Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)



  40. You have been involved in the management of large organisations for a long time and you would, I am sure, recognise that changing name plates and migrating one group of staff into another large organisation does not necessarily yield any substantial change in the component parts and produce a new organisation in which people can have confidence. I recognise it was outwith your brief to consider this and you have said to Paddy that you could not really comment on whether you felt there were signs of change there, but you have of course interviewed some of the key players in this in the preparation of your report, have you formed any impression they have understood the task which lies ahead of them?
  (Dr Anderson) I have certainly formed the impression that around the top of the organisation there is a clear recognition of the need for very substantial change. I certainly recognise that. I cannot judge at this stage whether in assessing that proper account has been taken of the scale of the task and the effort which would be required. I certainly support your remark fully that this is not a matter for changing name plates or shuffling cards, it is a much more fundamental heart and soul issue than that. In my experience, which is from an industrial context, an industrial setting, when major changes of attitude and behaviour and cultural values, all of these things, are required, almost always some people have to go because some people are unable to change.

  Mr Todd: I would agree with you from my industrial experience too.


  41. Does it not strike you as a slightly perverse phenomenon that agriculture must be one of the most managed industries on the planet by governments and, as colleagues have alluded to, there is a minute degree of control over payments, for example, a great deal known about what farmers are planting and how much they are due and we know from the control of set aside it is very hands-on control, yet at the same time the Department did not actually know a great deal about the shape of agriculture, they knew a great deal about the detail but not about the actual shape. In my constituency with a violent foot and mouth outbreak the Department did not seem to realise that different holdings constituted a farm, that they could be widely scattered, that you did not have the sort of chocolate box image of a farm with the barns and hedges and cows all round it and that was your enterprise. How is it that a department spends enormous amounts of manpower on the minute direction of agricultural finance but does not know the shape of its own industry?
  (Dr Anderson) I am unable to answer your question but I identify with the substance of it and the direction that you are going in. I have come to very similar conclusions and questions. It was not directly the focus of our inquiry of course, but it did have a bearing. I believe that MAFF is not, as we have just been discussing, deeply connected to what I call its customer base, and I think you know what I mean by that. I think it would be quite wrong to say that nobody in MAFF knew some of these things, but in terms of a collective understanding, Government behaviour of the body as a whole, there is no doubt that a number of important developments in agriculture had not been internalised and the implications of some of the changes, which I think brings us very much into the field of our inquiry, had not been appreciated fully and had not been taken into account in strategic thinking and response.

  42. You say, Dr Anderson, that in Scotland things were handled a great deal better. You say that perhaps it was Lockerbie which compelled people to have a much more state of the art response. What was it that worked in Scotland that did not work in England? Was it culture? Was it organisation? Was it leadership? Was it information? What was it that led you on the whole to praise the Scots response but to be so cautious and critical of the English response?
  (Dr Anderson) I think that there is first of all a scale effect, a very much smaller field of activity. The lines of communication are much shorter. The relationship between a relatively small central organisation and the regions is traditionally quite strong and I have discovered that in other activities that I have been engaged in only once before in Government, which was part of the Y2K preparations. At that time I covered the country and looked at the relationship between central government and local authority government, and at that time I learned how much closer was the relationship in Scotland between central government and local government, and I think that played a crucial role, perhaps down to staffing issues, I am not sure, but I do think that there was more understanding in the centre of what was going on in the agricultural context. Many of the agencies that needed to work together had coterminous relationships. This is not a word that I was very familiar with until recently but I now understand how important it is because it makes the decision making across boundaries massively more straightforward. Then there is Lockerbie. I think one has to say without signalling that that was the only thing that the preparations that were prompted by Lockerbie definitely put in place devices and methods that were rehearsed as a routine. Having met all sorts of people there from central government, from the local authorities, other agencies, farming communities and so on, there was very much a sense of more joined-up work.

  43. I have vivid memories in my own constituency of orders being issued in London, statements being made in the House about movements. Ten days later I would go to the trading standards office in North Yorkshire County Council, which had to administer these, and they had not been issued with the detailed instructions to enable them to carry out the Government's own intentions. There seemed to be an enormous dislocation between the centre and other governmental organisations.
  (Dr Anderson) I agree with that. I think that was a very striking finding of our own inquiry and came to us from many different sources in different parts of the country as a constant refrain, I must say. There are quite a number of things said in the report and recommendations made on that. It is really vital that in peacetime again preparations are made to work in harmony in a joined-up way. The role of the local authority and the trading standards offices to which you made particular reference is absolutely fundamental and central to the implementation of these things on the ground, and this surely I regard (and have said) is an absolute necessity, that they are deeply involved and taken into account when some of these things are designed. That was not the case on several different fronts during this experience.

