Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1020
WEDNESDAY 31 JANUARY 2001
BICHARD, KCB AND
1020. I obviously misheard you, and some other
word was used?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Michael Bichard told me in advance,
"Don't be provocative," he said, "be like me."
1021. We had Michael Heseltine in, the other
day, and I do not know whether you read his evidence, or heard
his evidence, but one of the points that he made was that the
Treasury should be dismembered, and, in view of the aside that
you nearly made, or perhaps only thought, which somehow communicated
itself across the room, a moment ago, I wonder whether you would
like to comment on that?
(Sir Richard Mottram) First, I should declare an interest,
that in my youth I was his private secretary, when he was the
Secretary of State for Defence, throughout the period that he
was at Defence, so I do have an idea about his views; and I did
read them, as it happened, I thought they were characteristically
expressed (he says, in his Civil Servicey way). Do I think the
Treasury should be dismembered. No, I do not, and I think that
there are important macroeconomic policy issues which are the
responsibility of the Treasury, there are roles in relation to
public expenditure, broadly defined, which could be done in the
Treasury or could be done in an office of management and budget,
or whatever, so you could split the Treasury up, if you wanted
to. Do I feel passionately that we should split the Treasury up,
no, I do not.
1022. I am so pleased to hear that, because
I well remember the tremendous sparring that used to take place
between you, when you were the PFO at the Ministry of Defence,
with Steve Robson, where you would come in, asking for money,
and you seemed to love coming to the Treasury in those days?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I used to come alongside my
Minister, to get the budget that we needed to deliver the Government's
1023. Yes, I am terribly sorry, I did not describe
exactly what happened in the room, I forgot all about the politicians.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I remember that well, yes.
1024. I have got one last question, if I may,
which isI am sure you have read this article by Sir Michael
carefully; one other suggestion he makes is that Permanent Secretaries
should have targets, and that those targets should be quite rigorously
enforced, and that there should be NAO oversight of performancewhat
do you think about that?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I think that Permanent Secretaries
should have targets, the Permanent Secretaries' targets should
be, essentially, the high-level targets of the Department, that
the Department should have a very clear set of objectives and
targets linked to that, that, ultimately, that package of measures
should be agreed not just with the Treasury but with the Prime
Minister, and that the Prime Minister should agree what he wants
with the relevant Secretary of State, and the relevant Secretary
of State passes that on to the Permanent Secretary. Now that is
broadly the system that we have, that I am very clear that I am
delivering a whole set of policies in the DETR, and programmes,
including delivery on the ground. I am accountable to the Deputy
Prime Minister for this, he, in turn, has a very clear sense of
his accountability to the Prime Minister. These targets and my
performance against them also go into a system that goes to Richard
Wilson. I am entirely comfortable with that, I think it is a very
sensible system, I have no difficulty with it whatsoever.
1025. We were going okay there until you said
it is broadly the system we have. When I read this article, if
I may say so, Sir Michael, it does not sound to me as if you are
happy with the system we have, it sounds as if you want something
quite radically different. Did I misread it?
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think we have sharpened up
the system a bit in the last two years. I think we have reduced
the number of targets for individual Permanent Secretaries, and
I think we have ensured, it has been ensured, that those do, as
Richard said, relate to the key objectives of the Department.
If the key objective of my Department is to raise standards of
literacy and numeracy in schools, well, it does not seem to be
unreasonable that that should be one of my key targets, if it
is one that I can influence. I think you are seeing more of that
happening now. The point I made about the NAO was not in relation
to individual targets. It was my view, it is my view, that the
NAO should take, and be encouraged to take, more of an interest
in the quality of performance management, business planning, within
Departments; now not all of my colleagues agree with that. We
do now have a peer review process, which, as I said, we have just
exposed ourselves to, I just happen to have felt, when I wrote
that article, that not enough people were interested in the quality
of management within my Department and that that was something
the NAO perhaps ought to take a bit more of an interest in.
1026. So would you apply best value to Departments?
(Sir Michael Bichard) Well; that is a leading question.
I do not think you need to apply best value to achieve what I
was suggesting in the article.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I am afraid I did not fully
answer your question, so if I could just answer the last point,
about NAO validation. I have no difficulty with NAO validation.
All I would say is that, a number of the targets that we have
in my Department actually are underpinned by statistics generated
by the Office of National Statistics, or superintended by them,
and there is no possibility that, where we are being measured
in that way, either in relation to targets or indicators, that
they are validating, we need the NAO to validate them as well.
