Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1220
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
1220. Your discovery is that the Civil Service
is less effective than it might be because it does not have the
volume and quality of infusions from outside at the moment that
it might have?
(Ms Casey) That is not quite what I said. What I said
was I am fully behind modernising the Civil Service because I
think in terms of what the Civil Service is now trying to achieve,
it has set itself a number of targets in terms of trying to modernise.
One is bringing talent in, one is bringing talent up. One is performance
management and change, emphasis on communication, greater degrees
of openness. All those sorts of things I would sign up to. In
terms of particular policies, such as rough sleeping, it was important
to us at the beginning of the unit when we were first established
in May 1999 that we had secondees in from other Government departments,
we had someone in from Social Security, we had someone in from
the Department of Health, we had someone in from the private sector
at that stage, a different group of people. Now we have got a
slightly different balance of people and over the lifetime of
the unit so we will change the personnel in order to keep our
focus on delivering the target. We are a mixture of civil servants,
of people from outside, but all the time what I am responsible
for is making sure that the target is delivered to Hilary Armstrong.
1221. Could I ask Moira Wallace the same kinds
of questions. There is an argument for greater movement in and
out and the refreshing effect this has on the service. As someone
who is a seasoned civil servant, is that an analysis that you
(Ms Wallace) Yes, I would. It is something the Civil
Service has been trying to do for a very long time but you need
to try quite hard because there are all sorts of pressures in
the system that make people want to hang around, be near their
home department, out of sight out of mind, issues like that, that
make people sometimes a little bit cautious about moving out.
The pressure is building up and I think now most people feel that
they would like to spend some time outside in their career and
it is perfectly natural that people will come in and join the
Civil Service at various points. I would also say that I think
one can make too much of a distinction between people who have
been civil servants all their lives and those who have come in
more recently because actually you can cross-fertilise skills
and attitudes in all sorts of ways through a lot more contact,
through all sorts of joint working, that helps people see those
perspectives without taking two years out of whatever they are
doing outside to come into the Civil Service or vice versa. I
just say it is not all or nothing, there are all sorts of ways
to widen people's perspectives, which is what it is about.
1222. Can I just ask you one further question
because this goes directly to the kind of work you have been doing.
You are the exemplar of joining up in Government and of cross-departmental
working, your unit is the chief example of what the ambition is
in this area, and what I want to know from you really is how difficult
or how easy you have found it to work across Government developing
an integrated programme? What have been the obstacles and difficulties
that you have found? How have you tried to overcome them? What
are the remaining tasks? If we wanted to continue to develop cross-departmental
initiatives within Government, what have we learned from the experience
of the Social Exclusion Unit about how we might do this?
(Ms Wallace) I always get nervous when people describe
us as the exemplar because then you are setting yourself up for
failure. I think we have had some successes and had a lot of help
to achieve them, which is the first thing that I ought to say.
It does not make good copy to say that actually it has not been
as difficult as everyone imagined, but that is actually the case.
We have had an awful lot of backing from an awful lot of sources.
Obviously from the Prime Minister. Obviously from an awful lot
of Ministers and from a lot of individuals in departments and
from Permanent Secretaries. You may say "well, she would
come here and say that", but actually I could come up with
example after example of people who have said "thank goodness
there is actually someone at least to give this a bit of priority,
to find a bit of time for it". It has not been as difficult
as some people imagined it would be, and perhaps as I imagined
it would be. I think there are some things that we have done that
have worked particularly well and I would recommend to others
if they are trying it. One is that we have the resources to look
in detail at some very knotty policy problems. That is our sole
job almost. We are not trying to squeeze it into the end of a
day that has 20 other tasks in it. I think that has allowed us
to get into some of these policy issues in more depth and understand
what is really going on, why some of these things have resisted
solution for so long. I think that is the really important lesson,
that if you want better policy you have to invest a bit of time
and resource in the policy development process. Second, we have
taken some risks in actually being very open about the way we
have worked. Just writing people letters and saying "The
Prime Minister has asked us to come up with ways of halving teenage
pregnancy, have you got any ideas?" The answers are not necessarily
going to be in Whitehall. We have been very open in going to people
who work with the problem or who are actually experiencing the
problem and trying to find ways to see it from their perspective
and understand it, and understand not only how they see the problem
but what they think might have made a difference. I think that
is very important. That is something that Whitehall is doing more
and more. It does, of course, create risks if you are out and
about all the time asking people to come up with ideas that someone
will in some way or other twist that against the process. The
third thing we have done that has been very important has been
to focus on the outcome you want. What would it take to actually
get school exclusions to go down rather than up, as they had been
doing? What would it take to reduce rough sleeping, which had
kind of got stuck? What would it take to reduce teenage pregnancy?
