Examination of Witness (Questions 1-19)|
THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2003
TURNBULL KCB CVO
1. Can I call the Committee to order, and welcome
our guest, Sir Andrew Turnbull, who is the fairly recently arrived
Cabinet Secretary. We saw you as you were just beginning to get
your feet under the table; now we hold you wholly accountable
for what is going on. So it is a great pleasure to have you here
again. Would you like to say something generally, to start with?
We have got you here on a number of pretexts, we are looking at
a whole range of things that come under your umbrella; so if you
would like to start us off then hopefully we could get stuck into
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Let me start with
four brief points. The first I will describe as a request; now
it is not for me to draft your report for you, but a request that
when you come to draft the report you revisit Michael Barber's
opening statement of last week, which is very important actually
in setting the context, in particular, emphasising that targets
are not a-self-standing management process but part of a wider
process to raise performance and increase accountability. He borrowed
John Brown's metaphor of targets being part of the tapestry of
things, I think that is a very important piece of context. The
second is an observation. I have not had time to read all the
transcripts of previous evidence, but in all the bits that I have
read one thing comes over. I do not think anyone seriously is
advocating dropping targets', no-one really has got an alternative
framework to propose; so the issue which comes out of this review
is how can we do things better, how can we refine targets and
the way they are used going forward. The third is a proposal,
which is, where do I think the next advances come. The first I
will describe as in the area of validation and assurance. Is there
game-playing, at worst fiddling the figures? How can we be sure
that the achievements claimed in fact are valid? In my view, this
is an area where the degree of scrutiny is rising very rapidly.
Many of the PSA numbers are national statistics, subject to all
the integrity standards, each of the series used in the targets
is the subject of a technical note. The NAO will be starting its
programme of validation shortly, and the Audit Commission, most
notably last week, is active in this field. So that is an area
which I think we can see change quite quickly. But distilling
out of the discussion, I think the most fundamental issue is giving
the front line a greater role in setting targets and getting more
of the accountability flowing downwards rather than upwards. There
are examples of good practice in this area, but I think in the
next round of target-setting probably this is the area where we
want to make most progress and also it is the most difficult.
Fourthly, a caveat, which is, the debate on targets is still what
I would call an immature one. I think you may have used that word
yourself, the Chairman and Kevin Brennan raised this in your discussion
with Nigel Crisp. In the world of business, one expects to meet
a majority of targets but not all of them, and if they were all
met you would call into question the degree of stretch and ambition.
But in the political world any time they are not met is presented
as a failure. We also need to recognise that, even if all targets
are not met in full, nevertheless, if you compare the position
in the base year with where you are now, you can see a substantial
improvement in outcomes. And the dilemma is that you need stretching
targets to drive better performance and drive up the degree of
ambition, but if targets are stretching they will not all be met,
and that is the thing that needs to be recognised. I am hoping
that one of the things that come out of this inquiry is a much
better understanding of all these issues; and where the performance
management process as a whole, of which targets are, as I say,
a part can be improved. I think that is probably what I want to
say by way of general introduction.
2. Thank you very much indeed for that. As I
say, a number of things come under your bailiwick; targets is
one area that we shall talk to you about, but we shall talk about
general organisation of government issues, too, I am sure. Could
I ask you just one thing, to start with, which is, you mentioned
this question about validation and assurance, could I relate that,
just very briefly, to this infamous dossier about Iraq, which
came out a few weeks ago, which many people felt had done great
damage to the Government's position on the front of validation
and assurance, because we know what it turned out to be. Can you
just tell us how on earth that could have happened?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) A dossier was produced originally
by the intelligence community, and then a document that was produced,
unfortunately, I think, bearing the same name, calling itself
a dossier, as opposed to a briefing. The answer is that it was
not produced by the same people. I think that led people to a
view that it was, in a sense, volume two of the same process,
and clearly it was not.
3. But who validates these documents? These
are important things, in the context that we are talking about,
and great damage is done if we do not get this right. What quality
control system was, or was not, in place to ensure
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) There was no second-guessing,
it was not a case where this document was produced and then submitted
to someone else. It was produced in the Strategy and Communications
Unit of Number 10. They produced it, and they took responsibility
4. It was a huge mistake, was it not?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I am not going to judge; but
I can understand why people thought that it was, as I say, volume
two, and thereby casting doubt on volume one. They came out of
two different processes.
5. Let us move it on a little. I take it we
are about to go to war. Can you tell us just what that does to
the Machinery of Government; how does the Machinery of Government
go onto a war footing?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) First of all, the military are
organised, in the usual, very professional way. There is then
a process, now, I suppose, quite familiar. I was involved in it
in 1991, but it was rehearsed again for Kosovo and Afghanistan,
in effect, for developing a daily routine, the analysis of what
has been happening on the ground, the intelligence and reporting.
