Examination of Witness (Questions 900
WEDNESDAY 17 JANUARY 2001
900. What work is being done on publicising
(Mr Czerniawski) The Citizen Portal is part of a much
broader initiative on UK online and there is another strand of
it which is mainly the responsibility of another part of the Office
of the E-envoy, which is about developing a network of what are
called online centres, many of them based in public libraries
and other public places, that provide not just the technical equipment
to allow people who do not have access at home to get access to
the Internet and start to use it but also an environment of training
and encouragement, because we recognise that this is not just
a question of making technology available; it is helping people
to access it and developing confidence in it.
901. When Finland did exactly what you talked
about they found that 16-year-old kids were monopolising the kiosks
and public portals and therefore they moved to a system where
they involved voluntary groups and went out and got access that
way. They had those kind of problems three years ago. Have you
resolved those problems in the UK or are you going to repeat the
same process that they had?
(Mr Czerniawski) I am not close enough to the detail
of that project to be able to give you an answer on that. I think
perhaps if you are interested in the exact structure of the centres
we could give you a note on it. There will be an awful lot of
local variation. They will not just be in formal areas like libraries.
There will be a range of other people who are interestedprovidersin
providing. Some particularly target at that younger age group.
Mr White: The PITCOM report might be worth reading.
902. Can I just say in terms of the Government's
Internet services the bits I find useful I find incredibly useful,
but it is finding them that is difficult. Anything with a government
suffix strikes me in that way as well. It is still much too complicated.
When I watch my children intuitively find their way around some
mega company site, there is an element which so characterises
Internet as being used to help people, but the Government's Internet
site is very like the government, it is very hierarchical, very
complex and there is a lot of secret information which only people
who really know how to operate it can access. Reading your e-Government
document I have to say it is not terribly informative. It is a
very Civil Service not very modern Silicon Valley approach to
life. It is structural rather than intuitive.
(Ms Steward) Again, I think in terms of the work that
we are trying to take forward it is to look at the opportunities
to be much more innovative and cross-cutting to bring information
together in packages that are more relevant. However, it is a
change programme that we are going through. It is not just from
the centre, it is an overall change programme.
903. Thank you. Mr Mulgan, you got me going
when you mentioned the CPRS. There are various similarities between
you. It started in order to look forward, look outwards, not backwards,
to make policy, to check up on things. It was located in the Cabinet
Office, it reported to the Prime Minister and it turned into the
Policy Unit. In a sense this is another attempt to do the same
thing again. What is your relationship with the Policy Unit, Number
(Mr Mulgan) The CPRS, if I remember rightly, co-existed
with the Policy Unit for eight years at least and had a rather
different role. It was abolished by Margaret Thatcher because
she did not think it was useful any more in 1982-83, I cannot
remember exactly. We have within PIU an entirely different role
from the Policy Unit. The Policy Unit operates within Number Ten,
it operates in a particular set of roles for the Prime Minister.
We by contrast have a pretty demarcated task which is in-depth
policy analysis, strategic analysis of individual policy issues
with quite significant time invested by teams looking at the issues.
The political involvement in our projects comes through having
sponsor ministers who are used as sounding boards and indeed through
the departmental ministers responsible for implementation. There
is a pretty clear division of labour. There are several lessons
for us from the CPRS. One is about the importance of practical
implementation. All units at the centre of government have an
inherent problem in ensuring that what they do achieves change
on the ground, in the real world and is not just about publishing
reports that sit on a shelf. The CPRS was sometimes very effective
but some of their reports did not have very much impact at all.
Equally, any unit like ours has to retain the confidence of the
Prime Minister and other ministers, and if that is gone then it
is very hard for us to be useful. I think, equally, rather like
the CPRS, it is important for a unit such as ours to retain the
confidence of a much wider community and a big difference between
us and them is we operate in a much more open way. The CPRS tended
to publish, at most, one report a year. All of our work is published.
You have been discussing in the last section issues around privacy
and data-sharing. We are now well advanced on a project looking
at precisely this issue of how to balance joining up data in government
and assuring the citizen that they can be confident that data
is not being abused. You can read the advisory group minutes of
that project on the web. The report will be published. We engage
in very extensive open consultations with a huge range of stakeholders
in it, from lobby groups to businesses and so on. That is a big
change in the style of how government works compared to the CPRS
era. Personally I think it is essential for getting better informed
policy making. It also helps at the implementation stage if everyone
in the field has understood the process of thinking.
904. I understand that. I am interested in what
the architecture tells us about the balance of power in government.
The CPRS was certainly content in a pure Rothschild form to attempt
to do a number of things that you do. It became the Policy Unit
really, I suspect, as the Civil Service learnt how to deal with
it. Your remit is to extendthis may be controversialthe
role of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office into departments.
You would understand somebody saying that?
(Mr Mulgan) I would disagree. As I have been trying
to say, we are only successful to the extent that we work with
departments. Many of our projects are proposed by departments.