If you want to focus a group of departments on what might be some
quite difficult things to do, I think that is the only way to
do it because otherwise you get a kind of consensus policy making,
"let us pass the hat round and let us all come up with something"
whether or not it actually has a chance of solving the problem.
You need to reverse the balance onto what would it actually take
to make this much of a reduction in this problem which we all
agree is a problem. That focus on outcomes is something that is
a very good discipline in the policy making. The fourth thing
I would recommend to others is sometimes there is a risk that
civil servants are so anxious not to over-commit their Ministers
that they do not actually offer them ambitious choices, they assume
"our Minister would not want that big a solution", or
maybe the money is not there. There is a bit of a cultural tendency
not to think big. Partly because we have had the time, because
we have had a lot of support from the Treasury in terms of resource
and spending reviews, and we have got the PM's interest, we have
had time to think that maybe there is a problem here that actually
needs a whole new source of funding that does not exist at the
moment, maybe there is a problem here that requires a change to
certain departmental structures, which is quite hard for departments
to propose themselves. We try to avoid the risk of putting options
to Ministers that are so diluted that nothing is going to make
a difference to the problem. Those are things that I think have
helped us. The risk in a way is the one you have identified, that
there has been an awful lot of social policy in the last three
years, for all sorts of reasons, and it is very necessary that
we make a difference to some of these problems, but it does mean
everyone is trying a lot of things in parallel. One of the things
that is happening is that you are now seeing structures that are
an attempt to brigade those solutions. Just to give you an example:
we work quite a lot on problems affecting young peopleschool
exclusion, teenage pregnancy, people who leave school at 16 and
do not then go into anythingand we have come up with some
specific things focused on those specific problems that we think
will make a difference. We also began to realise that there was
something systematic lying behind this which was if you grow up
poor and you do not do very well in school, or you do not even
go at all, if you have got a set of personal problems and you
have not got a lot of resources and advice to help you through
then you are actually at very high risk of all sorts of things
going wrong. We did not really have any holistic solutionsorry,
first piece of jargon, I apologise for thatany solutions
that were addressing all the things that could go wrong for young
people in that situation, so we said maybe we need to have an
overarching strategy and maybe we need to actually find a home
for this in Whitehall, hence trying to find a home for that in
the DfEE and trying to brigade what might otherwise be quite bitty
initiatives into something which is more strategic and allows
those things to be seen as a piece. That is a very long contribution.
1223. It is extremely useful. Could I just ask
one further thing. Do you think the fact that you are the Prime
Minister's creature, so to speak, is crucial to the seriousness
with which the unit is treated across Whitehall?
(Ms Wallace) I think it helps but I do not think that
this sort of work always has to be done in a unit that reports
to the PM. For example, some of this work, comparable work or
related work, has been done in cross-cutting spending reviews
led from the Treasury and some of it, including some work that
we have encouraged, has been done in cross-departmental groups
led somewhere in another mainstream department. Involvement of
the PM is crucial early on, all PMs do this, in saying "this
is an issue that we really need to step several rungs up the ladder
quite quickly. It needs to be taken seriously. It will challenge
us all, but this has to happen". I think sometimes only the
PM can do that that quickly.
Mr Lepper: Could I ask Louise Casey, you will
be aware that the Rough Sleepers' Unit has considerable influence
in my constituency of Brighton and Hove. Sorry to refer to my
constituency again, Chairman.
