Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)

TUESDAY 19 JUNE 2007

MR NICK MABEY

  Q40  Dr Turner: The only difficulty with the Energy Review is that nothing ever happened about it as a consequence. We are still discussing the very issues set out in the 2003 Energy Review four years later. The PMSU used small project teams to focus on specific challenges. How effective a technique was that? Did that get to the climax of problems like climate change by cutting across the structures, working around the cultural silos?

  Mr Mabey: The most difficult thing of any Strategy Unit project was defining good terms of reference and commission, so precisely you did add value. Sometimes when the Strategy Unit tried to go head-to-head with departments, mainly because ministers wanted to break a cultural impasse, it was usually bloody on both sides, sometimes productively and sometimes less productively. But, in terms of the quality of work produced by the Strategy Unit through a small team method which was generally 50 per cent civil servants, 50 per cent external experts and analysts, I think it is some of the highest quality work I have ever seen. I have worked at MIT, the London Business School and in industry and it is certainly the most intellectually and practically aggressive unit in which I have ever worked. It somehow created a peer culture of quality and some very, very good people were attracted to work there. That seemed to work. As always, the difficulty was in implementation, in getting that out into Whitehall, but essentially it got better at doing that over time too, so a lot of projects were followed by small teams, usually of three or four people from the team, going to work inside the delivery department in a joint follow-up team with regular reports to the PMDU or to Cabinet. It got to the point where, rather than just being a think-tank, it turned into a delivery structure as well, where the intellectual capital was spent. Even after initial hostility sometimes, if you produced good work people would say, "Great, you have helped us on a very difficult problem," as long as it was that spirit of joint problem-solving and not invading their space. I think it is great because it allows you to devote resources in a way in which frontline civil servants never have the opportunity to do: when you are doing a frontline job, you just cannot do that kind of work.

  Q41  Dr Turner: You are telling us that it can be done but you have to infiltrate the departmental structure specially in order to make it happen.

  Mr Mabey: Yes.

  Q42  Dr Turner: From the centre.

  Mr Mabey: One of the things we saw was a growth of departmental aversion. Sometimes there was a bit of a reaction from permanent secretaries, "If we have our own Strategy Unit and they are doing a good job, then we do not have to have PMSU come in." In some ways, that is brilliant: it is the decisive dynamic you want. You want them to get to the point where they are using the lessons, the tools, the methodologies, the training and the quality people they second in who come back, to drive their own processes, for those things they can do inside a department. The PMSU should really be kept to do very long-term work and cross-departmental work—that is what it was designed to do—if the rest of government was functioning. There was always seen a slight tug-of-war between those two models but, to me, that was healthy, because it was positive competition as opposed to negative, bunker mentality, turf war. When you did not get it right, that is what it turned into.

  Q43  Dr Turner: If anybody writes a new series of Yes, Minister, they can call on you for script advice.

  Mr Mabey: Yes. We used to use Yes, Minister as our training video for people outside government.

  Q44  Mr Malik: In your view, how effective are public service agreements and targets at getting departments to account for sustainable development in the work that they do?

  Mr Mabey: To date—and I do not know the current round, which is meant to try to address some of these issues—I must admit I thought they were an absolute failure in trying to produce joined-up government. Essentially, you needed to create a joint strategic view among politicians and senior civil servants that there was a need for this collaboration, and trying to impose that through a target never worked. Sometimes, the PSA process produced that joint view and sometimes it did not. It sometimes focused too much on the money and not enough on the process of getting strategic alignment. This is back to the constant struggle between the Treasury and Cabinet Office structures, as the Cabinet Office tries to align objectives and the Treasury tried to align people around money. In the end, money does not align people. If the Cabinet Office and the Treasury worked in the same way. It was very powerful. When they were working apart from each other, it generally produced words on paper but not results. I think all the people involved recognise that, that it was part of a broader political problem we had, as everybody knows.

  Q45  Mr Malik: What do you think are the key factors to get that strategic alignment in order to be effective?