We try, wherever possible, to get officials from departments onto
our teams to work on a project and then go back to the department
for the job of implementation. We have ministers attached to our
projects to guide them through and then to take responsibility
for implementation. To the extent that we are seen as the centre
supplanting the role of departments, I suspect long run we are
unlikely to be successful and departments will try and do what
they can to see off our proposals and recommendations. I think
that has been the problem with similar units in the centre in
the past, that they have had too confrontational a relationship
with departments. It is true we report directly to the Prime Minister.
There are clear advantages in terms of our overall authority and
credibility, but there is also a very practical advantage in that
we are located within the Economic and Domestic Secretariat in
the Cabinet Office which enables us to be much more plugged into
the day-to-day workings of government with an overview of what
is happening right across government, which would be harder if
we were an entirely detached unit within the Cabinet Office. So
for all of those reasons I hope that we have struck the right
balance between being part of the centre, having a clear line
of reporting accountability to the Prime Minister, but equally
working in a pretty collegiate and consultative way with all departments,
with officials and ministers. I would emphasise that government
is in many ways a collaborative exercise and works best to the
extent that there is wide understanding of the issues and a wide
buy-in to the proposals that come out of the projects of the kind
905. You mentioned that the standing and authority
of your work is due to a certain extent to the direct link to
the Prime Minister. How does that work? How often do you see him?
How is your relationship with him structured?
(Mr Mulgan) I do not think the issue is particularly
how much we see him. We report to him through Sir Richard Wilson.
The projects which the PIU does are commissioned by the Prime
Minister formally and are reported back to him, and he decides
what then happens to them, if they are put into effect, and so
forth. In practice, much of the work of a unit like ours is done
in correspondence rather than by face-to-face meetings. I would
also emphasise that all of our conclusions and the great majority
of PIU projects end up in reports which are published as government
policy, not as recommendations. Those go through a process of
collective agreement. Again, all of the ways in which we work,
the very collaborative and open way we work, is in part designed
to ensure it is easier to secure collective agreement for what
are often quite radical proposals.
906. But the process of collective agreement
has changed over some years, and has increasingly changed in the
last three or four, in that the Cabinet no longer meets for the
length it used to do, and it no longer seems to have the same
sort of function. The disagreements between the various ministers
who are responsible in the end to Parliament appear to be exorcised
in different ways, perhaps in rather less transparent ways than
used to happen. That must cut across the whole Civil Service and
make units like yours potentially much more powerful in confusing
where responsibility liesin a political sense, not in a
Civil Service sense.
(Mr Mulgan) To the extent that all of our reports
lead to very precise recommendations and tasks which are allocated
to individual departments, those Ministers make absolutely sure
that they have a say about what they are then going to be tasked
907. Will they come and see you?
(Mr Mulgan) We will go and see them. One of the reasons
we have a sponsor minister attached to every project we do is
to ensure that they play a role in brokering agreement between
ministers, ensuring that everyone is fully involved right from
the start and that so far as possible there are not too many conflicts
and bust-ups and as far as possible the Prime Minister does not
need to be involved in acting as referee.
908. I think that is a change in that not so
long ago people would have gone to see the ministers. I suspect
in this the ministers have to work much harder to stop other units
from doing things that they perhaps do not want to do or would
cause problems with relationships with other departments, and
therefore the feeling that the centre is becoming much stronger
must be increased by the sort of work you do. It may be efficient
but it may not be accountable.
(Mr Mulgan) I think accountability is absolutely clear.
If what you are implying was the case it would be surprising if
departments were proposing that we should take the lead responsibility
on topics which were within their remit, which is happening to
a considerable extent at the moment.
909. If the Prime Minister wants to do that
through the extension of his operation of patronage, ministers
will oblige him.
(Mr Mulgan) What I am saying is that they are making
proposals, off their own bat, of topics which they would like
the PIU to do which are often topics related to their department's
responsibility. They think that taking a cross-cutting approach
to it, and the PIU approach, would have a better prospect of achieving
results than doing it in a traditional way within the department.
I would emphasise that the first thing we do when we are starting
any project is we go and talk to all the ministers with responsibility
for that area. I do not think we could be successful long run
unless we did that.
Mr Trend: It seems to me that under the camouflage
of a horizontal exercise we are in fact getting a vertical exercise.
910. They do not say "get off our patch"?
(Mr Mulgan) When the PIU was establishedand
I think the same was true of the Social Exclusion Unitthere
was not necessarily huge enthusiasm in departments about what
appeared at first glance to be parts of the centre coming and
taking over their responsibilities. One of the successes of these
central unitsand this is a success again which I can take
no credit for because it happened when I was not responsible for
themis that they have established sufficient credibility
and legitimacy that most departments, ministerially and officially,
see that they are adding value. They are helping to solve problems
which are not easily solvable within the traditional mechanisms
and traditional vertical structures of departments. That is quite
a surprising result. Two or three years ago I would not have expected
there was the same support for these central units across Whitehall.
