Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540 - 551)



  540. We talked about the Army and the Prison Service and yesterday David Blunkett, your friend, produced this report, Policing a New Century, it talks about the dreadful sickness rates and absenteeism in the police force should be an absolute priority. It is not David Blunkett who is responsible for the state of affairs but his predecessor and the predecessor of the Home Secretary, but the buck has to stop somewhere.
  (Sir David Ramsbotham) Yes, the buck has to stop. It talks about sickness in the police. Sickness in the Prison Service is also a huge problem that was investigated by the National Audit Office. Very interestingly, the sickness rate in the Prison Service is certainly linked to job satisfaction.

  541. I am just trying to get clear who is responsible for this, because people working in the public service have told us they are fed up to the back teeth of being made the scapegoat. They cannot get a new job because they do not get enough training. Maybe in the Prison Service they cannot do the job because there is not enough resources, but it is okay for the private sector because they get money because of the public service agreements you have told us about. People in mainstream public sector jobs are very critical, those who organise things. If it is not their colleagues in the public sector then it must be the politicians.
  (Sir David Ramsbotham) I hate all of this, you know, everyone is always blaming and looking backwards. What I am saying to them is, look forward, go and look at the organisations which are actually working and the organisations which are running organisations to do with people that are actually working. Ask yourself, whether, in fact, there is anything in the way your organisation is being run to learn from the others. I would say the Armed Forces.

  542. You would, of course you would.
  (Sir David Ramsbotham) Of course I would. Again they have to respond, but they have to be ready to do so at an instant.

  543. There is no answering back in the Armed Forces?
  (Sir David Ramsbotham) They are accountable. What I felt, my disillusionment, was not saying you must run it like the Army but there are certain things about the selection and training of staff, the leadership of people, not just management by bumf, but leadership.

  544. I understand all that. Can I just ask you to confirm that when you left your job in June this year you talked about the cult of managerialism in jails, I take it from what you have told us this morning that by the cult of managerialism you mean the suffocating bureaucracy?
  (Sir David Ramsbotham) Correct.

  545. Some of us, some people may consider managerialism to be something different?
  (Sir David Ramsbotham) I meant the suffocating bureaucracy which was taking people away from their job and also distorting leadership.

  545.(a) Can I just come on to Will Hutton on the leadership business, I was interested in what you had to say about privatisation not being the only change agent, you can re-energise public sector organisations by looking at the quality of their leadership, and so on and so forth. Is there a third way? We always get a laugh for this, but I am searching for the third way, I have been for years, I just wondered if you can have this synthesis, which will produce effective public sector organisations that are responsive, give satisfaction to the people who work in those organisations that do the business.
  (Will Hutton) I think you can. There are areas where that is taking place. I think Eithne Wallis in the Probation Service has done a fantastic job in turning round a fragmented, national, overly regionalised structure, turning it into a national organisation with very high morale. It is an exercise in leadership of a high order. There are a cluster of things round that and one is the understanding by the person at the top about what actually needs to be done. I think this comes back to your point about bureaucracy and managerialism and about definition and terms. I am going to say something is praise of bureaucracy as properly interpreted, part of the point of the public sector ethos is that it incorporates some notion in this part of the forest of citizenship. The whole point why you have a bureaucracy is because you want things to be absolutely impartial. You want procedures which ensure impartiality so that every citizen gets dealt with equally. You want the process of open book accounting, which makes sure everything is transparent so that every citizen can see that actually this department of state or this public function has been discharged equitably and according to the rules of the game. In that sense you need bureaucracies. That is not stifling. What we elide and do not separate enough is you need all that in the public sector. I am all for that. I think, for example, there is often complaint about the time it takes to make public sector appointments, they need to be time consuming because you need everyone to have a crack at it, you cannot have nepotism. All those procedures are utterly proper. Where it goes wrong, what we are really complaining about is, what Sir David is saying, when you try to command and control management round, normally, ludicrous attempts to control costs—usually set by one year planning cycles from the Treasury, actually—and your line manager is asked to save half a million pounds. There would be a Home Office budget which was required to be met, set by the Treasury, it is a different kind of question. If you ask a different kind of question and say, what we want from the public sector is high performance, high creative organisations, led and animated from the top round a real sense of purpose, and actually we want budgets that actually attempt to do that and we want a dialogue with the Treasury which catches that notion, what we as public servants are really trying to do, hence the idea of the Public Service Act, I think you start to unscramble some of the dilemmas.

  545.(b) Do you think the Civil Service is letting us down there?
  (Will Hutton) Yes, I think the Civil Service has let us down. I do think that these kinds of hearings, this kind of conversation which has been reproduced by the Civil Service, it is not as if it is ignorant of this kind debate, is beginning to see a new generation of people who are beginning to pick up the ball and run with it. As I said, the curious thing is in some areas it has gone quite a long way and in other areas it has not even begun.

