Examination of Witness (Questions 80-99)|
THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2003
TURNBULL KCB CVO
80. It is good to see leadership. Obviously,
you have programmes for ethnic minorities; are you making progress
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) We are making progress there.
Partly it is a question of recruitment, but, if you take the Civil
Service as a whole, it recruits people from the ethnic minorities
more or less in proportion to the population as a whole, but this
is very heavily skewed towards the junior grades, so a lot of
the people that we want to bring on actually are with us already.
And I think we recognise that we need special programmes to identify
people with the talent, to give them special help. There is a
Cabinet Office programme which people from ethnic minorities join.
They give them some additional training, they give them coaching
and a mentor. Increasingly, a number of departments have set up
their own schemes in parallel to this, to supplement them. The
other feature is this whole question of outreach, going out to
schools and universities beyond the traditional recruiting grounds.
We have a summer placement programme, where people come in from
ethnic minorities and they work during the summer vacation. Now
we are beginning to see progress. We have had two people who came
on this programme, saw the Civil Service, saw it in a completely
different way from the way they had before, then applied, and
have got in. And I think this is something that really I would
like to deliver up a good deal more.
81. Can I refer perhaps just particularly to
the women's situation. There have been some rather high-profile
cases in the private sector, and in the City in particular, even
the Stock Exchange, I think, of women having difficulties with
their male colleagues, or their male colleagues having difficulties
with them, and perhaps culminating in official complaints. Do
you have any issues of official complaints at a fairly high level
in the Senior Civil Service about how women feel they are treated?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Not at the permanent secretary
level. I think we get on pretty well, actually. My women colleagues
give as good as they get, and they are very good colleagues. We
have not had such a case; it is possible we could. There was a
famous case in Australia, you know. If it can happen there, it
can happen here, but so far it has not. But I am not going to
say we can never get into a position where on a gender basis there
were some serious professional difficulties; but it has not happened
82. I think you did say, earlier on, that one
of your early tasks actually was working on the culture, so is
that an aspect that you have been working on?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes. Going back to Treasury
experience, we had a programme of compulsory training on diversity
awareness. Gordon Prentice may think we should do this all in-house,
but, anyway, we hired some consultants, and they came in and illustrated,
through re-enacting a number of workplace situations, how people
can make assumptions about people, often unwittingly give offence.
I think people have benefited quite a lot from that.
83. Thank you for that. Why are the figures
for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on diversity so appalling
and so out of line with the rest of government; is that a cultural
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) There is a cultural problem.
There is a career problem, because of moving people around all
over the world and it is quite difficult to move two partners,
whether it is men or women, but it has been done. People have
found ways of moving both partners, but in a world in which both
partners increasingly are working, it is more difficult. There
is also a question of culture. Remember the event when they recalled
all the Ambassadors. The Prime Minister came and addressed them.
There was a question from the floor from one of the women there,
expressing the view that more needed to be done, and Michael Jay
will fully admit that more needs to be done.
84. When we had some leading, in fact, the leading,
public sector head-hunters here, the other day, they said, in
passing, that they had noticed that routinely now, in a range
of public organisations, when they ran a recruitment process and
a man and a woman came through at the end, broadly comparable,
they were appointing women. Do you think that practice is one
which the Civil Service should adopt, or does it raise difficulties
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) They were saying that, we, in
the Civil Service?
85. No. They were saying they had noticed, in
a number of public bodies that they were recruiting for, that
it had become the routine practice now, when you had a man and
a woman come through a recruitment process and they were broadly
of the same standard, routinely now the bodies were appointing
the woman. And we tested that argument out with Dame Rennie Fritchie,
a week or two ago, on the merit test, and she promised to go away
and think about it, and I wondered what you thought about it?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Well I think I will wait for
the evidence, actually. I do not immediately recognise it as happening.
It may be their perception, it may be it is right. Certainly there
is no instruction. On the other hand, there is an objective to
increase the representation of women on public bodies to 40% by
2004-05. So it is the case that you have to look hard and make
sure that, if you are recruiting, say, three board members to
replace people who are retiring, the field that you get has an
adequate representation of women in it, otherwise you are not
going to be able to make any progress towards this objective.
86. So it would be perfectly proper to give
preference to a woman at the end of a recruitment process, in
order to increase the representation of women?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) The discussion I had with Rennie
Fritchie in the case I was involved in was, if this is a body
where representativeness is part of the business that it is in,
you can specify that you have got to recruit people who are representative.
