House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION SELECT COMMITTEE
Thursday 10 March 2005
SIR ANDREW TURNBULL KCB CVO
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Public Administration Select Committee
on Thursday 10 March 2005
Tony Wright, in the Chair
Mr David Heyes
Mr Kelvin Hopkins
Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger
Mr Gordon Prentice
Witness: Sir Andrew Turnbull KCB CVO, Secretary of the Cabinet and Head of the Home Civil Service, examined.
Q192 Chairman: May I call the meeting to order and welcome our witness this afternoon, Sir Andrew Turnbull, the Head of the Home Civil Service and Cabinet Secretary. We are very delighted to see you as ever; this may well be the last time that we have an occasion like this, so it is a good moment to ask you some questions about how you see the civil service developing and how you see the state of the reform programme that you have put in place. As you know, we are having a general look at what we call civil service effectiveness, so it is particularly good to have you at the end of your tenure. I do not know whether you would like to say anything by way of general introduction.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No; we sent you a memo and we will work with that.
Q193 Chairman: Yes, we had a memo. First of all let me just clear away some of the stuff which is in the air at the moment, lest we get bogged down in it later on. Your tenure, in some respects has been a fairly turbulent one in terms of some of the reflections which have been made on the role of the Cabinet and the Cabinet Secretary and obviously the Butler report had some fairly devastating things to say about all of this. Something went wrong with Cabinet government, did it not, in the run-up to the Iraq war? What do you think it was?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Am I accepting that proposition? It is rather paradoxical that Cabinet met 24 or 25 times and discussed Iraq over a period of a year and discussed it more than any other item. I do not think it is true that Cabinet members lacked the opportunity to express their view. There is a phrase in Butler about bringing to bear their political wisdom or whatever; they were certainly not short of opportunities to do it. It is also true that most of the diplomatic and military planning took place in a separate smaller group - that is not necessarily surprising - with the Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary, Chief of Defence Staff, Head of SIS, Chairman of the JIC and so on. They met regularly; they also must have met 20 or 30 times. They were not constituted as a group with a name or a number and the Prime Minister has said that if he were doing it again he would do that. That group had the papers, had a lot of information in front of them and I do not think they failed the test of not having the information to hand. A lot of this was done in a very public way; people could see it on their television sets every night. No-one was short of any kind of briefing or knowledge of the diplomatic to-ings and fro-ings in the UN. At the key point, just before the decision on whether to engage or not to engage in military action, knowing by that stage that they did not have a second UN resolution to rely on, a proper meeting was set up to address that issue and with one dissension, who resigned, they approved that. How bad is that for cabinet government? The other question is, if you look at Cabinet in general, that I do not think the way Cabinet has worked has changed dramatically in the last two or three years. Back in the mid-1980s, they were meeting about 40 times a year and only taking 10 or 15 papers. That was a pattern which had been established late Thatcher, through Major's time and continues to this day. The major work of clearing policy has been in the cabinet committees, committees like the DA, which the deputy prime minister chairs, which is a very active committee. It meets probably at least once a month and it clears a large number of issues through correspondence. That structure within Cabinet, which is not the forum for detailed decision making, is something which has been around for at least 20 years.
Q194 Chairman: You have put all that on the record, but the problem is that we have the Butler report, which tells us with authority and documentation that something went wrong.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Something went wrong, but was it necessarily the way Cabinet was meeting? He said something to the effect that cabinets will operate in different ways and can be operated in different styles and I am not concluding that the way that Cabinet is now run is any less effective than it was earlier.
Q195 Chairman: Come on.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He said it.
Q196 Chairman: He said that the informality caused a problem and he said that the changes to key posts at the head of the Cabinet secretariat lessened the support of the machinery of government for the collective responsibility of the Cabinet in the vital matter of war and peace. I mean, he is pretty strong.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He is then talking about the creation of a post of intelligence and security co-ordinator and I do not agree with him on that.
Q197 Chairman: You are not dissenting.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I am dissenting from that. I do not agree that the splitting of my post would deprive the Cabinet of any advice to which it was entitled.
Q198 Chairman: This is not, by the way, the Butler suggestion. That was the Butler suggestion, but what I am putting to you now comes out of what you have just said, which is that it has been said, that one of the problems is that you were given the delivery task by the Prime Minister and that somehow the fact that you went off to do delivery meant that you took your eye off the ball as far as the kind of normal underpinnings of the Cabinet Secretary role. You would clearly reject that suggestion.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Under the previous arrangement, the Cabinet Secretary also had responsibility for delivery and was trying to cover intelligence and security. My contention is that after 9/11, this would have become unmanageable. The intelligence and security portfolio became a great deal more important and it was not something which should be dealt with in a sense as the second string of the Cabinet Secretary, it should have someone devoted to it full time. The arrangements I made were designed to improve the coverage of the advice that was available on intelligence and security. When I came in, I agreed with David Omand that he would spend roughly 50 per cent of his time on that and the other 50 per cent he would be the accounting officer for the Cabinet Office. What happened was that he eventually ended up spending 100 per cent of his time on that and we then created a separate post which we called the managing director, who is the senior manager of the Cabinet Office. That is a sign that this portfolio needed someone very senior, very able, working full time and that created the possibility of improving the service and advice which ministers received and I believe it has done that.
Q199 Chairman: Just so we have this clear, are you wanting to dissent from the broad Butler judgment that something went wrong with the way in which the cabinet system operated?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The thing that went wrong was that the intelligence was not as good.
Q200 Chairman: The issue is not just about intelligence: the issue, and Butler could not be clearer about it, was that something went wrong with the way that Cabinet business was managed. Indeed not only Butler but your immediate predecessor, now Lord Wilson, says that it will come as no surprise that he agrees with this judgment on the conduct of government.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He ran the Cabinet in exactly the same way as it was operated in my time. I have changed it to some extent, to build back so that there is more Cabinet activity now than there was then.
Q201 Chairman: I put it to you, that we have two former cabinet secretaries, one of whom has conducted an exhaustive inquiry into events leading up to the Iraq war, saying that something went wrong with the way that cabinet government was organised. I just really want to know whether you assent to that or dissent from it.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: In relation to the Iraq war, it is really rather a strange example to choose, to say that this was the best example of the failings of Cabinet, when in fact it was the issue that they discussed more often and more intensively than any other. You could make this accusation more general: is the Prime Minister's style, working more in small groups, unhelpful? I would argue that you could make that more in relation to issues other than Iraq, which was actively discussed in Cabinet week after week.
Q202 Chairman: This has crystallised just now, has it not, around the question of whether the Cabinet saw the full legal advice from the Attorney General?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Okay, let me explain the position there. The Attorney General was working on this issue about powers, legality, over months probably and then he got to the point where he had to make up his mind and he then produced his definitive view. It is set out in the Parliamentary Question (PQ). He was invited to Cabinet - at that stage he only came when invited; he now attends regularly - and he in a sense took Cabinet through the logic of the argument, the so-called revival argument. He took them through it and they had a chance to ask questions, so they got direct from him his conclusion and they had a chance to hear directly from him the explanation, how the argument was constructed and the chance to ask questions.
Q203 Chairman: But you know, because this has been raised with you, that the terms of the Ministerial Code are absolutely clear on this, that when there is discussion of the Attorney General's advice, his full advice has to be made available.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He gave his definitive view at that time. He has said that this was not a summary of something, it was his view which he had formed at the time. Now paragraph 23 of the Ministerial Code says that if you put in a memorandum to a committee and you have taken the Attorney General's advice, you cannot just pick and choose bits of it, you have to produce the whole thing. The purpose of that is to ensure that when the Attorney General has advised a department and that department then puts in a paper to a committee like DA, his views are accurately represented. Now this requirement that the Attorney's views are accurately represented, they are not paraphrased, they are not chosen selectively, was covered by inviting him personally to attend the meeting. So the problem which paragraph 23 is seeking to address is a sort of Chinese whispers problem and there was no prospect of Chinese whispers, because he came personally and he set it out himself.
