Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-49)



  Q40  Chairman: Fine. Finally, could we turn to the appointment of the new National Statistician, which you have welcomed in a press release and, indeed, we look forward to welcoming her here next week. Were you satisfied with the selection process?

  Professor Rhind: We were not involved in the selection process.

  Q41  Chairman: Why was that?

  Professor Rhind: We were not asked but, if I may say so, if we had been asked I think the Commission had more or less taken the decision that we should not be involved, because if we were to have a situation where, later, we were involved in criticising the individual or the department concerned, it seemed a little invidious to be involved in that. We had confidence in the process; the advertisements went out and, from what we could observe, it all seemed to go according to the Civil Service Commission way of doing things.

  Q42  Chairman: I just want to be absolutely clear: you do not think there is any role for the Commission in the appointment?

  Professor Rhind: We think there is a great role for the Commission in the review of the Framework document and we are seeking to persuade our colleagues in the Treasury that that is the case, but we, I think, took the view that this was a government appointment. We are not part of government, and therefore we should stand aside from that particular process.

  Q43 Chairman: Sure. Are there areas, compared to her predecessor, that you think she should be particularly focusing on, or that you wished her predecessor should have focused more on?

  Professor Rhind: The discussions we have had with the new National Statistician indicate to us that she is very focused on delivering what has already been promised. The modernisation programme, which is part of the way through, the move of a substantial number of people from London to Newport, the next Census, which is already coming up on the horizon, planning for that, and there are a number of other issues which she has on her plate.

  Q44  Chairman: That is continuity. What I was asking you was whether there were areas that you would want her to focus on, that Mr Cook perhaps had not focused on sufficiently?

  Professor Rhind: There is certainly one which I think her predecessor only began to grapple with in his last six months—he had a few other things on his plate—and that is the Government Statistical Service. The National Statistician is head of ONS but is also the head of the Government Statistical Service. It looks to me as if GSS has fallen into disrepair somewhat and to an extent statisticians and government departments are an island and certainly there would be some benefit in having greater cohesion across the piece. I very much hope that Karen Dunnell can and will take steps to enhance the Government Statistical Service.

  Q45  Chairman: As well as being head of the Government Statistical Service and being National Statistician, she is also the Registrar General. Mr Cook found himself suddenly advising on the Royal Wedding. Do you think one person should be dealing with these three things together?

  Professor Rhind: It is a formidable task, but on the other hand, all organisations and everybody who is at the top of an organisation, by and large, have got pretty substantial tasks and they achieve it by appropriate delegation.

  Chairman: Peter, do you want to come in on this, briefly?

  Q46  Peter Viggers: No, I want to follow that particular point. Surely, there are specific responsibilities which could helpfully be separated?

  Professor Rhind: I do not doubt, in fact, it would be normal management practice that delegation would ensure that certain people took those responsibilities.

  Chairman: Andy Love, on the same point?

  Q47  Mr Love: This is an associated point: surely, should the new National Statistician not be more robust? I suspect that your answer is that the Framework should be stronger, in order to allow her to be more robust.

  Professor Rhind: Exactly.

  Q48  Mr Love: Now you recently went on a visit to Canada and everybody tells us Canada has the framework. Tell us what it is we need to do if we are looking at Canada as an example; what would we take from them that would make our system more robust?

  Professor Rhind: First of all, it is absolutely clear, and Canadian colleagues made it clear to us, that the world is not perfect in Canada; there are still some things they would like to improve and, more than that, the government system is clearly different. You cannot just graft something from one place on to another. That said, Statistics Canada has a very high reputation worldwide and has done some terrific things. It has had over-arching statistical legislation since 1918. That over-arching legislation is extraordinarily powerful. For example, it enables Statistics Canada to have access to information held by anybody in Canada, for statistical purposes. That seems to me an impossible situation ever to get anywhere near in the present circumstances, and they have used that very carefully, very rarely, but the fact is that they are the central authority and their word is undisputed in the vast majority of discussions we have had. My colleague is with me; may I ask him to—

  Mr Alldritt: I think it is interesting that, although they have this very powerful legislation, they back it up with letters from the Prime Minister to ministers in government making it quite clear that the National Statistician of Canada has independence and that independence must be respected, so they have legislation and they have non-statutory arrangements as well to reinforce that, and they have very considerable in-depth strength at a professional level, but they did not acquire any of that quickly; it did take a very long time.

  Q49  Chairman: Right. If we are all done, we are going to leave it there. Thank you very much, and thank you to colleagues as well.

  Professor Rhind: Thank you. If I may apologise, yet again, for arriving late.

  Chairman: We understand that.

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