Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60-79)



  60. If you are actually going to achieve this transformation of public services that you have set out, one of the things that will hold it back is the competence of individual civil servants or particular sections, and we have had reports from the Ombudsman, something like the Immigration and Nationality Department, where they sent 5,000 cases in one day to the appeal authority and did not even have an index of what those cases were. What are you doing actually about the competence of civil servants and Civil Service departments?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) There is work done to improve the training of civil servants; there is a lot of training at the point where people first come into the Service, but we are increasing the amount of effort that we put in all the way through people's careers, and we are relating more of that to certain delivery capabilities. But, secondly, and this is illustrated by the IND case, this may have actually very little to do with the competence of individual civil servants, as opposed to the system in which they work. And one of the things that has happened is that the IND has worked in conjunction with the Delivery Unit to improve issues of process. I will give you another example, which is the Street Crime Initiative. Lots of people working, very competent people, but not working well as a system. And one of the results of the Prime Minister's intervention in that area was to get work done on what is the role of all the players down that chain, from the police on the streets arresting; the Crown Prosecution Service bringing offenders to court; the courts themselves; probation; the correction services, and whatever. And you can make a huge amount of progress simply by improving the system in which people operate, as well as raising their individual skills. Certainly we have got to do both.

  Chairman: Thanks for that. I think Gordon Prentice would like to continue this line of questioning.

Mr Prentice

  61. I wonder if I can ask you, Sir Andrew, to tell us about the morale of the Civil Service; is it good, is it bad, or what? It is not a trick question.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) If you ask of the morale of the Civil Service, my experience is, you get very different arguments. If you say, "Do you like your job?" you get a very, very high score. "Do you like the colleagues you work with; do you like the unit you work in?" you can get some very, very high scores. And the further you move away from that to the point of saying, "Do you like the Head of the Civil Service?" or whatever, unless that unit relates directly to you, the poorer the score you will get. People like to succeed and feel that they are making a difference and making progress, and there are large numbers of areas where that is the case; but also feeling that they are being resourced now with increasing amounts of money, and so that alibi, you know, "We'd like to help you but we just haven't got the money to do it" is being removed. So I think people feel that this is a system that is developing. They can see large numbers of areas where the outcomes that they are working on are improving. On the other hand, there are a lot of people still working under a lot of pressure. Working with the public gets more difficult all the time, people are more demanding, rightfully so, over time, probably better educated, ready to argue the toss, exert their rights. So that side of working with the public gets more difficult. But, overall, I think people feel that this is a system that is moving forward.

  62. What about the people at the very top, the permanent secretaries, because I have in front of me here a recent piece in The Times that talks about "bonfire of the mandarins" and that you, not you, but permanent secretaries and the top people, are all going to be subjected to rigorous psychometric testing?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I think this is a derivative piece from a piece that appeared two days earlier in the FT, which was the originator of this story.

  63. Is it true though?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Not quite, no. When DEFRA was set up, it was a department set up in some sense out of crisis, and it recognised that the new structure gave the department a new start. They recognised that the performance of their middle managers, as a group needed to be improved. So they have instituted a system which applies to roughly all Grade 5s who go through a process of identifying their competences, 360-degree reporting. This is then when the story starts to go wrong. What is the purpose of this? The purpose is to identify one of three outcomes. What is the training development that this officer needs; secondly, in some cases, there are people who are very good but are in the wrong job. They are specialists and they like being specialists and they are good at being specialists, so you reorganise them in a different way. Or, thirdly, there are some people to whom we say, "Regretfully, we don't think you contribute to the department," and you get into a discussion about severance. Now that is the minority. The first category is the most important, which is developing the people that you have got. The story was written up as though it was entirely about category number three. It was rewritten in The Times a few days later.

  64. We are talking about top civil servants doing these exercises, such as prioritising what is in their in-tray. If I were the Permanent Secretary in DEFRA, I would find that a bit demeaning, I suppose?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not know; it depends how it was done.

  65. "Would you please prioritise what is in the in-tray;" would that make a difference?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I would not describe the assignment in that way. First of all, you are working from the way it was written up, not necessarily how actually it was being developed in the department. But this process, particularly at this level, roughly Grade 5, is the point in the Civil Service where people begin to exercise significant management responsibility for the first time. Lots of departments have recognised it. Certainly it was true of the Treasury that we do not do enough to equip people for that transition, for that step up in responsibilities. And the DEFRA exercise is probably the most extensive of these kinds of exercises, but you will find similar programmes in DTI, the Treasury is working on one similar. It is not unique to DEFRA.

  66. Was it your decision to bring Faraday Partnership into DEFRA, or was it Margaret Beckett's, did she have any role in this?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) It was certainly a decision of the DEFRA Management Board.

  67. Well she sits on that, obviously?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes, well not necessarily sits, at meetings, month by month, but I assume that that was agreed with her, and indeed this article was claimed to be.

  68. Why was it necessary to go out to the Faraday Partnership and not to use the in-house expertise that you must have in the Civil Service to do this kind of work?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I am not sure, necessarily, that we have the expertise in the quantity that we need it. It is a very large programme.

  69. So we have got the DTI, DEFRA, you will actually go sequentially through all the departments doing this exercise; is that the idea?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) By and large, they will tailor it to their own requirements, rather than having this imposed. I think that gives more commitment and buy-in to it, but a lot of departments will run similar programmes.

