Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1260 - 1271)



Mr Trend

  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 into Government?
  (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actually going on in terms of social exclusion is one of the most important things we can do, so we are not relying on out of date statistics or anecdote or impression.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.

Mr Trend

  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 so.
  (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 civil servants?
  (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 Service.

  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 lot.
  (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.

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