Mr Jack

  44. In the Secretary of State's statement yesterday to the House of Commons, and I quote from Hansard, she said: "While awaiting the report we have already published a draft interim contingency plan and invited stakeholders and operational partners to comment", and the impression that I got was that, okay, we have had an advance look at some of these things; we are on the job; things are going to get better, but against a background where animal diseases in the last 15 years, according to the Royal Society's report, have cost this country 15 billion, your comments about the suitability if you like of the DEFRA culture to react to change do cause me some concern. In your chapter 4 you put a principal recommendation: "We recommend that the Government, led by DEFRA, should develop a national strategy for animal health and disease control positioned within the framework set out in the report of the Policy Commission on the future of food and farming. This strategy should be developed with the stakeholders, the European Commission, ..."—and, if I may add, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. That is a fantastically powerful and big task which you have identified. I just worry, given that the cast list that is in DEFRA does not appear to have significantly changed from the cast list that was in MAFF, whether they are going to be capable of carrying out the enormity of the task you have identified.
  (Dr Anderson) I certainly agree that task is fundamentally important and cannot be shirked. It is to be done and I think it will then have the potential to make a huge difference to future outcomes and for all those people going forward. It is not a task for a minute or two or a week or two. It is a task for months and years. All of those involved in that process in my judgement, and I have made it number one; I cannot give it any higher profile than that, will ensure that those involved are up to that task and are challenged to be sure that they are making progress according to the needs of that task. One of the ways to do that is to publish and review and make it transparently obvious what progress is being made.

  45. I do not disagree with any of that and it is what I would assume is the natural reaction of somebody who has seen failure and looks to improvements for the future. What concerns me is how they get from where they were to where you would like them to be, because you also said a moment ago, and I do not expect you to produce out of your top pocket a list of names, that some people might have to go. One of the things that your report does, in its remarkably balanced way, is that it de-personalises some of the areas as to where responsibility actually lay for some of the difficulties which have ensued and upon which you very accurately reported. It does strike me because you have laid particular emphasis on the people part, and in fact colleagues in their questions have asked that. Is it not the case that somebody in DEFRA or in government is going to have to go through that department with the finest of toothcombs and weed out the duffers, and put in some good quality people to be able to produce (a) the strategy and (b) the follow-up that is mentioned, and who would be the person best positioned to do that task if your recommendations are to be enacted in the way that you would like to see?
  (Dr Anderson) I believe that it starts naturally with the Permanent Secretary—I cannot imagine any other person who it would start with—and would cascade out from the Permanent Secretary through the senior team and beyond.

  46. Did you see in your contacts with the Permanent Secretary clear evidence that captured in your mind the spirit of the recommendations that you want to see? Did you get the impression that they were now travelling, under the Permanent Secretary's leadership, in the right direction?
  (Dr Anderson) I think the mountain has still to be climbed.