That is digested by senior officials and the issues are then distilled
and taken to a meeting which the Prime Minister chairs, earlyish
in the morning, not at the crack of dawn because that is when
the analysis of the intelligence process is going on, and the
issues of the day are then acted upon. There can be then a whole
series of implications for domestic departments too; while military
conflict is being prepared for, thought is being given to the
post-conflict situation, which starts off from an initial position,
which could be a humanitarian one, through to how Iraq is governed
and reconstructed. Work is going on, on that basis, involving
a large number of departments. Also, at the same time, there is
all the work which my colleague David Omand is doing on counter-terrorism;
we are subject to a threat, this threat has been with us for some
time and will continue to be with us, but we will need to be even
more vigilant over this period.
6. And this machinery that you are describing
is ready to go?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes.
7. Could I ask something on the communications
side, because we read reports about how the Government communications
system is gearing itself up for what is going to happen, perhaps
you would tell us a little bit about that? And perhaps you would
tell us whether the same guarantees that we are supposed to have
about the integrity of the communications system apply in war
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) The quality of the message which
comes out of Government in times of war has got to be even more
credible, I would say, it cannot afford to mislead people, you
have got to take the country with you. I think we have passed
the sort of era, like the second world war, where you can give
people a very, very partial account. The world media is there,
these are wars which are fought out with the media actually there
on site; you cannot afford not to have a fully credible message,
which reveals as much as is consistent with the good operation,
the good conduct, of the war itself.
8. And the reports that say that there are special
arrangements being made, units being set up ready to be deployed,
and so on, all this, can you tell us how valid that is?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) This is the revival of the CIC,
which is a unit that was mobilised for the conflict in Afghanistan;
that can be remobilised in this case. But it needs to be able
to both receive and transmit messages not simply to the UK public
but globally, basically.
9. And the intention is that it will be remobilised,
and is ready to go?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes.
10. Thank you for that. Can I ask then on just
one more area, before handing over to colleagues, which is that
when you were appointed, the remit, very emphatically, was to
drive forward the Civil Service reform agenda, and I think we
would like to know how this is going? When I read ministerial
speeches these days, one by Gordon Brown recently, one by Alan
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) You have read it, Gordon Brown's
speech, all 11,000 words?
11. Indeed; and I enjoyed it, and profited greatly
from it. But they all have a lot of sentences in about how we
are sorting out the Civil Service. How are we sorting out the
Civil Service, how are you sorting out the Civil Service?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) First of all, I am starting
by sorting out the Cabinet Office, which is, in a sense, the instrument,
and I have brought the six units that were there, largely operating
separately, into a single command. We meet regularly now, we plan
work jointly, we share projects and we have tried to avoid that
sense for departments that they are being bombarded by a whole
series of conflicting initiatives; therefore there is a much greater
sense of purpose. The second thing I have taken further is that
each of the permanent secretaries, as part of their performance
arrangements, leading ultimately to the Permanent Secretary Remuneration
Committee, produces a performance plan. This is in two parts,
their main delivery objectives and, secondly, what they are doing
to develop the capacity of their organisations and their own personal
capacity, I have agreed these with all permanent secretaries,
that was done in September, October. We will come back to that,
probably May, June, when they write up what actually they have
achieved. So a performance management system for permanent secretaries
is being given more substance, more form. But we are going on
to develop that for departments as a whole. We are engaging now
as a group in the Cabinet Office to develop an agreement, a departmental
change programme, "performance partnerships" is the
name we have given to it. What are the five or six things that
are a priority for that department, starting with, have they got
the right people at the top, have they got the right structures,
have they got the right capability to deliver projects, is there
a relationship with the various delivery agents they work with,
whether it is the police, local government, quangos, or whatever.
Are those things in good working order. I have done quite a lot
of work on revamping the number of senior teams, Home Office,
Lord Chancellor's Department, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister,
DEFRA. Also, we have done quite a lot of work on what we need
to do to improve our success rate on major projects. Probably
about three-quarters of the major projects actually are IT projects,
but some of them are construction projects. We have agreed a set
of principles that people should follow, and we have undertaken
quite a lot of work to bring in or develop people with the skills
to take those major projects forward. We were given a presentation
on the history by Peter Gershon. Based on US experience, about
a quarter of IT projects succeed, in the sense of being on budget
and on time; about half are late, or overrun, or do not deliver
their full functionality; and another quarter fail so badly they
get dropped. Now, if we say we have got 40 major projects, are
we prepared really to contemplate writing off ten of them and
succeeding fully with only another ten? The answer is, no, we
are not. So we are making a major effort to raise that success
rate. The other thing I would indicate is, we have continued with
the programme of recruiting talented people from outside. The
open competitions are running at a rate of about 200 a year, and
about 120 of those, i.e. about 60% of those 200, have gone to
outsiders, and about 40 have been won by existing civil servants.