  Mr Mabey: It is different in every case but the core element is that the political level involved have had an extremely clear discussion about objectives and how they are shared or not, and if there is a dispute that is clearly resolved by the Prime Minister not being ambiguous. Sometimes you have to do that, sometimes you cannot resolve things that clearly, but that means you are set up for lack of inclination. That is the core thing, the clear political message from above. Then you have to devolve responsibility for driving it forward, either to Cabinet Office or to the permanent secretary or the deputy permanent secretary with the authority to challenge departments to come up with answers. They have to have the authority of the politicians to drive it through otherwise they will be completely stranded and left in a bureaucratic exercise. It always worked when that political alignment was there. It could fail for personalities or for other reasons, that it was just too difficult, but if you were not giving someone authority it never did happen. If you look at how we have tackled issues such as Afghanistan and Iraq, in those crisis situations that is how Whitehall refers. It has direct authority given to either a minister or a senior official to challenge and push Whitehall. Unfortunately, we tend to do it too much in crisis situations and not enough of a bold approach in normal day-to-day business. It is not tsars, either, because I believe it is better to have people in the machine. Make the machine work for you. If you put people outside the machine, in the end it comes back to bite you because it effectively puts power there. Those are some of the core elements.

  Q46  Mr Malik: Des spoke earlier on about institutional change. You will be aware that departments now have to produce Sustainable Development Action Plans. Do you think these will stimulate the climate change you want to see?

  Mr Mabey: They are certainly better than they used to be. It certainly gives us some leverage. There is a bit of me that is always suspicious of an action plan because it tends to be a list of bullet points of things people are doing already. Of those I know who have made progress, I can identify the group of three to five individuals in that department who have used that mandate to produce something which is alive and vibrant and plugged into their department. Where there have not been those individuals, it has not worked. This comes back to the fact that you cannot just throw those institutional instruments into a vacuum and expect them to work on their own. They have to have land on people who have commitment and skills and the ability to persuade political leaders to make it happen or there is public political pressure to make them happen. So, yes, potentially useful, but in some ways there are out of a broader process and not the driver of it. I have never seen an action plan requirement drive anything substantive in Whitehall ever—or in any other organisation, to be honest. This is just normal organisational practice.

  Q47  Mr Malik: You might be aware that the Sustainable Development Commission reported last year on Sustainable Development Action Plans and they found that departments continued to fail to understand the business case or benefits of sustainable development. Why, after ten years of the Government promoting sustainable development in government, is this still the case?

  Mr Mabey: I would put the blame for that in some ways squarely on two sides. I am not going to talk about the recipients but about the promoters. You can blame people for not listening to you but I think you should really focus on whether you are putting the message out. The people who are pushing sustainable development have not produced a clear operational model for how it should be done. There has been too much fluff and not enough tools, methodologies, training, skills. We do not have a serious sustainable development professional training course in this government—if you go on any of them, you will see that they are cobbled together—or a set of tools which let you think through complex problems. The Strategy Unit has one. It has built one up over four or five years, internal training. If you look at the strategy survival guide toolkit, some of the policy type of work that the Strategy Unit set up, you will find a lot of the tools that you need to do long-term, risk-managed, integrated, holistic decision-making, which is what sustainable development is, you will not find any of those in an of the sustainable development parts of government: websites, internal tools, internal manuals. You will find assessment and appraisal but not the things that help people deliver. The sustainable development community has not produced an operational model. As a set of academic think-tanks, trainers, those people inside government have not produced a toolkit to help people do it in practice—and it is not that it cannot be one, it is just that they have not done it—I think they have been a bit befuddled by their overly grandiose outcome and not looked at the basics, which are very simple. You look at a problem, you look at it over the long term, you look at how the various elements add up, including environmental resources, and you divide them into strategies. It is what the Strategy Unit did all the time; it just did not call it sustainable development. It just did it for long-term policymaking. That is one piece that was not a very clear model to bring in. The other is that I just think that Defra in its various incarnations was never empowered to drive that change across government. The Sustainable Development Unit was never really very front-foot. Occasionally some individuals there did do very good work but it had some pretty bruising fights to go, especially with the Treasury and the Government Economic Service, and in the end Defra never took its argument to the rest of Whitehall in a very strong way. Now it is building up its capacity to make an economic case as well perhaps building the capacity to do it, but, if you do not win the argument, in the end other people are not going to start doing it your way. The real problem of having all this legislation coming from the EU is the fact that they were swamped with things that government had to do and they really did not have to make the case for people to do it until quite recently.

