Examination of Witness (Questions 440-453)|
THURSDAY 14 MARCH 2002
440. The press reported quite widely that it
was announced on the Friday, the afternoon of the Friday, was
that an official Civil Service announcement?
(Sir Richard Wilson) You are taking me into territory
I cannot answer. We are talking about Friday when the resignations
were announced. It was done, I think, by Mr Byers, was it not?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I think it was done by Mr Byers,
442. Are you quite clear how that was handled
at that time?
(Sir Richard Wilson) There was a negotiation that
went on. This is handled within the Department and I am not going
to get into detailed analysis of what went on inside the Department,
if you will forgive me. You have had Sir Richard Mottram before
you and he is, I think, the man you should be addressing those
443. I want to take us back to the touchy subject
of the Civil Service Act. You have used some very carefully chosen
words today. All we have been able to get out of you is a date
for when you are going to make a speech making the case you said.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes.
444. That is quite a contrast from the last
time you were here. The impression I gained from you then was
that the case was made, it was overwhelming that in some ways
you saw this as the culmination of your career, the Act ought
to be in place by the time of your retirement. When the Chair
has pressed you for dates on the consultation paper, a Bill, possible
legislative timescale, we have not got anywhere near an answer
or an indication of what the timescale might be. This Act is fundamental
to putting right the kind of problems we have been talking about
today and making sure they do not happen again. Is it not likely
to be the case that when you are gone we will be told that this
is such an important event that we need to take account of the
views of your successor and take a fresh look at this and we will
back to square one? The Civil Service Act is dead in the water
at the moment. You are not able to tell us that but is that not
(Sir Richard Wilson) No, it is not at all. There are
a number of things I must try and correct on that. First, I hope
I did not say anything which implied such a personal role in relation
to the Act. This is a Government policy. I am merely the head
of the Civil Service at this time. I have said in my own view
it is a good idea and I am doing what I can to try and develop
the case for it because I think I am peculiarly in a positionit
is an unusual situationto do that. Also I think I said
last time that legislation and the timescale is a matter for the
Government and I could not commit it. That is the absolutely orthodox
position, I cannot change it and I do not think you expect me
to change it at all. You also question the timetable. I must say
do you really think the last few weeks have been the right time
to try and launch something in a non partisan atmosphere? I think
a certain amount of cooling off is not that foolish. All I would
say to you is I am sorry if you feel it has been slow but I am
saying to you that I have in mind to develop the case for it in
a little more detail in a couple of weeks' time and that is all
I am saying to you really.
445. I have one or two confusing matters and
I am going to be darting around all over the place. Could we go
back to the beginning when we were talking about the appointment
of your successor.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes?
446. I had the impression, maybe you need to
correct me, that the panel that you have set up and the feelers
that are going out, it is more of a case of do not contact us
if we do not contact you. Are there obvious public ways in which
people can say to the panel "I would like to be considered"
rather than being approached? It did not seem to me quite the
way to do it.
(Sir Richard Wilson) I have said to all the Heads
of Departments do they wish to be considered? That seems to me
to be appropriate. We are being a great deal more open in the
process than we have ever been ever before. I think we should
get credit for that. I think also as the head of a professionwhich
is what part of this job is aboutthe field is one in which
you have a fairly good idea of who the main contenders are. I
do not feel that the process is flawed in the way you suggest.
447. I just feel there might be a rank outsider
who is not getting a look in.
(Sir Richard Wilson) Well, if you have a name, Mrs
Brooke, I will be very happy to chat afterwards.
Annette Brooke: No. I do not dabble in patronage
so I will not be doing that. I just felt it was not totally open
and as we are talking about openness, the new Civil Service Act,
it seems a good start to advertise this job in a more open way.
There might be somebody working overseas who does not actually
know this is happening.
448. We had Dame Helena Shovelton in front of
us this morning, she is a splendid woman, just been sacked from
(Sir Richard Wilson) I am not sure I am going to follow
449. I will pass on that but I just wished to
express that thought, particularly if we need to make sure it
is not necessarily a male who has the job I would suggest on that
matter. Can we just go back to the numbers of special advisers
too because you have agreed with Sir Richard that a cap is appropriate.
Sir Richard last week said "I favour a cap but there are
also issues about how they are distributed". I think from
our previous witnesses it was suggested that perhaps it had been
a little bit misleading to talk about 80 special advisers in the
context of 3,000 civil servants when in fact they are concentrated
and indeed we are talking about three, were three, I should say,
in the Department of Transport in fact. So they are concentrated,
are they not? I think one of our previous witnesses was suggesting
that we need to be much more upfront about this if we are talking
about the significance of special advisers and their impact. It
was how they were used and how concentrated they were within sections
and within functions. Would you agree with that?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes. The effectiveness of a special
adviser, just like the effectiveness of an official, depends entirely
on their relationship with the Minister and what power the Minister
allows them to have. If that is the proposition you are making,
that is correct.
450. Right. It was suggested it was easy to
make out they were rather insignificant when they are given as
a straight percentage figure but you actually need a concentration
factor alongside and I think that is possibly quite important.
With the Civil Service Act, and I really am picking up all over
the place here, I think again in previous evidence and in our
discussions here it has been suggested can you actually put something
like the legislation when you have got an underlying problem?
If you have got the problem, lack of trust, lack of confidence,
of which there is plenty of evidence, is this enough, is there
not a lot more to be done?