Chairman: Near an election we quite understand
1224. You must all come and visit Brighton and
Hove as soon as possible. I have no doubt about the importance
of the funding that has helped provide an infrastructure to tackle
street homelessness locally in terms of hostel accommodation and
then bedsit and flat accommodation as well for people who come
back into a settled way of life. What has sometimes concerned
me - and really this is looking at the opposite end of the spectrum
from that which the Chairman has been asking Moira Wallace aboutis
the business of co-ordinating the work of so many agencies at
local level: housing, social services, health, local agencies
working on drug dependency and drug abuse, the police, the voluntary
sector. Could you just give us your view on how successful perhaps
the Rough Sleepers' Unit has been in managing the co-ordination
at the local level, or encouraging others to manage that co-ordination
at the local level?
(Ms Casey) It is both. I think one of the challenges
that was set for us within the Social Exclusion Unit Report
There is a great line in it that talks about accountability of
the voluntary sector. I think you refer to it as being on a more
contract basis, money in, owt comes out, and some of the discipline
that might have been there between, say, a local authority that
grant aided or service level agreements or contracts that often
were at play in the public sector were not necessarily there between
either Central or local government and the people they were funding
under the previous Rough Sleepers' Initiatives and that was one
of the things they said we had to change, and change we have.
Critical to the success of rough sleeping strategies locally are
the local authorities. There is no doubt in my mind at all that
where local authorities have shown leadership and owned the target
and wanted it to happen, we have seen results. We have seen results
in all areas of the country where the local authority has said
"yes, okay, we take this one on. We would like to see the
target, we will head to the outcome. We will start at the outcome,
which is how are we going to reduce the number of human beings
who are sleeping on our streets in Brighton, in London, in Manchester,
wherever, and work back from that in terms of trying to then co-ordinate
the voluntary sector". My perspective as somebody who was
in the voluntary sector before taking on this job is that there
was a lot of co-ordination for co-ordination's sake previously.
A lot of people sat in large fora and talked about important work
they must do and they were doing a version of what people accuse
Whitehall of doing, sitting in their silos, as people often use
that word, and saying "Well, actually, no, we are doing a
bloody good job providing drug services in Brighton. Will you
leave off, we are doing a good job". Other people would say
"Actually, we are running hostels and we are doing a good
job running hostels. Enough, Casey, go away". Then someone
else would say "Actually, no, we are doing good outreach
work". What the rough sleepers' target did was say "glad
you are doing a good job, that is fine, nobody is criticising
you for that, but how do you think in your local area you are
going to take the 50 people", which is I think where we started
out at Brighton, "and work back not only with that ongoing
number of 50 but all the new people who might be coming into that
figure at any one time and work back from that in terms of co-ordinating
your services?" We have very much supported local authorities
in those areas in doing it. In some areas, and Brighton is one,
we have actually funded a full-time person who has moved over
from Portsmouth Local Authority to go in and do that work within
the chief executive's office. In Cambridge there is a woman there,
I think she is Head of Homelessness, and a portion of her job
is to make that happen. The process is the same as it is in Whitehall,
it is a clear priority that is focused on the outcome. "What
is the outcome we are trying to achieve? Okay, we are all there
on that, we agree we want that to happen, what are we all going
to do, whether it is the Department of Health nationally or whether
it is that drugs project locally, to deliver on that priority
and then take some ownership of that and deliver on it?"
I think the best examples around the country where we have seen
the numbers drop is where that has happened most effectively.
1225. Even where it happens effectively do you
think that the Rough Sleepers' Unit has a role to play in resolving
any of those tensions that might be an inevitable part of securing
(Ms Casey) Yes. We will resolve, and do resolve, any
tensions or difficulties that stand in the way of delivering that
target. That is often, however, supporting local authorities in
actually pulling the right players together and having the right
discussions. Sometimes it is talking to the voluntary sector about
why they are being funded, what outcomes we are expecting for
the money that is going in on behalf of the taxpayer, "What
are you doing? Why are you doing it? How do you fit in?"
That is different in different areas. Some local authorities have
strong individuals who are able to do that, who have the time
to do it, other areas need more support from the Rough Sleepers'
Unit. There is a great guy called Ian Brady, who is one of the
Deputy Directors in the Unit, whose job is to do this fieldwork.
