Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-270)
Wednesday 21 May 2003
Mr Richard Kitchen, Mr
Lindsay Harris, Mr David Lambert, Mr Graham Black,
and Mr Rolf Toolin
Q260 Chairman: We are almost there.
Can I ask you two or three final questions? Is there a single
minister to whom the whole operation reports?
Mr Kitchen: No.
Q261 Chairman: So each of you reports
to your departmental minister. Is there a ministerial committee
which meets to exercise a sort of general supervision? Even at
the level of the most junior, junior, junior, junior, junior ministerthe
sort of people who are given charge of energy saving and that
sort of thing?
Mr Kitchen: The Grabiner Steering
Group prepared a report on illegal working last autumn which went
from that Grabiner Steering Group to the Minister for Work and
Pensions and went to the Treasury Minister and to the relevant
Agriculture Minister. They were all made aware that this was something
which was going on.
Q262 Chairman: If I say "Who
is in charge?" what is the answer?
Mr Kitchen: The Grabiner Steering
Group, which is senior officials.
Q263 Chairman: Is there a sort of
grand supremo in charge of that? Is there a chairman?
Mr Kitchen: The chairman is from
Q264 Chairman: So there is a civil
servant in the Revenue who chairs this group. At a guess, what
proportion of his working week, would you say, is devoted to this?
Mr Kitchen: I do not know.
Q265 Chairman: And you, Mr Kitchen,
what proportion of your working week, would you say, generally,
is devoted to this particular activity?
Mr Kitchen: One hundred per cent
of my working week is spent on fraud at the Department for Work
and Pensions, of which this is part.
Q266 Chairman: I am talking about
what we have christened the "Gangbusting" side of it.
Mr Kitchen: I would guess that
it occupies a week a year of my time, directly on gangmaster.
That is all it takes, but that would be to distort the effort
I put into fraud as a whole.
Q267 Chairman: I am not trying to
belittle anybody's efforts. I think the problem is that when we
realised that there was a government operation to try and deal
with this, what we had in mind was a group of people who had been
put in charge of it with a clear line of authorisation, operating
clearly with the police, perhaps, and who really spent their time
trying to crack this. What it seems to be is an extraordinarily
fragmented operation, and each of your umbilical cords back to
your own departments overwhelm any other sort of protein flow,
as it were, in the operation. Each of you is doing the departmental
brief. I get the impression that you have been sent on a mission
impossible. You have not had the structures or any of the other
stuff put in place to enable you to do this job. If I were a gangmaster,
would you say that I ought to be petrified, terrified, worried,
anxious or largely indifferent to your activities?
Mr Kitchen: I would expect you
to be concerned about the activities
Q268 Chairman: "Concerned"
is not very high on the Richter Scale, is it, of terror?
Mr Kitchen: I would express it
slightly differently to the way you have put it. I am extraordinarily
pleased about the way in which these departments are working together
at an operational level on a daily basis with a significant number
of officers dedicated entirely to gangmaster issues. My role as
Chief Investigation Officer is to ensure that those officers,
together with others in the DWP involved in investigations, are
properly supported with appropriate intelligence systems, appropriate
use of powers and a resourcing system to manage them in effective
Q269 Chairman: But the game is running
away from you. Is that a fair comment?
Mr Kitchen: The game is difficult
to quantify, and we are recognising that it is a significant problem
which is evolving because of the factors that I mentioned previously
and which is taking some time to get a grip of.
Mr Black: I would say that I do
not think the game is running away from us. I think it would probably
have been easy to set up a few people in an office and put the
"Gangmaster" logo over the top of their desk, perhaps.
What we have here is a much wider problem, which we have now got
a flexible response on; we can cut across all departments where
all departments are concerned, and we can cut across two departments
where two departments are concerned.
Q270 Chairman: There is no Cabinet
Office involvement, is there?
Mr Black: No. But we are certainly
able to identify the problem and put the appropriate resources
and the appropriate talent and skills in to deal with that problem.
I think it would be wrong to think of this as a one-size-fits-all
problem; you get very large gangmasters and very small; different
issues around different areas of the country and, indeed, gangmasters
are not simply agricultural gangmasters, they are involved in
a wide variety of areas. We would see it more as a flexible response
rather than anything else.
Chairman: Gentlemen, thank you very much
for coming. We acknowledge that you are civil servants, not politicians,
and that you have perhaps caught a little bit of flak which ought,
more properly, to be directed towards politicians. The trouble
is there are five politicians, apparently, that it ought to be
directed towards. Perhaps we ought to have them lined up in front
of us next, but we will have to make do with Lord Whitty. Lord
Whitty will no doubt receive notification. By and large, we think
the politicians have got some answering to do to describe how
this operation is really going to deliver the sort of outcomes
which all of us agree are necessary, which is tackling a problem
which everybody has emphasised is a sort of serious social issue
as well as being an issue of fiscal and economic matter as well.
We are grateful to you for coming in such strength and you have
helped our inquiry a great deal. Thank you.