Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1260
WEDNESDAY 7 MARCH 2001
1260. I am a teeny bit apprehensive whether
Hilary Armstrong is accountable to Parliament.
(Ms Casey) She is.
1261. We are in the business of trying to work
out how to make Government work better and you are in the business
of making Government work better. What we are trying to get from
you all the time is what you have learned from this experience.
If we want to make Government work better, we want it to deliver
better, we want to make it join up better, from your joint experiences
so far of doing things in these rather different ways, can you
sum up for us what you think the lessons are from that in terms
of how you might build on these experiences and take them further
(Ms Wallace) I will try very quickly to say things
that I think are important. There is a word that has come up again
and again and again in what we have both been saying, which is
"outcomes". It is very easy to see that in a long list
of things that Government is supposed to do and not take on board
what it means. It means to judge everything we do by what happens
on the ground out there. It is quite hard to make it sound interesting
but it is a really important touchstone, a really important thing
to keep your mind on.
1262. But as we are doing that, are you saying
that there is more of that we should be doing?
(Ms Wallace) I think it is just a principle that should
guide everything and it is something that should certainly guide
targets. That is the first thing I would say. It should really
guide everything you try to do in the Civil Service. Is it going
to make outcomes better? It is a question you need to keep asking.
Second, I have got a very strong view that actually if you want
better policy you need to invest in it. That is about giving people
the skills, giving people encouragement and also giving them the
time and the clear remit to look at something with a clear goal
in mind. Something that I feel strongly about is measurement and
information. We have not really touched on this. Making sure that
we have good, up-to-date information and that it is read and that
it is talked about throughout Government, throughout Parliament,
about what is actually going on in terms of social exclusion is
one of the most important things we can do, so we are not relying
on out of date statistics or anecdote or impression. That is something
that I think is quite important. As a civil servant I would say
I really hope for a debate that helps to bring out the best in
the Civil Service and not to pigeonhole civil servants as incapable
of doing things that actually they are very capable of doing.
I do not just mean me, lots of people. The Civil Service has got
a lot going for it, it needs to be encouraged. Coming back to
your point in a way, I think that it would be a real mistake to
imagine that making civil servants more accountable made Ministers
less accountable, or Ministers less accountable to Parliament.
I actually think that a few civil servants being identified, being
responsible for policies, there is no harm and a lot of good in
that. I do not think it undermines the role of Parliament. I do
not think Public Service Agreements undermine the role of Parliament
or undermine the constitution, they are all good things in terms
of making sure that Ministers, whoever they may be, can get this
machine to work for them in a really effective way and that the
people who pay their taxes, who pay our salaries, are getting
the services that they deserve. Did I get to a rant at the end?
Chairman: It was a very helpful rant.
1263. Do you understand the anxiety, it is a
distant anxiety at the moment, of people who feel that direct
accountability, ie through the ballot box, is being gently eroded
to people who are in effect managers? This is an extreme case
but the tyrant wants to have no politics, wants to have good managers,
and the tyrant will wish to manage well and will not want to have
division of power but will want to have centralised funnelled
powers. One of the joys of the Civil Service, and indeed of Parliament
and the various other institutions of state, is that division
of power is so cunningly and artfully arranged by accident that
people find it very difficult to over-extend their powers in an
arbitrary fashion. If you do end up with people who are accountable
in this sense but not in a real sense to the people who could
get rid of them if they do not like their policies, as they have
done with Governments in the past, then we lose
(Ms Wallace) I think you are misinterpreting what
I said, or maybe I was not clear. All I am saying
1264. I was asking if you understood that point
of view. If you think it is totally nonsensical you should say
(Ms Wallace) All I am saying is that I think in order
to get better accountability Ministers need to be able to rely
on a Civil Service that gives them good policy outcomes, manages
it well and implements it well. We need a Civil Service that does
that, that is really all I am saying, a set of systems that encourage
that level of responsibility.
1265. When you go down to Brighton and do things
with the council and all the rest of it, in the end it is the
council and the MP who will get it in the neck at the ballot box,
although they may have had nothing to do with it.
(Ms Casey) They have a tremendous amount to do with
it because the local authority in Brighton, which is controlled
by the elected members, is responsible for delivering the strategy.
