Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1240 - 1259)



  1240. Is Mavis McDonald the same person who audits you?
  (Ms Casey) No. The Rough Sleepers' Unit is part of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, we are not in the Cabinet Office, and hence my boss is Hilary Armstrong, who is Minister for Local Government and the Regions within the DETR reporting to John Prescott. My current performance management both personally, unit-wise and of the target lies in the Civil Service normal way, as it were, as you were suggesting, in that we have a PSA agreement which we have as a department, which Richard Mottram is responsible for. We negotiate that with the Treasury. The department has a PSA target to 2004 on rough sleeping, the continued prevention of rough sleeping until 2004. We go through the spending review. We have got the same rigour that Moira referred to from the Treasury in terms of "What are you doing? How are you doing it? How is it monitored?" We are all monitored I think—as I say I am new to this—in the normal way. It is not whether a beacon goes off somewhere and somebody says "they seem okay", it is fairly rigorous stuff. We continually monitor the effectiveness of the strategy as part of the role of the Rough Sleepers' Unit, we monitor the effectiveness of the organisations who are delivering the strategy on the ground in local areas as much as the unit overall. I report to a Deputy Permanent Secretary, Genie Turton, who reports to Richard Mottram. That is my line of accountability.

  1241. Do you feel that if there was a change of Government that you would be able to carry on doing this or, indeed, if the current Government said they wanted you to do something else, do you feel sufficiently interested as a civil servant to go on through a Government change?
  (Ms Casey) Yes, without a doubt. I am a civil servant. It is the DETR's PSA target, I am the Director of the Rough Sleepers' Unit and, therefore, of course, if incoming Ministers, regardless of their politics, wanted to change what it was we were doing, that would be for them to decide, but as it stands at the moment I am a civil servant reporting through the Civil Service to deliver this strategy for Ministers as long as Ministers want that strategy delivered.

  1242. Would you envisage yourself staying on in the Civil Service then perhaps for the rest of your career?
  (Ms Casey) Do you know, they need to make me an offer.

  1243. Are you on a short-term contract?
  (Ms Casey) Yes, I am. Again, I think that is pretty healthy as well. Like Moira, I think there is a healthy discipline in actually reviewing things, checking out whether the problems are the same. I am personally on a three year contract that expires next year.

  1244. This is fascinating. Moira, did you change your contract when you became—
  (Ms Wallace) No, I am a civil servant. I am still formally on secondment.

  1245. Louise is a civil servant and she is on a short-term contract.
  (Ms Wallace) There are loads of civil servants on short-term contracts.

  1246. I am teasing.
  (Ms Casey) I am not a career civil servant, I applied for the job from outside.

  1247. I think this is one of the problems about encouraging people coming from the outside, that you might want to encourage them to leave at some stage and you still have a two class mentality, if I can put it that way. I am talking about the Civil Service as a whole.
  (Ms Wallace) There are advantages in doing it both ways.


  1248. I suspect that they probably will make you an offer which you will not be able to refuse. When you have met your target and there are no more rough sleepers, will we need the unit?
  (Ms Casey) That is partly one of the things we need to look at. I think the problem is changing, Chairman. Obviously the numbers have reduced but there are still human beings who are currently rough sleeping. If we meet the target it is two-thirds but there will still be a third of people out there. We need to look at who is still on the streets in 2002 and we need to be clear that we need to ensure that new people do not end up rough sleeping. So although the job may be done in terms of the numbers, we still need to look at what needs to happen afterwards. I agree with Moira, I think there is a very healthy discipline. You may not need something that you call a Rough Sleepers' Unit but you will probably need some sort of mechanism sort of somewhere to ensure that the problem does not arise again. Again, part of my job is to start looking at what is the problem now, what do we need to do? What my current boss, Hilary Armstrong, is clear about is that she does not want to be complacent about having something because it has been good and let us just keep it running. There is always the danger if something looks as if it is okay, or even if it is not okay, sometimes just to keep it going. We are not going to do that. We need to review quite clearly have we met the target, yes or no, what is currently left, as it were, what is the situation in the world when we have got there, how do we ensure that we have met the target and we keep it there—it is all well and good meeting it but how do you sustain it—and what sort of operation will be needed, and by whom, to ensure that good work continues?

  1249. Thank you very much. There is a lot of discussion now about how Government is going to be reorganised after the election and which departments are going to come and which departments are going to go. One suggestion is that one could transform your unit into a proper department for social inclusion. Would this be a logical progression from a joined up unit to a proper joined up department?
  (Ms Wallace) You know, of course, every civil servant will say that machinery of Government decisions are for the PM.

