Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
THURSDAY 28 FEBRUARY 2002
60. Where does the Prime Minister's official
spokesperson fit in, in relation to you?
(Mr Granatt) They work directly for Alastair Campbell,
not for me. You are talking here about Godric Smith and Tom Kelly.
They are both GICS members and, in that respect, they are civil
servants, bound by the civil service rules, and they work directly
for Alastair Campbell.
61. You mention numbers and how many come under
your control involving media and press officers and so on. How
many GICS members are there in the DTLR, and how many of them
are press officers?
(Mr Granatt) The truth is I do not know offhand. If
somebody behind me knows, they will tell me.
62. They are shaking their heads.
(Mr Granatt) Then we will write to you. There is a
publication called the White Book which lays out all the staff
there. I think there are upwards of 30 press officers there and
there must be more than that, I should imagine, doing other work
inside the DTLR which has a large range of programmes to do with
things like road safety. It may be half and half but I think it
is about 30, but we will write to you and tell you precisely.
One other point: you said these people work for methey
63. I accept that. You do have some interest
as a network in appointments?
(Mr Granatt) Yes.
64. Can I ask you about some of the general
lessons we can draw from the current specific crisis or incident?
Is there an extent to which you think that, as well as the controversy
about the appointment and the nature of the work of special advisers,
there has been a change in the type of people who are being appointed
as press and information officers in the Civil Service to such
an extent that you have had to go out there and get some poachers
and people coming in, if you like, who are not imbued with the
Civil Service culture of independence and serving people of all
political persuasions and, indeed, who are of the media zone,
are closely versed and expert in the dark arts of private briefings
and so on, and that part of the current crisis, if you like, is
related to that, or is this just a one-off?
(Mr Granatt) There are a lot of points in that. Firstly,
all of our people come in originally from outside the Civil Service.
We recruit at every level to the Information Service from outside
and from within. There is no doubt that people who have worked
inside the Civil Serviceand it is not about the dark arts;
it is about big organisations with big organisation politicsand
people who have worked inside such organisations, be they the
trade unions or the BBC or the Civil Service find it much easier
to work inside these big hierarchical outfits than people who
have been journalists without managerial experience. There is
no doubt about that. The fact that people who have worked inside
the system are better able to assimilate the system and are better
able to win the competitions is being shown in the appointments
that have been made more and more recently. We have had one returner
who has left at chief press officer level who has come back as
director; we have had somebody who left quite recently as a desk
press officer coming back as a deputy director level role; more
and more people are being recruited to the top jobsopen
competition or notwho are people serving the Service because
they are people better equipped to handle that. It is not axiomatic,
and never has been, that a journalist who may know the dark arts
has all the talents and abilities to manage a large operation.
In a department the size of the DTLR, somebody may be managing
upwards of 100 staff and handling budgets of millions, and that
is a different operation to simply being a press spokesman. The
role of director has changed accordingly in many departments,
and the director now will spend a lot more time on the management
of that, and it is the head of news, the head of the press office,
who will be doing more of the day-to-day spokesman work for the
Secretary of State. Even in those circumstances, when we recruit
or promote those jobs, we look at the ability of people to manage
because, if they cannot, it is not going to work.
65. In the case of someone at the level of Martin
Sixsmith, for example, what sort of process would have been used
in his recruitment and what would the ministerial involvement
be in that appointment?
(Mr Granatt) The ministerial involvement is laid down
by the Civil Service Commission. We generally put everybody who
applies to a competition to join the Information Service in one
department or another through an assessment centre. Typically,
for a recruit at that level, we would ask a short list to prepare
a strategy paper in advance of any board for competition; they
would be asked to present that to the panel that they are in front
of; they would also probably be asked in a lot of cases to go
through some role-play exercise which tests their ability to react
to working with a minister in a fast-changing news situation,
because this may be the emphasis in some of these jobs. Lower
down the chain we may have more emphasis on personnel work, for
example, because middle managers tend to have more to do with
that. So overall we would, through a recruitment process at that
level, be looking for not only ability to handle an interview
as such but also to present, to show how they handle strategy
which is a bit different from handling day-to-day hurly burly.