Q204 Chairman: Paragraph 23 does not say "Oh, by the way, if he wants to turn up instead, we need not have the full legal advice available". It says "... the conclusions may if necessary be summarised but, if this is done, the complete text of the advice should be attached". It could not be clearer.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He does not regard, and he has said this, he does not regard the statement in the PQ as a summary, he regards it as his conclusive view.
Q205 Chairman: But does this not precisely make the Butler point, that if you proceed on this kind of informal basis, that is "Could you turn up and give us a chat about ..." ---
Sir Andrew Turnbull: It was not on an informal basis. A meeting was deliberately arranged to address this question. He came prepared with the advice, he took them through it, he explained it. It was not an informal meeting; it was a full meeting of the Cabinet.
Q206 Chairman: But you cannot interrogate the advice, if you do not have access to the full text, can you?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: It was the full text. This was his conclusive view and he not only gave them that, he gave them an explanation of the thinking behind it and why he had reached that view.
Q207 Chairman: Did the full legal advice exist on that precise day?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: That is the full legal advice; that is the conclusion that he reached.
Q208 Chairman: We know that a summary of the advice was delivered to Parliament.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He does not describe that thing as a summary.
Q209 Chairman: Well it has been described as a summary, but I guess that he has also described it not as a summary.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: On 25 February he said that it did not purport to be a summary of his advice.
Q210 Chairman: On the day that this discussion in the Cabinet took place without the full text, did a full text exist?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The full text was ... He set out his conclusions in these ten paragraphs and that is his conclusion.
Q211 Chairman: So there is no full legal advice beyond a summary.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: There may be other advice, but this was the conclusion that he finally got to.
Q212 Chairman: Yes, we know about the summary and we know about the conclusion.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: This is the conclusion that he got to.
Q213 Chairman: But on the day that the Cabinet had this discussion, not the full text, all I am asking is whether there was a full advice somewhere that they could have had access to on that day?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: By the time that he had to give this advice, we then knew that we had no second resolution to rely on. He therefore had to give a view and he gave that view and that is what is set out in the PQ.
Q214 Chairman: I still do not know whether a full advice existed somewhere on the day that discussion took place. But you did not feel, as Cabinet Secretary, knowing the terms of the Ministerial Code and everything else, that that discussion that took place in Cabinet with the presence of the Attorney General should have had the full text available to Cabinet members at that time.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: What he provided, which was needed by ministers making a decision, the chief of defence staff committing troops and I, on behalf of civil servants committing the spending of money, was a clear view as to whether what they were doing was legal and he provided that and he provided the rationale for it in that statement.
Q215 Mr Prentice: Well I think this is very unsatisfactory. You are inviting us to believe that the country was taken to war on the basis of a little memorandum setting out the conclusions of the Attorney's advice fleshed out with the rationale. No larger document was available, the document was not circulated in advance, which I think is appalling given the momentous nature of the decision that was taken, and in the Ministerial Code in paragraph 8, it says that memoranda should be circulated in sufficient time to enable ministers to read and digest them and to be properly briefed and then it goes on to say that memoranda should be circulated at least two full working days and a weekend in advance and so on and so forth. This is just a modest select committee, but we have papers circulated beforehand so we can read them and reflect on the issues and feel prepared and here we have the country being taken to war on the basis of a two-page summary, conclusion, circulated around a cabinet table.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: You had an exchange with Robin Butler back in October and he said that in the world in which we are operating and the speed at which we are operating some of these assumptions about how far in advance papers are circulated are very difficult to sustain and this was an example of that case. This was a fast-moving situation. We did not know the previous weekend what the position was going to be; this was all still being argued out in New York and in Washington. That was the reason why it was not done according to this leisurely timetable. This was not a group of people who came into this thing cold; they had been following this thing developing month after month.
Q216 Mr Prentice: Yes, but very often not on the basis of circulated papers. Butler says this. I characterised it as PowerPoint presentations, but it probably was not even that; it was kind of sofa decision making.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: These were not sofa decisions. All these things took place in the Cabinet room, with all 20 of them sitting around.
Q217 Mr Prentice: We had an exchange on this a year ago when Clare Short said that you allowed decision making to crumble on your watch and she alleged that the defence and overseas policy committee had not met. I asked you at the time whether that was true and you said "No, not really" and then you went on to say ---
Sir Andrew Turnbull: What was not true, what I was denying, was whether I had allowed Cabinet decision making to crumble. I explained that, from the time that I was working in Number 10 with Mrs Thatcher and John Major, proceedings of Cabinet have not changed that dramatically.
Q218 Mr Prentice: You said that to me a year ago as well, but in the intervening period, we have had Butler and Butler tells the world that his committee are concerned that the informality and circumscribed character of the government's procedures, which they saw in the context of policy making towards Iraq, risk reducing the scope for informed collective political judgment. Now that is the point, is it not, if you just circulate the thing?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: If you meet 24 or 25 times, there is opportunity for informed exercise of political judgment.
Q219 Mr Prentice: How many times did the Cabinet consider the unfolding legal advice before it crystallised just before we went to war? How many times in these 24 or 25 meetings of the Cabinet?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: All the time we were working towards a position in which there was a second resolution of the UN and at the very last stage it became apparent that this was not going to be secured, a few days before this event. So what was required was advice: now that we are in this situation, what is your - to the Attorney General - advice? Obviously the preference all the way through would have been to have had a second resolution, in which case there would have been no problem. But this issue, the collapse of the coalition in the Security Council, came very late and so a new situation had arisen. That is why this view did not emerge before.
Q220 Mr Prentice: Last question on this. Given that we had 24 or 25 Cabinet meetings on Iraq, why was it, after all this discussion that the Prime Minister was famously ignorant of the distinction between battlefield and strategic weapons? Can you explain that? It has always mystified me.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I am not sure that is a distinction that meeting in a group of 25 one would necessarily have come to. The more detailed meeting would have been the place where this would have been drawn out. Anyway, he did not.
Mr Prentice: I am an innocent abroad then.
Chairman: I feel this is going into areas where we have been too many times.
Q221 Iain Wright: I do think the criticism of yourself, Sir Andrew, by Butler is absolutely astonishing. You said that there were 24 or 25 meetings of the Cabinet, but Butler talks about the absence of cabinet papers on the agenda, so that ministers could obtain briefings in advance. He goes on to say that changes to key posts at the head of the Cabinet secretariat lessened the support of the machinery of government for the collective responsibility of the Cabinet in the vital matter of war and peace. It is all your fault, is it not?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: But it is not true. I have explained to you that the change I made improved the support he got, otherwise I would have been doing all this in my spare time and that would not have been satisfactory. To expect a Cabinet Secretary, who is addressing the Prime Minister's promise to improve delivery of public services at a time when the security requirement of the country is rising dramatically - and you can see that even in what is going on over the road today - to try to cover both would have been a major failing. To have said "Well, I'll just carry on with all the responsibilities I have, I will not reinforce the capacity I have, I will just let it carry on and hope that I can manage it all" would have been a major error and I did not make that error.
Q222 Iain Wright: So because of that, because of this breakdown in the machinery of government for the momentous decision to go to war, do you think you will be the last traditional Cabinet Secretary? You say that the importance given to delivery and the importance of giving policy advice to ministers cannot now be done in twenty-first century government.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I should be surprised if my successor were to want to reabsorb the responsibility and become the intelligence and security co-ordinator and hang on to everything else he has. My preference would be to leave the arrangement as it is, and indeed, we have appointed a successor to Sir David Omand who is also very experienced in this area. There is a separate question, an old chestnut, of whether a cabinet secretary and head of the Home Civil Service should be separated. All I can say is that it has been done twice before and it was a miserable failure both times. The reason it was a miserable failure was that when you get to the top of an organisation, you cannot separate out the responsibility for delivering the business of the organisation from the responsibility for developing the capacity of the organisation and the third big responsibility which is maintaining the regime of the propriety ethics, what in commerce they call the brand reputation, though someone has to bring those all together. If you separate them out, you have to have someone above that who can bring it all together. You either do not get the proper co-ordination between the current business and the capacity to do it, or you effectively generate a requirement for someone else who can bring it all together.
