the back it has a whole series of terms such as Government Gateway, GSC, GSI, GSI Extranet, GTS, knowledge network, portals, etcetera, etcetera. Is not one of the problems that e-Government has got that nobody knows what it is, and the language is totally alien to most people?
  (Ms Steward) Our work in the e-Government Group is really trying very hard to present information back to the citizens in a way that is meaningful for them, in a language that is easy to read and that can be understood and relate to their own individual life experiences as well. I think our Citizen Portal is exactly a reflection of that; to be able to present information around what we have termed "life episodes", so that they can actually have greater clarity on that. We continue to work with departments and agencies in terms of the content of the information and services that they have, to ensure that they are presenting it in a way that is meaningful and has greater clarity. Technology does bring with it some of the acronyms and special language that are quite unique to it, but we are trying to break down that difficulty in presenting information in clearer language.

  878. One of the criticisms of the Government's Secure Intranet is that it is purely Government, and that there is a whole local government world out there who would be quite willing to share information with Government, but they can see that they have not got the budgets to set up the links. Government departments are quite willing to share the information with local government, but they are not prepared to pay for the link to get there. How are you tackling that interface between local government and central Government?
  (Ms Steward) We work very closely with local government through their associations, the LGA and the IDeA, particularly our central Government organisation DETR who are the leading authority in that regard. We work closely with them, particularly the LGA, in supporting work which they would have for their own online initiatives. We support them in making available to them any of the work we do on our frameworks, our standards, our strategy documents, in fact any of the work that we do on areas like our Citizen Portal where we have close links with them as well. I think you would be aware that through the recent spending round there has been additional money made available to local government—£350 million—to assist them in getting online as well.

  879. One of the criticisms there has been is that the money that has been available for the investment in technology, in wiring up different departments, has come out of the Invest to Save Fund, and that the total of the money may be larger over time, but because it is split up into very small chunks of invest to save, the best has not been got out of it. Is that part of the criticism of the programme, or is that just somebody who is scaremongering? Do you recognise that picture?
  (Ms Steward) The Invest to Save Fund I think is a very useful and very valuable fund. It has clearly demonstrated the opportunities that various departments and agencies can gain through having access to the additional money to support new initiatives that they could not normally fund to go forward. It is supplemented also with the Capital Modernisation Fund which specifically targets capital investment to be able to go forward in that. I think my colleague might want to add a bit more information specifically on the Invest to Save Fund.
  (Mr Czerniawski) It is part of the intention of the Invest to Save budget that it is really one of these new initiatives, things that have not been done before, trying out ideas and being ready to recognise that some will succeed and some will be less successful. The scaling up of the new ideas is part of implementation. The larger implementation falls back into the standard spending review process. It puts us in the position to sponsor a wide range of activities from which we can learn from industry what works, encouraging a spread across the country.

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