Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses(Questions 580-599)

THURSDAY 27 FEBRUARY 2003

PROFESSOR MICHAEL BARBER AND MR NICK MACPHERSON

  580. Talking about gobbledegook, "Point B is closest to point A but point A is not closest to point B, point C is in fact the closest to point B. B is not in group A, A is not in group B but C is." Do you think the public are going to understand that?
  (Professor Barber) I think one of the reasons it is done in a visual representation like that is that you do not need to read the text, you can actually look at the picture and see how well your police force is doing compared to a family of police forces. It is not that difficult.
  (Mr Macpherson) Just to re-enforce that, I had some of my opposite numbers from the Dutch Finance Ministry over here on Friday and they had just been reading about these in the newspapers and they were very impressed by the quality of performance management.

  581. My local police force, Avon and Somerset, comes out very badly on this spidergram.
  (Professor Barber) Yes, so you were able to read it quite easily.

  582. The reason I know is that the Chief Constable wrote to me to say your targets were a load of rubbish and he is very unimpressed indeed by what is happening. The point I make is that Avon and Somerset has missed because of the situation in Bristol to do with crack cocaine and street crime. That is a target missed. The Chief Constable feels that he has been left in a very difficult position because he does not have the resources. He has a very big rural area as well as Bristol. Surely that is a bad target.
  (Professor Barber) Not at all. Actually Avon and Somerset has additional resources for the street crime initiative, but leaving that aside the whole point of publishing performance data—and here I am making a general point rather than specifically about your Chief Constable—is to get that out in the open. No doubt your Chief Constable—and any other good manager in those circumstances would do—will look at that data, will want to change it, will look at what he has to do with his own resources and how to deploy them. He will focus on the things that matter most. They are not bad targets; they are outcomes that are very important to the people of Avon and Somerset and, indeed, the rest of the country in having reduced burglary, reduced street crime, reduced car crime and so on. I think the publication of the data will probably galvanise that police force to address the problems that led them to coming out badly in those comparisons and they will redeploy resources, they will change what they do, they will learn from more successful forces and they will no doubt improve their performance next time it is published.

Chairman

  583. When information is presented in that form, a spidergram for the police or league tables or whatever, is the presentation of this information something that runs through you as well?
  (Professor Barber) No.

Mr Prentice

  584. Picking up the point that Ian made about asylum which is the issue of the moment, I am interested in the high intensity drive that the Prime Minister is engaged on. You have told us he is focused on asylum at the moment. How much time does he spend in this high intensity drive working on asylum? How does it actually work?
  (Professor Barber) The responsibility for asylum lies with David Blunkett and his ministerial team and they are very energetically pursuing a set of reforms. No doubt you remember the legislation that went through Parliament last year and has begun to be implemented from the autumn of last year. The Home Office is driving that set of reforms with a great determination. Having the Prime Minister assisting them in that process is extremely important because some aspects of the asylum system are run outside of the Home Office and the Prime Minister's contribution is to assist David Blunkett in dealing with what everybody recognises is an extremely difficult issue. I am not in a position to guess how much time the Prime Minister spends on it.

  585. I only asked the question because at the Prime Minister's press conference in July last year, the Prime Minister said on asylum he was working at level three and that involved substantial commitments of his time. That is what he said. Now he has zoomed up to high intensity drive and I was just interested in how much time we are talking about.
  (Professor Barber) These are levels we use for internal description of the level of the problem, but the asylum issue is, as you rightly said, one of the major issues of the moment. The Prime Minister has, along with the Home Secretary, been monitoring the data and it is something which is of major significance to the whole of the general public and has been for a good deal of time. In the recent period he has given additional time, over and above what he was giving throughout the second half of last year to asylum. But I cannot put a number of minutes or hours on it, but it is significant.

  586. I am interested in the aspiration, because you told us earlier that when the Prime Minister spoke on Newsnight and he said he would like to see us, the Government, reduce asylum applications by 30 or 40 per cent in the next few months, and I think by September we should have it halved. That is an aspiration. Where did that aspiration come from? Was that the Delivery Unit's aspiration? The Prime Minister's aspiration? The Home Office's aspiration? What was the genesis of this?
  (Professor Barber) There is data with a time lag on asylum applications constantly being collected by the IND part of the Home Office and that is published periodically. The next publication I think is tomorrow. Partly the aspiration comes from the knowledge of what the data shows and the need to reduce the number of asylum applications. It comes from all of those people, but led inevitably by the Home Office and the Home Secretary who is responsible for that area of policy. Your question was about the Delivery Unit and that is one of the things we are monitoring the progress on.