Q223 Iain Wright: It is not working is it? You were busy working on the delivery of services on the front line at a time when the Cabinet was considering, in a fairly detailed manner, whether to go to war or not. You were pulled in two directions. Surely, these two different things, running the civil service and providing effective machinery of government, cannot be the same thing.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I do not run the civil service. I see that it is run. Okay? There are lots of things which take place which I do not deal with personally. My job is to make sure that there are people in place, properly equipped, properly trained, with the right skills and with the right definition of the task to do it. That is how you run an organisation of half a million people. In the case of intelligence and security, that is exactly what I did. Now the question is: what advice did the Prime Minister get? Clearly in the area of intelligence, there was a failing, but I do not think that was a failing either of me or the intelligence and home security co-ordinator. It all goes further back and that is where Butler digs into what went wrong, the group things of it all.
Q224 Chairman: The intelligence and security co-ordinator, with that role having been hived off, was not attending Cabinet. You were.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He is in the next-door office. We meet and talk frequently. He reads the Cabinet minutes. The fact that he is not actually in the room does not mean that he does not know what is going on. He is attending the JIC meeting every week. He is actually very well plugged into all the discussions that are going on around the dossier, the developing intelligence picture. He would get that. Cabinet is not the place to go and pick up the emerging intelligence view. You are much better off, which is what Sir David Omand did, being integrated into the JIC and the work of the agencies.
Q225 Mr Prentice: May I ask you to what extent the government has implemented the recommendations of the Butler report? Just a few days after Butler was published, the Prime Minister said that the recommendations were going to be implemented.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: There is a project which is coming to fruition shortly - I think it is called the Butler implementation group, known colloquially as BIG - which is looking at a host of recommendations around the intelligence area. He has said that if he were in the same position again, he would formally constitute the smaller group with a proper identity. He has not done that because we have not had such a situation. However, if there were another campaign in some other part of the world, that is what he would do. We have also built back, through papers and particular presentations to Cabinet, the amount of discussion that goes on in Cabinet. If you were simply to measure it by the number of minutes each meeting takes place, it is now a lot more than it was in 2002-2003, because more secretaries of state are coming forward and there is a five-year strategy for, say, local government or DTI or whatever, public health, a whole variety of them, and that is then presented to Cabinet. If that were the only time, chance, they had to address this issue, it would be unsatisfactory, but in addition the detailed texts of these documents are then going round, typically sometimes at meetings and sometimes in correspondence at the DA committee. So ministers are getting two bites of the cherry, one a kind of second reading debate kind of thing, which is the presentation; and the other is a chance for their departments to see this and put in their own departmental view.
Q226 Mr Prentice: Just a very quick question. Butler reported on 14 July 2004, nine months ago, something like that. When is this little group that you just told us about going to report on which recommendations are going to be adopted by the government and which are going to be rejected? You made it clear on the question of Sir David Omand and yourself.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He did not actually recommend that we reverse that. He drew attention to it as an issue. I do not think it is one of those issues that is formally a recommendation, in other words printed in bold. He drew attention to it as an issue. I do not happen to agree with, not the conclusions that he drew on, because he did not draw any conclusions ---
Q227 Mr Prentice: I understand all that and no-one wants to get sucked into the details of the Butler report, but my simple question is when is this committee ---
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I do not know the exact date, but they are getting quite close. I have seen drafts of some parts of this report, so it is around.
Q228 Mr Prentice: A very leisurely timetable, is it not?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: It depends how big the task is. If you are looking at the resourcing and structure of analysts in SIS, this is not a kind of two-week job, this is a serious piece of work.
Q229 Mr Prentice: And papers will be circulated beforehand?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The report will be circulated to all those who have a relevant interest, yes.
Q230 Chairman: Just before we extricate ourselves from this area, I just want to have one more go at trying to find out what happened about this wretched legal advice. We know, as a matter of fact, that when the Cabinet had the discussion that day, the Attorney was there, he discussed it and there was, not a formal summary, but something existed, two pages that they could refer to. I asked you before and I would like the answer to this. Was there a complete text that existed at that time that they could have seen if it had been made available to them?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: There is not a longer version of that advice. He is dealing with a moving situation over several weeks. He then gets to the position where we know that we have no second resolution and he then says "I am being asked for advice; all sorts of people need it. These are my conclusions". He does not describe that; they do not purport to be a summary of his advice. It was the definitive view that he had reached; in his view sufficient for his colleagues to be assured that he thought there was a legal basis for military action.
Q231 Chairman: I am getting awfully puzzled; I am sure it is my fault. We have a statement, which may or may not be a summary that was provided in a Parliamentary Answer, made available to us. That is not the statement we are talking about that the Cabinet discussed on that day; we are talking about them having access to another.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No.
Q232 Chairman: It is the same statement.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Yes. What was tabled was the text of the Parliamentary Answer.
Q233 Chairman: Well in that case, why did Lord Butler tell us, when he came to see us, that he had trouble getting access to the full advice and indeed he had said that he might even have to go public on his inability to get access to the full advice and then it was made available to him. If it was only what had been made available to us anyway, what was it that he had to ask for access to and eventually got?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The Attorney had been working on this problem, earlier work, and that was what Robin Butler was given. What the Cabinet was given was the conclusion that he finally came to.
Q234 Chairman: Is there, or is there not a full text of the whole legal advice in existence?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The Parliamentary Answer is his conclusion of all the thinking that he had done and addressing the particular position that he was in.
Q235 Chairman: So when people say "Can we see the full legal advice?", you are telling us that there is no full legal advice.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: There is a statement of the view that he reached which sets out the logic of the argument. What he is saying is that other advice is covered by legal privilege. What he put forward is the conclusion that he reached as a result of all the thinking that he had been doing.
Q236 Chairman: Yes, but normally the conclusion document is one which is distilled from a larger document.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Not necessarily, because he had, at this point, to address the situation which was that we then knew there was no second resolution.
Q237 Chairman: Well we know the political demands. We know that the chief of staff was saying "I am not going to commit troops, unless I am told that it is legal". So we know the political imperatives that were bearing on the need for it, but we also now know that there were huge disagreements about the legal situation and so obviously the Attorney's advice became the central document in all this. If you are saying to us, that in fact there was not a fully-fledged version of this ---
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He thought that this was a self-standing statement of his view.
Q238 Chairman: Is there now a fully-fledged version of his view?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No, there is no other version. This is the definitive statement of his view.
Q239 Chairman: Well what did Robin Butler then have to ask for access to, if the summary statement was already publicly available?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He wanted to see some of the work that had gone on earlier.
Q240 Mr Prentice: May I just say that Clare Short was at the Cabinet meeting when the Attorney gave his legal advice and we have copies of a letter that Clare sent to the Attorney. She said "I am afraid that it is now clear to me that by failing to reveal your full legal advice and the considerations that underpinned your final advice, you misled the Cabinet and therefore helped obtain support for military action improperly. This is a very serious matter".
Clare Short was a participant as a Cabinet minister and she believes that there is in existence ---
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The Attorney General will write today, tomorrow, very soon, repudiating that view.
Q241 Mr Liddell-Grainger: She also says "There were then many voices calling for me to be quiet ... and no discussion was allowed". Is that true?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Not to my memory, no.
Q242 Mr Liddell-Grainger: It is part of Clare's letter; it is page two.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I am not answering for her view.
Q243 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I am just asking for your recollection. Was there discussion at the time?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I have no recollection of anyone saying this could not be discussed. The whole purpose was for the Attorney General to come there and answer questions.
Mr Liddell-Grainger: I do not understand this.
Q244 Chairman: People have been asking for the full legal advice endlessly now. Requests have gone in to the ombudsman, requests have gone into the information commissioner under the new freedom of information regime and then you are saying, well there is not any full advice anyway to ask for.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I am not denying that there are other papers and he is claiming legal privilege in relation to those other papers, but he has set out his conclusion in the text of the PQ.
Q245 Chairman: All that we know; we know about the professional privilege and we know the grounds and we know the exemptions and we know the summary, whether it is a summary or not. It is the question of whether there did exist on that day when the Cabinet discussed it and therefore could, in principle, have had access to it as the Ministerial Code said that they should, whether it existed then, or whether indeed it exists now. That is what we are trying to get to the bottom of.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He believes that he set out a conclusive view which was sufficient to allow them to discharge their responsibility and also sufficient to allow him to discharge his responsibility to give a clear view, the conclusion that he had reached on this issue, and that is what he said he did.