Now gender is one of the dimensions of this, but not the only
one; it could be that you were looking also for people who are
representative geographically. But I think her argument was, "If
you're going to do that, it has to be part of the specification,"
so that you are recruiting against a known standard and known
objective, for a known purpose.
87. Sorry to pursue this, just to finish it
off. Is representativeness part of the business that the Civil
Service is in?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) That is why we have the targets.
We believe in diversity. There is a kind of business case for
diversity, that we have got to get talent from where we can get
it; but also there is a kind of legitimacy case, that we serve
the public, are paid for by the public, so we cannot appear to
be an organisation that they recognise, they just think, is completely
88. It is a rare opportunity to ask questions
of someone at the highest level of government, at the heart of
government, so I would like to ask an important general question.
When I read documents and speeches with words like "reform,
partnership and modernisation, strategic focus, scrutiny', or
whatever, I do not understand them, it sounds like Orwellian new-speak
to me, and I want to know what really it is all about. Is this
simply a disguise for a hard ideology, to which our Government
is committed, at every level, and which would not really be very
popular with the population if it were explained in simple terms?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) No. I think, fundamentally,
it is about improving public services and building public services
around the people for whom they are being provided, and not in
the interests of the people who provide them. Now that is a very
noble purpose, there is nothing hard-nosed managerial about that.
Some of the methods you use in order to get to that objective,
business plans and targets and monitoring, and so on, are highly
managerial, but the objective is far from it. It is about quality
of service, it is about equity, there are some lofty ideals in
89. I may say that I do not really accept that.
What seems to come out of this, the whole direction of government
over a couple of decades, is breaking up the public services into
units, marketising, privatising, and moving towards a world where
democratic government and democratic control, if you like, of
society, in any sense, is being severely diminished. Is that fair?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) No, not really. We have been
through a phase in the eighties and the nineties where the debate
was, what are the boundaries of the public sector, what are those
services that should be public services and what can be passed
over to the private sector, so that those organisations deliver
these services direct to the public, possibly the regulator overseeing
it, eg electricity, gas, water, transport. A whole host of them,
including some pure market things like British Airways. That debate
largely has run its course. It is not necessarily absolutely finished
but largely it has run its course. The stage we are at, at the
moment, is we have defined now those things which are public services,
health, education and law and order, care of the elderly, and
so on. But if something is a public service, in other words, funded
by government, where the rights of access, the entitlements, are
defined by government, nevertheless, you have a choice as to whether
the government provides those services by using its own employees
and its own organisations, or whether it buys them in, under a
contractual relationship with someone else. Now you could say
that is what the universities have been like for centuries; they
provide a public service, they are not owned by government, they
are not government employees, but we make money available to them
and in return they provide services to students. That is how,
for 50 years, the GP service has been run; general practitioners
are not employees of the state, they are private contractors,
but they enter into contracts and we provide them with money.
Now you have a discussion now as to whether that principle can
be extended into new areas. The Chancellor's speech, at least
the first two-thirds of his 11,000 words, is trying to get down
to what are the principles on which to decide whether you want
to deliver a service using your own staff and your own organisations,
or whether you will do it by entering into a contract with someone
else. It is quite a difficult read, but it is trying to get to
this profound issue.
90. It is called privatisation, I think, essentially.
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) No, it is not privatisation.
Are you saying that the GP service is privatised; the GP service
is not privatised, it is contractual, it works by a combination
of a contractual relationship plus professional ethics, so that
self-employed people provide a service on behalf of the state
and are paid for it. Now the question is can the same logic apply
to hospitals? That is what the debate is about; now it is not
for me to say which is the right answer, politics are going to
sort that out.
91. I accept what you say, that the public sector,
in a very few years' time, could almost not exist, and government
will have a job merely
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) That is not true, that is just
92. Merely have a job of just handing out contracts.
It was suggested that local authorities, in a few years' time,
might simply have a job of handing out contracts, and that is
all, meet once a year to hand out contracts, and that is all they
would do. This is not what we understand, I think, historically,
as public services. We have got an example, railway privatisation,
where actually it is starting to reverse, because the contractual
relationship has been so disastrous, we have seen already the
Reading district of rail maintenance being taken in-house by Network
Rail, and more of that is going to happen. And, indeed, an article
from the Financial Times says "public sector runs contracts
better" in terms of IT, it is the public sector doing rather
better in running contracts than the private sector.
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) But do you mean running the
contract or operating the contract?
