Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
WEDNESDAY 1 MARCH 2000
JOHNSON MP, MR
20. You do not think it would be useful to show
them an early draft, given that that is the body, outside this
place, that has the expertise to give valuable comments on what
happens in Whitehall?
(Mr Grice) We have had several communications from
the Royal Statistical Society since the publication of the White
Paper to which we have given responses. We shall certainly take
into account some of the valuable points that they have made.
21. Minister, Dr Holt announced his resignation
in June last year and said that he intended to leave at the end
of the year. The end of the year has been and gone and he is still
there. How has that come about?
(Miss Johnson) In fact, when we were discussing the
potential new arrangements in which ONS was involved in formulating,
Dr Holt decided he would not want his contract renewed and that
he would take that as an opportunity to do other things with his
working life. At that point he said that he would go when we had
appointed a National Statistician to take over and there was someone
in the new post. I am glad to say that he has stayed on until
we are in that position. He will be off to pastures new to coincide
with the arrival of the new National Statistician.
22. Your predecessor, Patricia Hewitt, said
that she was very grateful to Dr Holt for announcing his intention
in good time to ensure a smooth transition to the new governance
arrangements. When the end of the year came nothing was in place.
Has that done any harm to the reputation of the ONS?
(Miss Johnson) I do not believe so because ONS has
a very large programme of work. A number of initiatives have led
it to take forward developments of which you will be aware. As
a result of that a lot of work has gone on. It has worked towards
the new arrangements and put in place certain improvements within
the existing organisation, all of which have been taken forward
ably by Dr Holt in his present role. There will be a smooth transition
to the new National Statistician, Len Cook, when he arrives.
23. Was there public advertisement and open
competition for the new post of National Statistician?
(Miss Johnson) Indeed, we advertised, although off
the top of my head I cannot tell you where. We advertised in a
number of locations and we went through various search arrangements
(Mr Grice) The appointment was made strictly in accordance
with civil service appointments and with the competition procedures.
(Miss Johnson) In accordance with Nolan.
24. Was there any difficulty in attracting top
quality applicants for the job?
(Miss Johnson) I was not directly involved with the
appointment, although as you will appreciate, I have had discussions
with those who were. There was a short list of four or five candidates,
all of whom were felt to be good strong candidates on paper and
proved to be so at interview. We were very pleased indeed to be
able to offer the job to Len Cook and for him to be able to accept
it. If we had had any hesitation about it, I certainly would have
said that we must advertise again. As I said in response to an
earlier point, this is a key person, as is the top person in any
organisation. The quality of that person is very important. We
are confident we have a very good person coming in. He has very
wide experience and he will bring just the dimension that we want
to the new role.
25. Did I hear correctly, that you did not take
part in the actual appointment process?
(Miss Johnson) I did not, no.
26. Did any Minister?
(Miss Johnson) No.
27. Could you clarify at what level it was carried
out? You have said that it is a very important post.
(Miss Johnson) The Permanent Secretary in the Treasury
(Mr Grice) Sir Len Peach, the Civil Service Commissioner
and an outside member from the University of Keele.
(Miss Johnson) Also a statistician.
(Mr Grice) Professor Bartholomew is a very distinguished
statistician from the London School of Economics. I think those
were the main people.
28. Do you know why Mr Cook got the job rather
than the other applicants?
(Miss Johnson) I believe that the appointments committee
unanimously felt him to be the best candidate for the job. It
was felt that he had the greatest amount to offer us and it was
universally felt to be the right appointment.
29. You believed that to be so because other
people reported back to you?
(Miss Johnson) Indeed.
30. Is there something wrong with the Royal
Statistical Society because they have written to us to say that
they offered to help in the process of selecting the new National
Statistician and that you spurned their advances? They offered
to advertise in their newspaper; they offered to put forward a
statistician to take part in the interview process, but you did
not accept any of their offers.
