Examination of Witness (Questions 1100
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
1100. Is that still the case?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, that is on course.
We have now got a Unit that exists with an official head, Rob
Smith. We have got in place the proposals and guidance as to how
area based initiatives should be dealt with. The Unit is there,
its structure is there, it has got a ministerial head. I report
to the DPM but there is a huge amount of work to do to actually
make the culture change it is seeking to achieve percolate through
both at Central Government level and through to the Government
1101. Is there a responsible Minister in the
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The responsible Minister
in the Commons will be Hilary Armstrong. Although I am based in
the Cabinet Office I report to the DPM and the person who speaks
on behalf of the Unit in the Commons is Hilary Armstrong.
1102. I am sure this is rather esoteric stuff
but what was the thinking behind lodging your Unit in DETR, getting
a Cabinet Office Minister doing it? Does this not make it all
rather confusing? Why is it not simply the Cabinet Office bringing
together Government joined-up enterprise?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Because, first of all,
you need a group of officials who have got experience in dealing
with the particular areas of activity that you want the Unit to
deal with. Local government is one area where the Unit will have
considerable dealings. It will also have dealings with the Government
Offices, which is something the DETR has done in the past. We
want to make it clear it is a cross-Government initiative. This
is not the only example of where there are officials in one department
but a Minister in another. Another example is the Children and
Young Persons Unit which has Paul Boateng as the Minister who
is in the Home Office but the officials are in the DfEE. You choose
the Department which has some synergy with what is going on but
you put the Minister in a different department because then you
get cross governmental binding. It has not led to confusion. In
relation to a department or a unit whose role is to try to get
co-ordination across Government, it is quite useful that the Minister
is in the Cabinet Office because you are not perceived to be biased
in favour or against particular initiatives.
1103. No. I was wondering really more why it
was not just absolutely a Cabinet Office enterprise but, anyway,
we do not need to explore that. Can I just go back to the problem
to which you are the solution.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not the solution
but I am one of many steps taken to try to contribute to the solution.
1104. The Performance and Innovation Unit Report,
Reaching Out, on all these areas, in a nutshell its conclusion
was "It is an almighty mess", was it not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you go on the ground
you see a great collection of initiatives coming where people
on the ground believe that sometimes the amounts of money they
are bidding for are not worth the problem of applying, the monitoring
arrangements are very heavy. Too many people within communities
are spending their time bidding and monitoring and too little
time is spent actually making the contribution to the community
that is required. You want to try to streamline what Central Government
does and the demands it places on communities in the money it
1105. The Report says "Clear evidence from
those on the ground and from PIU's own analysis that there are
too many Government initiatives causing confusion, not enough
co-ordination and too much time spent on negotiating the system
rather than delivering it".
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
1106. Why did nobody think of this? Here is
a Government which believes in doing good things and is doing
many, many, many good thingslet me go on the recordbut
it is doing it in a way that produces this. Why did nobody at
the outset think should we join all this up?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Every Government, and
in particular this one, is very, very keen to join things up.
At the heart of the problem is that many of the things you are
doing are intended to be targeted on particular bits of activity
in particular places in the country. They are area based rather
than national. That inevitably means you need some sort of bidding
process. Those initiatives, because of the nature of our Government,
will come from the Education Department, the Health Department,
the department responsible for law and order, and they will inevitably
be targeted at particular places and particular fields of activity.
You could not just with a magic wand suddenly say "Here is
X million for deprived areas, sort it out amongst yourselves"
because inevitably you need to choose the places you would send
it to and choose the areas you would send it to. There is an inherent
problem there already. I think we have discovered as time has
gone on that the bureaucratic burden that is raised by many of
these area based initiatives may not be worth the trouble for
quite a number of the people who apply for them.
1107. As somebody who has had to think their
way through this, what have you learnt from this about the way
in which we do Government that produces these consequences? Here
you have a range of departments, it was like putting them all
on the starting block, was it not, and off they went with their
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
1108. All with different funding streams. Despite
the language of joined-upness, it was not happening like that.
Is there not something about Government from the centre which
produces that kind of consequence?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) There will always be a
tension, will there not, if you have a deprived area which has
failed to thrive over a long, long period of time, there will
be a temptation in the centre to think because it has failed to
thrive it needs something from the outside to make it thrive.
From the local or sub-regional level there will be the sense only
we understand what our problem is. It is the bringing together
of those two pressures which will normally produce the best result,
is it not? The difficulty that we had to start with seems to me
to be that we formulated policy too much by reference to individual
departments but we remedied that quite quickly by, for example,
the formulation of the Social Exclusion Unit which is a way of
looking at policy formulation across Government. That does not
deal with delivery across Government and that I think is what
the Government Offices and their reformed role is trying to achieve.
1109. Is it not the case that if there are two
forces that are driving this, one of which is centralism and is
from the centre which will do good things and which will put all
kinds of levers at the centre to produce good outcomes locally
allied to a very strong departmentalism, those two things together
will produce these kinds of consequences?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, and they are dangerous
and you need countervailing pressures in relation to them. The
Regional Co-ordination Unit is a countervailing pressure, the
Social Exclusion Unit is a countervailing pressure. A strong centre
within Central Government is a countervailing pressure because
there you are forcing Central Government departments to look at
things in a holistic way rather than departmentally. Just as important
as that is a voice within Government that is well informed about
what is happening regionally and sub-regionally and hopefully
an improved position of the Government Offices provides a better
informed voice within Central Government about what works on the
ground and what is happening regionally and sub-regionally.