They can validate the process, I do not mind that, but we do not
needs lots of validators where these things are already being
done in a very open and above-board way, by people
(Sir Michael Bichard) That was not the point.
(Sir Richard Mottram) No, I know, I was not suggesting
it was, Michael. So, fine, let us get the NAO involved, but only
if it is adding a value that has not already been added by somebody
else looking at them. Do you see what I mean?
1027. Just while we are dismembering things,
what about the suggestion that we abolish Permanent Secretaries
themselves, this idea, particularly associated with Peter Kemp,
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes.
1028. That was a Civil Service "yes".
(Sir Richard Mottram) That meant "no", actually,
Chairman, not "yes".
1029. Civil Service "yeses" always
mean "no". That there is a confusion of roles here,
and why do we not just split apart and have a Chief Policy Adviser
and then a Chief Executive, and then these two strands will be
(Sir Michael Bichard) No, I think it would be disastrous;
and I go back to the point that Mr Tyrie was making, that, actually,
what we should be concerned about is both policy and delivery
implementation, and we need to ensure that the two are tied together.
Some of the biggest disasters that one can think of, over the
last 50 years, have been because we have not delivered policy
effectively, I think the point you were making, some of the others
because it was bad policy. But I have no doubt whatsoever that
you need someone who can ensure that those two are brought together.
I need to make sure that the people who are making policy do take
time to be informed by those who are delivering the policy in
JobCentres, or in local authorities around the country; so I think
you do need someone. And I do not accept the point that sometimes
has been made, "Well, yes, but you need someone who is superhuman,"
I just do not believe that; well, you can tell that from the two
of us, can you not, really?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Absolutely. I know Peter very
well, I took over from him as a Next Steps project manager, and
so on, and he has been saying these things for a number of years.
I think they are fundamentally wrong. I think that Ministers,
Heads of Departments, ministerial heads of departments, look to
have a permanent head of a department who can perform a whole
series of roles for them. The way in which that process has changed,
over the years, is certainly that, in relation to, say, my Department,
and no doubt Michael's as well, all the policy advice does not
come through me and has to wait in a great queue for me to fiddle
around with it and add a wise comment on it, or whatever, there
are very clear delegations. I am managing that process, I am trying
to quality assure it for Ministers, I am trying to look for the
way in which it does not join up coherently the policy, the delivery,
the experience of people, of what we are giving them; and it makes
sense to try to do that in someone who has the experience of having
worked in Government for a while, it helps Ministers as they come
in and go.
1030. Sir Richard, we had Michael Heseltine
last week, as was said before, and he was on good form, of course,
and we were talking about the Cabinet Office, and that it was
a "dumping place", and particularly himself, when he
was asked, he said, it was the "worst department I have ever
served in". You were there; what is your opinion?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Perhaps I could make clear that
I was not there at the same time as him, actually. I will have
to be cautious about what I say, because these things can be so
misinterpreted. I am a completely non-political person, but it
would be true to say that I quite enjoyed working with Michael
Heseltine, if people can take that in a non-political way. I am
a totally non-political person. So it would have been rumbustious
fun, if I had worked with him, because I think he is an excellent
Minister. I do not know why he said that. My guess might be that,
actually, he likes having a capacity to get his hands on things
and really make them change, and he was pulling on some levers
that were a bit sort of spongy. I do not know, he has never spoken
about it; but I just do not know, I did not overlap with him.
When I was in the Cabinet Office I thought we made very considerable
progress in relation, I do not wish to boast, to the things we
were responsible for, which were public service reform and, in
those days, science policy. I certainly enjoyed my time there,
and I think we moved things forward.
1031. It was interesting, because he has been
in one or two Departments, Michael Heseltine, in his time, and
it is interesting that he singles out this particular Cabinet
Office for some criticism. And I am just wondering if it is the
way it is worked, or I think somebody said it was becoming presidential,
sort of thing, rather than parliamentary; would that be right?
(Sir Richard Mottram) All I did was read the transcript
of what he said. I do not think he thought that it was presidential
when he was there, because he was the Deputy Prime Minister, and,
as far as I could see, from the vantage point I had within Government,
he had an extremely good relationship with the then Prime Minister,
and neither of them claimed to be the president of anything. Perhaps
he missed not being the President of the Board of Trade, perhaps
that was the point.