Q246 Chairman: Well you can see why Lord Butler and others might think that it becomes very difficult for Cabinet government to operate and to interrogate advice which is highly contentious, if the full grounds for it are not available to them.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Did he say that, having looked at it, he suddenly thought that the whole world was completely different? He did not conclude that. You need to see the reply which the Attorney gives to this letter he has received from Clare Short, which will come out later today or tomorrow.
Q247 Chairman: It is the sheer unnecessary difficulty of all this which is difficult to understand.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He is protecting a position of legal privilege, which legal advisers, not just in government but in the commercial world, have relied on for years and years.
Q248 Chairman: No, we understand completely about the case for not disclosing. That is the case which clearly will be tested shortly and we know all about that. What has arisen now is about the very status and existence of a full advice document and you have suggested that it may not even exist. That is a quite separate issue.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: He regards this as his conclusion.
Chairman: We have been round this a few times. Let us move on.
Q249 Brian White: What do you think is the relationship between the civil service and the private sector doing civil service type work?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: It can be a partnership. Let us divide things into two. There are certain functions which the government, over time, has decided do not need to be discharged by central government. That was basically the privatisation debate which ran for nearly 20 years and that defined what you might call the external boundary of the public sector. There is very little still in the public sector that anyone is seriously considering privatising; maybe a small thing, but nothing major. There is then a series of services where the government is saying, we have a responsibility to deliver this service, education, health, criminal justice, but we have choices about which resources we use to deliver that on our behalf. In some cases, take prisons as an example, they say we will provide custodial capacity using our own resources, which is HM prisons, but we will discharge some of that responsibility to keep people under lock and key, by contracting with the private sector. Now this is a debate which goes on; it is a similar debate in education, it is a similar debate in health. You can retain the responsibility to provide the service, you are funding it 100%, you are determining the standards, you are determining people's eligibility and then you can have a separate decision as to whether you do it all yourself. It is a make or buy decision and that is being approached actually quite pragmatically. The Prime Minister has this phrase, "What matters is what works". He does not have a view which says the health service must always be provided by organisations owned by the health service or staff employed by the health service; it can be a mixed provision, but it is still the health service funded by, and people's rights to it are determined by, the government.
Q250 Brian White: So if you had a function that was being done by a private sector company quite adequately, you would not expect the civil service department to then try to take over that work and put those private companies out of business.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No.
Q251 Brian White: So, why are you doing it in the Office for National Statistics with regard to direct mailing for people who are dead? Why are you doing it at the Department for Transport in regard to websites that are actually showing people where to go and spending a lot of money in doing that?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: If you believe you can provide a better service, better value for money by enlisting the help of the private sector, then you should do it.
Q252 Brian White: That is not what you are doing.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: You may actually want contestability, you may actually indicate ---
Q253 Brian White: I am sorry, but you are not answering the question. The question is that you actually have private sector companies doing this work now and the civil service, in two departments I have listed, Office for National Statistics, Department for Transport, is actually seeking to put those companies out of business and take on the work itself. Why are you doing that?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: You are talking about the reverse.
Q254 Brian White: Absolutely.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: That is contestability working. You do not start with a kind of pre-judgement which says you are going to take this work over. You start with a judgment which asks whether this work is better done in-house or bought in and you then make an assessment and some things which have gone out you may actually decide you want to take back in-house. There have been prisons which went out into the private sector. They were then market tested and the public sector won that second round and things were kind of repatriated.
Q255 Brian White: What criteria do you use for judging that?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Quality of service and value for money.
Q256 Brian White: If we take something like the e-university, where you chose not to use the Open University and you have just been criticised by the National Audit Office for that, what lessons have you learned from that?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I was not involved in that particular decision. I would hazard a guess that one of the reasons that you may not have chosen to use an existing supplier is that you wanted to develop the market, so that there was more than one player in this field. You are always better off if you have more than one provider. In this case it did not work.
Q257 Brian White: Let us move on to a slightly different area. These are all to do with your role in improving delivery.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Yes.
Q258 Brian White: You have a number of pilots happening in local government at the moment on a whole range of subjects, e-government and a whole range where local government is taking delivery forward far faster than central government. Yet there are departments which are looking for a uniform view of the delivery of that service, irrespective of what the local circumstances are. Why is that?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I do not know; this is too hypothetical. Can you give me an example?
Q259 Brian White: I can give you plenty of examples, if you go to the work on e-government pilots, where the ODPM is now saying that instead of providing choice, it would be one set of deliveries.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Sorry, which pilots?
Q260 Brian White: The e-government pilots as an example. The ODPM is saying, for cost reasons, you will choose just one form of the ---
Sir Andrew Turnbull: All this illustrates is that very little of this is driven by a kind of ideological view or a kind of unified business view. Each of these things is tested in its own circumstance, and you are constantly looking for the best solution. In some cases you find at any one point in time that you seem to get a better solution by an outsourcing approach and in others you think you are better off developing a critical mass and unifying it all together; but sometimes decisions go one way and sometimes another way.
Q261 Brian White: This has got me extremely worried, because the key task that you were given upon appointment, and you came to this Committee and said so, was delivery. That is what the Prime Minister said to you, that the key objective of your tenure was delivery. Now those two examples - and I have only used them as examples, I could have chosen any range of examples - are about delivery and yet there is a frustration out there that we are not delivering as fast as we can because the system is not supporting delivery. Your key objective was to support delivery, yet there are examples there where we are not actually achieving that.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: What these examples show is that there is a kind of restless search for the best solution. Some things are going out, some things are coming back ---
Q262 Brian White: In every one of those examples there is a frustration that it is not being delivered. That is the point.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Well, it depends what you think. Take the main PSA objectives, which of these are not being delivered: objectives about healthcare, waiting times in hospitals, waiting times at GPs', waiting times in A&E, Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3? Take the really important PSA targets, not all, but most of them are satisfying three tests. One is whether they are currently improving. Two is whether they are ahead of where the government started in 1997. Three is whether they are meeting the target. There are large numbers of these things which meet all three; there are some which meet the first two and then there is another test which is whether people believe. What is their perception? There are people who believe there are fewer doctors and nurses; large numbers of people, more than view the opposite, believe there are fewer doctors and nurses now than there used to be. So there you have this force, this perception test, but judged over the whole gamut, you can look at a table which the Prime Minister produced at a press conference back in the summer answering these questions. Are things improving and are they better than they used to be? The majority of these key services satisfied both those tests.
Q263 Brian White: So what are the actual mechanisms you use to measure those criteria?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Each PSA target has a technical annex attached to it which says whether we are measuring waiting times, how we are measuring them, whether we are measuring deaths from heart disease, how we are measuring them, which time series we are using. Each of these is ---
Q264 Brian White: How do you monitor the PSAs?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: How do I monitor PSAs? The delivery unit, which is part of the Cabinet Office but actually lives in the Treasury, keeps track of progress against all 130 PSAs, and there is a website that you can look at, so you can see what is happening to school examination results or whatever.
Q265 Brian White: As one of the people who do look at that PSA web page, what I am interested in is that you have the key role of making sure we deliver as a government, that the civil service delivers. I am interested in how you are actually operating the civil service and what changes you have made to operate that system more effectively.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Before 2001, there was no delivery unit at all. There were PSA targets, but no systematic process for following those up. The delivery unit has taken on the top, say, 30 of these targets, mainly in the areas of health, education, transport and criminal justice, and it tracks these and it organises a series of stock-takes which the Prime Minister personally chairs; so it has a health stock-take, a CJS stock-take and so on. For each of these variables, there is a target. There is also a trajectory and charts are produced which show, let us say, whether we are reducing the number of ineffective trials, whether we are increasing the proportion of fines which are collected. There is a target which measures where we are now, what path we should be following if we are going to get there and then we track it. If the data shows that it is all progressing nicely then you get on with it, if it shows that you are getting off track, for example that asylum applications instead of going down are going up, reaching 8,000 a month, you then intervene intensively to take some actions to turn it round. The delivery unit does two things: it organises the tracking of these top tier objectives; secondly, it promotes the methodology which is used by the Treasury departments to track the rest. This is something which did not exist in this country before, to my knowledge hardly existed in any other country actually; this is really pioneering stuff. We know much better where we are in relation to any of the major PSA targets than we used to.