  1250. You are amongst friends, you can talk freely.
  (Ms Wallace) I would say two things, Chairman. The SEU has just short of 50 staff. Of course I would like to have more resources, who would not, and I am sure they would add some value, but I had not instantly thought of expanding from 50 to 1,000. I do not think you would create a department simply to do the sort of things that the SEU has made its name on. That is the first thing. The second thing is one of the things Government has made very clear is that it thinks that it is the job of just about every department in its own way, its own domain, to tackle social exclusion. I think it would be strange and very unrealistic and perverse to imagine that you could say "tackling social exclusion is the job of this department and not the job of any other". I think that would be very odd. Those are two things from my own experience, if it helps you.

  1251. It is not going to help you very much in gaining a department, is it? I understand what you are saying.
  (Ms Wallace) There is something to be said for not being a department.

  1252. A catalyst.
  (Ms Wallace) I am sorry?

  1253. I said a catalyst but you said something else.
  (Ms Wallace) There is something to be said for focus and nimbleness. We have moved around from one aspect of social exclusion to another. Social exclusion has many dimensions and undoubtedly will have in the future. We have focused a lot on young people, we have focused on homelessness, and the major project we are working on now is on ex-prisoners and offenders, another area with homelessness links. There is something to be said for being mobile.

  1254. You mentioned the review that was done of you in 1999. I think it said that the unit's work "has been on the whole less enthusiastically received inside Government than outside".
  (Ms Wallace) SEU, yes. I thought you might ask about that. That is a very popular quotation. I just want to say to you that I think it would have been very hard for Government to be as enthusiastic as some of the people outside Government have been about the SEU. Some people have said incredibly positive things about it, really quite breathy things about the SEU. I think we have gone down very, very well outside Government for all sorts of obvious reasons, including with people outside Government who felt they did not have anyone to talk to about their issue and they needed to talk to somebody and they found it. Our purpose in a way—this is obvious—is to be a countervailing pressure, to use Lord Falconer's phrase. That is what we are there to be. There are other countervailing pressures that have their place in the structure of departments, such as the Treasury. Institutions like the Treasury or the SEU are sometimes seen by people as an evil, but the question is are they a necessary evil? I will not pretend that they are dancing in the streets when it is announced that the SEU is going to look at this topic or another because often people realise that this is going to herald a period of intense questioning and possibly very difficult targets, challenge and upheaval. There has been a very positive response from some people. It is a new way of working. It is challenging.

  1255. You told us at the beginning, both of you in fact, in a way how relatively easy it has been.
  (Ms Wallace) No, I said easier than many people had expected. Many people expected that it would be impossible, that was how easy some people expected it to be.

  1256. I invited you to describe obstacles and so on and you rather resisted that and said, in fact, people are very committed and want to engage with the project and take it on board and so on. That was why I just asked that. In practice, if that is the case, why then in Government is there clearly some resistance to this energetic cross-departmental initiative?
  (Ms Wallace) I would not describe it as resistance. You can read a lot into the words "less enthusiastic". This is quite ambitious, it is focusing on outcomes, it is a new way of doing things. There are many people who have been in the Civil Service far longer than me who may have seen things like this come and, by implication, go. People are bound to be cynical. There are many, many people who desperately want it to succeed who have pointed out all the ways it could go wrong. In the design of the unit, which was not down to me because I was not in it then, the people who were designing it thought quite hard about what had gone wrong in the past and how to correct it. All the review was trying to say is you do not always find the same breathy enthusiasm throughout Whitehall but I would say there are a lot of enthusiasts. I read some of the transcripts of other people's appearances before you, people like Michael Bichard. We have had a lot to do with his department and he could easily have said "I wish they would get off my turf", but he did not, he said he thought we had done some excellent work, which it was nice of him to say. We have definitely seen a move to where we are being asked to do more than we can do by departments. That is a really noticeable transition. We felt that we were starting to gain a lot of friends when that happened and we are actually having to say "I am sorry, we do not have the resources to do that".

  1257. I am not sure if this is a criticism or an observation but another line would be one that says this unit has done some excellent thinking and we understand these problems much better now because of all the work that you have been doing, but what about the delivery side?
  (Ms Wallace) I am glad you are asking that because I get very cross when the newspapers imply there is no delivery. Louise and her unit have been asked to reduce rough sleeping by two-thirds over four years. Half way through they have reduced it by a third. Well, it sounds a bit on track to me. It does not make a good story but it sounds a bit on track to me. School exclusions: the target was to reduce them by a third over four years and half way through they have reduced them by 18 per cent, again sounds a bit on track to me. Teenage conceptions as far as we can see are on the turn down, the numbers of young people not in education and training for work between 16 and 18 does seem to be on the turn down too. Everything that you would expect to happen if it was working is happening. I can give you an example as a rider to that of a policy where we have had difficulty, which is truancy, but, again, what you would expect to happen is happening. We, the department, the DfEE and the Home Office are working on it very hard to work out what we need to do to make a difference. We are adapting the policy, which is what normally happens when you think you might be off track. As I say, it does make a better story if you can say "well, their reports never get implemented", but it is not actually true, irritating as that may be. We need to spend a bit more time communicating that, but it is not true.