(Sir Richard Wilson) Yes. I am getting slightly worried
in this discussion. I do not want to over claim for legislation.
I would have in mind, as I said before, that the Government should
be thinking in terms of a short, relatively brief Act, that, as
it were, builds on, codifies, consolidates a lot of work we have
done already, puts it on the record and provides a firm reference
point so that we can move on what is a very large change of programme.
I think, also, there are other things that we should be thinking
about in the light of recent events. You can do quite a lot in
terms of laying down regulation and boundaries, what you cannot
do is determine behaviour. I think there is quite a lot we ought
to now be addressing about induction for special advisers, induction
training, and we have now in the light of recent events asked
the Centre for Management and Policy Studies to lay on new training
courses for new special advisers so we can be sure that they have
some assistance, some welcome, some support in understanding the
system that they are moving into. FDA have made a number of rather
useful suggestions, Jonathan Baume, for instance, about personal
job descriptions which I think we ought to be thinking about.
I have talked about grievance procedures where I think something
more accessible could be used. I think, also, we could be doing
more to promulgate the codes of behaviour that we have got. I
am not sure that everyone knows that we have got the Special Advisers
Code or that we have done everything we should to draw attention
to it. I think there are things that we ought to be doing more
actively to help people understand the system that they have moved
451. I am sure I could pursue that quite a bit
more but we will be hearing more about that because it is going
to be a cultural change. Again, picking up on cultural change,
we are talking about changes for special advisers and clearly
the pace of change at the moment is very great, programming, modernisation
(Sir Richard Wilson) Huge.
452.focus on delivery. Do you consider,
in fact, that civil servants need additional support and help
through this change? We have got some very upset employees in
many of our public services because of the pace of change and
rapid announcements without full consultation. Perhaps civil servants
are feeling that they are not getting enough consideration in
all of this. Would you say that might be the case?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I do not think I can accept the
criticism that you are implying. What I do think is in any organisation
going through change you need to support the staff. I think that
is what leadership is about. I have been engaged, particularly
when I was Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, in a very big
change programme. All experience of running large organisations
is that when you are going through big change morale dips and
people take some time to climb out of it. There is a very strong
case for concentrating on communications, for explaining to people
what is going on, what you are doing to support them, what is
going to be required of them and where it will lead to. I think
that is one of the main reasons why we have made leadership such
an important part of our reform programme. You have to manage
staff and lead them through the kind of turmoil that they are
going through at the moment. It is very important.
Annette Brooke: Thank you for that. I am very
conscious of the time so I will pass back to the Chairman.
Chairman: I promised you we were not going to
keep you because you have got to go to Scotland I know. Sydney,
have you anything to ask?
Sir Sydney Chapman: No, just to apologise, Sir
Richard. I only joined this Committee last week and I had an inescapable
lunch time engagement.
453. Is that your question? Could I bring us
back to the big picture which I think underlies a lot of this,
I do not think we have quite got inside that yet. Could I just
go back to our set text and perhaps add another one in. I am struck
when Lord Armstrong saysthis is pretty meaty and powerful
stuff, no mincing words here". . . those who are in
charge of our public administration should recognise the extent
to which what they have done and are doing puts the principles
of good administration and, in particular, the maintenance of
a non-political, professional career civil service, at risk, and
act accordingly before it is too late". Then I have got Robin
Mountfield, again a very distinguished recently retired Permanent
Secretary who talks about "At the heart of government, the
position of special advisers is becoming more powerful and potentially
dangerous, particularly in Number 10 . . ." and interestingly
did not talk about Departments here, he talks about Number 10
". . . the Cabinet Office and the Treasury". He goes
on to say ". . . The effect is not so much interference in
civil servants' impartiality, as the virtual marginalisation of
orthodox civil service advice. No one now envisages a civil service
monopoly of advice, but the present danger is the reverseits
effective exclusion". So you have got these very powerful
voices from the Civil Service side saying there is something really
serious going on here and you have got significant political voices
saying there is something really wrong with the Civil Service.
We had a leading Cabinet Minister a week or two ago who said "I
think there are too many civil servants who believe that politicians
are a kind of sub species". Here are politicians who regard
civil servants as people who cannot deliver, they do not do policy
for us any more, they cannot deliver and you in turn think the
politicians do not understand the old traditions and all the rest
of it. So the whole thing is blowing up, is it not?
(Sir Richard Wilson) I do not think the whole thing
is blowing up, no. I think there is big change going through the
system. I think when you have big change going through the system
you do get the kind of things you are describing. My own observation
is the relations between Ministers and their permanent secretaries
and special advisers across most of Government is strong and good
and working well. I think that the challenge that the Government
has taken on in delivery of these high quality public services
requires different things in the Civil Service from what we have
been asked to do in the past. I do not think some of my predecessors
would have seen themselves in the kind of role that I and my colleagues
see ourselves in. I think the role of the centre of Government
is also different and it is seen differently conceptually from
the role of the centre of Government in the past. Those are perfectly
proper things but they are quite big. Robin Mountfield and Robert
Armstrong must answer for themselves but I think what they are
signalling is the way Government works is developing and changing.
My own view is that is something which should take place and is
taking place in the open rather than, as it were, behind closed
Chairman: Thank you very much for that. I suspect
over the next few months, this period before your departure, there
will be active conversation on all fronts about these matters
that we have touched on today. We look forward to taking part
in those with you. We are grateful to you for coming along this