The two of us are on the road a lot of the time, backing up local
authorities, meeting people, trying to work out what the problems
are. We are trying to give the people on the ground the decision
making power to try and make a difference. If we just rolled into
town all the time they would think the only thing that ever happened
was when the Rough Sleepers' Unit arrived and that would be a
mistake. We have to make sure that there is local accountability
for the target and that local organisations who are funded feel
they have got some control over how it is developed and implemented.
1226. Can I just clarify something about the
Central Government part of it. Which Government departments are
most involved in that co-ordinating process at a national level?
(Ms Casey) Hilary Armstrong chairs the Ministerial
Committee that has the key departments on there. Obviously the
Department of Health, the Home Office, the DfEE, the Ministry
of Defence because obviously people leaving the Armed Forces are
one of the largest feeder groups into rough sleeping and homelessness.
We have done some stunning work in 12 months with the MoD, really
good stuff. Who else is on there?
(Ms Wallace) Us.
(Ms Casey) Of course. The most important person on
there, obviously, is Moira Wallace. Our work is two-fold. One,
it is obviously to deliver the numbers on the street and, secondly,
it is to make sure that those people are not coming back on to
the streets again. In training, education and employment, the
DfEE is extremely important to us. The Home Office is important
to us because they run prisons and who arrives on the street -
people coming out of prisons. MoD are important to us because
people leaving the Armed Forces are a feeder group into homelessness.
Care leavers are a feeder group into homelessness. We work very
closely with all of those. They are the groups represented on
the Ministerial Committee and they all take ownership of it. DSS
are also on there, they are terribly important. Each of those
Ministers describes themselves as champion Ministers for rough
sleeping within their departments. They go back to their departments
with their officials and make sure they are delivering on things,
they come up with ideas, they come out on to the street, they
visit projects. There is a great deal of ownership at ministerial
level of both the target and the strategy.
1227. One final question, if I may, to Moira
Wallace. I am avoiding the use of that word "exemplar"
(Ms Wallace) That is a relief.
1228. There was a time during 1998, I think
it was, when in a lot of speeches I made locally and nationally
to organisations I used to say one of the most important decisions
historically that this current Government will be seen as having
made is setting up the Social Exclusion Unit. Do you think I would
be right to give it that degree of historic significance?
(Ms Wallace) That is a toughie.
1229. Is it?
(Ms Wallace) Whenever I see remarks like that I give
them to my secretary and I write on them "file obituary".
1230. We do not normally allow Members to read
their old speeches.
(Ms Wallace) The evening is becoming more exciting
as it goes on is all I can say. I think it was important. I think
it did send a signal, but I do not think it was the only thing
that sent a signal. We are a small unit, we have been given a
lot of privileges, including where we sit and patronage and stuff
like that, the support of all sorts of people. I would not over-egg
it but I do think that it sends an important signal. I do think
it has given us a chance to try a different way of making policy
in an area which has always been quite difficult.
1231. I am fascinated to know from Louise Casey,
and I understand The Guardian calls you a czarina, which
side of the fence is better from your point of view. You obviously
have an overriding interest in this issue. Did you have more power
and influence as leader of a pressure group or as a civil servant?
Have you got more done after the move?
(Ms Casey) That is a really tough question because
(Ms Casey) As Deputy Director of Shelter I was proud
to work for an organisation that created the number of people
we helped. I am very proud of what we achieved as an organisation.
In this job I am reporting to a group of Ministers who have already
seen a time when there are 50 per cent less people sleeping in
our doorways and we are well on track, God willing, with a lot
of tough work ahead, to actually see a time when we do not have
to have human beings dying in our doorways at three o'clock in
the morning. That motivates me in a way that I can barely put
into words. I am privileged to have this job. I was privileged
when they offered me this job in the Civil Service. It is not
the only thing I want to do in life but it is an important contribution
we are making at the moment. I think we are learning lessons about
what we could do. All the time we have been part of the SEU initiative
that means that we are feeding back into the SEU all the time
on the things we are learning. I am really pleased with the stuff
we have done on people going into prisons and coming out of prisons.