Mr Trend

  1258. In a particular initiative, the truancy one, you talked in that case of mainly one department and targets are set. How are those measured? Do you have within your staff people who say "we set this in train six months ago, let us go and dig it up and see what is going on?" Who is measuring?
  (Ms Wallace) The truancy figures have always been measured by the Department for Education. There have always been statistics and what has happened is we have not seen them move. It has been monitored, as I say, through a variety of tracks, all of which converge on the same objectives. I think Louise made a really important point earlier on when she said that targets of SEU reports are now built into departments' Public Service Agreements. So they are not being pointed in two different directions, the basic business plan reflects what they are trying to do on this. The people who are worrying about the fact that we have not actually managed to make much of a dent in truancy are, first of all, DfEE, the lead department, and, secondly, the Treasury because they provided a lot of money for tackling this and they will want to see that it is working and it is in the PSA. The other department that has an interest or is part of a joined-up approach to tackling truancy is the Home Office, which has all sorts of obvious interests in truants, for example it is a big driver of crime. We will be there because we need to know if something we recommended has not yet worked because we need to learn from that and to do whatever we can to help people come up with—

  1259. If I may put it this way, the traditional Civil Service says you do not have an audit department checking up whether the things you set rolling are working. I understand what you say.
  (Ms Wallace) We have staff in the Social Exclusion Unit whose whole job is to keep in contact with implementation of our reports, and I think that is right, without blurring lines of accountability, without trying to set up some totally different statistical base, which would be a terrible waste of resources, but actually keeping an eye on them without suggesting that in some way it is not the job of the implementing units to deliver. This is a question for the Treasury but I will try to say something about it. The Treasury's relations with departments through spending reviews have changed in a way that I regard as very beneficial in that across Government we are setting better targets. They are very demanding but we are setting targets not just for what we expect to go in but what we expect to come out at the other end. I am sure that is right. We are focusing on actually working out whether it happened and focusing on that as part of the background to the next spending review. In other words, this Committee, PSX, that the Chancellor chairs that considers all of this actually spends some of its time checking up on how we are getting on towards targets. I think that represents a good approach to joining up the Treasury and departments in the joint issue of what money is going in and what is coming out at the other end. I think there is much more of a focus on that, and perhaps there needs to be in the system and I think it is healthy.
  (Ms Casey) In terms of the earlier stuff about the SEU role and coming into this, being the Director responsible for a unit, I would like to make a number of observations really. You may all enjoy the end omelette that you eat but the process of cracking the eggs to get there— Change is not comfortable for people. It was not comfortable when I arrived in Shelter to what felt like two organisations, a campaigning organisation and then people who helped homeless people, and they did not seem to communicate with each other. They both thought they ought to and they felt a bit guilty about the fact that some of the campaigning was not necessarily linked up with the service side, but the process of getting them together, even though cracking the eggs was not always a comfortable process although they wanted it to happen, they enjoyed the final product. Change is not easy for people. Looking at this very much from an outsider's perspective, there are organisations throughout the whole of this country that are trying to do things differently and the Civil Service and Social Exclusion in my experience, and now the Rough Sleepers' Unit, as well as the delivery teams, is the same thing. I think we need to be measured against some of the stuff that is happening in the external world. I too read the SEU feedback and would you honestly be surprised if the welcome outside was up here and the welcome from Whitehall was there. It did not say Whitehall thought it was crap, it was here, it was still positive. You have got to get that into perspective as a starting point. The second thing is who likes change? Few people, apart from nutters like me, love change in their lives. The process of change is always difficult for people. That is what the Social Exclusion Unit has spearheaded doing in a very positive way. In terms of accountability, switching to that, I am very clear who I am accountable to. I am accountable to Hilary Armstrong who, at the end of the day, is accountable to the Prime Minister for delivering the strategy on rough sleeping. The relationship with the Social Exclusion Unit is a two-way relationship. They keep an eye on us and we feed back to them when we are running into difficulties and we may need a helping hand or if we are finding out stuff that we would like them to look at in other areas. Maybe I am using the wrong tone of voice here. I think of course change is difficult for people, of course something like the Social Exclusion Unit cracking a few eggs and tucking into the omelette is not easy, but then you have got the here and now which is that it is a very dynamic relationship between the Social Exclusion Unit and the implementing teams which at the end of the day benefits Ministers.

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