(Miss Johnson) I am not aware of that so I do not
think I can comment on it directly. We were happy with the arrangements
that we had. We covered the Nolan requirements very fully. We
had a professional statistician of high standing involved in the
appointment and an independent person as well. I do not think
that we lacked, in any way, on the appointments committee the
kind of range of expertise that one would want on such a committee.
The fact that I had not been involved with the process may be
thought to be a good thing. Some may say it was better that a
politician was not involved, although that is a matter of debate.
However, I knew what all the arrangements were as they were being
made and I felt confident that the arrangements were the right
ones and I still feel that.
31. Can Mr Grice throw any light on that matter?
(Mr Grice) Professor Bartholomew is an extraordinarily
eminent statistician. He was asked and agreed to be the statistical
representative on that board. It is perhaps worth adding that
for the Statistics Commission appointmentsthe chairman
and the membersProfessor Adrian Smith, who is an ex-President
of the Royal Statistical Society will be involved. There is nothing
unwelcome about the Royal Statistical Society.
32. I hate to say that that does not answer
the point, but the Royal Statistical Society also complained to
us that you were picking the statisticians rather than the society
doing so and it felt that it was the more appropriate body to
put forward a name than yourselves. Whether Professor Bartholomew
or Professor Smith are distinguished or not, they are not the
choice of the Royal Statistical Society. Is that correct?
(Miss Johnson) We have arrangements with which we
feel entirely comfortable, and which we believe include the right
components. Of course, there are many places that one can go for
such expertise. The Royal Statistical Society is an important
place where statistical expertise is to be found, as are a number
of other places, such as university academic departments. It is
conceivable that other bodies could have senior and highly regarded
statisticians who would be able to be involved in such an appointment
board. Whenever one looks at a small panel like this, it is difficult
to resolve the membership of it in a way that will not make some
organisation or individual who is not included, feel that they
perhaps should have been.
33. Who decided the composition of the appointment
(Miss Johnson) It was certainly discussed with me
and I certainly agreed the overall composition in terms of what
sort of people would make it up.
34. Who put names to you for your ministerial
(Miss Johnson) Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Permanent
Secretary in the Treasury.
35. How many applicants were interviewed?
(Miss Johnson) Applicants for the job, I think four
(Mr Grice) The process was to construct a long list
and a short list of nine and of those nine four or five were invited
for final selection.
36. I imagine that you cannot give us an indication
as to who those individuals were?
(Miss Johnson) I think that would be a little invidious.
Those other individuals obviously have careers and they may not
have told their existing employers. I do not know what arrangements
were made, but I do not think we could put that information into
the public domain.
37. What was your thinking when Sir Andrew Turnbull
gave you a list of the members for the appointment panel? Did
you think, are these the right people? What advice did you take?
Why did you not speak to the Royal Statistical Society? As a Minister,
ultimately it was your decision who sat on the appointment panel.
What advice did you take?
(Miss Johnson) There was some discussion about the
kind of arrangements that we wanted to make, rather than a lot
of discussion about the specifics of the individuals. I believe
that it was more important that we had the range of people with
the right backgrounds and the right quality. We believed we had
the right people to fulfil those roles. However, first, we had
to agree what those roles were and how the distribution of background,
skills, experience and expertise would be represented on the appointment
panel. There was probably more discussion about those matters
than there was about the individual names. I have every confidence
in the arrangements that were made and indeed every confidence
in the outcome.
38. I missed the answer to a question that was
given last year about the disbanding of the Statistics Advisory
Committee, which happened on 4 May 1999. Could you explain why
that was abolished?
(Miss Johnson) No, I cannot off the top of my head.
It was before my time as a Minister. You are asking me a question
to which I am not aware of the answer. I shall be happy to drop
the Committee a line on that point, if that would be helpful.
39. What are you doing to obtain the views of
customers, users and experts if there is no advisory committee
at the moment?
(Miss Johnson) A lot more arrangements are being put
in place to ensure that in every possible way the new arrangements
take more notice and more account of the role of both those who
may have an interest because they are providers of information
and indeed the users of statistics.