Examination of Witness(Questions 100-119)|
THURSDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2002
100. I am fascinated because you fought your
way and you got in. I am just looking at The Outsider v. the
Club. I was wondering why you went in the end? Did you just
get sick of the whole thing or did you think the money was not
all that or you had got knighted and you should have gone?
(Sir Michael Bichard) Never my great motivator. A
range of reasons, I suppose. One was I quite wanted to do something
different. I could have gone and done a permanent secretary's
job in another department but I had done that for five or six
years and frankly I did not want to do the same job just somewhere
else. That was an issue. I wanted to move to a completely different
environment, which I have been able to do. I think it is a pretty
well open secret that I was frustrated at the speed of change.
I thought I was beginning to become a caricature of the person
who was always moaning about things not moving faster and it seemed
to me it was probably time, before that became too much of a caricature,
for me to move on and someone else to carry the flag.
101. That is the crux of the matter, that things
were not moving fast enough. How do you see the interface between
people like yourself being brought in and businessmen? I was reading
The Outsider v. the club, the permanent secretaries' club,
and only one of them had gone into the World Bank, Rachel Lomax,
who had been a career civil servant before that. Do you think
that more people should be brought in from outside to try and
steer government down to the ethos of business which has targets,
has always had targets, budgets, etc., and accepts them for what
they are? Is there a way for that connection?
(Sir Michael Bichard) I get slightly worried about
the language of just importing private sector business mechanisms
into government. I think a lot of what the private sector does,
a lot of the mechanisms, are really, really good and therefore
what we ought to be doing is justifying them on the basis that
they are good systems and good approaches, not that they were
done in the private sector. Basically on the main point of your
question I do believe, and I have said constantly, that we ought
to be bringing into government more people from outside, not just
from the private sector but from other parts of the public sector,
from the voluntary sector too, that there should be a better flow
both ways. I do not think we should not have civil servants who
see themselves necessarily forever working in the Civil Service.
I happened to have a look at the evidence I gave when I was last
here and I think we talked then about the difference between stagnant
puddles and fast flowing streams. I am quite keen on fast flowing
streams and sometimes I have worried that our government system,
Whitehall, is too much like a stagnant puddle.
102. This government uses an enormous amount
of management consultants, bringing them in all the time.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think all governments have
103. Fine, but I am just trying to figure out
how much they have spent in the last couple of years on this.
Do you think that they could be used to try and appraise targets?
You had 152 and you said the ideal was about ten or thereabouts.
Do you think that they should be appraised from an external source
as opposed to an internal one?
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think that can be very helpful
actually. The extent to which consultants are effective they would
say, and I would agree, is very much down to the way in which
you specify their task and manage their performance. That is a
skill in itself which maybe we have not always got right. In terms
of this morning and the evidence, I should say there are many
things that the Civil Service does that I am very appreciative
of and there are some brilliant people there, so I do not want
to give an entirely pessimistic picture.
104. I do not think anybody would suggest that
for one minute. What we are trying to tease out is the way the
targeting system works in this country and some of the ramifications
and problems of it.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think having external people,
having an external look, is absolutely right, that is what you
need if you are not going to miss some of the big things like
accuracy and speed.
105. One of the things you said which intrigued
me in The Governance of the Public Sector, which you wrote,
was "If the Treasury (and No 10) become too strong and too
interventionist, the role of Ministers and their departments is
devalued." If that is the case then how do you administer
the target because you have got the overall body, the Cabinet
Office or whatever, putting pressure on saying "this will
be achieved and if it is not we will think about something else"?
Do you see it being too interventionist or do you think that the
executive is becoming too all controlling, I suppose is the word,
and what problems will that bring?
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think you need to be constantly
asking that question, which is not a way of ducking the question
at all. I am not sure that I believe it necessarily is too interventionist.
I said last time I think one of the most difficult decisions in
public administration is when do you devolve and when do you centralise.
As a subset of that one of the most difficult questions is when
do you intervene and when do you not. I think if you have got
a good business plan with a small set of key targets and you are
monitoring those rigorously then you are in a good position to
know whether or not they are being delivered and when you should
intervene. I am not against intervention. For heaven's sake, look
at what we did with local education authorities where the department
probably intervened more than at any other time in the history
of education. One of the great strengths of introducing the literacy
and numeracy targets and strategy was that we had information
available at school and local authority level which enabled us
to intervene where we thought that was necessary, whereas in the
past what had happened was you had the targets, you had a vague
sense that they were not being achieved but you did not know where
to focus your attention to try and make sure that they were achieved.
Where kids' education is concerned, where literacy and numeracy
standards are concerned, I think they are important enough issues
for central government to have the right to intervene if they
feel that a local education authority or a school is just not
delivering. You need reliable data.
106. In your Ten Steps to Delivery, number
six, you "Review the operation of Public Service Agreements.
Every government department needs a decent business plan which
provides them with purpose, direction and a focus on priorities.
PSAs do not provide this."
(Sir Michael Bichard) Yes.
107. Are you confirming from what you have just
said that in fact the whole thing is not being controlled?