Q266 Brian White: And how do you measure the interaction between them?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: You then have to evaluate the policy as a whole. It may be that you are hitting a target, but neglecting something else and you have to address that. There is always a tension, for example, between driving up school results and exclusions. You have to be prepared to address that and that is the process of policy evaluation, to see whether you are hitting the literal target, but failing to capture what is the wider objective. For example, in 2000 we added a second dimension for a number of targets. We said we wanted to increase school results at GCSE on average but we did not want this to come about by making the third, fourth and fifth deciles better, leaving the tail as long as it was. There is a kind of attached floor target which says, if you are improving on average by X, you have to improve by more than that for the services in the weakest areas and we track the progress of the floor targets as well as the main average target.
Q267 Brian White: The Modernising Government White Paper is now about five years old. When did you last review it and what conclusions have you got about how effective that White Paper was?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: We have moved on from it really. We have absorbed most of the ideas, but I think we felt that it had a number of aspirations; it did not have a coherent narrative to it and I suppose it was replaced by the Prime Minister's four principles of public service reform, which is in turn in the process of being replaced by a narrative about greater choice, personalisation and building the service around the customer. We have taken a lot of the ideas for modernising government, particularly around e-enablement, forward in a different context.
Q268 Mr Heyes: You said earlier that you do not run the civil service; you were very specific about that. I think maybe this is a source of some of the ... I thought you did. I suspect the Committee thought you did.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No, I am the leader of the civil service, I do not run it. I think that is the distinction.
Q269 Mr Heyes: I understand that distinction, but that makes me more anxious because the kind of issues that I come across as a constituency MP very often look to me like leadership problems within the civil service. For example, when I visited the local Jobcentre Plus team just recently, what the managers of that told me was that they described their staff as demoralised, overwhelmed with the frequency and pace of change and they themselves shared that feeling. They impressed me with their obvious competence and were concerned about what was going on, but it was equally easy to see they were worried about the future. For example, just a few weeks away from a major reorganisation they do not know what budget they have, they do not know how many staff they have, they do not know where they are going to be located, they do not even know whether they have a job in the new structure. I get that sense from many contacts with various parts of the civil service in the course of doing my job as a constituency MP. That feels to me like a leadership problem.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: It is a problem of change that is being driven very hard and very fast. It inevitably creates a ---
Q270 Mr Heyes: You described it earlier as a restless search for a best solution.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Yes.
Q271 Mr Heyes: Frankly it looks more like thrashing about with little idea of what you are doing.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No, I think I prefer the earlier description. There is a purpose to it. It is never easy to persuade people to change. You have to do a number of things. You have to explain why you are doing it, what it is you are trying to achieve. You have to demonstrate that you have a plan for doing it and the other thing is not to kind of hang about dwelling over it but get on with it decisively and do not leave people in uncertainty. If there is major change about how jobs are configured, where they are located and so on, the best thing is to sort out what you want to do, then announce what is going to happen, then get into discussion with your staff about the consequences of that, including the consequences for people who are staying and the consequences, in some cases, for the people who are not staying. That requires a degree of visibility that managers have to be upfront.
Q272 Mr Heyes: Do you do that? Do you ever get out onto the shop floor, into the front office?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I do. I have a programme, which is called the outreach programme, where, usually on Fridays, I go to visit government establishments. I hope this Committee, before it finishes its study, will do the same.
Q273 Chairman: We have. We get out and about.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I have been to Newcastle, Derby, Nottingham, Companies House, Land Registry. I have been to an event in docklands where the revenue and customs people were coming together in a new configuration. Yes, I certainly try to go out and see people on the ground.
Q274 Mr Heyes: You do not detect anything. I saw colleagues nodding in a sense at what I was describing which was one recent example. Do you never detect any of that in the civil service that you lead?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I do, because I also talk to the council of civil service unions and I certainly get it from them.
Q275 Mr Heyes: Well that is all very different from the picture you were painting to this Committee and published in 2002, when you set out your own goals for what the service might look like in 2005.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: One of the things which have changed is that we have gone through a phase in which public spending has increased much more rapidly than the historical trend, 4.5 per cent a year. We have had about five years of this, we are probably now in the last year of it, but this cannot go on forever and the last spending review was clearly signalling that the growth of public spending will have to slow down, otherwise the tax burden goes up and up indefinitely. The emphasis has to change. We have had an emphasis particularly on building up capacity in education, health, whatever, but we cannot go on doing, in a sense, more of the same. The emphasis has to bring in a greater dimension of efficiency, value for money, productivity. You can see a whole series of discussions, the way the debate has changed, things like the Atkinson review, how you measure ---
Q276 Mr Heyes: If you are going to achieve those things, and you do have some very persuasive ideas, for example about developing the corporate services experience of top civil servants, human resources, financial management, IT and those sorts of things, those are very much the back-office functions I think.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I do not have many regrets, but one of them is that the term "back office" was a mistake. The army do not talk about the Royal Logistics Corps as the back office: they say "These guys keep us in the field".
Q277 Mr Heyes: Are you back office or front office?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No, we are all part of the organisation. The organisation has to have strength all the way through it and the idea that there are some people who are in some sense superfluous, back office, a drag on the system is ---
Q278 Mr Heyes: This is a somersault from the sort of view that is promoted, for example, in Gershon, but in many other expert views on this, that we need to be promoting front-office functions and staff and diminishing the importance and the expense of back-office functions and staff and that is where the 80,000, 100,000 cuts in the civil service are going to be targeted.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Not necessarily.
Q279 Mr Heyes: Is there not a link in your mind between having that emphasis on reducing those so-called back-office functions and this demoralised service that you preside over?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Where are the biggest reductions of staff in Gershon coming from? They are coming from Inland Revenue, HMRC as it now is, and DWP. A lot of these are not simply back-office people, they are people dealing with the public. What we are going to do, is we are going carry out that function a lot more efficiently, particularly by the use of telecommunications and IT than we used to. So efficiency improvements run all the way through the organisations. They are not the prerogative of so-called back-office functions; things like finance and HR and so on are absolutely crucial, the ability to manage projects and our skill at procurement. You might think procurement was a back-office function, but procurement is the largest single source of savings in this whole exercise. The people working in that function have to be given greater skills and also a greater position in the organisation. We have to improve our strength right the way through the organisation, not simply say the front office is exempt from this and the cuts all fall on the back office. We have to be efficient across the whole piece.
Q280 Mr Heyes: So there is a front office and a back office?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: There is a back office, but it is the equation of the people who work in the back office being somehow being less valuable to the organisation. If you do not get paid, if your payroll function is hopeless, you are doing as much damage to morale as anything else. If you are out on the front line, what you really want is really good support. You want people who will procure good premises for you to work in, give you good IT systems to work with. So there is a concept of back office, but it is not a pejorative term; it has tended to be used as a pejorative term, in which case it is probably better to talk about corporate functions or support functions because it has become rather misused, that is all I am saying. It is clear that there are back office functions and front office functions.
Q281 Chairman: So all this banging on about front-line staff in every speech we hear is a mistake and it misunderstands the nature of integrated organisations and we are to hear no more about it.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: You have to improve both of these. The efficiency of a surgeon can be improved by his own skill and the equipment that he has, but the people who organise the flow of patients and the appointment systems all contribute to his efficiency. It is a team; that is what I am trying to get across.
Q282 Chairman: All this has really been a mistake.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The distinction has been drawn too abruptly.
Q283 Mr Prentice: Except, in the Cabinet Office memorandum which came to this Committee on the civil service effectiveness, Cabinet Office is talking about front-line public services.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: There are front-line public services. I am not denying there is a distinction. I am saying do not allow that distinction to draw you into the trap of thinking that back-office people are a waste of space. That kind of equation is too easily made in popular debates.
