Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480-485)



  480. If some local body—it could be a police force or anybody you can think of—says, "Look we know our community, we have done work with them, we know what we want to achieve here, we know what people are telling us, we know what our internal culture tells us we have to do"; they will not be able to set their own objectives because they have these that come down through the system. I know it is the same question over and over again but how can you develop the real capacity-building of an organisation if they live inside that kind of tight framework all the time?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) It must not be as tight as to create that problem. I have every sympathy with the point that you are raising. Clearly, if there is a problem, say, of street crime then what we have tried to do with the Prime Minister in the lead is to say to ten of the 43 forces, "You seem to have a problem with street crime." We have not said it to all 43 police forces because, as you say, in many areas it might not be their primary preoccupation, so we have to become more sophisticated in that. If we all begin to understand the same language of reform and of innovation and of devolution, then I think that it will be easier to have fewer of those conversations and allow people more freedom.

  481. That is very helpful. Your mention of crime raises another area I want to raise with you and that is whether or not we are claiming too much for ourselves as government. Douglas gave us a very technocratic account of how we are going to run things—all for very good reasons, but I wonder if it does not mean in a sense we are claiming too much for ourselves. Let me put it to you directly. Can the government reduce crime?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) We obviously work on the causes of crime, Chairman.

  482. Can governments reduce crime?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) There is a causality there. I would imagine that the government through its encouragement of better practices right across the criminal justice system can, of course, help reduce crime.

  483. But on a scale of one to ten, where ten is a total capacity to influence the level of crime and one is not very much capacity, where does government sit, do you think?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) That is not an exercise that I would engage in happily with you, no. That is not the kind of measurement scales I am used to.

  484. An objective of the Home Office is to reduce crime. We have got to know where government sits on that scale to know what its ability is to achieve its objective.
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) No, I do not accept that assumption.

  Chairman: Either I am getting it wrong or you are getting it wrong.

Mr Prentice

  485. Very briefly, I just wonder if the national targets are going to survive regional devolution in England. There is a possibility that there may be a referendum in at least one region before the next General Election. Are we going to see big regional imbalances and differences showing up between different English regions or even post-devolution in English regions where there will be a very strong role for the centre. You must have discussed with this John Prescott or the Prime Minister?
  (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston) No I have not discussed this with John Prescott or the Prime Minister. Clearly our focus is trying to raise standards across the public sector over the next three-year period. There is obviously a gathering body of evidence of the different circumstances of Scotland and Wales but I would hope other areas which we have prioritised, like higher national standards and increased accountability and greater flexibility and the fourth principle of more choice and more contestability, will all have proved their worth by the time the second principle of greater devolution kicks in at regional level.

  Chairman: We must end. Sir Sidney asked this at the beginning and I will ask it again. It is getting boring to ask when are we going to have legislation to sort out the Ombudsman system and when are we going to have legislation on the Civil Service Act. It really is tiresome to keep asking and it must be tiresome to keep having to find the form of words to answer it. The only way to resolve it is to do it, so we would urge all speed on this. My understanding is that a new unit is being set up inside the Cabinet Office now, with a head yet to be appointed, and it has as one of its tasks work to come forward on the Civil Service Bill. I would urge as much speed on that as we possibly can. Douglas, you referred to the poetry of campaigning being transferred into the prose of government. We have had, courtesy of Kevin some poetry as well in our Select Committee. We are very glad for that and we are very grateful to you both as well. Thank you.


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