1032. I will take that as a final answer on
that one, I am not going any further on that one. The other question,
Mr Chairman, is, when we talk about joined-up government, I would
not mind the two views, if it is possible; joined-up government
delivers services where they are being delivered, especially in
local government. What is the best way to get that joined up,
because we hear joined-up government time after time after time,
where we start with local government, to regional government,
to central government, how can we get all of that; is there a
simple way, with the Civil Service, or is it going to be a bit
(Sir Richard Mottram) How do we get joined-up government
1033. All the way through?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes. It is difficult but not
impossible to get a much better understanding between central
Departments in Whitehall and the Government Offices about what
the Government is trying to do, in relation to local government.
I think that is something we are actively working on, a group
of people in my Department, working with every other Department,
to get that sense of cross-cutting policies and more effective
delivery on the ground at that regional level, and obviously I
am talking here about England. What we are trying to do in relation
to local government is a number of things. One is to have a much
more constructive relationship with local government than it had
perhaps reached by the late 1990s, and I think we have made considerable
progress there. So there is a positive relationship between the
Government, all the Ministers in the Government and representatives
of local government. There is, I think, a good relationship between
Permanent Secretaries and the leading chief executives, etc. So
we are trying to build more confidence about what we are trying
to do. Then I think we are trying to say to local government,
"Think about your role in different ways, think about how
you can contribute to community development, in ways which are
not exclusive, which involve partnerships, in which you have a
key role to play; you help join up on the ground." Now, if
you are going to make all that happen, you have to then, I think,
give them some scope to work in a co-operative way with us, which
is not a top-down way but which is a dialogue. And, in all sorts
of ways, we are trying to strengthen that relationship, for example,
through local Public Service Agreements, and so on, to get a new
dynamic in the relationship between central government and local
government which produces things central government wants, delivered
locally, in ways which meet the needs of local people.
1034. Is that for a single public service delivery?
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes; but it does not have to
be a single public service to do it, but what it does have to
be is, and I read some of the evidence that came before your Committee
on this, it has to be a public service where people who work in
central government have respect for and understand where people
who work in local government are coming from, and the way to do
that is by many more occasions when they work together, joint
training, all those things. What you do not have to have is a
single public service, which would be terrible, because people
who work for local authorities, they work for local authorities,
and, in my view, quite right, too.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think it is a mistake to think
that there is a simple solution to this; if there was a simple
solution, it would have happened. And that is why, I was saying
earlier, there are a lot of different things you need to do, and
I mentioned some of them, but let me mention just three. I think
the leadership which is given by the Secretary of State and the
Permanent Secretary is critical; if the messages that are going
out to the departments are, "You need to be outward-looking,
you need to be concerned about partnerships, you need to understand
that you cannot deliver what we want you to deliver on your own,"
then that will, over time, have an impact. That is one thing.
The second thing is more interchange. Actually, one of the problems
has been sometimes that there has not been a common language,
people working in governmentI know this is a bit simplisticand
people working in local government have not had a common language,
they have not been brought up in the same milieu, and that,
I think, has been a problem. So I want more interchange, maybe
suggest secondments and exchanges, so that people respect and
understand what is going on. The third, which is incredibly tedious
and boring, is, let us make sure that individuals are assessed
on the basis of the partnerships that they are developing, the
joint working that they are involved in. Very often we say this
is terribly important, but you look at someone's individual job
plan and you will not see any reference there to joined-up thinking,
or developing partnerships, and people take signals from that;
if it is not in their job plan then it cannot be that important,
they cannot really be that serious about it. You have just got
to keep making the point, this is really serious stuff; "I
want examples at the end of the year of what you have done to
join up your thinking with local government, with other departments,
and I will assess you on the basis of that, amongst other things."
(Sir Richard Mottram) Absolutely.
1035. Andrew Tyrie asked both of you to comment
on the issue of target-setting for Permanent Secretaries, and
you did, and I was interested in what you had to say. And I think
the suggestion, certainly from Sir Michael, was that the criticisms,
or the implied criticisms, perhaps, that he raised about that
sort of issue, in his article, have been addressed since then,
and there was a rather more rigorous system in place. In that
article, the impression I got was very much that the Prime Minister
was a driving force in bringing about that change; is that so?
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think what the Prime Minister
has done is to make clear that he believes that the key objectives
of a department should be reflected in the Permanent Secretary's
objectives and targets. And I think it is possible sometimes to
produce a set of targets which are important but do not, in my
case, relate to literacy and numeracy standards, the New Deal
and the numbers in the New Deal. I think people do need to be
focused sometimes, and they do need to be told, "I want your
targets to be the ones that really matter, and I want them to
be measurable," and in the past they have not always been
measurable, and I think the Prime Minister did make clear that
that was what he wanted. And, I said in the article, I think that
was an entirely helpful contribution.