1110. I think what I am putting to you is maybe
there is a problem about the underlying strategy as opposed to
simply how the outturn is. If I can just quote to you for a moment.
There was an interesting article by Matthew Taylor in the Financial
Times on 27 February. His argument really is that the Government
has given little attention to what he calls capacity building
at a local level.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
1111. It has all been done through dirigisme.
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.
1112. Indeed, he says, just to quote him, "For
every civil servant working to build the relationships on which
successful change rests, there is a small army of legislation
drafters, target setters and performance measurers". Is that
not just the case?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think it is.
I can give you chapter and verse of money that has been set aside
in the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund in order to build capacity.
One of the things that the Social Exclusion Unit's Study of the
problems of Neighbourhood Renewal identified as a problem was
building capacity sub-regionally to improve the plight of deprived
communities. If you are saying there are too many targets, there
are too many performance measures, there is too much bureaucracy;
obviously that is right and one wishes to streamline it, but that
does not get to the heart of the problem you are identifying,
does it? The heart of the problem one is identifying is one wants
Central Government to look at the problem holistically, what the
problem may be, and you want within Central Government there to
be a proper connection with what is going on regionally and sub-regionally.
So there is a dialogue where central Government actsthis
is a paradigmas one, and is properly informed about what
is going on locally.
1113. Yes. We shall have to see whether you
and your Unit are able to produce this change from the one model
to the other, will we not?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We will. I look slightly
quizzical because I am not clear what is implicit in your question
as to what the current model is?
1114. The current model I was suggesting to
you was one that was dominated by nations of centralism and departmentalism
and at the centre pulling levers and then things happening locally
without much attempt to build local capacity then with the problems
of co-ordination. I take it your Unit is engaged in trying to
sort that out?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I agree.
1115. Finally on this, on the Unit, so we all
get a sense of how this is to operate, is it simply the case that
from now on no initiative will happen unless it gets past you?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Unit has set out guidance
as to each area based initiative. An area based initiative equals
an initiative where there will be different amounts of money for
different parts of the country. It is, as it were, money you have
to bid for in a particular part of the country if you prove you
have got particular characteristics that justify getting the money,
so New Deal for Communities, Sure Start, that sort of area based
initiative. The process of getting governmental agreement to such
an initiative has got to go through the Regional Co-ordination
Unit which will examine the question: how does this initiative
fit in overall? Is it done in such a way that is most effective
to deliver whatever aim it wishes to deliver? Does it impose too
much of a bureaucratic burden? Can you ally it with other initiatives
so you do not have too many initiatives?
1116. So the answer to the question is, yes,
it has to go through you?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The reason I am being
slightly withdrawn about that is there may be reasons why, after
having discussed all those, the benefits of the particular initiative
are perceived to be such that it should go ahead come what may
but basically in principle, yes.
1117. If people on the ground feel irked by
some of these problems we have identifiedco-ordination
problems, over-regulation, over-reporting, all these thingsare
you a court of appeal? Can they come to you?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The stage at which we
would be involved would be before the initiative is announced.
1118. This is a new system. I am talking about
the world as it is now, with programmes in place. Can people who
are feeling the strain of some of this, experiencing some of these
problems, come to you and say "Look, this needs sorting,
we are just being asked to report too often, to bid too frequently"?
Can you sort all those people?
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Prospectively in relation
to new initiatives we can make a real difference. Hopefully in
relation to what is already there progress can be made in trying
to reduce the sorts of burden you have referred to. Of course,
it will be worthwhile raising these matters with the Regional
Co-ordination Unit. It is really for the future, i.e. for new
initiatives from the date that the Unit is set up that the Unit
is intended to bite.
Chairman: Thank you.
1119. I am really pleased the initiative you
have taken starts to answer some of the major criticisms I have
been getting from people in deprived areas I represent, about
the bidding process and all its complexity. One of the things
that is clear to me is that when you are at the bottom of one
pile you tend to be on the bottom of every pile, you do not have
good education, you do not have good health, you do not have good
housing and all the other social problems. Would it not be better
just to say to those communities "Right you are there at
the bottom of all these piles, here is a bag of money, go away
and use it to deal with your problems. Tell us what you want to
do, give us a programme of what you want to achieve and how you
want to get there step by step and we will just monitor that".
Then you get rid of all this bureaucracy that you have been complaining
(Lord Falconer of Thoroton) First of all, there is
a question about capacity, if there are a large number of communities,
as to whether or not if you just gave a great wedge of money what
would happen. Secondly, what accountability would there be in
relation to it? Thirdly, and this I think is important, in addition
to trying to streamline the bureaucracy that comes from area based
initiatives, we also, as a Government, say it is obvious that
in deprived communities the standard of health and the standard
of education tends to be lower than elsewhere. Instead of trying
to deal with these problems by area based initiatives we should
insist that success in health or education is not measured by
the average provisions for health and education but that in areas
where there is deprivation, ie where the standards are lower,
then health and education, for example, have got to bring their
standards up in that particular area to something much closer
to the norm. So you are in effect saying mainstream programmes
have got to be driven to a level where they produce better results
in deprived areas.