66. I understand but what happens at the end,
when you have done that process, and you have whittled it down?
Then what happens?
(Mr Granatt) Can I go through the whole ministerial
process because that, I think, is what you are asking?
(Mr Granatt) The involvement of a minister is laid
down in the rules of the first Civil Service Commissioner on this.
I have not got them in front of me so if I make an error forgive
me, but we will give you a copy of them. In a job of a sort where
someone has close contact with a minister and where the relationship
with a minister and the person concerned is important, the minister
is allowed to become involved in various ways. They are consulted
on a job specification; they are consulted on progress; they are
allowed to know what the progress of the recruitment process is;
they are allowed to know what names are in the frame but essentially
that is all they are allowed at that stage to do. The bottom line
on this is that the panelwhich at senior Civil Service
level certainly for our jobs and for all jobs, I think, now is
chaired by a Civil Service commissionerand for a director
job I would normally sit and have sat on virtually all of them
except one since the beginning of my tenure in this jobgrades
the applicants, either above the line or below the line, and individually
so it comes out with a clear winner. The panel has to determine
who is the winner, and that name goes forward to the minister
concerned. The minister at that stage can say "Yes"
or "No", and that is all they can say. They cannot say,
"I want that one" or "that one". They cannot
pick and choose between them. If the minister says "No",
the competition has to be re-run. The only circumstances in which
it does not is if, for instance, the leading candidate withdraws
or cannot fill the post and then, with the Commissioner's permission,
the department can approach the next candidate in line if they
were above the line.
68. How often does the minister say "No",
in your experience?
(Mr Granatt) Rarely, and in the two recent cases they
chose not even to see the candidate concerned, which they are
entitled to do.
69. And in the case of Martin Sixsmith, he would
have been appointed by this process and his name was put forward
as the top candidate?
(Mr Granatt) He was appointed by the due process.
70. Finally, what in your view would be the
proper ministerial involvement in the dismissal of an employee
by a civil servant?
(Mr Granatt) That is not an easy one. I can only talk
about the cases in which I have been involved directly. If a minister
says, "I cannot work with that person any more", then
the department has the option of moving somebody and that happensit
is not something that is unique to Information Service people.
It is not so visible when it happens with people in other jobsprivate
secretary jobs or important jobs in departments which require
close contact and confidence with the minister. In those circumstances,
departments have mostly chosen to try and find alternative employment
for somebody. Where they have not been able to, and that often
happens with information people who have a specialism which is
not easily found a home elsewhere, they have left the department.
71. The reason I am interested in this is because,
throughout this whole affair, the impression has been that the
minister does not play a direct role, if you like, in dismissing
civil servants yet when I questioned Sir Richard Wilson about
this a few months ago he said that the delegation is from the
Crown to the Secretary of State and then from the Secretary of
State to the permanent secretary, and any Secretary of State could
sack any civil servantspecial adviser or not, and that
that had happened under his watch as permanent secretary when
Michael Howard sacked Derek Lewis, head of the Prison Service.
In all of this current affair, would it have been possible, in
your view, for that to have been the course of action the Secretary
of State could have exercised?
(Mr Granatt) You draw the analogy and one I am familiar
with. I was at the Home Office at the same time as Sir Richard
Wilson and Derek Lewis, and that course of action could clearly
be taken, but whether it was taken in this case or not I do not
know. I have to refer you back to the department and what the
Secretary of State said obviously.
72. Just so we are clear on this, your answer
is that, although the Secretary of State said he could not get
involved in personnel matters, in fact he had the ability, if
he wanted to exercise it, to sack the person?
(Mr Granatt) I turn back to what he said. I do not
think that whatever could happen could be done outside the due
process as laid down by the department's own code, because that,
of course, is also the Secretary of State's responsibility. So
whatever process one would go through, it would go through the
73. On this area we are on now, you said that
the bottom line in all this was that people who were working in
the Service and appointed should be able to work for other governments?
(Mr Granatt) Yes.
