Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1160 - 1179)



  1160. The centre may well be the centre of power.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I am not running away from that conclusion but looking at it in organisation of Government terms what you are trying to do is put into the system pressures for a holistic approach rather than simply for achieving individual departmental goals. If you look at the way the Government has developed—this is the process—the Regional Co-ordination Unit, the Social Exclusion Unit, the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, these are all good pressures for a more holistic approach.


  1161. Just on this, I think it would be very useful to have your view on it. You talk about countervailing pressures. Is your view that the countervailing pressures we have now developed and of which we are now at one, is this as far as we can take such countervailing pressures or is it simply the beginning of something that is going to be extended and needs to be extended?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think we know how the countervailing pressures have worked or not. For example, in relation to deprived areas we have not seen how the countervailing pressures have operated on health or education or crime prevention yet because they have not been in place for long enough. We have not seen how Government intervention in deprived areas, the policy emerging from the spending review, has actually worked. The answer is I do not know. We have put these pressures in place but if, at the end of the day, health and education provision still remains focused on average rather than making special provision for deprived areas it will not have worked. I do not know, I think you have to treat it as work in progress that is evolutionary. If one discovers in three or four years' time that floor targets are being met, if you discover in three or four years' time there has been a genuine streamlining of the number of initiatives coming out and the way their bureaucracy works is much better if you are on the ground; if you genuinely see community capacity building then I think you would think that the pressures have worked. I am not in a position to say whether they will or whether they will not because I do not think they have been in place for long enough.

  1162. Is not one countervailing pressure that is needed one that countervails against the Treasury? The Treasury has been a big driver of the whole public service programme locked in through the PSAs. Is it not rather odd, in a way, that the Treasury should be the source of that concerted pressure across Government coming from a Treasury perspective and that some kind of countervailing pressure and a resource centre of countervailing pressure should have been developed to withstand that and offset it?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The Treasury in one sense is always a pressure for a more holistic approach. I do not mean that as a joke.

  1163. No. No.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Holistic, I do not mean by that their lack of expenditure of money, I mean, for example, it is the spending review which produced the Government intervention in deprived areas approach which means that for deprived areas the provision of mainstream services has got to be brought up to something where you are not far away from the average. That is a more holistic approach. I am not quite sure I have adequately answered or followed your question.

  Chairman: No, I think we have had a good exchange. David Lepper.

Mr Lepper

  1164. I suppose I am pursuing the same issue in a way here. A phrase you used earlier was, approvingly maybe, a strong centre within Central Government.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1165. The Reaching Out document talked about changes at Whitehall.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1166. Can you just sketch in for us how far some of those changes have gone? For instance, the document talked about a new Unit, your Unit I take it, superseding the Government Office Management Board.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1167. The Government Office Central Unit and Inter-Departmental Support Unit for ABIs, that process has now happened?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) That process has now happened. There was a board of three departments: DTI, DETR and DfEE that supervised the management of the Government Offices. I am sure that when you went to the North East you would have seen there was quite a lot of DETR, DTI and DfEE people. What you do not want is the Government Office simply to be perceived to be a creature of three departments. In order for it to be effective you want it to be the voice of as many delivery departments as possible. Hopefully, as time goes on, the management will not just be the managers of the RCU, which is cross-governmental, but you will see more departments represented in the Government Offices. So that process has gone on. The area based initiative bit of Government is now in the RCU. The Government Office Co-ordination Unit, I think it was called before—

  1168. Management Board.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) No, Government Office Co-ordination Unit, is now in the RCU. The process has gone through. The old management of Government Offices has gone, it has now been replaced by the RCU which is cross-governmental and so, equally, dealing with the area based initiatives has been brought into the RCU. So we have dealt with the processes of it but that is only a beginning.

  Mr Lepper: I am not clear how far that process of change had already gone. I have jotted down the programmes that are working in my own constituency, which is a long list. I will not read it out because some other Members might be envious of the amount of stuff we are getting.

  Mr Lammy: I doubt it.

Mr Lepper

  1169. So far as I recall, the first support that we started to get in my constituency of Brighton from anything was actually not from Central Government here but from Europe via Urban Funding and, prior to that, Interreg Funding. I want to talk about UK Central Government funding but in some regions European funding is perhaps the cornerstone of what is going on.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1170. Can you see ways of somehow integrating what is happening there with the work of your Unit?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, I agree with that. If you talk to Government Offices for the regions, not all but some, they exactly make the point that you have made, that European funding can be more important than Central Government funding. The obtaining of European funding is made very much easier regionally and sub-regionally if the region, or players in the region, have a better idea of what they can get, which in part very frequently means what matched funds they have got available to them and what other players in the forest are doing. There is certainly a role for the Government Offices, which they undertake in certain regions, in assisting the applications that are made and the monitoring of European Union funding. That is an important role for the Government Offices.

  1171. Is what is now in place a structure which would be very helpful to have in place if we eventually have regional government in England?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) It is neutral as far as regional government is concerned. Whatever steps are taken towards regional government you need a process and a mechanism by which Central Government policy and Central Government delivery is properly co-ordinated and made more effective in the regions because there is not going to be no Central Government activity in the regions. Whatever model you have for regional government you need a well co-ordinated proper co-ordinator of Central Government in the regions. I have slightly avoided that one.

  1172. So it could be helpful if we ever take that future step but, on the other hand, it is a structure that is useful to have in place anyway?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Exactly, and that you are going to need come what may.

Mr Turner

  1173. What influence do you have on Scotland?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Me personally? None whatsoever.

  1174. If we are going to have regional government and devolution, then what is your role?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I have got no role in relation to the policy for regional government. The Government Offices are only in relation to England, as it happens. As far as area based initiatives are concerned, I think they have all been for England and Wales since the Regional Co-ordination Unit was set up.

  1175. I just want to make the point that if you have regional government, and regional government which is fairly strongly devolved, then your role is going to be that much less because if devolution means anything then it means that much more of the decision will be taken at a devolved level.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sure. I would have thought, whatever devolution arrangements you make for the regions, there would still be Central Government policies involving expenditure of money, some of that expenditure of money will be on an area basis, there will still be need for local partnerships, etc., and you would need a voice in the regions to co-ordinate that for Central Government.

  Mr Turner: I suspect that I have just discovered another tension.

Mr Lepper

  1176. Can I just ask one final thing, Chairman. We may or we may not have regional government, but within the system as it exists at the moment, do you see any stronger role for the voluntary regional assemblies? My impression is that they are nice things to have but nobody really knows much about what they are doing and their influence is probably not very strong and not very great.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Where I have seen them in action is in their interaction with the RDAs and in every case in every region they have debated and approved the economic strategy of the RDAs. I am quite loath to get into the area of regional chambers, it is more about regional policy than the role of the Government Offices.

  Mr Lepper: All right.

Mr Lammy

  1177. I did not go to Newcastle but obviously, representing Tottenham, some of the things you have been talking about interest me a great deal. You in a sense are charged with making Government work better. I want to examine the relationship between Central Government and local government and how far you see your remit as stretching through to local government, so it is not just government, it is governance in a sense.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1178. How do you think that some of what you have been doing affects the relationship between poor local authorities and local people themselves?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) "Poor" meaning poor quality?

  1179. Yes.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Sorry, can you repeat the question?

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