Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 780-793)

29 APRIL 2004


  Q780 Mr Prentice: Why have some permanent secretaries not been knighted?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I think most permanent secretaries of major departments would be knighted, yes. Is that defensible? Well, you can argue that two ways. You can say that in order to get to be a permanent secretary there has been a hell of a sifting process going on and the people who are permanent secretaries are people at the top of their professional tree, just as I am trying to find people at the top of the tree of science and technology. You could argue that.

  Q781 Mr Prentice: We could argue that Dr Tony Wright should be knighted.

  Sir Richard Mottram: I, indeed, think he should.

  Mr Prentice: He chairs this Committee—

  Chairman: Would we make sure the stenographers have picked that up!

  Q782 Mr Prentice: —with great panache.

  Sir Richard Mottram: We could, yes.

  Q783 Mr Prentice: But there are different rules. That is the point I am trying to make, there are different rules.

  Sir Richard Mottram: No, there are not different rules.

  Q784 Mr Prentice: There are not different rules?

  Sir Richard Mottram: No. There are not different rules. It may be the case, I do not know—I have not looked at this but I am happy to do it—that every permanent secretary gets it. It looks pretty suspicious, does it not? As I say, it is not that easy to be a permanent secretary. You could argue should I be a knight? I am quite happy either way, but I could argue that, since I have been in charge of five government departments, I am sort of at the top of our tree and recognition is not absurd.

  Q785 Mr Prentice: I understand that.

  Sir Richard Mottram: Do you see what I mean?

  Q786 Mr Prentice: I understand.

  Sir Richard Mottram: There is a lot of competition for honours, even amongst the civil service, which raises a very interesting question about when you think about the numbers—it is not that everybody in a given grade, for instance, gets honoured. I am in the process of selecting the civil servants for honours—it is amazing I do anything else, really—and that is quite a difficult process because very meritorious people do not get honoured. There is a sense that anybody who gets to a certain level gets honoured. This is untrue. Meritorious people do not. So it is exactly the same issue as everywhere else. We should move away from the idea that anybody gets an automatic honour related to a position.

  Q787 Mr Prentice: We are groping around in the dark here—well, I am, because I do not know the criteria used to award an honour to a civil servant.

  Sir Richard Mottram: I do.

  Q788 Mr Prentice: You do. Okay. You are going to lose 40,000, I think, civil servants.

  Sir Richard Mottram: 30,000 net.

  Q789 Mr Prentice: 30,000 net civil servants from the Department of Work and Pensions.

  Sir Richard Mottram: I am.

  Q790 Mr Prentice: Presumably there is a little team of people who are organising the movement of these people out of the civil service into the private sector. Presumably. You are not doing it on your own, for goodness sake! That is a huge exercise: making sure it goes according to plan with no strikes and it just happens. Would the civil servants responsible for that be eligible for an honour?

  Sir Richard Mottram: They would. It is easy for me to see this, because I know most of these people: if you get behind the people who are recognised in the civil service, they fall into two broad categories: people who have shown merit beyond the sort of average level consistently, or largely consistently, over a long time and people who are picked out for exceptional things they have done. When we look at the lists, we look at both categories. Without embarrassing anyone, if you look carefully at the list of those who were honoured in the Department For Work and Pensions in one of the recent honours lists, one of the people on that list was honoured for the contribution she had made to the massive success of a very difficult project. It was not 30 years of loyal service; it was: this person was in charge of this project and it was an extremely difficult thing to do. It was recognised right across the system, not just in my department, that she and her team had done a marvellous job and she was recognised. I think you need to have that. So it is not time-serving and, you know . . .

  Q791 Mr Prentice: No. It does make you think, though, that a lot of people are going to be transferred out of the civil service against their will and the people responsible for dreaming up this are likely to be honoured. It does make you think, does it not?

  Sir Richard Mottram: I do not think we were the people responsible for dreaming it up. We are civil servants. We do what the Government asks us to do. If we are asked by the Government to make our department more efficient, that is an entirely reasonable thing for the Government to ask. If I ask people to implement that, they are implementing the wishes of Ministers, it is entirely appropriate that they could be recognised for that.

  Mr Prentice: Thank you.

  Q792 Chairman: We have kept you longer than I promised you that we would. Is there anything that you would have liked to have said to us that we have not asked you about that you think would help us with our inquiry? Just very briefly.

  Sir Richard Mottram: The only thing we have not talked about is the rather quaint nature of the system. My feeling is that there is a sort of logic in that but that it is a bit over-quaint. Speaking personally, I think there is a case for simplifying it. There is certainly a case for making it a lot more transparent and I would very much support that.

  Q793 Chairman: We shall be talking to others about those matters. We always enjoy our sessions with you and we know we will see you whenever there is a little eruption across the system somewhere.

  Sir Richard Mottram: Perhaps you could get me in to talk about other bigger things.

  Chairman: Indeed. Out of the smaller things come bigger things always, we find. We are very grateful for your time. We have benefited greatly from the session. Thank you very much indeed.

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