Examination of Witness (Questions 100-119)|
THURSDAY 13 MARCH 2003
TURNBULL KCB CVO
100. Yes, but they swear the Hippocratic Oath,
do they not?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes, they do.
101. You do not get a chief executive or private
sector organisation swearing an oath?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) A company that takes this on
and then is found to have abused this confidence (a) will have
breached the contract, but (b) the reputational damage to it will
be severe. So there are pressures and safeguards in this.
Chairman: I think this is the beginning of another
inquiry, but we shall want to talk to you more about this. This
is a very interesting section, thank you very much indeed.
102. I think, Chairman, there is a follow-on
to this point. Sir Andrew reassured us, I think, in what he said,
that regulation is the counterbalance, the security that you get
to deal with Kelvin's fears about the risks attached to privatisation.
But another arm of your organisation is the Regulatory Impact
Unit, and their key task is to remove what is described very often
as the burden of regulation. I think there is a contradiction
here, is there not?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) It is not called the Deregulation
Unit any more; it was at one stage.
103. I am taking this from your Autumn Performance
Report, that is six months out of date?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Yes, it is called the Regulatory
Impact Unit, and its related body is called the Better Regulation
Task Force. There is a recognition that regulation is an essential
feature of life; regulation is a very effective way of securing
policy objectives. And the issue is not whether you have it or
whether you do not, it is how well you do it, whether you can
find alternatives to regulation, whether it is proportionate,
whether it is administered in a way that achieves its purpose,
with the minimum degree of cost. That really is what the RIU is
looking at. Rather than taking the stance that regulation per
se is a bad thing, regulation is highly sought after, a lot
of people argue for regulation.
104. I wonder if there is something in the work
of the Regulatory Impact Unit that might be helpful to us in our
inquiry into the whole issue of targets. Have you done a regulatory
impact assessment on the effects of the costs and burdens of public
service performance targets themselves; does that information
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Not in that form. We are very
conscious of the fact that one of the biggest complaints from
public sector managers, the front-line staff, is the regulation
that they are under. Now some of that may be reflecting the fact
that they are being put under more pressure to perform, but undoubtedly
some of it is genuine. The Prime Minister recognises these concerns
and attaches a great deal of importance to them. One part of the
Regulatory Impact Unit is the so-called Public Sector Team. They
have developed a methodology, they have produced a series of reports,
called MAD reports (Making A Difference). The methodology is to
go to someone in the front line, it could be a headteacher, a
GP, police area commander, a consultant, or whatever, and say,
"Please tell us what is the impact, not only from the department
but from the inspectorate of your sector, or the local government,
what is the combined impact, and what can we do to do about that?"
The first thing is about data and returns. Are people being asked
in one month to send a return to one organisation, then the next
month more or less the same data but not quite, so it has to be
recast, to someone else, and can we consolidate these data returns?
The other is that, whenever you set a target, immediately it spawns
guidance, and can that guidance be cut back, kept out, or is it
essential, and turned into readable material? A typical Public
Sector Team report will come up with, maybe, for a sector, 30
or 40 actions that departments will undertake. They have done
at least half a dozen of these now, and they are, I think, quite
an effective way of addressing the problem.
105. You mentioned chief constable there as
an example of someone who might be approached. There is a chief
constable, I think, who is so fed-up with the targets that are
being imposed externally that he has abandoned the system and
introduced his own range of targets and is operating quite independently,
that has been his response?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) That is what can happen, if
the system of targets is seen as purely a kind of top-down imposition.
I do not think it is the general position. People do complain,
but I do not think there are many people who freelance.
106. Just staying with the work of the Regulatory
Impact Unit, I see, again from the Autumn Performance Report,
which I acknowledge is six months old now, that delivery is achieved
through, the first bullet point is "High level bilateral
meetings with Regulatory Reform Minister". Can you tell us
some more about how that works?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) Each department has, someone
at official level and someone at ministerial level who are designated
as having some overall responsibility for the regulatory impact.
It is called a gateway, and they should scrutinise any new returns,
or new guidance that is being issued, and see whether it is necessary,
and look also at what is being done already. Now, if you take
the Secondary Schools White Paper, that came out three weeks ago,
there is a pledge there to reduce significantly the amount of
guidance that is flowing out of the department into the school
system, and one of the ministers in DfES, possibly David Miliband,
is assigned with the oversight of that work.
107. To go back to Kelvin's Orwellian references,
a bit like thought police, this, is it?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) That is what we are trying to
108. Can I make just one more comment, Chair,
before I finish. I spent quite a lot of time looking through your
Autumn Performance Report, and, to be honest, I found it quite
difficult to read, it seemed to me to be full of bureaucratic
obscurity, and I picked out just one sentence that I think makes
the point nicely, I wonder why it is necessary to use language
like this. It is on page 7, "the Prime Minister's target
for electronic service delivery by government". We are told
that "the programme is seeking to move forward in three distinct
areas", and, right at the bottom of the page, the bullet
point says, and if this is not new-speak I do not know what is:
"Mitigation of crosscutting risks (including development
of customer-centric propositions to mitigate against risk of low
take-up for services delivered in isolation)." How customer-centric
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I think I am going to put up
my hand on that one.
109. Could you translate it for us?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I am not sure I can. This was
the report on the target as specified in SR2000, and then if you
look later you get the progress against the SR2002 PSA, there
is a similar one, and the question is whether this offending sentence
is still in there.