What they get from us is a tremendous amount of support and money
and advice to do it. Lynette has just stood down but if you were
to ask the Leader of Brighton City Council I think she would see
herself as very, very firmly When I say local authority
leadership, I do not just mean a couple of officers who decide
they want to sort out rough sleeping, I mean political leadership
locally is also important.
1266. What you were saying, if I understood
you correctly, was that you want more visible accountability for
(Ms Wallace) No. I think accountability is a word
that means thousands of different things to people. I am always
saying this within Whitehall, that you do need occasionally, if
you have got a very complex policy objective that requires an
awful lot of co-ordination, to make sure that you have got a management
structure in place that will deliver that, so that at the end
of the day Ministers will not actually think "I was told
that six things were going to happen that would add up to deliver
my policy objective and I do not know who I look to now to tell
me that those six things have happened or to tell me if there
is a problem with one of them". That is all I am saying.
I think you need to make sure that there is a bit more clarity
about some of the co-ordination. We have always tried to do that
in our implementation arrangements.
Chairman: We must stop, but if social exclusion
fails, if rough sleepers fails, things are so evolved that you
two are in the firing line because you have become far more visibly
associated with these projects than you would be if they were
simply being delivered by normally invisible bits of the Civil
Mr Trend: There is a recent parallel in education.
1267. Is this not just so?
(Ms Casey) No. I genuinely believe that what this
does, if anything, is put the Ministers more in the frame. I can
only speak for myself but what I do is in the area of rough sleeping
no stone is left unturned by anybody who is interested in it,
and Hilary and her Ministerial Committee have to be responsible
for that. As Moira was saying, John Hutton, who is our champion
Minister in the Department of Health, looks to me. When everything
is going around he says "So what is happening on this, Louise?"
They hold us to account. I feel very held to account obviously
by Hilary, because she is my boss, but also by a group of Ministers
who want to know the checks and balances of whether their bit
is actually pulling or not pulling towards me at the time.
1268. When you say that, you have to admit that
in terms of civil servants you are extraordinarily visible civil
servants. People associate you with the Rough Sleepers' Initiative.
You are the public voice, the public face, of the Government's
Rough Sleepers' Programme, which is a most unusual position for
a civil servant to be in.
(Ms Casey) As Moira said, it is not the only example
of that. You have got a number of people that the public may or
may not know are civil servants. There is the Highways Agency,
the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Vet at the moment all the
time. All those sorts of people are up there describing and discussing
Government policy in their specialist areas. I am part of that
group of people that do that. I am very tied into making sure
everything I do and say has been completely agreed by my boss.
I am very clear on that and she is very clear on that. The other
thing is Hilary has a huge portfolio to manage. She is trying
to do local government, other areas of social exclusion, neighbourhood
renewal. I am just one tiny thing amongst many of the things that
she does, but I am a figurehead for which I am accountable, in
the same way there are other civil servants who do that.
1269. I am enthusing about your role, I am not
wanting to play it down. Do you want to say something else?
(Ms Casey) Just something that has not come up today.
When we are working cross-departmentally, that is where the joining
up has to be most important. There are lots of things that happen
because they happen vertically within departments. My view is
do not join up for the sake of it, join up when you have identified
the problems that need a joined-up solution. Let us not get all
trendy about the place and start joining up every two seconds
flat. Moira is absolutely right on this, everything we do is outcome
driven and that is a cultural shift. That is not just a mechanism,
it is a cultural shift which is right. Then you get clear priorities
and you have to have an agreed strategy that everybody has signed
up to to deliver against that priority. You have to have flexibility
to manage it along the way and, therefore, that gives very clear
accountability. Whatever models you advocate, to me those are
the key elements of the way forward.
1270. That is exactly the note to end on. Thank
you very much for coming along. I think we have learned an awful
(Ms Wallace) Oh dear.
1271. The reason we particularly wanted you
to come along you have demonstrated in the conversation we have
had and we shall look carefully at what you have said.
(Ms Casey) Oh, oh.
Chairman: And draw upon what you have told us.
Thank you very much for giving your time and the best with your
work. Thank you.