There is more I could say, but that is a flavour.
12. Yes, I am just trying to get a sense; you
see, we see Cabinet Secretaries come and go, here, and they all
tell us how they are reforming the Civil Service, and the phrase
"reform of the Civil Service", it is a bit like "the
Middle-East peace process", it seems to go on just endlessly
into the distance?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not talk in terms of reform
of the Civil Service, actually. I talk in terms of reforming public
services, because many of the services that, the Government is
committed to improving, ultimately are delivered by a front line
which is not even in the Civil Service. And so you have to look
at the total process, right from the genesis of the policy in
Whitehall through to how it is delivered by the police, in schools,
GP practices; therefore it is transforming the public services,
rather than reform of the Civil Service, as an institution, which
is properly the focus of my work.
13. Yes, I accept that, although, of course,
it was the Civil Service that was very much the focus of the reform
agenda that you were given and why you bring in people to help
you do that?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes. If you asked me in what
way have I taken on, for instance, my inheritance and developed
14. That is what I am asking?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Okay. The first is a recognition
of a different focus, which is the wider public services, so we
have got to spend a lot more time on these relationship questions
and not simply on questions that are internal to the Civil Service-pay,
how we recruit, are all the important things, but we have got
to move beyond that. And the second is the embedding of the delivery
culture, and getting people really to buy into it and not start
off with, I suppose you have a kind of process where, initially,
people say, "What has all this got to do with me? I know
it's going to happen, but I'm pretty apathetic about it,"
through to "I know it's got to happen, I want it to happen;
help me, give me the skills that I need," which is where
I think a lot of us are at now, through to "I believe in
all this, and I'm confident I can make it happen." We have
moved a long way, I think, in getting the PSAs as the focus of
departmental activity. If you ask how are different departments'
business plans constructed, how are the responsibility plans of
individual business units, right the way down to people, they
feed back to the PSAs. That is the dominant focus, and that is
quite a big change.
15. Thank you for that. I am sure colleagues
will pursue that with you. Just very, very finally, to that, again,
when you were setting up your Reform Strategy Team, part of their
terms of reference was to work up a Civil Service Bill. Now, again,
when your predecessor used to come to see us, he would tell us
about the imminent arrival of this Bill, and he would give us
timetables whereby things were going to happen, and this went
on month in, month out, year in, year out, and I just wonder how
this proclamation in the terms of reference has been converted
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) We have resolved one issue,
which is a point raised in your report on "These Unfortunate
Events", the whole question of discipline, who is responsible
for that. The Phillis Report on GICS is looking at a second issue,
which is the proper role of special advisers in media work. We
are waiting for Wicks, and also we are waiting for you, you are
drafting a Bill. The question is, why is it not on the legislative
programme; the answer comes down to six priorities. I think there
is, even for the Cabinet Office, something which is higher up,
in terms of our priorities, which is a Bill on civil emergencies,
which is about putting right something that is seriously out of
date, rather than a Bill which is giving the final touches to
a system that, by and large, we understand. We have codes, we
have a Ministerial Code, a Civil Service Code, a Special Adviser
Code, and we police those. Ministers have to judge what priority
do they give to drawing all that together, as opposed to all the
other things that come in the legislative programme. At the moment,
these other things have come higher up.
16. But the commitment to the Bill is still
there, and it is continuing?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) There is still a commitment
Chairman: Thank you very much. I guess we shall
talk more of those kinds of things.
17. Just picking up something that the Chairman
asked about, in terms of the preparations for war, would that
include a paper being put to Cabinet on the Crown Prerogative
and its meaning, and so on?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) No, I do not think so. The Crown
Prerogative is the same as it has always been. There is a recognition
that whatever are the Government's legal powers also it has to
have legitimacy, and so all that it does has got to be (a) legal
and (b) has got to command political support. Hence the various
undertakings that have been given about debates.
18. And has the Government had advice that what
it is planning is legal?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) It is recognised that no civil
servant can be asked to do anything unlawful, and ministers recognise
that absolutely; the military are in the same position. And work
is going on now to set out what that basis of law is, and that
is something that is going on at this moment.
19. As we stand, currently, if, for example,
over the weekend our military forces went into action in Iraq
and there had not been any further resolution in the United Nations,
are you confident, as a civil servant, and as the senior civil
servant in the country, that you would be acting legally?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I am confident that neither
I nor anyone working for me will be put in the position of acting
unlawfully. And that is an undertaking which, when they next debate
it, Parliament is going to want that assurance about as well.
It is going to need to know that what it is voting for is legal;
the military need that, and, based on the same view, the Civil
Service needs it. It is recognised that that is an absolute requirement,
that there is a legal basis for any action that is taken.