Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 196)



  180. That is precisely what I am coming to. Do you feel that local government should be much more powerful in its way as a provider of local services?
  (Lord Haskins) Assuming that we can get the right quality of people into local government and that is a problem.

  181. Are you talking about councillors or professionals.
  (Lord Haskins) I am talking about councillors, the political level. Very high quality people were going into local government from all political parties in the first half of the twentieth century. It is not a place where you are going to attract high quality people at the moment. That is why policy makers conclude that it is all too hard.

  182. You now say the TUC and the CBI are irrelevant or getting irrelevant. Do you subscribe to that?
  (Mr Taylor) I thought that was what the Chairman called a truism.

  183. I am just intrigued. You are probably going to get a bottle round the back of the head.
  (Mr Taylor) It is one all.

  184. Having heard John Edmonds sitting here talking about the ethos of the public provisions, I am just intrigued. I should have thought those two organisations have a lot to say in what we are talking about, which is the provision for this country in the long term.
  (Mr Taylor) Unlike previous members of the Committee you have slightly misquoted me because I was comparing the situation with the 1960s and it was a relative rather than an absolute statement, if you have my paragraph there.

  185. You go on to say ". . . would be struck . . . by the irrelevance of the Trades Union Congress . . . but also by the rapidly decreasing importance of the Confederation of British Industry".
  (Mr Taylor) Someone who came back to life from the 1960s. I go on to say that one reason why the CBI is less important in the national life is a very good reason, which is that business has become more of a natural thing. It does not need special support or lobby groups. Of course the CBI has a role to play, of course the TUC has, but they are not in the position they were in the 1960s, thank God.

  186. Do you not think business should be lobbying for more access to running public industries? Do you not think there should be a sort of lobbying body? You cannot just take over the Health Service. You said it was the largest employer in the world, just about above the Red Army. Surely it is going to need a much broader base.
  (Mr Taylor) One of the problems is that if you keep a part of the economy out of the private sector, you do not have companies sitting on the side lines who could help you run large parts of it. You cannot set up a very large business just waiting for the day when you are allowed into the NHS. That was an argument which was made against the use of the private sector 20 years ago, that there was no private sector which could do these jobs, there were no private sector refuse collectors. There were not, but they very soon sprang up and they would spring up. They tend not to lobby before they exist.

  187. I am thinking of the larger picture, not the micro economic.
  (Mr Taylor) The larger picture.

  188. I know there is the IOD, the CBI and you have others.
  (Lord Haskins) Those organisations are no longer strongly representative of what is happening in the economy. One of the difficulties government have had in the past is that they tended to take the easy route out and go to the large organisations like the CBI, like the IOD, for consultation and policy. That is not sufficient now because you have all these small fragmented businesses out there and knowing who represents them, a very motley lot, defining what a small business is, is a thing we all struggle with. This Government is trying very hard on consultation. It has probably consulted more than any other government has before, but it is not just the quantity but the quality of consultation which matters. Some of the consultation I have seen does not necessarily represent the real people out there. The CBI has its own constituency, IOD has its own constituency; but there are many other business points of view as well.

Mr Wright

  189. In your article in the Financial Times, you make it perfectly clear—
  (Mr Taylor) Which one of my mistakes is this one?

  190. Not a mistake but perhaps a comment or two on the fact that you have not exchanged a word with the Prime Minister since 1997 in relation to you being called one of Tony's cronies. Does it not seem surprising to you, having headed up the Task Force on Poverty, that you have not exchanged one word with the Prime Minister?
  (Mr Taylor) I was not meaning to complain about the Prime Minister, I was meaning to complain about the people who called me Tony's crony. I think I said that if I was a crony, then it must be the case that his more remote acquaintances do not see him very often. I am sure I have had a letter from him from time to time. He is an extremely courteous man, as you know. I did not actually do a job for him. I have done some work for the Treasury, for the Chancellor, accountable to the Chancellor.

  191. In the case of Lord Haskins, who obviously has the ear of the Prime Minister, although the Prime Minister did not take his advice in respect of the foot-and-mouth—
  (Mr Taylor) How often does he call you?
  (Lord Haskins) I think I have spoken to him five times this year. The last time I spoke to him was some time in June. I have not spoken to him since I was given the job on foot-and-mouth.

  192. In respect of the advice you gave on foot-and-mouth and the fact that it is reported in the press that Nestlé led a business delegation to try to encourage the Prime Minister, successfully as it turned out, not to do the vaccination programme, does that not send a message out that perhaps the Prime Minister was thinking of the business motives rather than the animal welfare side?
  (Lord Haskins) I do not know. I was not engaged in any discussion between the Prime Minister and Nestlé, so I have no idea about that. Prime Ministers have to balance the interests of everybody. It is important to get that balance. I am sure the Prime Minister is the most pro business Labour Prime Minister we have ever had. There is nothing wrong with that. You do have to respond to these in a balanced way. The inquiries will say whether the balance of Government action was correct or not correct. In hindsight if that vaccination decision had been taken in April it would not have made any difference. It was just one of the many options government was looking at during that time and government has every right to look at options and ask whether in such a situation this will work or that will work. Taking into account everything, they decided not to press ahead with that particular idea. It did not make much difference to the course of history as it happens.

  193. You cited the example of Marks and Spencer and the fact that they had made mistakes in management and there were other people in the market who took over some of their business. Is there not the problem that private management in public services cannot afford to make mistakes because there is nobody else there to take up that business, for instance in a hospital situation? Is that not one of the problems?
  (Mr Taylor) There are all sorts of businesses in the private sector where mistakes are very, very costly and very dangerous and very costly in terms of lives. Clearly the management of risk is something which businesses have to take immensely seriously. If you are running a hospital, you have all sorts of rules you apply. The private sector does run hospitals, it runs very many.
  (Lord Haskins) The answer to your question is that in the Health Service the answer the politicians will not face is the issue of choice. Until we introduce some element of choice at the point of delivery your point is absolutely right. But at the moment, as in the French health service, when you can actually choose between one GP and another, you reduce the risk and you increase the element of competition without in any way undermining the great gospel of what the National Health Service is about.


  194. Can you only get quality through choice?
  (Lord Haskins) Not only, but it is much the most effective way of doing it because the consumer can then make a qualitative judgement. Otherwise, who is making the qualitative judgement? The consumer does not have the judgement, therefore somebody on high is making that qualitative judgement and, as in a monopoly, it tends to be in the best interests of the person who is running the monopoly rather than the person at the receiving end of the monopoly. That is why Rockefeller had to be controlled in 1895.

  195. If I am lying in a hospital bed, I do not want a choice of surgeon, I want a surgeon who can do the business.
  (Lord Haskins) Yes, but there has to be some degree of choice in that, somebody is choosing the good surgeons and bad surgeons. I am not saying that we are going to transform it altogether; the element of being able to choose between one GP and another GP is technically there, but it is seldom used. Maybe the whole system would be better if it were possible for people to make those choices more easily than they do at the present time. The existing system basically is biased against that choice, even though it is written in at the point of delivery on GPs.

Brian White

  196. I have a bank account and most banks survive on the fact that most people's inertia means they will not change their bank accounts.
  (Lord Haskins) Absolutely and I think the banks have been very wicked on that over the years. It took me about 30 years to realise that I was being ripped off by my then bank and I went to Barclays actually.

  Chairman: The fact that we do not want to stop is a tremendous reflection on the session we have had. We have had a most rewarding session and you have spoken to us with splendid frankness and we are very grateful for that. I am sorry you have had to come and do business with a bunch of politicians but for the time being that is the way we run things around here. Thank you very much indeed.

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