Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1206 - 1219)




  1206. Thank you very much indeed to Moira Wallace, Head of the Social Exclusion Unit, and Louise Casey, Head of the Rough Sleepers' Unit, for coming along and talking to the Committee. I am not sure if you know why we want you, I am not sure that we know why we want you, except that we thought that we did to help us with our various inquiries. I do not know whether either of you, or both of you, would like to say something by way of introduction?

  (Ms Wallace) I am happy not to but I think Louise would like to.
  (Ms Casey) Firstly, if I may, I just want to say how grateful I am for the opportunity to be here, believe it or not. More importantly, I thought it might be helpful for the Committee just by way of some opening remarks and to put it in context to say that the Rough Sleepers' Unit was established in May 1999. It was established to achieve a target to reduce the numbers of people sleeping rough on our streets to as near zero as possible, although at least by two-thirds by 2002. Obviously milestones were put in place to monitor our progress towards that target. The target for June 2001, that is the date we are heading towards next, of a third, was met last year, it was met in the summer. As we sit here right now, although clearly there is a tremendous amount of more work to do, we are looking at something like a reduction of almost 50 per cent in March 2001. In terms of the debate on Modernising Government and the Select Committee's concerns in relation to that, I think we would argue that we are heading definitely in the right direction and that is due to some of the ways we have been operating following on from the Social Exclusion Unit's report in 1998.

  1207. Thank you very much for that. Just as in the last session we did not mention the Dome, in this session we will not mention czars or czarinas. I wonder if we have got you here under false pretences in a way because what we are particularly interested in is, how can I put this, not so much all the substance of what you are doing, which is perhaps for other people and other Committees, but what we can learn from you and what you have learned about how Government operates and how it can operate better, because you are both rather special creatures, if I can put it that way, doing enterprises which are not normal as far as the way in which Government works. Can I explore that for a little bit. Can I ask you first of all, Moira Wallace, you are a civil servant, are you not?
  (Ms Wallace) Yes. Do not look so surprised.

  1208. Why are you not a special adviser?
  (Ms Wallace) Why should I be a special adviser?

  1209. I do the questions, you do the answers.
  (Ms Wallace) That was my whole tactic. Oh, darn!

  1210. Why should you not be a special adviser?
  (Ms Wallace) Shall I explain why I think I am doing this job and put it that way?

  1211. Yes.
  (Ms Wallace) I have been in the Civil Service for 15 years, for my sins. I started with the Treasury and I spent the best part of 10 years in the Treasury working on all sorts of things, but including Social Security policy, the co-ordination of public expenditure, and a spell in a Minister's office. In 1995 I moved to No.10, so I had a perspective on how the sum of what governments do adds up to what comes to Cabinet, the Prime Minister, etc. Then I got this job three years ago. The kinds of skills that I bring to this are a bit of a perspective on social policy, a bit of a perspective on public expenditure policy in the round, and some experience of Ministers' frustrations, not just under this administration but also under the last one, about getting it all to add up. I am a civil servant who was thought to be able to do it.

  1212. It is not a question about your vast competence or experience, it is trying to understand why, given the way in which various appointments have been made to different jobs, this particular unit was seen as one that a civil servant could head up as opposed to somebody who might be brought in as a special adviser to head up such a unit. Unless you can explain to me, there is no intrinsic reason why it could not have been done the other way?
  (Ms Wallace) No, no intrinsic reason. I suppose it may have been partly for speed because external recruitment takes so long. It may have also been thought that someone with some knowledge of how the system operates might have more of a chance of developing a new model within the system.

  1213. If I can extend this to Louise Casey, you are a special adviser I understand.
  (Ms Casey) No, I am not.

  1214. You are not a special adviser?
  (Ms Casey) I am a civil servant.

  1215. The same question would apply to you. You could equally well be a special adviser, could you not?
  (Ms Casey) I think perhaps it is a slightly technical question in that my view on what they did in terms of setting up the unit and what my job is is to head up a group of individuals who are civil servants or secondees to deliver a Government policy which has a budget of £200 million a year, which has a mechanism for delivery which fits within the Civil Service in terms of how we are accountable, how we are set up. I am personally accountable to Hilary Armstrong, who is the Minister of State for Local Government and the Regions and the Chair of the Ministerial Committee on Rough Sleeping. To me it makes sense that the job is a Civil Service job. It was advertised externally on a three year contract and I went through an open competition to get it. It is a technical question whether a special adviser holds a budget, runs a budget of £200 million, etc, etc. My own view is the job works extremely well as a civil servant and it is right and proper as part of the Modernising Government agenda that it is so.

  1216. I am sorry these are rather arcane questions but someone may say why is Keith Hellawell, the drugs man, a special adviser?
  (Ms Casey) I am sorry, Moira, if I am stepping in here. Keith Hellawell is an adviser to the Ministerial Committee that manages the drugs strategy for the Government. They now themselves also have a Director of the UK ADCU, the UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordination Unit, who is a Grade 3 equivalent to Moira and myself, who basically runs the budget that they now have and implements the strategy. Basically Keith and Mike Trace, the Deputy Drugs Czar, both have more advisory roles, whereas I am in an implementing role, a delivery role.

  1217. Okay. Let me confess why I have asked you. Because I woke up one morning and listened to the radio—I cannot remember what the programme was, I was in a semi-comatose state—and I awoke to your voice and you were describing to someone what you had learned about the Civil Service and about their merits and demerits and about what has to happen to this system to make it better. I want you to tell us what you have learned.
  (Ms Casey) The programme was Broadcasting House and I seem to recall that I was saying, which I will say now, that I am firmly in favour of the Modernising Government agenda. I was firmly in favour of the Modernising Shelter agenda when I was the Deputy Director of Shelter there for seven years and spent seven years working tirelessly to improve the organisation and to develop more coherent and effective services to people who are homeless nationally. Now I am a civil servant doing the same sort of thing, which is trying to improve the world, trying to deliver a Government policy and a Government strategy on rough sleeping. What I particularly raised in the programme, since they were teasing me somewhat mercilessly I seem to recall about czars, "are you a czar or are you not a czar", was what is important here—I got quite serious for a moment on a somewhat flippant programme—is the mixture of bringing people from outside into the Civil Service and encouraging people within the Service to move up and to develop their skills, which is the most effective way in my experience, only 18 months into the Civil Service here. That has been my experience and I think it has been a very positive one. The mixture of skills base and the sort of energy that brings has actually been quite a positive experience in terms of delivering the strategy on rough sleeping, which is the bit I am responsible for.

  1218. That is very interesting. That is what I vaguely remember.
  (Ms Casey) It is always a shock waking up to me, I realise that. I am going to get killed later. This is all on tape, I hear.

  1219. We will not discuss our private lives. Is the conclusion from this though that you have drawn that there needs to be far greater infusions from outside to shake the system up, people like you, far more of them?
  (Ms Casey) I do not think that is any secret. I have to confess I am probably one of the few people who has arrived before a Select Committee who has not read what other people have said before arriving here. What I do know about is the number of initiatives and drive within the Civil Service to modernise. There is this whole document and whole strategy on bringing talent in and bringing talent upwards, and I am strongly in favour of that. This is not just in Central Government or the Civil Service, people in the 21st Century are trying to modernise a whole series of structures and bureaucracies so that they are accountable to their consumers, all those sorts of things. I am strongly behind what Richard Wilson and the rest of the people in the Civil Service are trying to do to deliver it.

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