We have fed all of that back into the Social Exclusion Unit. Yes,
okay, I am privileged and hopefully part of a great team and a
great bunch of Ministers who will deliver the target on rough
sleeping, but we are feeding stuff in, learning in. There is a
bit of Government now where I can stick that into Moira and say
"Look what we have learned, look what the difference is".
I am sorry, this is very un-Civil Service speak. This is the best
(Ms Wallace) You have already used the word "bloody"
you know, we are going to have to talk about that.
(Ms Casey) I am sure it is going to be taken up later.
(Ms Wallace) You get the chance to take it out, it
is all right.
(Ms Casey) The side of the fence I am on is actually
working within Government has given us a chance to develop a policy
but to develop more than that. To actually impact into the lives
of men and women who are currently in the Armed Forces, we got
the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces to do what Moira
wanted them to do and now we cannot stop them, now they want to
do loads more. They want to tackle things in all sorts of ways
because of the way it has gone on. That is fantastic. I would
never have been able to do that personally as part of the voluntary
1233. We had Geoff Mulgan before us and he said
that he was frustrated at the way that the machinery of Government
works. You must have felt that inevitably.
(Ms Casey) I think if you talked to the guy I used
to work for at Shelter he would say that I was always frustrated,
I wanted to change things and wanted change to happen where change
was appropriate. In the Civil Service I am not working in an organisation
of 500 people, I am working in an organisation of, I do not know,
I suppose thousands, loads of them, and, therefore, the bureaucracy
is much greater and with that goes the frustration of trying to
make change in a bureaucracy. The upside for someone like me,
however, is that some of the frustration around the speed, that
sometimes it takes time to get things agreed and turned around,
means that you end up with a better decision, means that you end
up with a greater sense of ownership of what it is that you have
done. I know that may sound weird coming from me, you probably
expected me to turn up here and say "Oh, my God, I am so
frustrated" and I am not because, if you look at what Moira
described, they went off and had time to look at a problem. We
have had time and it has been important that we have got people
signed up to some of the things that I might be frustrated about.
Rather than just haring off in a direction trying to make a bit
of change, we have got a lot of people signed up to that. It is
frustrating, it takes time, but the product we get is a lot better.
1234. The change that has happened is that formerly
a Government Minister was obviously the front personI am
thinking of Sir George Young -so the responsibility fell on a
politician, but now if you wake up in the morning and hear someone
talking on the radio it is more likely to be you than Hilary Armstrong.
(Ms Casey) It could be both. Again, I have a lot of
time for what Sir George did in relation to my little world of
rough sleeping. I think Hilary leads where she thinks is appropriate,
I lead where it is often at a more detailed level. We have agreed
a position and we are quite happy with how we do it.
1235. You said earlier that all Prime Ministers
want to prioritise certain things and get a grip on them and pull
levers and sometimes it is a rather courageous decision, sometimes
it is the sensible thing to do, but what you do in your unit would
formerly have been done on a much smaller scale but perhaps as
effectively by a policy unit. The Prime Minister would have gone
to the policy unit and said "I want some action on this issue"
and they would have the same sort of entreé and patronage
behind them as you have. You are a larger version of what in part
the policy unit might have done.
(Ms Wallace) There is some justice in that. It could
have been a policy unit or it might have been someone in one of
the Cabinet Office Secretariats. I can think of exercises where
an issue would either blow up in some way publicly, "how
can we pull this together suddenly", or the Prime Minister
would say "I am concerned about such and such and I would
like to see some work on it and it is clearly the work of several
departments". The policy unit could pull it together or someone
in one of the Cabinet Office Secretariats might do that. The huge
difference is just the scale of the resource that we have got.
In saying that, I do not mean to suggest that we have loads of
time to sit around all day but what I am saying is we can go into
the problems in much more depth in the sense that we actually
have time to go and talk to people who are affected by it. We
have time to get out of London. We have time to seek out research
evidence and, occasionally, even to commission new research evidence.
I think that gives you a deeper insight into some of these really
complex problems that people have. There is this cycle that if
one thing goes wrong something else goes wrong and to try to get
to the bottom of why these things happen I do not think is something
you do in a week and a half or even three weeks if you have got
other stuff to do.