  47. I would be very interested then as a would-be sherpa to know how the preparation for the assault clearly on the Everest which now DEFRA represents should be organised because this report deals with one outbreak of an animal disease: foot and mouth. The department in its old guise as MAFF had to cope with BSE and, chillingly, the Royal Society's report has a table in there of probably eight or nine other quite fearsome diseases that could come our way, and they also comment on the fact that expenditure on the necessary research to deal with these has been declining against the background of that 15 billion bill. If you were asked to give some pointers to the would-be DEFRA mountain climbers, what would they be to get to the top of the mountain?
  (Dr Anderson) I do not know that I can readily go into that, to tell you the truth, at this stage. My own personal response, if it were me, and I guess that is what you are pushing for it being, would be to say to the team of people that it is completely clear from the experiences of recent history that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of changes have to be made, and let us set out together to find out what it is that our customer base demands of us, and let us have no hesitation to change anything that is necessary in order to deliver the outcome that people are wanting. I would start therefore to look for something that was a huge difference of culture and behaviour. It is not my experience, apart from a very small minority, that there are, as you call them, duffers, to be replaced by good quality people. I think that most people have got potential well beyond what they or others may think. It does, however, need leadership and atmosphere and culture and all of the processes of good management. Some people are not up to it; I accept that. Sometimes it is surprising where that may be found; it is not so obvious, but it is a process of management development which is, I guess, what we are now debating. I have often said it is a beautiful process because properly constructed management development, giving people challenges, allowing them to make mistakes and accepting mistakes for what their value is, and learning from mistakes and moving on, that route map, can create transformation. I believe that that is probably what is needed. I earlier referred to the need to assess the requirements for operational and project management skills which should be related but is a somewhat separate issue to that. I would bring that to the fore. You also said, and I would like if I may to take the opportunity to address it, that in my report I had de-personalised it. That has been a deliberate step. It is not because I would find it difficult if I had come across a case where a particular personal reference should be made blaming someone in a culpable way for what happened. It is because I do not believe that singling out individuals, in absence of that negligent type of behaviour, reflects reality. I think that these are very systemic issues and they are fairly interconnected, and when you take individual questions and examine them in isolation you will not get the right picture. It is necessary to look at the collective activity in which everybody has played a role. In that context I think it is inappropriate to single out names for specific blame. The totality was not up to the task and there are some changes that needed addressing and that is what I believe is the way forward.

Mr Simpson

  48. Dr Anderson, we have rather worried this issue to death almost. You quite rightly put your finger on it when you spoke about leadership and you said that that was the sort of immediate contrast when the armed forces were brought in and you made the peacetime analogy, because they had to deal with crises and frequently they had no experience of it. We know that Brigadier Birtwistle was doing things on the back of an envelope in a car park but his practical experience came in. You talk about leadership and we have concentrated on DEFRA itself. In your conversation with the Prime Minister have you put this in such an informal way to him, because it seems to me from everything that I have heard and read about the Prime Minister that he believes that you can only drive through change from the centre. You think he is really aware of the scale of the problem, the mountain that has got to be climbed, and that he is going to apply his influence and leadership to delivering this?
  (Dr Anderson) I believe so. I have spoken to him about it. He knows my view on the matters we have just been discussing and I believe he has listened very carefully and understands the significance of what I am saying, and he at least implies that he identifies with the direction that we have been discussing here. In terms of the leadership at the highest level, at the centre, in conversations with the Prime Minister, let me say, because it is mentioned many times in our report, that the role of the Prime Minister himself in the outbreak was extremely important. I think there is a very positive side to it and potentially a negative side to it. The very positive side to it has not come from my discussions with him, of course. I would not be particularly interested in the Prime Minister telling me that he had exercised good leadership. It has come from raising these matters with many more junior officials around who were involved at different stages and time and again I have picked up this sense from these encounters that the Prime Minister's intervention was decisive and made a massive contribution to the focus and the delivery of joined-up government, and the resources of joined-up government and the seriousness then which everyone took to be absolute top priority. It is as if it needed that level of involvement and assertion before the penny dropped everywhere that this was the absolute top priority. The down side of it, which again is reflected in another section of the report, is that I am slightly worried by the fact that when one has an extraordinarily important crisis, which this certainly became, everybody, to the very top, is involved in managing it. Again, my experience would suggest the value of having a more detached and objective view on the side, and if everybody is involved that has now been potentially frustrated.

  49. On page 7 of your report you emphasise that "one finding of this inquiry has been the extent of the breakdown of trust between many of those affected, directly or indirectly, and their government". We have all seen this and it is across the board over maybe the last ten years that the public, with the media driving it on, as some people think, that there is now a reaction by many people not to believe government. How would you say that government can rebuild in the area that we are talking about here that level of trust? How do you get that back in place?
  (Dr Anderson) I personally have no experience of dealing with an issue of this scale at national level, but in more focused and specific ways where trust has been damaged my experience suggests that those who are in the leadership position who have got to go on the front foot need some victories in order to build trust. You need victories. You need to be able to demonstrate afresh to the group that you are referring to that you have actually achieved something, you have done something, and you start from a process of rebuilding that trust. Absolutely focused things need to be achieved and shown to be achieved and a series of these is the way to rebuild trust.