110. There are plenty more, you can dip in almost
at random. I am being partly light-hearted, and I do not want
to press you any further on it.
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I will take this back and say
that you found ityes, it is in there, at the top of page
24, yes, okay.
Chairman: You are going away to see this man,
are you not, who is very customer-centric; that is very good,
thank you very much indeed.
111. We talk an awful lot, in public services,
about choice, at the moment, we want to give customers choice.
If customers are going to have choice about which public service
then you have got to have spare capacity actually to be able to
do it; so how inefficient are you looking to run the public services?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) The question is whether having
a degree of spare capacity is inefficient. I suspect there are
parts of the public sector where this thing can run at 10,000
revs, max, and it is running at 10,000 revs max, and so any slight
disturbance, if you take a hospital A&E department, causes
massive disruption. Actually it is not the most efficient way
to run it. So if you have people who are undergoing elective orthopaedic
surgery, hips and knees, and all that, and they are mixed up with
a stream of people who are coming in from accidents, and then
they call all these people in and they do all the preparation,
and then the surgeons have to say, "I'm sorry, we've got
a big car crash; go home." That is massively inefficient.
So I suspect having a bit more capacity is (a) probably more efficient,
but the issue also is the question of customer service. If the
thing is massively efficient but delivers a lousy service then
it is not really a good service. If you take the courts, the courts
may be massively efficient, in the sense that not one judge is
ever spending one minute of his day not working, but if it keeps
a lot of other people waiting it is not a good combined system.
So I think you can trade off, in a sense, the pure efficiency
against the quality of service.
112. Thank you for that. Can I go on to a couple
of things, to finish with. Could I ask you about Parliamentary
Answers and whether you are the person responsible for the quality
of the way in which Parliamentary Answers are run? I ask that
because we have a little rule, which we have offered to colleagues,
about taking up unsatisfactory answers, and, of course, people
are sending us many examples of these, particularly where these
circular answers go round to departments, and so on. Who is our
quality controller inside the system that we can go to with these
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) The Cabinet Office provides
the overall guidance, which says that answers have to be full,
complete, prompt, etc. The actual content, you have heard the
Speaker say many times that ministers are responsible for the
content of the answers, so if you do not like the answer
113. Let me just give you an example, I do not
want to detain you for much longer, but we have got a case at
the moment where someone put down a question, asking for a bit
of information, and a couple of departments simply gave it, and
then everyone else gave an identical answer, a form of words,
that had been supplied by somebody, somewhere. Who takes on the
task of supplying the form of words?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) It may well be the Cabinet Office.
We get lots of round-robin questions and people say "We want
advice on how to answer this," and the alternative would
not be very satisfactory either, that some people give hugely
long answers, some very peremptory ones. The Cabinet Office Parliamentary
Section acts as a co-ordinator for round-robins, and the question
is whether you make your own judgment as to whether, on balance,
that drives standards up or drives standards down, but that is
where the co-ordination is carried out.
114. And, this is the point of the question,
do you think we could have a little co-ordination with whoever
this person is, so that, in fact, we can provide the service to
the House that the House would like us to perform, in terms of
just making sure there is a better system at work for getting
answers out and ironing out some of these difficulties?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I am sure there is a great deal
that can be done to improve, as a pure process, how prompt it
is. We have not tapped power of e-delivery into this thing at
115. Perhaps I can ask our Clerk to make some
contacts with you there. Just very quickly. We have been doing
an inquiry, it seems to have been going on for ever, called The
New Centre, and we do not report because the centre keeps changing
all the time. What I want to know really is, now that you have
had a go at it, is it in a form now that you think is its mature
form, is this the best that we can do, in terms of organising
the centre to make it do the delivery job for government?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I think, given the evidence
you have taken, before Christmas and from Michael Barberwho
else came with him last week?
116. From the Treasury, Macpherson.
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I think the answer is, yes,
whoever writes this up now, I do not think suddenly you are going
to find that there is some major change. This structure is, I
hope, basically with us for the rest of this Parliament.
117. You see, I came across, the other day,
this piece by Geoff Mulgan, the Head of the Strategy Unit sits
inside your network, where he had had these radical thoughts about
how we could reorganise government entirely differently, to get
away from the old departmental model, from the theme-based, and
so on. Is that the kind of thing that we ought to be working towards,
and do you think we need, perhaps, like at the end of the first
world war we had the Haldane Inquiry, which gave us the modern
departmental structure, do you think, a century on, we need a
sort of Mulganesque inquiry that takes stock of the whole shooting-match?
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I would approach this service
by service, rather than trying to find a model that works everywhere,
because the structure that you need in MoD has very little to
do with the structure that you would want in the Department of
Health. So I am sceptical as to whether there are some general
principles or a completely new configuration that it would make
run across the whole piece. There are lots of ideas about Machinery
of Government changes in particular sectors. Indeed, if you take
the Department of Health, absolutely major change, with effectively
bringing the old NHS Executive into the Department, but I am not
sure that the lessons you would draw from that really have much
relevance, say, to the Home Office.
118. Yes, in the present structure.
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) But the centre I hope is pretty
119. Yes, the present structure will see you
(Sir Andrew Turnbull) I hope so.
Chairman: That is what we need to know, yes.
I really want to thank you very, very much, because you have spoken
to us in a very open and engaging way. I think we like the style
that you bring to this, and it has been very stimulating, and
we look forward to future conversations. Thank you very much indeed.