1236. All I am trying to suggest is that a little
while ago on the Rough Sleepers' Initiative, the Prime Minister
would say to a Cabinet colleague "you are in charge, your
neck is on the block, go and fix it" and he might have said
to the policy unit, she might have said to the policy unit, "can
you please go away and work hard and I will give you extra resources
to work on it". What appears to be happening nowI
am not saying this is good or badis that the Prime Minister
is building around him an office made up of units, and we have
seen a number of these units, which is the most obvious manifestation
of a joined-up approach to Government but which has problems in
terms of accountability through Parliament, how you replace people
who have been elected as the responsible person with people who
have been appointed by the Prime Minister, and we have a sort
of Prime Minister's Department already in existence, which maybe
is right, I am not saying it is not.
(Ms Wallace) I think I would disagree with a number
of elements of that. I slightly disagree with the distinction
you drew between Sir George Young's role and Hilary Armstrong's
role in the sense that each is as accountable as the other. What
is happening is that civil servants like Louise and me are actually
being encouraged to go and talk about some of the policies that
we implement. There have always been civil servants who do that.
The Chief Medical Officer, who is a civil servant, appears as
an expert all the time on television and probably always has.
There are always people who do that. I think you are saying you
can do that a bit more. One of the purposes of this, I am quite
sure, is actually to make us realise that there is an accountability
here to the public, and, of course, civil servants should not
become political figures or usurp the role of Ministers but there
is no reason why they should not have a turn explaining it because
it will make them realise the complexity of some of the issues
as well as Ministers do. I do not think there is a difference
in the role of Ministers. Coming to what is the difference between
the Rough Sleepers' Initiative as it was before and as it is now,
I think what was added by the policy development occurring not
only in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regionsand
we worked very closely when we were developing the policy on this
with the DETRwhat is different is that actually by coming
from outside we added a bit of a lever over some of the other
departments that could help make the solutions more successful,
either by adding in health, drugs or alcohol or mental health,
or perhaps by blocking up some of the routes into rough sleeping.
Very strikingly a huge percentage of rough sleepers come from
care, prison and the services. To get those departments involved
is new. To get departments involved in helping to re-integrate
people once they have been picked off the streets, to integrate
them into normal life is new. Having someone involved from the
centre helps that.
1237. So there are a number of units, most of
them coming to the Prime Minister. Who assesses these units, who
monitors their performance? Are they assessed in a traditional
Civil Service way or is there assessment in the end based on whether
the Prime Minister thinks they are cracking the problem and wants
them to crack it?
(Ms Wallace) What do you mean by "assessed"?
Do you mean in terms of should they be funded?
1238. Are they doing the job they should be
doing? Are they successful? What are their outcomes?
(Ms Wallace) I would say that actually we are almost
assessed by more tests. First of all, the Treasury has no more
appetite to spend any more money than it needs to on the Cabinet
Office than it does on anything else, and they ask some pretty
good questions of the Cabinet Office as to whether the things
in the Cabinet Office are adding value. That is the first thing.
It is just like being in any other department, the Cabinet Office
has no special privileges in that regard. The second thing I would
say is because we were an experiment, we were deliberately set
up on a time limited basis and that is very rare in Government.
I think it is rather a healthy thing, that if you do not find
some people who think you have added some value then maybe you
will be out of a job. We were originally set up for two years
and we were reviewed in a process that interviewed people out
there, as it were, from voluntary organisations, lobby organisations,
researchers, all sorts of people, asking "have they made
a difference", but also people around Whitehall, and it came
to the conclusion that all the signs were good but the thing should
be kept under review. I am very happy about that. We will be reviewed
again in two years. That very rarely happens to bits of Whitehall.
Whitehall tends to grow and then things just sit there. It is
quite hard to stop something in Whitehall. But we have a sort
of permanent axe over our head.
1239. Apart from the people from the Treasury
who come in and ask you disciplined and complicated questions,
do you have an annual review by the Permanent Secretary? Does
your head of department audit you?
(Ms Wallace) We are reviewed all the time. My performance
is assessed by Mavis McDonald. She is the civil servant who actually
determines how much I get paid next year. We also see the PM from
time to time and he continues to assess whether he thinks we are
delivering on what we doing. I would say that is as well as normal
accountability, not instead of.