911. When your bit of the process ends, the
project teams dissolve, it is handed over to a department to run
with it; is that right? You do not have a role in pursuing what
you have done through the system? Because we have heard from task
forces that they sit around in a joined-up way having interesting
cross-cutting thoughts, they deliver the products of these deliberations
to the system and the system in a "systems way" manages
to absorb it in a traditional departmental way. Why does that
not happen to youor does it?
(Mr Mulgan) No, for a number of reasons. First of
all, because our reports are published as government policy not
as recommendations. Most task force reports are published as recommendations
to government. Ours are only published after collective agreement
by the ministers who then have to put them into effect. Secondly,
because the reports contain detailed recommendations, are clear
who is responsible for carrying them out, are clear about the
timescales within which they have to be carried out, so there
is transparent public accountability. Thirdly, because they generally
have identified a time period within which a named minister or
more than one minister has to report back to the Prime Minister
overall on how the recommendations have been implemented. Finally,
because, wherever possible, we try and tie in the conclusions
of reports into the definition of PSAs, SDAs and spending review
processes, so that the PSX machinery can take over some of the
role in following through implementation.
912. The Wiring it Up report, which was
extremely interesting, is due to be reflected in implementation
about now. Is it being and how should we know it has been?
(Mr Mulgan) I would like to ask Stephen Aldridge,
who played a leading role in writing that report, to comment on
that. We are due to have a report on progress early in 2001, as
you will be aware. That report has already had a huge effect on
how Whitehall works, how budgets are set and so onagain
rather more than one might have anticipated at the time. Perhaps
Stephen would like to comment.
(Mr Aldridge) In terms of impacts and outcomes to
date, the submission that we tabled gives some indication of the
sorts of results that have been achieved to date. Just to summarise
a few of them. The cross-cutting approaches were followed up in
the Spending Review. We had some 15 cross-cutting reviews. The
proposals for cross-cutting objectives and targets have been picked
up in the various Public Service Agreements30 of the 160
targets in the 2000 Spending Review are shared between departments.
The Spending Review took into implementation the proposal for
a cross-cutting budget to the Policy Innovation Fund of £50
million for 2001-02 to support cross-cutting initiatives, and
many of the specific proposals in Wiring it Up have been
taken forward as part of the Civil Service reform process. There
was reference earlier to the need for interchange between the
Civil Service and the non-Civil Service worldthat proposal
has been taken forward.
913. In a nutshell, whose responsibility is
it for ensuring that those recommendations are implemented?
(Mr Aldridge) The responsibility for implementing
recommendations is shared between the Cabinet Office, Treasury
and the Civil Service Management Board. The Chief Secretary to
the Treasury and the Minister for the Cabinet Office are due to
report jointly on progress early this year and that progress report,
to which I think you are referring, is currently in hand.
914. Could I try one last thing on you. It is
partly picking up what Michael Trend was asking about. You have
had experience of central government in Number Ten. You have now
moved to this extremely important unit thinking strategically
as a civil servant. Is it the case, as you see it and as you have
experienced it, as is often said and said to us in evidence here,
that the strategic centre of government in Britain is too weak
and that is a weakness that has to be remedied? Some people suggest
it should be remedied by an ostensible Prime Minister's Department.
Some people think Michael's suggestions take you down that road,
suggesting somehow Prime Ministerial tentacles were going out
and making a Prime Minister's Department by other means. My question
to you is does your analysis tell you there is a strategic weakness
at the centre of British government and, if so, why do we not
remedy it in a full frontal way rather than by assorted devices
to get at the destination we want to arrive at?
(Mr Mulgan) It is probably not for me to give a comprehensive
answer to that. I think one of the reasons why bodies like the
PIU have been set up is a recognition that there is a strategic
problem at the centre of British government. Whether "weakness"
is quite the right word or not I do not know. Implied in the question
is whether it has powers and authorities or whether it does not
have enough powers and authorities. To some extent the issue is
one of capacities. It has long been recognised that the centre
of British government, particularly Number Ten and the Cabinet
Office, has in many respects lacked sufficient capacities to be
strategic, to innovate, to do the policy work we do, to keep track
of what is happening in reality on the ground in a whole range
of service areas and a huge variety of things which the government
does, and that it lacks particular capacities, for example, in
ensuring that the ways in which technologies are organised are
professional and more strategic. There is a variety of other areas
that one might mention. A lot of what is happening at the moment
is trying to remedy that lack of capacities within the centre.
Whether that is best done by naming departments in a different
way or drawing the boundary lines between Number Ten, the Cabinet
Office and the Treasury a different way is a slightly less interesting
question than the question of what they actually do and what skills
they have and how those are organised together across the centre
of government as a whole, as I said earlier. A personal comment
on some of the earlier very interesting discussions in this Committee
is that I thought they were not quite posing the question in the
right way, fascinating as it is to speculate about different kinds
of Prime Ministerial Department.
Chairman: I think that is a note we should end
on. I think with you telling us we are not posing the questions
in quite the right way would be a appropriate place to end. It
has been a very interesting session, a fascinating life episode.
Thank you very much for coming along and talking to us and we
wish you very well in your new post. Thank you very much indeed.