Q284 Chairman: That is what we have had. We have had front line good, back line bad. We have been reciting this all over the place and now it has all been a terrible mistake.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I am trying in some ways to redress the balance in departments. Where has the traditional strength of the department been? It has been in the people that lead the policy groupings and we want to build up the HR, finance, strategy, communications and IT functions. We have been bringing people into the civil service from outside and that is where a lot of them have gone, because that was where we needed to reinforce our capability.
Q285 Mr Hopkins: A different theme. There have been profound changes in government over the last 30 years and in the civil service. Clearly the model you have now is very different from the model we had 30 years ago; you referred to 20 years yourself. The model in the past was represented, perhaps in a humorous way, by Sir Humphrey and Jim Hacker in Yes Prime Minister, with a strong leader of the civil service representing the civil service view to the Prime Minister, giving advice and when the Prime Minister was perhaps getting it wrong, saying "I think, Prime Minister, you ought to do it rather differently". That is the model and now that it has completely changed my impression is that the head of the civil service, the top echelon are now part of the Prime Minister's team, telling people down there to get on with it, not advising the Prime Minister, but making sure that the prime ministerial teams' views are carried out down there. Is that unfair?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Like Yes Prime Minister it is a caricature, but it is not entirely without truth. Coming back to where we started with the Ministerial Code, we serve the duly constituted government, we have to give it advice, including advice such as "I would not do that if I were you" or "This is not going to be value for money" or whatever. However, we should not be saying there is a kind of Treasury view or there is a Home Office view and our job is either to persuade the incoming minister to adopt it, or basically to sort of starve them into submission so eventually they will come round to our view. I do not think that is our job; it is fundamentally undemocratic to take that view, that we, the civil service, should seek to impose our view of the world on the people who are elected, who come in.
Q286 Mr Hopkins: I was saying the senior civil service plus the Prime Minister's office together; not the civil service, but this group who are solid with each other, who are carrying out the wishes of the centre.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Ministers form strategies and detailed policies coming out of that and what the civil service is then trying to do is provide a kind of unified sense of purpose in pursuit of the objectives that have been set by ministers, rather than wishing they were not doing this and they will kind of hang around and hope that this will all go away. That is what delivery is about.
Q287 Mr Hopkins: What I am trying to get at is that in the past you would be seen as the civil servants' man in Downing Street. Now you are the Prime Minister's man in the civil service.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No. I think I am the leader of an organisation which is there to serve the government of the day in helping it to develop its policies, in organising it through the processes of government and in getting them delivered where we deliver directly or creating the right connections where we deliver indirectly through other parts of the public sector or whatever. There is a sense of purpose that we are there to get things done and make a difference to peoples' lives, rather than saying that we do not do things like that. It is not for us to decide how we do things or what the objectives are. We have to create a sense of purpose. The Prime Minister sees himself as leading that process and I am one of the people who then connect up in turn with heads of departments, my permanent secretary colleagues, who in turn connect up with their colleagues. There is a sense that this is the objective which has been set, this is the policy, this is the target that has been set and we are trying to deliver that on behalf of the government and in some ways, either they change their mind or a different set of ministers comes in, those objectives may change.
Q288 Mr Hopkins: The Cabinet Office targets seem to relate almost entirely to the Prime Minister and not to supporting the Cabinet as such. There is an accusation that the Cabinet has become a cipher, just an occasional rubber stamp for what the Prime Minister's office and you have decided and even that some ministers have felt frustrated by this and have left government as a result. Is that picture unfair? Is Cabinet just another annoyance like Parliament?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I do not think it is an accurate description of what the Cabinet Office exists to do. We think of ourselves as having four functions. One is that we support the Prime Minister in leading the government and that is principally the people in Number 10 itself but also some of the things we, on our side of the door, do as well. Two is that we are the co-ordinator of government business on behalf of the government as a whole, we help it transact its business, get decisions taken, recorded, acted upon, speedily resolved. We are a co-ordinating body. Three is that we are seeking to develop capacity in a number of dimensions: people capacity, the ability to develop strategies, IT, communications and so on. Four is that we are the guardians of the constitutional settlement, propriety, ethics, etcetera. Those are the four functions. When you come to the targets, the targets are a sub-sector, they do not represent and they do not capture the full dimension of our work. It is very difficult to set a target for how good you are at supporting the Prime Minister in leading the government. We do have a target for the proportion of regulatory impact assessments deemed satisfactory. I am just distinguishing between our four main aims and the targets which are a not very representative sub-circle.
Q289 Mr Hopkins: The Cabinet Office memorandum that we have received says that the overriding function of the Cabinet Office is to assist in the delivery of better public services; no reference to foreign policy, legislation, security and many other responsibilities in terms of government. The overriding responsibility is delivering public services. Now that is a very different attitude to a traditional civil service, is it not?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Yes, I think it is. If you look at an individual department, let us take the DfES. I think the DfES historically would see itself as part of the education system and having a particular role: it created legislation, it provided the funding, set the policy and so on. Then other people got on and did it: the education system, LEAs and so on, delivered. Now I think they see that the department is the leader of the system as a whole. They produce the strategy and they set targets for educational attainment. We did not have targets for educational attainment until recently. Historically we saw ourselves as principally people who set policy, got it passed into legislation and funded it. Now we are accepting there is a further responsibility to make sure that the outcomes which come from all that are delivered.
Q290 Mr Hopkins: Have you not in effect become a politician yourself? I remember when you last came before us, you said, almost as a throwaway line, that social democracy was now just small corners of Europe and was disappearing and that you were really part of this new ideology, that argument was over and we were now all agreed that the ideology was the way we ran things, the business model if you like, it was very simple. You no longer question whether or not the way we run things is a good idea. The idea of competing philosophies, competing ideologies, is now finished, we have all agreed that ---
Sir Andrew Turnbull: We may get an event in a few weeks' time which will put this up for grabs. Someone could come in wanting to do things in a completely different way, but we are serving a government which has clearly said that improvement of public services is a major objective of its policy and we are helping it to deliver the objectives that it has. If there is a change of government and they want to set a completely different set of objectives, much more emphasis on reducing taxes, for example, much more emphasis on reducing the footprint of the state, my job or my successor's job is to ensure that they get, first of all, the advice on how to do that and, once the policy is settled, the same commitment to deliver that as we are giving to the pursuit of the current policies.
Q291 Mr Hopkins: What if a government came in that wanted to increase the footprint of the state, actually wanted to renationalise the railways, to raise taxes and spend a bit more on public services, to rein in privatisation of all kinds and started to go back to something like the world of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: If they put that before the nation in their manifesto, their mandate trumps my mandate every time. If that is their policy and it has been endorsed in an election, they are entitled then to expect the civil service of the day to assist them in delivering that policy. That is what democracy is about.
Q292 Mr Hopkins: Indeed I agree with you. I agree with you very strongly, but you used to sound very different from Sir Nigel Wicks who was a more traditional civil servant of the old kind, who saw his role as policy adviser and carrying out the wishes of government, but not actually being involved too politically.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I would not say that I am involved politically, in the sense that if these ministers decide to change their policies or a different group comes in with some different policies, I am there to serve them and if they have the mandate to do that, then I am not going to try to sabotage that, or slow it down or whatever.
Q293 Mr Hopkins: I am trying to get to my conclusion and I am taking rather a long time about it. My impression, and we have talked to colleagues here and met public servants at the local level, is that they are acutely conscious that there is an ideological drive coming from the centre about how things are now done and there is a nervousness about this; certainly I know this is true of the health service. We have moved dramatically away from the old world which was pluralistic, with competing institutions if you like and where local responsibilities were quite strong, local councillors were independent, democratic with their own strong finances and that is no longer the case, that we have moved toward a world, and it is very strange, a world that I think Lenin would recognise much, much more than perhaps an old pluralist like me.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Is Britain a highly centralised place? It is a highly centralised place and you regret that, but that is the democratic choice that people make. What you have to remember is that I worked for many years in the Treasury when privatisation and market testing was absolutely the thing of the day. I am not sure it is that different. If we have a government which is giving a strong lead as to what it wants, it can rely on the civil service to pursue that with commitment. I do not think it is the commitment: what we are getting better at is actually just doing it.
