Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)



  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 me—they do not.

  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 Service—and it is not about the dark arts; it is about big organisations with big organisation politics—and 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 jobs—open competition or not—who 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?

  67. Yes.
  (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 panel—which at senior Civil Service level certainly for our jobs and for all jobs, I think, now is chaired by a Civil Service commissioner—and 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 job—grades 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 happens—it is not something that is unique to Information Service people. It is not so visible when it happens with people in other jobs—private 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 servant—special 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 normal process.

  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 administration—any future administration—in the same way as it commands the current administration.

  75. Let me just ask you how that sits against what we are told is the evidence—and 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 by Campbell.".
  (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 panels—and if I do not the Civil Service Commissioner does—Are 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 right.

  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 Service—and 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 society—not 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.

Brian White

  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 stories—that 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 it—third 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 partners—be 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.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 25 March 2002