93. I will finish on that question. When I came
to this place first, six years ago, people used to say to me,
from time to time, "You're very off message," I was
not quite sure what they meant by that, but sometimes I questioned
directions the government was taking. In the core of central government,
at the highest level, where you are, is there scope for flies
in the ointment, people who question whether the direction is
right and whether, in fact, this drift towards what I think I
see as the Americanisation of our society, particularly in the
Health Service, are there people there questioning and challenging,
to say, "Well, let's have a real intellectual debate"?
Or are they told, "No, no; we're not going to go off message,
we want people who are signed up to the new liberal agenda, to
the Americanisation of the Health Service," etc?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) This debate about the Health
Service is vibrant, I detect no sense of it being suppressed at
all. So clearly there is room for different views.
94. One question. I understand from the newspapers,
yesterday, or today, that it is going to be suggested that even
foundation hospitals, if they come into existence, and I hope
they do not, might be called "companies". Could we not
see, in a few years' time, an Americanised hospital system, an
American Health Service which costs twice as much as our Health
Service as a percentage of GDP, and only looks after the rich;
is that what we are moving towards?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) That is certainly not the Prime
Minister's plan, because his starting-point is that, the Health
Service, more or less, is fully tax-funded; charges are a tiny
proportion of the total. Access is determined by policy, and therefore
the question is, who is the provider of it. Entitlement to the
Service is determined as a matter of policy, and therefore it
is not an American kind of minimalist system whereby if you are
well-off you make provision privately and the state runs a safety
network. As I understand it, that is not the Government's policy,
it is not the Prime Minister's policy. And the debate is, having
determined that health care is available and is available free,
who then actually provides it, subject to those conditions. This
is a vibrant political debate, and obviously you are in one part
of this spectrum and there are other people that are in a different
part of it.
95. One simple question. I understand there
are rumours of something, I think you call it co-financing, or
whatever, essentially bringing in direct charges for health services,
in time. Are we not just one step away really from going towards
a privatised Health Service?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not think the foundation
hospital debate has anything to do with co-financing. It is taken
as given that Health Service funding, and access to it, is as
it has been; and it is confined to the issue about whether these
are NHS-owned hospitals. I think the first foundation hospitals
will be, I think it has been agreed that they will be part still
of the NHS family. However, because they are the three-star hospitals
which have earned a degree of autonomy, they will be subject to
a lower degree of regulation, given more freedoms; but they are
still public sector hospitals. That was the agreement reached
a few weeks ago.
96. This is fascinating stuff, and I have got
colleagues who want to come in, and I am going to let them, because
I want to hear what you say. But can I just ask you, as someone
who worked for Mrs Thatcher as her private secretary for a while,
you were giving Kelvin an account of how you saw the narrative
over a long period, do you think we are talking about ideological
continuity or ideological departures?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) The interesting thing is that
we tend to see this privatisation debate as something exclusive
to the UK. It went on through large numbers of countries, Australia,
New Zealand, North America. It left certain parts of Europe by,
but it was by no means an exclusive UK development. We may have
been in there first, but the privatisation process and its related
thing, private finance initiative, has been developed very substantially
by other countries. We have this kind of insular view of it, as
though it were only a narrow debate about Thatcherism.
Chairman: I think you may have answered another
question; but I will ask Gordon.
97. It was Kevin's line of questioning that
prompted this. Those functions which properly belong to the state,
there is a review going on at the moment, and you will be familiar
with all the details, to contract out perhaps the management and
storage of files held by the Department for Work and Pensions.
Millions and millions of citizens and their sensitive, personal
details, held currently by civil servants, and yet, if this goes
through, they may be contracted out to commercial organisations.
My question is this, would you be satisfied that the security
of these files could be guaranteed just by a few clauses in a
commercial contract with a commercial organisation?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I do not think this breaks any
new ground. Lots of departments have their files off site, managed
by commercial companies. Inland Revenue has its major contract
with EDS, currently up for recompetition, involving the confidentiality
98. This is all new to me. I did not realise
that a lot of confidential stuff about me, presumably, is held
by commercial organisations that are contracted with central government.
A lot of people will find that worrying.
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Let me give you another example.
I think it is the case that assessments for disability benefit
are contracted out, so they are conducted by private sector organisations.
So this is quite intimate, confidential information about you,
your health, your disabilities.
99. And look at the problems they have got,
the people who assess the medical health records?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) As I said, we are not crossing
this divide for the first time. Clearly, if you do enter into
a contract with a private sector organisation, you do have to
insist on the highest degree of confidentiality. You may say,
"Well, GPs, they're in the private sector, they hold very