  Q48  Mr Malik: Is institutional resistance not a key factor in the failure of the Government to incorporate and embed environmental considerations into policymaking?

  Mr Mabey: It is difficult to know what institutional resistance means. I have been amazed, in some ways, how environmental people in government and government departments have been, when given the right signals and pushed across. In some ways they have been more radical than some of the NGOs I know. Certainly in other areas in which I have worked I find government more joined up, more holistic and more long term than many other organisations, especially in the academic, non-governmental sector. I do not think people in government dislike the environment. The signal is that has changed over ten years. There is a very clear signal that the environment should be covered. In the end, there are lots of people competing with policy time and policy space and the fact that the Government is cut up the way it is makes the environment a bit of an uphill struggle. That is back to the point that stronger leadership, in terms of strategic direction from the centre and a stronger advocate in terms of Defra and a clearer understanding of what it means to do this, would overcome the friction, the inertia, the previous skill set we are dealing with, but I do not think there is an intentional resistance, apart from the usual one: "My job is really difficult, please do not over-complicate it." I find that as much from environmentalists who refuse to absorb development or economic issues or security issues. They are just as resistant to having a more complicated life. Again, that is something you have to manage, because sustainable development is partly about making people's lives more complicated but, hopefully, for the purpose that it makes better policy and better outcomes.

  Q49  David Howarth: Is it not the problem that if you want to bring about enormous change in the way people operate you can probably only do one of those, you cannot do lots of them at the same time, and you have to have a very clear idea about the trade-offs and the priorities? If one day you say that climate change is the top priority and the next day you say something else has top priority, then that will never change anything. The institutions' internal inertia just leaves them where they are. It is not that they actively resist; it is that they do not know how to change so there is no need to bother.

  Mr Mabey: I agree with you. That is something I learned very much, having seen my own failures as a lobbyist outside government, asking the Government to do things I would never ask WWF to do in their complexity and skills. It is like skiing down hill in a straight line and getting to a turn, but you are not very good at turning so you fall over and you get up and you point at the next straight bit down. That is me skiing down a wooded slope—best of luck to the skis! That is the analogy. You have to be willing to do stupid but clever things, to know that you have to change course. A good example of how powerful that approach would be is Clare Short at the Department of Development. As someone who has done development for years, I did not think her philosophy of development and the way it focused on the NPGs was going to be a development but she drove an immense amount of positive change in that department, internationally and everywhere else, and they then went to a point where they had to change and move to a different mode. That is fine. But, yes, sometimes, especially on the sustainable development side, there have been too many saying, "We have to do everything or nothing" and this has confused people and so you do not get change. If you are advocating change, you have to make the hard choices yourself about what you want to see happen and know that means some of the things will not get done.

  Q50  Chairman: In the response on climate change, some people suggested the fragmentation of responsibility sometimes impedes effective action. Do you think the creation of the Office of Climate Change is going to help that situation?