(Sir Michael Bichard) I was not involved in a lot
of PSAs. My sense is, from what I hear, that it is an improved
process. I have not done a review of the targets which form the
Public Service Agreements. Really I do not think that I am qualified
to comment on that. I was talking about the first two rounds where
I think a lot of the targets were not measurable, they were not
focused, they were not rigorously monitored and they did not come
out with decent business plans.
108. You keep very much involved still in what
is going on. What is your best guestimate?
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think that is an unfair question.
I only have the knowledge now of a lay person and I think it is
wrong for me to draw conclusions really.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: Okay. Thank you very much.
Chairman: I think you have been as helpful as
you possibly can be on that. We have pressed you too far.
109. You have put your finger on some key issues
here regarding targets in the opening statement you have made
in the paper you have provided us with. Can I just explore that
a little bit with you. You have set out 17 key points you think
are required to design a good target. I was interested in what
you said. You said the targets should be stretching the achievable.
Would you accept the proposition that if all targets were achieved
that they would not be stretching enough?
(Sir Michael Bichard) Yes.
110. If you accept that point, would you accept
that it is inevitable that some targets are not met?
(Sir Michael Bichard) I do. I do accept that, yes.
111. Should you not add to your points that
we should have a target for how many targets we should expect
(Sir Michael Bichard) It varies according to circumstances.
112. In a given circumstance should there not
be a target for how many of the targets you have said you expect
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think that is an artificial
target. When I was running the Employment Service what I would
do was agree with the chief executive and he would with his staff
a bonus which reflected his performance against targets. In that
bonus I would say to him you will get so much if you get 80 per
cent of the target.
113. I am making a serious point because you
have said in your statement that "Unrealistic targets do
not raise performancethey simply demoralise staff".
(Sir Michael Bichard) Yes.
114. You have accepted my proposition that it
is inevitable you will fail to reach some of the targets. At the
outset we have heard that is an inevitable outcome, therefore,
that you will demoralise staff by setting targets which you do
not expect them to be able to reach.
(Sir Michael Bichard) No, I do not think that does
demoralise staff. I would not have been demoralised if I had achieved
80/90 per cent of my targets actually, I would have been delighted.
I do not think that does demoralise the staff.
115. Would that be something you would communicate
to your staff? You might not be demoralised but would you communicate
to your staff at the outset "Listen we are setting all these
targets, limited in number as you say, but we do not realistically
expect you to be able to meet them all. If you reach 80 or 90
per cent of them as your manager I will not be demoralised and
therefore you as a member of staff should not be demoralised by
the fact that you feel you have reached them".
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think it is a question of
how you go about managing your staff. The management and the leadership
I would give to staff is "We have set these targets. We will
do our darnedest to meet all of them. We will not give up on any
116. I do not expect you to meet them all.
(Sir Michael Bichard) No, I would not say that at
all because I would like to think we could meet them. My answer
to your question is I would not expect them all to be met necessarily
but the other side of the coin is if all of them are not met then
the way in which management responds to that is really important.
I would not go around beating people up because they have missed
a couple of targets, maybe partly because of external factors
or maybe partly because they just turn out.
117. We know what will happen, do we not? You
will not go around beating them but you have said in the final
part in your points about targets that the media response to you
not meeting thembecause you have said that you have told
the staff they have to meet all the targetsis they will
say you have failed and the people who are charged with reaching
those targets have failed.
(Sir Michael Bichard) No, we cannot be driven entirely
by the media response. We are in this business to provide the
best possible service to the public. I am about trying to find
systems which will deliver the best possible service to the public.
If we do not have targets, which I have said at the outset have
got risks attached to them and are not perfect, I can tell you
what happens with a lot of staff and that is they run around like
headless chickens trying to understand what the hell they are
supposed to be doing and what are the priorities in this business,
what do they want us to do. Let me tell you that is very demoralising
and that is a lot more demoralising than not achieving a couple
of targets when your management is reasonably understanding. I
can lack understanding when people are not performing but I think
if people have really pulled out all the stops and got as close
as they can to performing then that is when one should be supporting
and not blaming.
118. I would agree with you entirely that people
want to be given the ball and told in what direction to run with
it and given the freedom to use it appropriately. Are you not
setting them up to fail if you give them a series of targets which
you as a manager secretly, because you do not share this with
them, know they will not be able to reach and when they stumble
and fail as a result of that you say "Well actually do not
worry about it, we do not mind it".
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think there are different
philosophies and different ways of motivating or not people. My
philosophy and my way of motivating is always to be clear about
what you are trying to achieve and do your darnedest to achieve
it. Sometimes you will fall short both as an individual and as
an organisation but I would rather do that than avoid clarity
of direction and clarity of focus simply because of the danger
that we might miss and we might fail. The public want us to improve
the quality of service and get as close as we can to perfection,
that is what we should be doing. We should not be driven totally
by what the media think and we should not be driven totally by
the fact that some staff may find all this a bit difficult. Our
job is public service not staff reassurance.
119. Can you give me an example from your experience
of a bad target?
(Sir Michael Bichard) I think the speed of payment
one that I talked about earlier was a bad target because of the
impact that it was having on accuracy and on so much else that
was happening including customer service which was pretty damaging.
That is a serious example.