  70. I am interested in performance-related pay and how you motivate top people, and in your latest document, which we all have in front of us here, it talks about new pay systems to sharpen team and individual performance. Is it causing any problems in the Civil Service that some people are being brought in from outside, and you acknowledge this is happening, who are on monster salaries, and working alongside people who are on the traditional Civil Service scales; is that an issue?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) It is an issue, but one of the features of the new SCS system is that we are establishing pay ranges that are quite large, and under the old system we had these large ranges but, by and large, people complained that they never made any progress up, you could work for ten years and you made ground only about a quarter of the way up the scale. The new system is seeking to make it possible to make progress up to a certain specified target point and make a reality of that. So we have the consolidated increases up the scale that are significantly bigger than the increase in the scale itself. So, the pay of individual senior civil servants has gone up on average by, say, 4%, compared with the increase in the scale by, say, 2%. In other words, we have closed a bit of the gap between ourselves and the market. Nevertheless, we are still bringing in people, there are several people in the Service who are paid more than me.

  71. That was my next question.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not find that a problem. If it became a very, very kind of widespread problem, we would have to deal with it. We are I think, in a phase where there are certain market skills, particularly really good IT managers, project managers and finance directors, which are scarce skills. Also they are not available in the numbers we want inside the Civil Service. I think there is a recognition that it is sensible to go out and acquire those skills and pay what you need to pay to get them.

  72. I recall, a few weeks ago, that the Lord Chancellor got a whopping great pay rise because his pay was linked to the Lord Chief Justice, I think, and the Lord Chief Justice's pay was linked to yours, am I right?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I think the problem was that the Lord Chief Justice's pay was not linked to mine. For good reasons, it is thought inappropriate that judges are in a world of performance pay; who then is to judge the judges? They are on spot scales. In a world where the people that they are roughly comparing themselves with have performance pay but they have a spot points, over time their pay will fall behind our pay. Then every so often there is a jump, and this year, for example, the judiciary are getting the second stage of a kind of catch-up increase. Now this process can go on indefinitely, having these periodical catch-up increases. However, the SSRB decided it needed to bring some kind of order or system to this. It is looking, as part of its next year's review, at how you achieve some degree of equity between civil servants who are on performance pay and judges who are not, so they do not have this feeling of being left behind and then taking a lurch every three or four years.

  73. I understand that. Can I just move track completely now and ask a couple of questions about targets. You said in your opening statement that you wanted to give the front line more responsibility for setting targets, and I am interested in how this works in a devolved Britain. Because you are responsible for outcomes across the United Kingdom, and yet we have a system in Wales now, with the devolved administration there, which is pretty sharply diverging from practice in England, where we are still locked onto targetry; the Welsh are ditching that, are they not, in large measure?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not know whether they are ditching it. Certainly in the devolved services they can develop different ways of working, and in Wales and Scotland indeed that is the case. And the Delivery Unit operates primarily on the English departments, and then, by a kind of transfer of best practice, that gets translated into Scotland and Wales, rather than any sort of formal jurisdiction.

Annette Brooke

  74. Would you still describe the Senior Civil Service as a gentleman's club?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I have never described it as a gentlemen's club. I think I know where you got this from. There was an article, which someone has got off the website, which had some piece about me, and then someone else described it as a gentleman's club. It is not a phrase I have used. However, I accept fully that we have a duty to make progress towards our diversity targets and we are making progress, but we are not there. A gentleman's club is not quite the right characterisation; by comparison with commercial life, our gender balance, for example, is better but it is not satisfactory, it does not meet yet the objectives we have set ourselves.

  75. What steps are you taking actually to achieve the objectives?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) The first is over recruitment. In the last few years, the graduate recruitment now has as many women as men, but that takes you some way back in the pipeline. Then there is the issue of women who lose a few years by taking time out. How do you ensure that, their careers in the Service, they catch up, that they do not lose time? I would not have thought we have been as good at that as we should have been. We can try to be more effective in ways in which we offer part-time working, the kind of models of part-time working, all sorts of ways of doing it.

  76. Do you do that?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) We do. Also we can harness technology, in the sense that now we have secure modems which, effectively, allow people to work on the same material at home as in the office. This is not just useful for men who want to work all day and all night but actually is a great boon to people that want to work, say, four days but spend only three days in the office.

  77. Can I just ask you, is there a uniform policy across all departments, in terms of trying to change the balance, and do you have departments which have a particularly low ratio of female to male?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) The target for the SCS is one for the SCS as a whole, and most departments simply have taken that and made it their own departmental target. So there is variation. The MoD, maybe for historical reasons. Maybe it will be always have a lower proportion of women than elsewhere, because someone has got to be lower than the average, but even they are accepting that this is something that needs to change.

  78. Also, if we look at people with disabilities, there seem to be a few issues in terms of how many people are being employed; have you got further plans in that direction?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes. Of the three targets, it is possibly the most difficult. We have made some progress, but we are trying to get the SCS from 1.5 to 3%, and we are only 1.7%, so we have still got some way to go. But we have our various programmes, and there is a thing called the "bursary scheme" which is to help people with disabilities, try to find out what is the nature of the disability, what is the particular special help that they need.

  79. Would you say that you are leading or lagging in relation to private industry, as far as people with disabilities are concerned?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull) I think, if you take the average, we are probably better. But I am sure that you will find the best private sector employers probably are ahead of us, and that is what we should be aspiring to, rather than the average.

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