  Mr Mabey: I think the fragmentation, going back to my first statement, is on two levels. On the political level, the Office of Climate Change really makes no difference at all. It does not help you ensure that housing policy and climate policy are joined up or aircraft policy. That is a decision that is rightly made in Cabinet Committee and should be properly informed by proper analysis. I doubt that climate change will be particularly involved in that. I do not think you can organisationally solve that problem; it has to be done at Cabinet level. In terms of the second piece, which is finding innovative and integrated solutions, I think the Office of Climate Change has huge potential and that is one of the ways you can get around things like solving political arguments, so, again, the whole issue around heating and housing. I think there has been a lot of people fighting about how much restrictions to put on housing and how fast to move in that sector, based on very, very poor analysis of what the opportunity and the way forward and the potential that we can improve energy security immensely far faster than any nuclear programme anybody could build, protect pensioners, produce better living quality for people and provide lots and lots of jobs for UK workers, but no one was gripping that because it fell between everybody's stools in terms of departments. That is the kind of problem where the OCC should get a break out of the impasse. That is the main thing it can do, to provide creative, integrated solutions that previously were languishing in gaps between departments.

  Q51  Chairman: That clearly would be a great prize, if that opportunity were seized. This Committee has been frustrated by the failure to pick up what really is very low hanging fruit there. Are you saying that there is not any institutional change that is likely to produce some dramatic step forward?

  Mr Mabey: I have always been in favour on sustainable development and climate change of using Cabinet Office better and more strongly, and, to be honest, it has been Defra that has always been very resistant to allowing that. I think that has been a mistake. It was a mistake borne of weakness. There have been various ideas through the years. When I was in government we recommended, in terms of putting a body like the OCC, particularly a body that was in charge of project managing or monitoring the project management of the climate programme, in the Cabinet Office, which is where other things like that sit, and having a very clearly senior civil servant grade, grade 2 and above, responsible for it. I think if Jeremy Heywood and John Cunliffe were given the responsibilities people say they are going to have, they could be very powerful drivers of the internal climate change programme. I personally would like to see someone with a dedicated brief to run the international strategy, especially for the next few years, at senior departmental level. You find that in the centre of government the Cabinet Office can work in two ways in terms of preparing the arguments for ministers. It can sit and do what we used to call "strategy by stapler", which asks everybody their position, brings it together, gets a big stapler on the pages, clunks it down and says, "That's the strategy" or it drafts a very elegant piece of nonsense that basically does not resolve anything because they are given no time and they are just there to be a secretariat. Or, if they are empowered, they sit there and they challenge and say, "That does not add up. That does not meet what the Prime Minister wants and the Cabinet wants. The Cabinet wants us to come up with this. Go back and try again." That challenge function does work, but it requires somebody, whether it be Jeremy Heywood or John Cunliffe or someone else, to be given that mandate. Especially as we go into a very tricky political period of trying to make a global deal in what is now politically a very highly charged programme, you need that kind of bureaucratic centre to drive things forward. They do not have the power. It is more that they are there to make sure we do not fudge. All organisations fudge in extremis and you need someone to sit there saying, "No, that is not going to produce the outcome. Try again." That is one of the core institutional extras which we need.

  Q52  Chairman: Most of us around the table are also sitting on the Committee of both Houses looking at the draft Climate Change Bill. One of the proposals there, of course, is the Climate Change Committee. Do you think the role of that committee should include making specific policy recommendations?

  Mr Mabey: Yes. The idea of a committee like that was first discussed at a Strategy Unit in 2003 in the first White Paper, because it was extremely clear that we needed someone who could authoritatively monitor what was going on and publicly discuss it, otherwise we would not do what we said we would do. I think the Climate Committee is precisely the right idea. I think it should have the authority and analytical capacity to make clear observation of what is going on and be able to recommend remedial solutions and do that in a way that is linked to Parliament and linked to public debate in a very powerful way. I think that is good for the country and I think it is good for the government concerned, to be honest, because this is hard stuff to do. I think it is will be a helpful innovation for Whitehall to do that. As opposed to people seeing it as some criticism of Whitehall, I think you need something that strong, if you are going to drive this forward.

  Q53  Chairman: Would the Committee get into mildly controversial areas like road pricing, putting more substantial taxes on aviation and so on, domestic aviation to start with? Do you see it going ahead of the Government and making it easier therefore for ministers to come behind and say, "We are doing two-thirds of what was suggested"?

