Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 40-59)

THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2003

SIR ANDREW TURNBULL KCB CVO

  40. So he will be well gone if it is not quite right; you will be here, of course?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I will be here, yes, and I am his boss.

  41. It will be nice to see you again. If the Government does not get these targets, this was something that you said actually, that you did not want to have great turf wars, I seem to remember, when you came here you said "The last thing I want to do is spend the next three years refereeing turf wars, that would be absolute misery." I agree with you there. Do you think that the e-Envoy, because of what is happening, is in the middle of a turf war?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) No. We have a better understanding now, I think, of the role over the next two or three years, in respect of some of the things. The responsibility for standards and infrastructure, there is a continuing UK online campaign, in a sense, to get the country UK-enthused, and increasingly being directed to the people that commercial outlets are not reaching. There is work on a project known as "Delivering the Promise", otherwise known as "dot p", standardising websites. The next is the EGDP programme, which is the work in the ten major areas, which I can come to in a minute. They are working on a project which they call the "Online Government Store". Now this is the idea that if you are a student, elderly person, a traveller or motorist, you can come into electronic space and then there is something that says, "All the services we offer for you, irrespective of the department that they are offered by, can be found in that space." Similarly, they have responsibilities for the e-Government gateway, which is the process of getting validation of your identity, which can be used in repeat applications, so you are not constantly re-identifying yourself to Customs, the Passport Office, Revenue. They do work on e-Democracy. Finally there is also some work on security and resilience. So they have got a very major programme.

  42. Can I bring you back to turf wars, because there are changes in the Delivery Unit, they have gone off to the Treasury, except for one person.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Initially, except for one person.

  43. I think they would rather have stayed in the Cabinet Office.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) No, he has a room over there.

  44. He has got two rooms?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes.

  45. Ah, he is a dual-roomed person; how very nice for him. So, coming back to this; yes, that is interesting, I did not know that, actually, because I thought he was going to stay at the Cabinet Office but actually he is going between the two?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes. His principal office will be—

  46. Number 10?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) No; in 1 Horseguards.

  47. Right. Coming back to the turf wars, because it does seem to me there are massive changes within the Cabinet structure, is this you, are you moving things around, are you saying, "We want to shift them out to the Treasury," or, the e-Envoy, are his staff saying the same?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) They are still at Stockley House.

  48. Are they going up or down, what are the numbers doing, in there?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) The numbers actually are coming down, but, of the various delivery units, e-Envoy is still the largest, it still spends a large amount of money. So the idea of its being massively contracted, there were some reports of that in The Independent, are wrong; it is the largest of the units, spending about £14 million next year.

  49. I know that other colleagues want to talk about the funding; but, if that is the case, are there changes within the Cabinet Office on this, so that you are trying to stop the turf wars, there were turf wars, are you total supremo?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I said it would be a nightmare; well, it has not been a nightmare, because it has been possible to get a good understanding of what each of these units is there to do. There were one or two projects which I thought were duplicating one another, but we have sorted those out. So, by and large, each of the delivery units has a clear understanding of what it is doing, and, in some cases, for example, the Prime Minister's efforts to reduce the bureaucracy which one part of the public sector inflicts on another, we are running as a joint project between the Office of Public Service Reform and the Regulatory Impact Unit. So, far from it being turf wars, actually we have got people working together. Now this move of the Delivery Unit to the Treasury is very significant, because when the Delivery Unit was set up, and I was in the Treasury at the time, the Treasury was very apprehensive about it, that it would create a parallel set of targets, for example. Would it create pressures for more spending? Now what has happened is that when the targets were reset and re-expressed in SR2002 the Delivery Unit was part of that process, so there is no difference about the targets and the objectives we are all working to. They have now agreed a kind of share-out between them, those PSA's where the Delivery Unit is in the lead and those where a Treasury expenditure team is in the lead. The idea that the Chancellor has stolen this off Number 10 is completely wide of the mark. What we have done is, because the purpose that they are engaged in coincides, we have come to the conclusion it does not matter actually where they operate, because they are not in competition. You locate them where it is most efficient to locate them.

  50. That was not my point; it is interesting you went down that line, because that was not actually what I was thinking about. Certainly, you have opened a suspicious vein in me again now, that they were not stolen. The reason I was trying to go down this line is that you have sent us another organogram, which seems to be slightly more streamlined than the last one we had. You set that up and you are happy that you can deliver the PSA target system within that, such as the e-Envoy, using that model?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes. The previous one, I think, was representing that period between the election of 2001 and the reshuffle of July 2002, when the Deputy Prime Minister's Office was also inside the Cabinet Office. He has gone now and taken several of the units that he was responsible for, like the Regional Co-ordination Unit, the Social Exclusion Unit, and brought them together in a proper department. Now it is possible to define fairly clearly what are the purposes of the Cabinet Office, and, by and large, we do not have any units in it that do not serve one or other of those purposes, which is why now it is possible to draw a reasonably accurate, clear organogram. Also, we have two ministers, we have got a reasonable understanding of those subjects which report through to Gus Macdonald, and you are seeing him next week, those which go to Douglas Alexander, and those which go directly through to the Prime Minister.