Paddy Tipping

  50. I am very conscious that we have talked a lot about management issues and you have made an important point about the role of the centre and the involvement of the Prime Minister to drive things forward. All that is very positive. On the down side in a sense a strong centre could be dysfunctional too. One of the points you made earlier on was about empowering and enabling managers. If you have a very strong centre—and I had better be careful how I phrase this—there is a danger that that is dysfunctioning to other managers around because you have got to devolve decision making, you have got to empower people. A point that you made very rightly earlier on is that you have got to allow people to fail and to support people through failure. There is a criticism that our management style as a government is too centralised, too prescriptive in a way. We are straying a bit from the inquiry but is that your perception as well?
  (Dr Anderson) I think there are, as you have heard me say in reply, definitely some dangers in requiring deep engagement in obvious activity from the very top and the very centre. It can be dysfunctioning; it certainly can be discouraging, but if one imagines a vacuum has been created then it has to be filled. I would need to look for some deeper reasons and try to address it at a deeper level. You are collectively far more experienced in this than I am but I think one of the things that may bear on this has been brought to my attention many times and that is the tendency across government to work in silos. I think there is a weakness in there that needs to be addressed because if silo culture is to prevail then it will imply that from time to time central intervention, with all its dysfunctional elements, will be called upon. I think the reality is that the evidence we have is that very clearly in the early weeks of this outbreak MAFF was in charge and that may have been uncomfortable for many of the people in MAFF but it was pretty comfortable for most of the people in the other departments of government. That changed of course eventually but in the early days that is how it was.

  51. I accept most of that, but you used the phrase "a vacuum" and a very strong centre, a very strong management style, can be disabling and dysfunctioning and can produce a vacuum around it where people do not have the confidence and do not feel that they have the experience and do not feel that the responsibility has been put on them. That was the point I was making.
  (Dr Anderson) I completely understand.

  52. And you accept that?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes.

Mr Breed

  53. Dr Anderson, you will recall that there was considerable opposition to the contiguous cull during the crisis and indeed some legal challenges to the ability to carry out some of that under the provisions of the Animal Health Act 1981. In your report on page 163 you say, "It is a matter for the court to determine whether the powers available to the minister were sufficient to support the use of the contiguous cull as a disease control strategy. However, we consider the powers to be insufficiently clear." Since then you have presumably looked at the provisions of the Animal Health Bill that was proceeding through Parliament which sought to rectify some of those. In your view does that clarify the position of the contiguous cull?
  (Dr Anderson) It would have removed the ambiguity. Our way into this discussion, as you know, in our report is without taking a legal position; I am not qualified to do that. What I am qualified to say, because I know that to be the case, is that there is a lot of uncertainty through ambiguity and that is by no means a good thing in the middle of a crisis. My reading, again as a layman, of the previous Bill, is that it appeared to have removed that ambiguity.

  54. Were you surprised that the Animal Health Bill came before Parliament before you had even started your inquiry?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes, I was surprised.

  55. You were a bit surprised?
  (Dr Anderson) I did not dwell on it too much. My head was down so much and we were so busy with other things that I did not take time to dwell on the issue, but when we realised that it was a big surprise. I did not give much thought to it at the time, I have to say.

  56. Finally, have you and Sir Brian Follett and Sir Don Curry met together over a period of time to discuss this?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes.

  57. Are there any notes of those meetings?
  (Dr Anderson) Yes, I think so. Touché!

  58. One of the critiques of the Animal Health Bill strikes a very big chord again with your report because the critique was that this was a major piece of legislation placing substantial duties, and penalties in some instances, on the farming industry which had been put forward without any consultation and without any obvious willingness to consider amendments to it, and without any balancing elements, for example, import controls, which were raised on a number of occasions. The Secretary of State yesterday indicated an intent to proceed once again with the Bill. Would you advise her to consider carefully the building of trust with the community that is most affected by the Bill before proceeding in this way?
  (Dr Anderson) I certainly would caution anyone that the building of trust is an extremely important and pressing matter. Whether or not I would advise that that has to be done before an important piece of legislation may need to be put in place is another question. I think there are some things that need to be put in place, as we have just been discussing, for example, to remove ambiguity, and I do not think that can wait for the process that may be necessary to rebuild. I would have it in the front of my mind, not in the back of it.

  59. I was more thinking that in proceeding with the Bill one needed to examine the balance of stakeholder interest in this matter so that any outcome people felt was a reasonable response to the need to handle this at all levels through the process, and we will come at some stage I think to discuss import restrictions.
  (Dr Anderson) I certainly accept that.


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