Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1180 - 1199)



  1180. The Chairman certainly pushed you in the sense of capacity building at local level, the sense that Government was not working properly at local level, those sorts of issues, but, of course, there is a distinction between local people and local government.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Local authorities?

  1181. Local authorities. A distinction between community and voluntary organisations. Some can be very large and some are, indeed, charged with delivering Government initiatives at local authorities. I wonder how far your examination has got in that to that degree?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) One aspect of what the Government Offices have got to do, which is very much absorbed in Government policy in relation to deprived areas, is ensuring that there is proper partnership working in individual areas, and in particular the setting up of Local Strategic Partnerships to try to identify for a particular area the strategic direction of the use of money, the provision of services. That Local Strategic Partnership has got to exist whether the local authority is good or whether it is bad. The critical thing, it seems to me, is that Central Government has got to use what power it has got to get all the players working effectively together.

  1182. Where perhaps Central Government has received some criticism, if you like, of all these initiatives, is that it may of course be that ordinary people on the ground are not seeing the delivery of these initiatives because actually there is this other layer after Central Government that is charged with delivery.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) The "other layer" meaning local government?

  1183. Local government.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Some of them are local government but quite a lot of them are not. Sure Start, Connexions, those sorts of area based initiatives do not involve local authorities. Local authorities have got some part to play but it does not depend upon the local authority, the delivery of those initiatives. Education is a different one obviously.

  1184. Yes. Certainly in my area, Sure Start is delivered by the local authority and New Deal for Communities is delivered by the local authority. I am not suggesting that my area has a failing local authority but I am looking at the London context and you will appreciate that I was an Assembly Member for London previously. There is some talk about capacity building.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1185. Do you think that the pressure on Government to deliver and to be seen to deliver means that sometimes we do not actually think about the capacity building over a long stretch of time, we want it to happen tomorrow?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) We certainly feel, particularly having regard to the work of the Social Exclusion Unit and just seeing what is before you with your own eyes, if you do not spend time on capacity building and spend money on trying to build capacity then you are not going to get long-term results. You do definitely need to build capacity in communities.

  1186. How do you think you build that capacity?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think you have got to do it by first of all ensuring that the people who are making decisions for the community have a wider experience of problems. Secondly, trying to get interchange between the policy makers at local level and the policy makers at Central Government level. Thirdly, trying to provide advice to people as to what they can and cannot do, both in relation to their community and with any funds that come. It is a whole range of things, there is no one answer I do not think. It has got to be focused on as a critical problem.

  1187. Do you think in relation to poor people in totally deprived constituencies—and my constituency is one of the few constituencies in the country that is totally deprived, every single ward is deprived, not pockets of deprivation—that there is a tendency for Government at all levels to be over-paternalistic and actually to find it problematic, particularly where schools have been failing consistently over a decade or two, to easily consult the people and ask them what they want?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Are you saying that they ask too much?

   No. When we talk about the initiatives that we have got—
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Things like Sure Start, etc, yes.

  1189. These things are aimed at the socially excluded and, by definition, the socially excluded are excluded. Many of the people charged with delivering these things are over-paternalistic by nature.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) If you are saying it is just the usual professionals who turn up, consult, and then make the decisions, I think there is much too much of that. You really need to get people from the communities you are trying to reach engaged over a long period of time in the process of determining what happens to the community. You have much more experience of this than I. That is very, very difficult to achieve over a sustained period of time because, as it were, the usual suspects on the partnerships tend to be professionals, not necessarily lawyers, social workers, but people engaged on a full-time basis in that sort of thing. You need to think of processes whereby you do properly engage the actual members of the community you are trying to reach, which is difficult.

  1190. When you have got a totally deprived area these people do not live anywhere near it usually.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Not always. From time to time in quite a lot of communities you will meet people who, through volunteering, through getting involved in some community project, do genuinely speak from and within the deprived community.

  1191. That is the issue of capacity because obviously there is also an issue of capacity in the voluntary sector in the community sector.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes, but that is something we recognise that money needs to be spent on because without it you get what I think you are getting at, which is that the usual suspects always talk on behalf of the community in deciding what is best for them. I agree with your analysis.

  1192. How much interaction are you having with deprived communities? How often are you in deprived communities?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Me personally?

  1193. Yes.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I go around as much as I can. Once a week I will go to some region. I will not necessarily always go to a deprived region but I will go to a Government Office and go with them to somewhere which is dealing with the work that they are doing.

  1194. Just one final question. Do you think that the Government has done enough so that ordinary people on the doorstep, Joe Bloggs or Joe Blow, whatever you call him, knows what the Children's Fund is, knows what Sure Start is?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I would have thought if you ask Joe Blow or Joe Bloggs what the Children's Fund is they would not have the foggiest idea, the vast majority of them at the moment. That is more about people not being interested. The Children's Fund is a fund that has not been going for very long. It is about the extent to which people are interested in politics and policy announcements. Are people interested in that?

  1195. I think that poor people are interested in money and a lot of these initiatives are about money in that sense, money for their communities, so they are interested. We perhaps need to do more to get that to them but I am not sure that it is Central Government that is necessarily responsible for that.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Right. Okay.

  Mr Lammy: Maybe local government.


  1196. We need to end very shortly because we have got a second half coming up. Perhaps if I ask quick questions you could give quick answers. Just picking up on David's last point, the question I want to ask arising out of that is: does it matter that the way in which Government programmes are being delivered in areas now are so complex that nobody has a clue who runs anything any more? If people do not have a clue who runs anything any more, does that not by itself have a damaging and demoralising effect on the civic process?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think the two things you said are separate. Complexity of programme itself does not particularly matter if you do have an understanding of who is responsible for whatever the fund of money is, whatever the particular delivery is. I do not think one should focus too much on whether the internals of a programme are complex. The more important thing is: is there a sense that there is somebody who is responsible for making life better, providing better education, ensuring that children under five get a fair deal?

  1197. And the fact that people do not know who these people are, who is responsible for them, where the money is coming from, what they can do about that, makes it a very impenetrable world.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I think it matters a lot because I think the more people do not know about those things, the more they become alienated from all political process.

  1198. That was what I was suggesting. When the Committee went to the North East—and again it is borne out by the PIU Report—we heard endless stories of some of the problems. We heard a senior policeman saying memorably to us "we have now got more PIUs than PCs" and we heard someone telling us how typically on programmes, on a three year programme, the first year was spent trying to set them up, the second year trying to do something half useful and the third year planning an exit strategy. In departments now we have people called consumer champions.
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) Yes.

  1199. Should we not have bureaucracy busters?
  (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) I do not think your question was about bureaucracy necessarily. Sir Michael Bichard and Sir Richard Mottram gave evidence to you referring to the fact that sometimes it is good to be prescriptive. They referred to the literacy and numeracy hour in schools. That was something where teachers had to do something and I bet you many of them complained about it but people broadly perceive that it works. There is a good example of prescribing something which works. There are lots and lots of other cases where the prescription does not work but one is talking about the generality, how can one define what is the right side of the line.

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