Chairman

  51. When we had Michael Heseltine here, a long time ago, he said, "Cabinet Office, it's a bran tub," he said, "always was, always will be." You have sorted out the bran tub, and now you have given some clarity?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I have made it a lot clearer. I would not say I have sorted it out absolutely, but it is a lot clearer than it has been for a long time.

Brian White

  52. Your target we talked about, which is the e-Government target, seems to me to be a classic example of where you needed to set a target to galvanise change, but actually then to take that change through to delivery the target gets in the way. And how do you deal with that issue, because, if you are going to achieve the target, the temptation is to put everything just as a web page, but actually to achieve delivery you have got to re-engineer the management processes that pull behind it; so how do you deal with that actually?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) By adjusting, or refining, developing the target, that was what we did in 2002.

  53. The charge will be, you have missed the target?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) What we did was leave the existing target, which is based on availability, in place and then add this second part to it, I cannot remember the exact words, about increasing usage in the major services. So both of those are now running; and as we get to more or less universal coverage the emphasis will switch to the usage that takes place in the major service areas; and it seems to me quite a sensible way. We would be accused of a lack of transparency, or dodging our accountability, if we dropped one completely and just switched over to the other; what we are doing is running them in dual harness. And then I can see a time when the emphasis will switch, as you get to achieve universal coverage. Then you put all your effort into driving up usage.

  54. That is a much more difficult thing to get across, of course, but I am interested in some statistics that came out at the end of last year, which were saying that fewer than 3% of the population regularly use government websites to access public services, and in their sample not a single person over 65 or from social groups D and E said they used the Internet regularly to access government services. So what are you doing about tackling who uses it, as opposed to the availability of it?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not know about the particular figures, but we accept the view that the usage of government services is lagging behind the use of the Internet in commercial life. That was the theme of the Prime Minister's e-Summit, so basically we are accepting that as a problem. There are two ways of dealing with it, and one is, you have to make the services that are available easily available and accessible, and that is this process of trying to group them in a series of clusters, so if you are elderly there is a website that brings together the information you need, whether they are coming from DWP about benefits, or health, or help with transport, or whatever. But also effort is needed to identify the groups where access is low, and that is where you target your campaigning effort. So the next UK online campaign will be not simply a global thing, appealing to everyone. Large numbers of people in the last four or five years have gone onto the Internet and are moving steadily over to broadband, you need to work steadily with inner-city areas, the elderly, whatever, and that is recognised increasingly in the way that campaign is being structured.

  55. You mentioned earlier the key role of the PSAs and it has had a limited effect in achieving the kind of cultural change that you are looking for.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Did you say a limited change?

  56. In my view, it has had a limited effect, it has had a significant benefit but it has not yet achieved that fundamental cultural change. Is not the problem that while we still allocate money to a departmental silo we will not get that change?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Amongst some of this, it includes people in the Civil Service and its agencies, police commanders, headteachers, I think there is increasing buy-in to the idea that there are certain objectives and they work towards them. So, setting out this idea of a kind of J-curve of the move from disbelief or apathy through to full commitment, I think we have moved quite a long way through that process.

  57. But do you accept there is still a long way to go actually to getting the money related either to a particular project or to a particular outcome, that money is still related to an input?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Increasingly, targets are specified in terms of outcomes, there are far fewer targets in terms of, "We will set up this body," or "We will increase the number of teachers," or "We will spend this amount of money," through to "We want to improve coronary heart disease, cancer outcomes, hospital waiting times," and so on.

  58. I have got a couple of questions on the Ombudsman, which related to Ann Abraham from last week. One is that the Government promised the reform of the ombudsman system as a whole, through Collcutt, and very politely turned down my request to assist you, through a Private Member's Bill. Where is the Cabinet Office in terms of coming forward with the reform of the ombudsman system?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not know, actually; really I am waiting for the report. This is a subject that is on my "to do" list, rather than that I am actually right on the case at this moment.

  59. One of the other things that has come to the fore recently is that, now that the taboo has been broken that ministers do not actually reject an ombudsman's finding, that they always accept it, it seems to be that more and more ministers now seem to challenge the ombudsman's findings; is that worrying you?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I am not sure that there has been a taboo. I seem to remember a case in the Department of Transport about compensation. I do not think this is the first time that a recommendation has been rejected. I would be surprised.


 
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