Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 177-179)




  177. It is our pleasure to have Sir Richard Mottram, the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions with us this afternoon. We are not here to talk about transport or local government or the regions, but we are here to talk about the machinery of government and Civil Service issues. You have had an interesting week or two on this front?

  (Sir Richard Mottram) Have I, Chairman!

  178. I only know what I read in the newspapers! We look forward to what you are going to say to us. There is a temptation to say that our note takers have trouble with asterisks, but if you would like to say something by way of introduction then we will ask you some questions.
  (Sir Richard Mottram) Thank you very much. Rather unusually, I would like to say a few words about the context of the events over the last few weeks and to an extent since the last Election in my Department and how these events relate to the interests of your Committee. The point I most want to emphasise is that these events say nothing about the effectiveness, commitment and loyalty of the civil servants in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions or about the effectiveness of DTLR as as Department. DTLR employs some 17,000 civil servants in its headquarters' functions and ten executive agencies. Most of our staff are remote from the events of recent weeks and, of course, many of them have little to do with Ministers directly. They are innovative and hard-working. They deliver what Ministers want. I would argue that DTLR is at the high-performing end in any Whitehall and agency comparisons. For me personally one of the most depressing aspects of recent events has been the way in which they have been used to criticise the Department itself. This is extremely unfair to my staff and potentially demotivating. Fortunately, they are a robust lot. Secondly, this has not been a saga about relations between Ministers, special advisers and the Civil Service as three breeds or tribes, so to speak. Relations between Ministers and civil servants in DTLR are in fact very good. What the Civil Service wants under any government is to serve Ministers effectively and loyally. We know that this is the basis for success and, for those who work closely with Ministers, for job satisfaction. Until recently the DTLR had three special advisers. Relations with two of them have been fine and with one more mixed. The good state of this relationship between officials and special advisers was also the case in the Department in a slightly different form when it was headed by the Deputy Prime Minister. When we were DETR we also had good relations with our special advisers. It was equally true when I was in charge of the Ministry of Defence. I would, of course, be happy to discuss with the Committee what I think is the basis for a successful relationship between officials and special advisers. This is not an issue about special advisers versus officials. What then have been the ingredients that we have been seeking to manage and which have led to difficulties? To put them in perspective, in any government in my experience Ministers take a particularly close interest in the performance of their press offices or media centres and the people in them. There is nothing surprising about this. Effective communication is vital to success. Personal relationships need to be close. This is not about politicisation. The analogy in my view would be with a Minister's Principal Private Secretary where for many many years it has been accepted that, within the normal framework of civil service recruitment and promotion and political impartiality, personal chemistry is important. The increase in the number of special advisers who concentrate wholly or largely on media relations is an added complication since their work obviously overlaps substantially with that of the official machine and this overlap needs to be managed. In the DTLR there have been two additional ingredients which are unusual but not unique, and one which has been unique and which ultimately proved unmanagable. The first ingredient has been an unease amongst Ministers about leaks from the Department which were sapping mutual confidence but were difficult to pinpoint to individuals. The second was the interaction between Jo Moore and some but not all members of staff, particularly in the press office. While these produced tensions, I believe they would have been manageable without a third ingredient which ultimately made the mixture explosive, particularly in media terms. This was the disclosure of Jo Moore's e-mail of 11 September. Without that document—linked to a truly shattering event—what subsequently happened on 11-14 February this year would have been of little interest to anyone. What possible media interest would there have been in whether DTLR was or was not intending to put out a press notice on benchmarks to judge railway performance on, as it turned out, the same day as Princess Margaret's funeral, which we never intended to do anyway. To use an analogy from my previous defence incarnation we should be cautious about generalising too far from a highly specific chain of events with an unusually potent trigger. Having made that perhaps obvious preliminary point, Chairman, I welcome the chance to discuss how these events were handled and the lessons for the interests of the Committee.

  179. Thank you very much indeed. You say that you think that the original problem that caused all this was the very first leaked e-mail where the whole chain of events started. Was there a leak inquiry about that e-mail?
  (Sir Richard Mottram) There was, Chairman, yes.

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 28 March 2002