  Mr Mabey: It will always produce options and bundles of options. It can stop government nibbling away at the programme so that it does not deliver its outcome. It cannot and should not try to prescribe the political trade-offs between taxing aircraft and taxing roads and taxing domestic fuel. That is rightly a job of the Government, but at the moment the Government does not know why it should care about each of those. This is one of my worries about the committee. If the committee tries to manage our carbon budget over 15 years, it will not find answers, sensible recommendations about the issues, because they are about the long-term shape of our infrastructure over 50 years. If they try to manage a carbon budget, they will manage the wrong thing, because they really need to manage the carbon intensity in-locking of our over structure. If you are looking to 2050 and if you are trying to get to minus 60 or minus 80, whatever number, and you are building an infrastructure now that locks in carbon for 50 years, then you can start to say, "You cannot do that" or "If you do that, you must do this". My problem is this is far too short term to make decisions. We tried this. We audited the UK climate programme and we had this discussion internally. It was very clear that there was no basis for making decisions. "Shall I take carbon from China or from Huddersfield in 2020?" The only way you can make that decision is by looking at how it affects the long-term costs and benefits of decarbonising your economy. You cannot make that decision based on 2020. On the 15-year time horizon, if they stick with that and this approach, they will be stuck in a difficult position of not really having a basis for making the recommendations and that would be a problem.

  Q54  Chairman: How about the relationship between different government departments, different sectors? We notice in this Committee, with the advantage of our cross-departmental remit, quite a big difference in the responses from different bits of government. I do not want to point any fingers, but the Department of Transport perhaps could be a bit more aggressive in terms, given the technology that is available, to reduce emissions. Would the committee be helpful in that role, in saying, "Let's have a bigger sectoral emphasis on a particular sector"?

  Mr Mabey: Yes, if they think about it in the right way. If you look at road transport, not very responsive, very high value in terms of the economic benefits—more so than aircraft travel, for example—actually it turns over its capital stock every ten years, in terms of cars, so you could afford to wait a bit, because it is not like a house or a power station where it is 50 or 100 years, perhaps you should more road patterns because they last a very long time, but it needs very strong technological system at an international scale to drive innovation in car fleets. So there are several arguments about how much you should do. Do you have a very strong policy to drive innovation or do you wait and let innovation happen and then turnover policy later? To answer that question, which is an empirical modelling, analytical question, you need to be looking at the whole of the infrastructure versus, say, housing. My biggest argument inside government was over the suggestion that we meet our targets by buying permits abroad. I said, "What's the point of that? Why don't we put that money into serving the housing stock? That is going to last 100 years. Buying a few permits from Indian companies who are not really saving energy is a waste of public money." Italian policymakers are particularly incensed by spending €3 million from their efficient companies on inefficient companies in other countries, when it could be spent on innovation at home, to meet an arbitrary target. If we want the politics of climate change to work out over time, so people think we are making sensible decisions, we cannot make decisions based on that basis. They will look more and more ridiculous as time goes on. We need to be saying, "Here is our investment going forward. Here is how we are balancing between changing to a lower carbon system, and this is a sensible basis." There are arguments, of course there are arguments, but at least then you can make a decision. I find it very difficult to make a decision, which I am often asked to, about the balance between traded and non-traded sector, going abroad or staying at home. On the 2020 carbon budget, I do not know the basis for making that decision apart from cost, and I do not think cost is the right base in terms of our long-term policy.

  Q55  Chairman: That takes us into rather interesting territory. The Treasury is by far the most obdurate department as far as we are concerned. One observation, both inside and outside government, is that we have a Treasury driven model of government in this country and it is getting more so. Do you think the Climate Change Committee is going to be any more effective than, for example, this Committee is in influencing the Treasury?