74. That was the absolute bottom line test?
(Mr Granatt) They have to behave. For my money, my
understanding is that the rule laid down in both the code and
the guidance on the work of the Information Service, and I think
the Ministerial Code as well, is that people must behave in a
way which would command the confidence of a future administrationany
future administrationin the same way as it commands the
75. Let me just ask you how that sits against
what we are told is the evidenceand you may tell us it
is not the evidence but I take this from an article by Nick Jones
and BBC and Stuart Weir where they say, "On our count, seven
directors and departmental heads have been recruited from newspapers
and broadcasting organisations because of their known sympathy
for the Blair administration. Three senior posts have gone to
former Labour Party press officers; two to journalists from Campbell's
old home, `The Mirror'", and they say after that, "But
Campbell and his lieutenants work within a network of media contacts
and cronies who are able to outmanoeuvre the formalities of civil
service appointments, especially under recruitment criteria shaped
(Mr Granatt) With great respect to Nick Jones and
Stuart Weir I was on those panels and they were not. Those panels
were supervised by a Civil Service commissioner. The short lists
were drawn up by the panels concerned and by nobody else; the
processes were conducted by the panels concerned and nobody else;
the merits of the candidates were considered by the panels and
nobody else; and the candidate who won was put forward by the
panel to the Secretary of State and nobody else. Let me add something
else which I have mentioned in a previous annual report: the Civil
Service does not discriminate between candidates on the basis
of their party background or their party affiliations or what
contact they have had. I always ask on these panelsand
if I do not the Civil Service Commissioner doesAre you
willing to work for a future Government of any complexion?"
In every panel I have been on the candidate has said "Yes",
and demurred only in the case of parties of the extreme left or
76. So someone who has been a press officer
for one party is able to be recruited on the basis that this person
could work for any party, and when asked if this is the case,
he says "Yes" and he is in?
(Mr Granatt) He says "Yes" and he is in
if he wins the competition.
77. Is that not a bit implausible?
(Mr Granatt) No. How would we possibly discriminate
between people if they honourably affirm the fact that they are
willing to work for a party of any complexion? Where would we
be if we tried to look into the political backgrounds of people
and suggested that, if they had voted one way or another or had
worked for an organisation which might be deemed to have a party
affiliation and are not political parties in that respect, there
were grounds on which the Civil Service should discriminate between
them? As far as I recall, the only people who are not eligible
to join the Civil Service are people who have been or are MPs.
78. But if you said to someone who is an Anglican
"Are you qualified to become a Roman Catholic priest"
(Mr Granatt) With respect, sir, we are not talking
about the priesthood; we are talking about a job of work inside
the Civil Serviceand I am not being flippant and I do not
mean any disrespect but we do not discriminate between people
who have a particular point of view. If people choose that particular
point of view that is a matter for them in this societynot
for us. Our job is to ensure that somebody is willing to work
for a administration of any particular colour, and demonstrates
that they will behave properly when they are in the job. I have
to say that some of my colleagues who have been recruited from
the Labour Party or where there is some presupposition that their
former journalistic background implies some political view, in
my experience, are the most assiduous at checking that they are
within the rules.
79. I want to go a bit wider than the last time
you were here. We have a number of issues where, to put it bluntly,
you say something and the public do not believe you. It could
be foot and mouth or it could be MMR, and basically in the modern
environment of 24/7 news, you either get journalists who make
up storiesthat never happens; of course not but you get
the situation where the information that you are putting out in
a non political context just is not believed. What are you going
to do about it?
(Mr Granatt) I think you have highlighted one of the
great problems that faces Government across all sorts of circumstances
and I think, particularly when we ask the public to believe advice
that affects them directly, that is always going to be the crunch.
I think the only thing Government can do about it is to ensure
that what it says can be tested in the light of whatever facts
emerge, whenever later, and is shown to be truthful; that it is
open to the scrutiny of others who have information and can comment
on itthird parties who are expert; and that it is shown
to act properly. I think here you turn to the biggest issue facing
Government across all sorts of things in this respect and anybody
else, which is how you maintain the trust and confidence of partnersbe
they the public at large or the people you work with. The only
way you can really do that at the end of the day is to demonstrate
a sustained track record.