Q294 Mr Hopkins: My final question is about this pluralistic idea that now there seems very little opportunity to have effective challenge to the all-pervasive neo-liberal ethos, if you like, that civil servants who do not fit, civil servants who are perhaps sceptics about the current philosophy are squeezed out, marginalised and are no longer welcome, particularly at the top and if things go wrong and if things are not working, there is no-one with an alternative model, because they have all been squeezed out. The great advantage, would you agree, of our old system, was that at least there were alternatives? There were coherent, highly intelligent people supporting both sides. Nowadays that has all gone because it has been combed out and unified into one ideology.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I am quite confident that if we have a change of direction, most of the skills that we have learned about delivering things better will be useful. You need project management skills, where the project is to build something up, or the project is to reduce it. It is not our job to decide which of those two alternatives it is, but whichever it is, we have to be competent and effective at doing it.
Mr Hopkins: We are talking about the effectiveness of the civil service and I could pursue that theme at greater length, but it would probably take too much time.
Q295 Chairman: You have just explained how genetically promiscuous civil servants are, that is that they will work for anybody really. It has often been said that in the run-up to 1997 civil servants were in the mood for change and they were very supportive of the idea of a new government coming in, the change of direction you talked about. You are saying yes, to that, assenting to the proposition.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No, I am saying that I recognise the question.
Q296 Chairman: Oh, I thought you were recognising and assenting to it. In terms of what you say about how civil servants respond to different directions, how would you read the mood now?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Nineteen ninety seven was a bit like 1979. There was a sense that change was going to happen, the people wanted a change of direction. The civil service, half a million people, is a huge sample. MORI tends to sample about 2,000 people at the most; here we have a sample of about half a million people. It is not surprising therefore, if the mood of the nation is that it is time for a change, that the mood of the civil service, as a very large sample of it, would be pretty much the same. However, you could have said that about 1992, when one expected there to be a change of government and there was not. I would hope that that government would say "We got the same quality of service and commitment, even though we were rather surprisingly returned".
Q297 Chairman: You are closer to it than the rest of us. Is the mood one of continuity at the moment or would they like a change of direction?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I do not think I should comment on that. The answer is that we will operate with commitment whoever comes in.
Q298 Iain Wright: Paragraph 5 of your memorandum on this is one of the most political things I have read in months "A great deal of progress has already been made. Hospital waiting lists have fallen dramatically". I could just show that to Michael Howard or my Conservative opponent and say "There you go". Surely you are very political.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I think each of those statements - waiting times did come down - can be objectively justified.
Q299 Iain Wright: So when we talk about the Opposition, it is false. If Michael Howard stands up at Prime Minister's Question Time and talks about the effectiveness of the National Health Service or the fact that crime is not coming down, quite rightly the Prime Minister can turn round and say that the civil servants have shown us this. You are a political vehicle for the governing party, are you not? You are providing the evidence there. You are providing the ammunition that the Prime Minister can throw back at the Leader of the Opposition.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: We are. There is a phrase "Are we serial monogamists?". We are serial monogamists, but we have to do it in a way which demonstrates to the Opposition that they can have the same confidence, that if they form the government they will get served with equal commitment. We can objectively justify each of the statements here about the targets we have been set.
Q300 Iain Wright: Very briefly, on a tangent, you mentioned something about guardians of the constitution, which I did not find in the memorandum, but I found very interesting. Why should the civil service be the guardians of the constitution? Should that not be the House of Commons?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The House of Commons is the ultimate guardian, but we administer a whole series of rules in conjunction with the civil service commissioners about recruitment on merit, promotion on merit. We police the distinction between government activity and party activity. We make sure that people only spend money which they have been authorised to spend. In that sense we are the guardians but it is the job we have been assigned. We are not saying that we are like some kind of supreme court. We have been assigned this task and it is being carried out. Its ultimate values, effectively the civil service code, are agreed between the executive and Parliament and then the Cabinet Office has the particular role of policing that.
Q301 Mr Liddell-Grainger: In 2002 you set out four goals. You are about to receive your clock and say thank you very much. A civil service respected for its capability to deliver the policy, skills and work with a sense of urgency. Have you achieved that?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I certainly think that people see the civil service as more delivery focused. Mr Hopkins is almost saying we are taking this too far. Do we act with a bit more pace? Yes, I think we do.
Q302 Mr Liddell-Grainger: You have not answered that quite. An enhanced capacity to think creatively and operate strategically. You have not really done that, have you?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: We have certainly made progress in two ways. In the last 12 months virtually all the major departments have produced a strategy statement as opposed to producing a series of white papers on this bit of policy, that bit of policy. The second change is that most departments now have an identifiable strategy unit with a director of strategy. So there is much more thinking, "What is the total policy purpose of this department?", rather than simply relying on a collection of a series of individual policy statements. Are we creative? Are we innovative? I think we are. The e-university is a very good example. Here was an experiment. You win some, you lose some, but some things turn out to be more successful and some less. We have tried lots. Take anti-social behaviour for example. This is something which has turned out to be vastly more popular than we thought at the time.
Q303 Mr Liddell-Grainger: We will not dwell on the e-university. The civil service is for young people who want to join and work with us. You are getting rid of them all, not getting more.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No, we are recruiting about 400-plus fast-streamers a year; we are still recruiting.
Q304 Mr Liddell-Grainger: So you are talking about high-fliers as opposed to what we are talking about.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: We are continuing to be aggressive recruiters of the best talent. We compete head-on with big companies, the banks, the accountants and so on, for really talented young people. We also want to attract people who are successful in other walks of life. This has been an extremely successful policy. We have brought in lots of people in mid-career. Forty-five per cent of the openings into the civil service have been subject to open competition. We are running about 200 open competitions a year.
Q305 Brian White: Will your successor be appointed by open competition?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: That still has to be decided. It depends whether you think by that process you would have a better chance of finding the kind of person you want.
Q306 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Those are the first three but the fourth one is integrity and trust. Do you think the civil service is trusted? Is it more trusted on your watch than before? I am not sure it is.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: May I recommend that you go into the MORI website?
Q307 Mr Liddell-Grainger: We try to steer clear of polls; we are expert on them.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: They run a series which has been running since 1983 about trust in various institutions and ask the same set of questions. Down at the bottom are tabloid editors, politicians, big businessmen, all around 20 per cent. The civil service gets a rating just below 50 per cent, which is actually higher than it was, but we are compared with teachers, doctors, university professors, who gain ratings of 75 to 80 per cent. We are in the middle. We also work very closely alongside the politicians who get these very low ratings. What delivers trust? There is something about when you deal with a civil servant whether they are honest, if you are applying for benefit whether you get the benefit you are entitled to, whether you are treated fairly, treated like the next person. Does government procurement follow all those standards? I think we score highly. There are obviously problems around ---
Q308 Mr Liddell-Grainger: Are you pleased after three years? Do you think you can look back on your tenure and say you have made a difference?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I have certainly made a difference. This fourth area of trust is in many ways the most difficult.
Q309 Mr Liddell-Grainger: You in the Cabinet Office pledged to cut civil service jobs, etcetera, etcetera. The numbers of people employed in the Cabinet Office have gone up in the last year from 2003 to 2004, not a lot, I accept, but it has gone up. Are you going to look at cutting jobs and trying to hit the savings?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: We are committed to reduce about 150 posts, which I think we will.
Q310 Mr Liddell-Grainger: You hope to achieve that.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Yes.
Q311 Mr Liddell-Grainger: I am intrigued that 721 people now work in the Prime Minister's office and support him; its objective is to support the Prime Minister in leading government and the figures for 2003-2004 are 721 including one minister and 29 specialist advisers. It seems an awful lot of people.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: But this guy is leading the government of the United Kingdom.
Q312 Mr Liddell-Grainger: The total number is actually 2,400 and that is under the four objectives. I hardly dare ask this, but is there an organogram on the 721? I do not remember a figure of 721; it seems to have gone up some 705 last year to 721.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The number of people working directly in Number 10 is small, more like 175. Then there are other people working for the Prime Minister in other ways in the Cabinet Office. What we have done is taken the four objectives and then tried to distribute that 2,400 around those separate headings.