  587. It is just that we talked earlier about accountability and this is a very public aspiration—some people would say a target—on the issue that exercises the British public and it was just some kind of amalgam emerging from discussions from the Home Office, the Delivery Unit and so on. That is what I am trying to establish. Why do we not have a specific target?
  (Professor Barber) There are specific targets for the asylum system published in the 2002 white paper, but the Prime Minister clearly judged that he wanted to be held to account publicly for the improvement in the asylum system in the way that he announced on that occasion. That is a matter for him in exercising leadership.

  Chairman: Did you know about it beforehand? Were you watching television and heard this target being announced? Did you know about it beforehand?

Mr Prentice

  588. He always says my best lines, but you can answer the Chairman's question.
  (Professor Barber) I did not know that the Prime Minister was going to make that statement on Newsnight that evening.

  589. Did you speak to him about that?
  (Professor Barber) Before or after?

  590. Were you upset?
  (Professor Barber) No. I am confident that the aspiration that he mentioned then will be achieved.

  591. Can I move from aspiration to target? We had a target, did we not, for the removal of 30,000 failed asylum seekers and that target was abandoned. Who decided on the 30,000 target in the first place? Secondly, who decided to abandon the target?
  (Mr Macpherson) My recollection is that the original target was agreed between the Home Office and the Treasury and also no doubt the Prime Minister in the 2000 spending review.

  592. Did the Home Office people say that this was achievable?
  (Mr Macpherson) The way things stood then their view was that this was a very stretching target but it was achievable. Events have shown that it certainly was not achieved and I think the view was—by 2001 when David Blunkett became the Home Secretary—that it was not achievable.

  593. It was a pretty poor target.
  (Mr Macpherson) This is exactly the sort of issue I was referring to earlier. You can have an aspirational target and you can miss it and you are then free to say it was hopeless, useless and so on

  594. Can I ask how many were removed then? 30,000 was the target; before it was abandoned how many failed asylum seekers were actually removed?
  (Mr Macpherson) I do not have the figures to hand, but my recollection is that removals were going at something like a thousand a month, so that would be around 10,000 to 12,000 a year, which is short of the 30,000. This is one of the reasons why you have to learn with targets. Sometimes, even if the service has a really good go at meeting a target and then fails, you have to learn from that. Was it because the target was just too ambitious? Was there a fault in the system? Should you be seeking to change policy to hit the target?

  595. I know the answer to this one as well before I ask the question, but do we have a target for removal of asylum seekers floating about in the Treasury or the Home Office? I do not think a new target has been published to replace the abandoned one.
  (Professor Barber) There is one. I do not remember the exact words, but it is to do with the increased proportion of failed asylum seekers who are removed.
  (Mr Macpherson) There is a PSA target on page 14 of the white paper which I could read out, but since you know the answer to the question anyway.

Chairman

  596. Some of us may not know so it would be useful to have it read out.
  (Mr Macpherson) Let me read out the target which happens to be shared jointly with the Lord Chancellor's Department. "Focus the asylum system on those genuinely fleeing persecution by taking speedy, high quality decisions and reducing significantly unfounded asylum claims, including by: fast turnaround of manifestly unfounded cases, ensuring by 2004 that 75 per cent of substantive asylum applications are decided within two months, the proportion (to be determined) including final appeal are decided within six months and enforcing the immigration laws more effectively by removing a greater proportion of failed asylum seekers."

Mr Prentice

  597. The Chancellor said exactly the same thing.
  (Mr Macpherson) That is good.

  598. On 18 July.
  (Mr Macpherson) I think I was there. I think I was sitting next to him, so that is encouraging.

  599. I see. His master's voice. What is meant by a proportion, including final appeal are decided within six months? The arithmetic is quite important here.
  (Mr Macpherson) It does say that a "proportion", in brackets "to be determined".


 
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