  Mr Mabey: An interesting question. I do not know, is the answer. I think you can increase the odds. I would increase the odds by making it as much like the Monetary Policy Committee as I could in certain ways. The first is that I would make sure it had the analytical capability to do the type of in-depth risk analysis the Bank of England does and the MPC, so it is authoritative and risk managing—which is what the Government is not doing. Secondly, I would make every single piece of government modelling on climate change, including the broken transport model in DfT which has been broken for three years, open source to the public just like the government's model of interest rates is. I used to work in the London Business School and we used to use the Treasury model. We would calibrate it ourselves, we would run our own data, using ONS data, and then we would argue with them about the answers. At the moment, no one, including Defra, has access to DTI's modelling or anybody else's modelling. I do not think Defra shares its modelling. They should all be open source and open to public scrutiny. The Commission should be allowed to ask ONS to collect data which it needs on different time scales and different rates, and to argue about the costs of that, but it needs to be able to find out what is going on and to ask departments to collect data and do project management in different ways. It cannot just be a passive recipient of whatever is there, or it will be, perhaps, that people can hide things from it. Finally, I think it needs a friend. The Government funds someone to beat it up on fiscal policy: it is called the Institute of Fiscal Studies. It is run out of the research councils, it has an authority on every budget, it sits there and says, "Chancellor, your numbers do not add up"—as it has done with every chancellor ever since it was founded—and "Your money has been spent in the wrong place" or "It has been badly managed." We should have an Institute of Carbon Studies, based in an authoritative university, which essentially provides an external check but is a non-departmental body. They are not completely independent. We know there are all sorts of issues they have to look at in terms of their alliances, they can be stymied by not having enough capacity, but if we had a dialogue between the Government, the Climate Committee and its analysis, and an external body, all working off the same models—an enriched data set, with Parliament putting its oar in—I think that would create enough public debate and enough commercial interest in this. Because it affects the carbon price, it would be covered in all the financial papers, it would be covered by serious commentators. Then we have a chance of it working. But it is a system of combinations. It cannot just be put on one arm. You have to get those dynamics right.

  Q56  Mr Malik: You have talked about developing a framework for managing risk. What does that mean in the context of climate change?

  Mr Mabey: It reflects on some of the issues I said earlier about how you make a choice between working in transport and working in housing, about how you look at the risk of delivering a programme that needs to generate new technologies and how quickly they come on board. Is there an upside or downside risk to climate? Does it matter if we do too much or too little? Is it more likely the science is going to push the targets harder or softer? These are discussions which we had a lot in Whitehall and I found it terribly frustrating because there is not a culture of risk management, except for in a couple of very specialised places around chemicals and animal health nowadays. In government, it is not normal in many departments. I once had a secondee from Unilever when I was in the Foreign Office and he knew nothing about climate change but I explained risk management in climate change to him in five minutes. Because he built soap factories in China, he said, "Oh, you mean, you think about whether the investment irreversible and where is the upside and downside of my risk and do I care about investing too much or too little"—he grasped it immediately because he had a way of thinking through the problem. At the moment, it does not balance: "Okay, we might have those tonnes out there but these tonnes are more certain," and there is no framework for managing those risks. That is the same in lots of areas. In the way fisheries work, it is the same thing there. That is a real skills issue in senior management. If you look at industry, they spend a lot of money educating their senior management in understanding how to balance risk and to understand risk. You do not learn it at school, you do not learn it at university, it is a professional skill, both in producing risk management and understanding it as a manager. It is something we need to do, otherwise it is the core missing skill. They are just illiterate in it at the moment. In some ways it is not their fault: they have never been told it is something they have to do, but in these really complicated areas it holds back the policy of making wise policy choices.

  Q57  Mr Malik: Do you think the Committee on Climate Change could play some kind of role in this risk management mechanism process?

  Mr Mabey: Yes. Going back to the Monetary Policy Committee analogy, the fact that the Monetary Policy Committee analysis is produced probabilistically (it is the probability of missing inflation targets), the fact that it has quite a sophisticated way of discussing how the outcome of its models is affected by other data that comes in has created a conversation which is essentially a risk management conversation. I think the Climate Committee could do exactly the same thing. It has the opportunity, which I think is very exciting, to be the international leader in describing what you need to do to manage the transformation to a low carbon economy effectively and efficiently, including managing the risk of success and failure. That is one of the real advantages and one of the things we should try to make it do. If it does it, other people will copy, and they will copy a lot faster and that will mean they will all cut their emissions faster and more reliably. That is good for all of us. It is a bit of a public good investment, in my opinion.

