Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 100-119)



  100. And that will sort it?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I will do my best to sort it, because if I do not sort it I am making life difficult for myself.

  101. I am very taken with John's suggestion of the pledge card and I think you were indicating you would go along with that or something similar to it. Can we put you on the spot so that we can get it on the minutes of our meeting. What form will that take and when can we see it?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I said that I was not going to write a pledge card. This is as near to a pledge card as I think you will get.

  102. We talked a lot about measurability. Measurability would be a key feature of a pledge, would it not?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) The pledges will be the PSA's that the departments are signed up to. My job is to ensure that they work in a way which delivers those; that they have the resources of people; that they have the ability to produce good policy thinking; that they have the delivery skills. That is what the departmental change programme is about. You take a department in the round and say "Look at all your capabilities. Given what we have been asked to do, are you really structured to deliver that? Have you got the right people, not just now but in a kind of succession plan? Do you need to bring in different kinds of people? Do you need to organise yourselves in a different way to ensure that you are fit for purpose and are capable of delivering what you have been asked to deliver?"

  Mr Heyes: It sounds like a pledge card to me.


  103. If I was running a strategy unit and I was told "By the way the Prime Minister is going to have his own strategy advisers" I would think, "What the hell am I doing? Whose advice is going to count?" Is this not a recipe for all kinds of problems?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not think there is any difficulty. Geoff Mulgan is going to oversee this unit and the Prime Minister says "I want a particular subject looked at intensively (crime, transport, whatever) and I want that particular project to be led by Lord Birt", the Mulgan unit provides some of the support for that, but also the way this work gets done is that you go to the department and you say "Please assign some people to help me do this. You have all the data". Most of this work gets done by using the people and the data that are already in the department, but by mobilising it in a more intensive way.

  Chairman: Well, we will see. You mentioned the Lawson episode to us earlier on. I think there may be interesting developments down there.

Annette Brooke

  104. Sir Andrew, I think you indicated fairly clearly to us that the centre or Cabinet Office was much more than just the Prime Minister's office and that in fact it was supporting the rest of Government. That is my interpretation of what you have said.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes.

  105. I just wanted to tease that out perhaps with an example and it almost follows on from what has just been said. Recently I think the Secretary of State for Education was not best pleased in the way the announcement came out about handing out contraceptives in schools. It did not appear to me in that instance that you actually had something from the centre that was supporting the department. It seemed to be leading the department. What is the relationship? Is it serving or is it leading?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not know the details of that particular episode, although I recognise it as a phenomenon. It is leading in the sense of saying to the secretary of state, questioning and challenging "Do we have a proper strategy in this area? Have we really sorted out what our priorities are?" But it is also helping in the sense of "Here are some people who have expertise in this area because they have done this kind of work in another department". A lot of this is about recycling of expertise and each department is not going to be inventing the wheel from scratch. The department should be able to produce a long term strategy; the department should be able to produce its delivery plans. There is no way the centre can actually do it for them. It has to show them a direction, persuade them to adopt it and then help them to adopt it.

  106. It sometimes appears, though, that there is a publication from somebody or something within the centre before the department is actually on board with it. I can quite understand how there should be the interchange and I have been very reassured to hear that there was an equal interchange if we are suggesting that the centre does support the rest of Government. Even with Lord Birt's publications it is almost as if it is leading all the time rather than supporting.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not think there have been any Lord Birt publications.

  107. I was thinking about his road strategy, but I think the department immediately distanced itself from that.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) There is no such thing as a Birt report in the sense of a published report. This is all at the stage of advice and dialogue with the department. There is a choice. You have a subject. Someone says, "We really must look into the question of what happens to prisoners when they leave prison". You could say, "Let's let the Home Office write that". Actually, the most recent report on that was written by the Social Exclusion Unit. The advantage of the Social Exclusion Unit doing it was that, to make a success of this policy of helping people make the transition from being inside to outside, you have to mobilise lots and lots of different agencies. By doing the work centrally you get a better and wider perspective. If you simply take every subject, every piece of policy that you want thought about and say, we have a kind of policy unit for Government and all our policy thinking is done inside at this centre, you have a very unsatisfactory situation because a lot of the expertise lies in departments. The ex-PIU, the Strategy Unit, has an approach which says, "Here is something that someone has suggested needs to be looked into. Could the department do this on its own? Could the department lead it and mobilise other people? Or is there actually some value added in our leading this thing and getting the players to come with us?" You try to choose those projects that make sense to develop centrally and confine yourselves to those and leave those things that the departments are capable of doing and let them get on with it. Do we draw that line the right way every time? Probably not, but that is the basic philosophy we work to.


  108. We know, do we not, that if we are talking amongst ourselves, the Education Policy is not made by the Secretary of State for Education. It is made in Number 10 and the Education Department becomes a kind of delivery unit.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I am not going to sign up to that proposition put that way.

  109. Because it is untrue or because you do not want to sign up to it?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) It is a parody. The literacy and numeracy hour was not run out of Number 10.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  110. Can we keep exploring this, your delivery to us? These charts. You are going to have a Reform Strategy person. Is that going to be a civil servant or an outsider.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) We are going to have an open competition.

  111. What would you like? He or she is going to report to you. What would you like?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I am going to keep an open mind, but I am looking for someone who has some proven experience in a large organisation of developing a strategy and coordinating it, but also the ability to take it to the outside world. What this Reform Strategy person has got to do is help me devise this strategy, create an identity for it and then to go out and explain it and enthuse people about it.

  112. So it is a Campbell Strategy Unit?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) No, it is not a Campbell Strategy Unit.

  113. But it is going out to explain why this is a good idea.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) That is why it is called management, when the guys at the top go round and talk to people.

  114. How many staff do you think it is going to have? In round figures.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Low tens.

  115. Low tens?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes. Communication is one of its requirements, but it is absolutely essential that if the Civil Service Management Board is trying to develop the idea of better management of people and have some ideas for it they have to go round and explain it to departments and to agencies. You have to talk to people, listen to them, go to a series of events, go to conferences, make speeches. Someone has to generate that material for me to spread the message out, to explain to people what it is we are all trying to do.

  116. So it is a Prime Minister's PR machine.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) No.

  117. Geoff Mulgan, is he going to be reporting to you or via this Reform Strategy Group?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) That Reform Strategy Group is a coordinating group; the Heads of Unit all report to me, all those six.

  118. In other words, he will come straight to you. So if there are any problems between the two lots—in other words you have the five at the bottom and then the Reform Strategy—you will be responsible for arbitrating; we are going back to the turf wars.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes.

  119. So if they go out and say something in Birmingham on Education and you do not like it, you have to sort the lot out.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes.


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