(Sir Richard Mottram) I know you have spent a lot
of time thinking about the powers of the Prime Minister, and all
those sorts of things. What everyone in the system likes, I think,
is the opportunity to go along with their departmental Minister
and to discuss with the Prime Minister how they are getting on.
I do this in relation to some of our policies. It can be quite
an interesting experience, particularly if you are the hapless
individual who is in charge of Transport. But that is what we
want, you want that sense of accountability, you want the sense
that your Minister is going to be held to account by the Prime
Minister, and that you, in turn, are going to be held to account
by your Minister; that is a good thing, it is a very good thing.
All I would say is, and I agree absolutely with what Michael said
about targets, and thinking about the important ones, if I have
a slight nervousness about this, I think, some of what we do is
really quite intangible, and the biggest job I think that we have
actually is to try to lead our organisations, encourage people,
so that they deliver. My view is, which kind of makes for quite
a dull and depressing week, if things are going well, in DETR,
which most weeks, of course, they are, I leave the people who
are enjoying the success to get on with it and bask in the success.
Well, actually, I do try to remember to say to them, "Well
done!" I only deal with the subjects that have gone a bit
pear-shaped. And some of that is a bit intangible, and you risk
that it becomes a bit sort of vague; but we have to recognise
that is a big part of our job, to make sure that the organisation
delivers and people below us get the credit for doing it.
1036. It is a bit late in the day to ask for
any speculation about the future of DETR, perhaps, but at the
risk of doing so?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I am happy to speculate about
the future of DETR.
Chairman: No, I do not think we will do that.
You have given us a nice glimpse into these Prime Ministerial
exchanges; presumably, he says, "Sir Richard, it's not going
too well, is it?", and you say, "No, Prime Minister."
You are going to be saved by the bell, in a minute, because there
is a vote that is about to happen, and, rather than just try to
disrupt, I think we will have an accelerated finish, if we may,
and then that may be just the next few minutes, so if the division
bell goes, that is the answer.
1037. There is going to be a debate after this,
a debate on the police, on the local government settlement, and,
just looking at the other end of the telescope, from the local
government viewpoint rather than from the central government viewpoint,
one of their criticisms is that there is far too much prescription
from the DETR, and I hope I have got these figures right, that
the overall settlement is about 7.9 per cent, and 2.5 per cent
of that increase is hypothecated, and only 5.4 is unhypothecated,
(Sir Richard Mottram) Roughly speaking, yes.
1038. Two to one. And actually that has been
growing. So this does not seem to me to tune in with what you
were saying about local government having a better relationship
with the DETR, a freer relationship, and a relationship in which
they are allowed to deliver the services on the ground?
(Sir Richard Mottram) I can assure you that local
government does have a better relationship with the DETR, and
if you got them in here and invited them to talk about that they
would, I think, say they do have a better relationship with the
whole of the Government. What is true is that there is a very
active debate with local government, with the LGA, within Government,
about the extent to which the grants for local government should
be ring-fenced. Now why is it that the Government is ring-fencing
things, because, it goes back to the point that I was making earlier
and I think Michael was making as well, a compelling interest
in delivery. So Michael wants money for school standards, to go
into schools, to be spent on school standards, and there is an
issue about the extent to which that goes in, therefore, to ring-fence
pots. The view of my Department is that, over time, we should
be cautious about this process, because we want to have a responsible
relationship with local government, which is responsible, and
to ensure that they are tackling some of these issues that drop
down between our little silos; so, as a Department, we would be
opposed to ring-fenced grants growing still further in importance.
Now all this is actually out for consultation, currently, in the
Green Paper on Local Government Finance.
(Sir Michael Bichard) All I know is that I do not
think you can measure the quality of the relationship between
local and central government on the basis of what is hypothecated
and what is not.
1039. No, I was not suggesting that.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think the relationship has
improved, I know that sometimes there are tensions, I actually
think there should be some tensions, and I think the relationship
that we have tried to develop, as a Department, with local government,
has been a business-like relationship, based upon delivery. Because,
at the end of the day, what really matters, as I think we would
all agree, is the education, for example, that kids are getting
(Sir Richard Mottram) Yes; but they would articulate
this grievance, you are right.