  Q58  Mr Malik: You have talked about motivating preventative strategies using decisions for systems and tools. Do you think the impact assessment process deals with this?

  Mr Mabey: No. In some ways it is not its fault because, again, they keep on trying to make it not a reactive, end of pipe process, but whenever I was sent an impact assessment form, whether sustainable development or regulatory, it was always at the end of the process and it was always at my most busy and it was always a pain. It was something I ticked boxes on and tried to get out of the way and had a discussion with the Cabinet Office about. It has not done that job. Decision support is a set of internal systems that provide the right information in the right format to decision makers at the right time to enable them to make choices. An externally imposed tick-box system of recording is very unlikely to do that. It is the opposite of that. The argument therefore is that integrating a regulatory impact assessment or a sustainable element into organisations requires more fundamental change. Mainstreaming is everybody getting that they have to account for the carbon in a project, account for the resources used, and that is just the way things are done. Essentially, if they produce something that does not do that, it falls below the professional standard in the organisation because it is something for which they would get mainstream marks docked off. We were doing work in the public convention realm about what is an acceptable risk analysis of the country at risk of instability and if you fail to notice its massive economic dysfunctionality because you are a politically trained analyst and you are not doing that job, is that acceptable, professionally, for you to be an analyst? The answer is no. That should come off your professional marks if you have not spotted that. That is the difference between those two types of approach organisationally. It is embedding it really as a mainstream set of issues and in mainstream professional skills. If you do not produce analysis of environmental issues, that means you do not get to be a grade 2. That would give an incentive to people to learn, gain and hold their skills. That is a decision support mechanism for me. In different areas you need particular bits of machinery to do certain things. Impact assessment forms really do not support decisions because they tend to be done after the decision.

  Q59  Mr Chaytor: Can you say a little bit more about the use of secondments and the expectation of the risk management strength outside the permanent secretaries.

  Mr Mabey: It has been quite a large change since 1997 about bringing in more people—and I saw it both as an external person working in government, a secondee, and then a civil servant in government—has been incredibly positive. It has not always been recognised as being as positive as it should be. A lot of secondees have been appalled and amazed at the opportunities for making change inside government, appalled, in some ways, that people were not doing all this stuff already. It just shows that if you put someone who has been working for 20 years on an issue inside an organisation where most people only spend two or three years working on an issue, they can add an awful lot of value. I do not think I heard of any examples of secondees being seen as negative in the context of the organisation. Perhaps they were chosen well. The problem is that when a secondee leaves generally the system closes up behind. In the discussions among people seconded to government, the basic rule we developed was: build a partnership with people outside government because that is how you will leave an institutional mark. If you managed to embed a process which was partly external, then that would keep the processes you had worked on there going. More should be done both ways: to bring in professional and to keep them there. Also more should be done to make sure people do skills transfers. In some ways more importantly, there should be a much more ambitious role about target on the porosity of the Civil Service, both at junior grades, grades 7 and below, and at senior grades, and there should be quite ambitious targets about the percentage of externally advertised jobs. Really the core Civil Service should be a lot narrower. There is a core. There is a core that needs to do parliamentary work well and legal work well and drive through bills, but, to be honest, the rest of it is similar things that people do in the public and private sector outside. They have a lot more skill and expertise because they are not generalists. It would be a much better governed country if more people also had an experience of how difficult it is to run the government and be a civil servant and to understand the pressures and difficulties and tensions. One of the reasons why we have such poor discussions about these issues is that so few people know how government works. There is a two-way benefit of looking for a much more aggressive system of both secondments and openness in hiring that reserves the core of the Civil Service but minimises that, rather than the feeling at the moment that we are trying to maximise that untouchable core.


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 29 October 2007