Q313 Chairman: We do have a number of more detailed questions about the Cabinet Office, but I am slightly constrained by the fact that we are going to have a division in about ten minutes and we should like to end before then. If we write to you on those detailed Cabinet Office questions, perhaps you would kindly write to us.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The person who has all this stuff at his fingertips is Colin Palmer.
Q314 Chairman: Yes; I think it would be more sensible if we simply wrote to you about it. Is that all right?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Yes, that is fine.
Q315 Mr Prentice: When you were going around your empire in docklands, did you actually do the jobs which the frontline people were doing or did you just chat to them?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Mainly just chat to them.
Q316 Mr Prentice: Have you ever done the job?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I went to a Jobcentre Plus office and I was assigned a role as a greeter. I had a badge which said "Andrew" and I met people. I can tell you that within 30 seconds they knew that I was a plant. It is quite difficult to do the job.
Q317 Mr Prentice: What is the badge you are wearing at the moment?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: This is Year of the Volunteer 2005. In quite a lot of these things you go round from desk to desk or unit to unit and what I find is that I get a different reaction from Mr Heyes. People are very keen to show you what they are doing, what they are making progress on, very proud of the things they are doing and I picked that up. Maybe it is a biased sample.
Q318 Mr Heyes: They were not with me, but you are the boss.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The act of observation changes what is being observed. You always have to be aware of the fact that your relationship with them is different from my relationship. I see lots of interesting and progressive things going on.
Q319 Mr Prentice: I just want to ask a couple of questions about permanent secretaries. Four years in post seems to be the norm. Why was four years settled on?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Four years is a norm but not in the sense of a fixed-term contract and at the end of four years you go. It is saying you need something, a point at which to trigger a discussion. This four-year norm is not exclusively permanent secretaries; it is the whole senior civil service. Part of the problem is that in many parts of the senior civil service people are moving too fast, so we are also trying to slow things down. There is also the sense that in an organisation where you want to make it a bit more dynamic, you have to bring people on and bring people in and if people just stay in jobs, fifth year, sixth year, seventh year and you just leave them there then you can get performance which kind of ---
Q320 Mr Prentice: Who is the longest-serving permanent secretary? Do we know?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: In the same job?
Q321 Mr Prentice: In the same job.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: It could be Sir Kevin Tebbit at about six years.
Q322 Mr Prentice: Have you had a word with him about how he is doing?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I have a performance discussion with all permanent secretaries twice a year.
Q323 Mr Prentice: I want to ask you about that because when the civil service commissioners wrote to us they said that permanent secretaries must of course be held accountable for their record and they talk about permanent secretaries running departments and so forth. How are they actually held accountable? Is it just your biannual chat or is there a formal ---
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No, there is a formal process. At the start of the year they prepare a set of delivery objectives which are very closely related to, may even be a sub-set of the department's objectives as a whole and a set of what we call capacity building objectives, what they are trying to do to change the organisation and themselves over time. There is discussion in the spring; there is a discussion in September/October and when we get to the spring there is a self-assessment. There is a form which says "Here are my objectives and this is what I think I did". Then there are some third party assessments. What did the minister think? What did the non-executive director of the departmental board, what did somebody else think? You know.
Q324 Mr Prentice: Do you have outside people like PriceWaterhouseCoopers sitting on your shoulders saying Mr Tebbit really needs ...?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: No, but I have the delivery unit and I have my own staff in the Cabinet Office, so I have access to a view as to how all this department is doing in a variety of dimensions. That forms an assessment by me, which I agree with the Home Secretary and the Treasury, which is then presented to the permanent secretaries' remuneration committee and that is chaired by John Baker with two other outsiders.
Q325 Mr Prentice: There was a piece in the FT which you would have seen at the beginning of the month. It says that Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff should lose his powers to direct civil servants according to a fiercely worded attack from the civil service commissioners, the guardians of the service's impartiality. It then goes on to quote the commissioners directly. It is wholly undesirable that any special adviser should have powers to act in effect as junior ministers over areas of government activity whilst being unelected and unaccountable. What do you think about that?
Sir Andrew Turnbull: This came about in 1997. Robin Butler thought it would be better to give these powers transparently to Jonathan Powell. Although there was a possibility of using three, there were only ever two, Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell. Rather than having what would be even worse, which is someone coming in as a kind of chief of staff and they kind of behave in this way but they are not acknowledged as behaving in this way, you could operate either system. You can either say that you will not have people with these powers, or you can give them these powers. You cannot have people not in a sense owning up to the fact that they have those powers and then behaving in this way.
Q326 Mr Prentice: The thing I find intriguing is that the civil commissioners know all this. We have all had experience of Campbell, we have all had experience of Jonathan Powell and they are still making this observation and they say that the Civil Service Bill, with which we are all so familiar "provides no limit to the breadth of powers such special advisers are able to exercise" and obviously the commissioners are a bit concerned about that.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: We have one post in the whole of the civil service under this regime.
Q327 Chairman: I think Gordon is just asking you whether you agree with what the commissioners are saying, that is all.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I am not saying whether I personally agree with it. I can explain the rationale of why you might want to have it, which is that it is better to have someone behaving in this way and openly acknowledged as having these powers than someone who comes in as a very, very close ally of the Prime Minister and is issuing instructions and then pretending that they are really just an ordinary special adviser. That is the choice. If you do not have this power you run the danger that you will get a non-transparent arrangement. If you are not going to use it, and the Conservative Party have said they certainly will not use it and that if there were a Bill going through on their watch they would actually remove it ... Robin Butler put it in from the best of motives. It was not that he wanted to create this power: he wanted to make sure that if Jonathan Powell exercised those responsibilities, it should be acknowledged that he was doing it.
Q328 Chairman: You interestingly used the phrase "even worse", which suggests that it is bad.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: We have set out a series of duties and responsibilities to go in the next edition of the civil service code which says they take no part, they do not take decisions on contracts, they do not have responsibility for budgets, they are not involved in personnel matters, etcetera. What is really bad is if you are constraining the role of a special adviser in that way and some people are covertly behaving that way. It is better, if you are going to have a chief of staff or to call someone a chief of staff, to own up to what you are actually doing.
Q329 Chairman: This will be revisited again in discussions. Let me end by just trying Sir Michael Bichard on you, who has been writing fairly vigorously about the civil service and its effectiveness recently. He said, as a former permanent secretary, as you well know, "In spite of the impressive rhetoric and the language of modernisation we still have a civil service which is risk averse, introspective, exclusive and process-centred. Then he said "Why government have failed to grasp the nettle of civil service reform is an interesting question" and he goes on to suggest various possibilities. Then he said, "Perhaps senior ministers have just been seduced by the mandarins' skill rhetoric and believe that modernisation is taking place in spite of the efforts of a minority." and I am not sure whether he includes you in this or not "It is not and will not without a more radical strategy". He speaks with some experience of these things.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I do not really agree with that characterisation. You said something about introversion, was that the word? The senior civil service is far less introverted than it was four or five years ago. One in four of all director level posts, that is second tier, below permanent secretaries, is now filled by people recruited from outside. We have created a number of units in the Cabinet Office. Roughly half the people I work directly with have been recruited from outside. This is not a closed, hermetically sealed organisation.
Q330 Chairman: So you have not seduced the Prime Minister into thinking that reform is going on when it really is not.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: I think he has quite a good idea of what is going on and he is constantly pushing me to do more.
Q331 Chairman: You do not think there is a need for a big bang at some point which really would ---
Sir Andrew Turnbull: The course we are on, continued and possibly under my successor accelerated and reinforced, will produce significant change in the civil service.
Q332 Chairman: Continuity and change.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: A bit more of the weighting between the two. I would weight the change bit.
Q333 Chairman: More change.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: Even at the expense of causing a bit of disturbance and uncertainty in the organisation, I would weight the change more highly; I would not just put it 50:50.
Q334 Chairman: Okay. That is interesting. This is our big bang, I am afraid and we have to go. If this is farewell, we thank you very much for coming along, we thank you for the diligence with which you have attended to our requests over your years, thank you for your service and wish you very well in whatever comes next.
Sir Andrew Turnbull: It has always been a pleasure to work with you.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.