  546. I was reading part of Derek Lewis's book, Hidden Agenda, which was published in 1997 and he was absolutely scathing about the Home Office people, accountants who did not know anything about accountancy, generalists who were hopeless managers, dreadful, scandalous wastes of taxpayer money, he goes on in great detail. That was in 1997. I am assuming, four years on, that things have changed?
  (Sir David Ramsbotham) I would not share your assumption, because the things that he was complaining about, I came in after he had gone, were still there. The management structure, about which he was complaining, was still in existence. The stifling control being exercised over the Prison Service by parts of the Civil Service and the Home Office was still there, for example senior appointments in the Prison Service have to be vetted by the personnel management structure in the Home Office and nobody can get into a senior management job in the Prison Service unless they have done a senior desk job in the Home Office. That may or may not be right, I take exactly what Will Hutton says, my point is that nobody has actually looked at the management structure except internally since Derek Lewis. I do not share your optimism. I did not see it in the same way he did, so I could not describe it so graphically, but I saw the outcomes of that and it was the outcomes of that which I was still complaining about when I left in July as when I started in December 1995.
  (Will Hutton) I do think your question about a third way was in order to break that cycle. I do think that you are right to nag away at this. I thought it was very interesting when Ken Livingstone appointed Robert Kiley for a quarter of a million pounds, an appointment well outside any public sector pay scale, to do this job as Transport Commissioner for London what was interesting was the public response to it. It was not, how outrageous, fat catary. The public response was very, very favourable, if this man—and the TV is all round him—can rejuvenate London Underground then it is worth paying this kind of money. There are occasions when you have to accept that actually public enterprise requires people at the top to make the kind of money that is comparable with the private sector. If you want public objectives discharged really well it may be that you have to consider paying people the rate for the job, even if it is outside the pay scale.

  547. Why do we not have short-term contracts, like the one that Bob Kiley has, throughout the public sector, and then if people do not deliver you just fire them?
  (Will Hutton) There is a whole question about the hire and fire culture, but I am broadly in favour of a much more open, internal market inside the public sector so that you can build a career going from department to department rather than building a career within a department. That would give people who manage public sector much more choice about who they employ and build in more notion of performance for each part of somebody's career. That does not exist and should exist more formally than it does. This notion of having pay scales that allow people to come in from the outside to do a job and go back out and comparable rates of pay with the private sector is also enormously important. If you want a public sector it is not just a question of internally organising it round these, there are budgetary implications of it, it would lift public sector pay. I think that is what you may need to do to get the results we want.


  548. We are into the last two or three minutes if we can ask a couple of quick things, it seems to me listening to you there are "can do" people, and you are in favour of those, you want more of them round the place, and there are "hold on" people. The "hold on" people do the bit that Will Hutton described, the accountability stuff, you say it has to be done properly, even if it is irksome to manage it. The soldier model does not work, the Army dictatorship, we live in a democracy and it is all a bit complicated for us. Does the accountability stuff just mean that public services will always be different in some way no matter if you treat it differently?
  (Sir David Ramsbotham) I am not sure I take it that the Army is a dictatorship. The Army is accountable as an organisation.

  549. You do not negotiate the orders that come down, do you?
  (Sir David Ramsbotham) You do not have room for negotiation if somebody is pointing a rifle at you. I personally believe, as Will Hutton does, that the public sector needs to be a broad church, it needs to be prepared to go out and bring in the people it needs to give the injection of what it needs at the particular time. Derek Lewis is a classic case in point, because he objected to the sort of accountant-type financial direction and went and got a financial director who actually understood the strategy and the strategic thinking and the application of funding to strategic development in a way which the accountants do not. I am not saying that you need those the whole time but I think there is always going to be an amalgam, you are going to need leadership and that is going to have a political tone to it, it must do, that is what the public sector is about, and you are going to need the people who actually make certain that the wheels turn properly, you need a lot of those. You also need the people to apply particular direction at a particular time, that is the way that things are going to come. It is a broad church and must be.

  550. Can I just ask a couple of final questions, this public service ethos that you come back to, some people come here and tell us that exists and we have to defend it and celebrate, and so on. Other people tell us it is a good idea, it is aspirational. I get the sense from Will Hutton that it is that sense you are talking about, It is not enough to come long and use it to defend how things are, it is a sort of model that lurks out there and if only we could get our minds round it we could discipline the public sector to live up to it. Is that really what you are saying?
  (Will Hutton) Yes. I think you have pulled that together, that is an interesting way of defining what I was saying. I think there is a public sector ethos. I believe in citizenship and those parts of the state which serve the citizen require a level of accountability, a level of transparency, a level of impartiality and equity, which is analytically distinct from and a paradigm apart from what goes on in the private sector. I was talking to one permanent secretary and what he said to me was, if I ran a business what I would do is close down the part of my organisation that is inefficient and I would focus on what is really efficient and getting the share price up. Of course that is a ludicrous way of conceiving a department of state. You have to provide that avenue which is open to you, and that is what, in a sense, captures the difference. There is a public sector ethos. People who work in the public sector have, you know, unclearly and sometimes clearly, even if unclearly, always understand they belong to this part of what we do as a country, which is somehow different from the private sector and they are also proud of that. We have not distilled that. We have not said what it is concretely that they should aspire to and by not doing that we do not permit ourselves, by not having a clear conception of that, to do the really important things that we have been discussing this morning, you know, if the public service inefficiency is lost then the question of leadership, management and internal system then seems to be intentioned with the ethos when, in fact, they are instruments and it should be used to discharge the public ethic and it should be thinking about use in the private sector, not to take it over, but as a change agent which can help discharge the public sector ethos.

  551. That saves me asking the last question. I thought you were denying the private sector was a catalyst for change. The argument very much from Sir David's point is that in the Prison Service it actually was that and the question then is, is there something intrinsic about the public sector which makes change so difficult and which requires the external intervention?
  (Will Hutton) Of course the private sector is changing, and is very effective in areas like the Prison Service, in other areas it has not been so effective. The interruption of ICT has not been terribly effective in the various partnerships that we have established, it is not always an effective change. The big point must be that when you deploy the private sector as a change agent or as a way of leveraging more efficiency that it is done in the services of public service ethics, that is why I am in favour of public interest and that is why I am still in favour of retaining public ownership and using the private sector as a change agency and how public assets are managed and run. It is a way of redefining the products in the way that Gordon Prentice was trying to suggest.

  Chairman: We have had a fascinating morning, not least because we have had a concrete example of public service being set against a rather large audience. We have all benefited from that and enjoyed it enormously. Thank you very much to both of you.

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