Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
15 NOVEMBER 2007
Q60 Chairman: So if the Prime Minister
said to you, "Design a new centre for me", you would
come up with something very much like we have got now, would you?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: It would be
close to what we have got now. I am much happier with the centre
now than I was when I first started.
Q61 Paul Flynn: The consequence of
setting stretching targets seems to be that targets are not measures
of success, they become measures of failure. Should you have a
target for setting achievable targets or would that fail too?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Michael Barber
has written a whole book on that subject, which I commend to you.
Q62 Paul Flynn: That is very kind
Sir Gus O'Donnell: There is a
trade-off. If we set targets that we pass completely then the
worry I would have is we set the targets at too low a level. The
optimal position is where we set a range of targets that are very
stretching and we meet some and fail on some others. I do not
regard that as failure, I regard that as a success of the system.
Q63 Paul Flynn: You spoke eloquently,
and we were delighted to hear it, those of us from outside of
London, of your strong belief in relocating out of London and
the South East. Your department pledged to relocate 250 posts
outside London and the South East by March 2008. By March 2007
you had relocated 41 posts and I believe you have now abandoned
Sir Gus O'Donnell: The point about
that target was it was for a Cabinet Office that was rather different,
that had a whole range of different areas. As I say, we moved
from 2,300 to 1,300. What I have done in this whole process is
moving to the core of what I regard as the essential part of the
Cabinet Office and that core part is the part that is intimately
associated with supporting the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.
They are all the kind of people I have to have close to the Prime
Minister and the Cabinet. Whilst, as a Government, we have been
able to relocate successfully, and Government is meeting the Lyons'
targets very well, the new Cabinet Office does not have the kinds
of posts that I can relocate anywhere else.
Q64 Paul Flynn: The target was set,
you failed to meet that target and you have now abandoned that
target, that is the situation. What about the Gershon efficiency
targets? You have not met any of those on efficiency itself, on
headcounts and relocation, have you?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: No. Our headcount
reduction required was 150 and as a result of some of the machinery
of government changes, which in this case meant a number of people
moving in the Office of the Third Sector, for example, that headcount
reduction target was recalibrated by the Treasury, thank you very
much, up to 250.
Q65 Paul Flynn: Recalibrated?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Yes. They decided
to give us a "more stretching target", I think was the
phrase, which was very kind of them. Out of that 250 we are now
at 211, so we only need 39 more by the March 2008 deadline, so
I expect us to meet that headcount target. On financial efficiency,
our savings target for March 2008 is 25 million and we are currently
at 23.9 million, so I expect to meet that target.
Q66 Paul Flynn: There is another
matter you might be able to help us on. When we spoke to Yates,
I asked him if there were any conditions laid down by the Prime
Minister about being interviewed and he said, "Only his diary.",
yet I read in the newspapers the next day that the Prime Minister
had insisted on certain conditions being laid down for being interviewed,
including threats of resignation. Is there any truth in that?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: The only situation
in terms of sorting out for the Prime Minister to be interviewed
by the police was the question of diary. We sorted out the diary
and they then interviewed him three times on whatever they wanted.
Q67 Paul Flynn: Are you saying at
no time did the Prime Minister threaten to resign or impose other
Sir Gus O'Donnell: The Prime Minister
never threatened to resign.
Q68 Paul Flynn: Were you surprised
when Mr Yates said that he had never spoken to a lobby journalist?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I know that
the fact of the way the police have to operate at times means,
and this was pointed out to me by the police themselves, they
have to have dealings with journalists. I know they have dealings
with journalists but obviously it cannot involve lobby journalists.
Q69 Paul Flynn: We have testimony
that we have not put in the public domain of an uncanny amount
of activity that preceded visits by police to witnesses in this
case. Apart from clairvoyance, why do you think that activity
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I am afraid
that is not a question I could answer, you would have to ask others.
Q70 Paul Flynn: On the public appointments
and pre-appointment hearings, we were told with some passion in
the United States that this country would be mad to go into the
kind of confirmation hearings that they have. How do you see this
developing? We have had one already, and you mentioned it, Michael
Scholar, who was an outstanding candidate and was likely to be
entirely non-controversial in a very important job. What dangers
do you see if we go down the route of these hearings, whether
they are pre-appointment hearings or hearings that are there just
to confirm the appointment? What is your feeling on that?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: There are two
things that worry me. First, the number of candidates who put
themselves forward for these jobs, which are very, very important
jobs for the public sector, will be reduced. In terms of getting
as large and as diverse a pool of candidates as possible there
might be a problem because some would not want to go through what
they would see as yet another hurdle and a very public process.
The second would be how you would reconcile such a process with
the rules that I think we all very strongly support in terms of
free and fair open competition that we choose on merit, the rules
of the various Commissioners.
Q71 Paul Flynn: One of the advantages
that was clear to us in the papers we were reading in America
when we were there was there was a confirmation hearing in progress
of an Attorney-General who was being closely questioned on torture
allegedly used by America, water boarding. The case was made that
this was a unique chance that they would not have in any other
forum in America to question the activities of their own government.
Do you see such an opportunity arising, perhaps perversely, as
a result of these innovations that might conceivably lead to the
embarrassment of governments?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: I am all for
government being held accountable by Parliament at select committees
and the like. It would be a slightly bizarre situation if you
had to have these sorts of hearings in order to get that sort
of information. Surely that is the sort of information that select
committees should be asking of the Government.
Q72 Paul Flynn: Do you envisage legislation
being laid down to establish a procedure for these or just to
go on as they have started, people appearing before existing select
Sir Gus O'Donnell: This is one
of the issues that is still under discussion as to precisely what
should be in the Constitutional Renewal Bill on this issue. Again,
as I say, I do not think any decisions have been made, so if you
have views about this it would be very timely if you let us know.
Paul Flynn: I am grateful to you, thank
Q73 Mr Prentice: This is a question
of tying up loose ends on this Yates' business. Assistant Commissioner
Yates told me that he did not know if emails in Number 10 were
archived and he did not know if they were in sequence. My question
to you is are emails in Number 10 archived?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Emails across
Government have the same sort of process. If there is an email
in the system it is retained in the server for a certain amount
of time and then automatically deleted if not saved to certain
Q74 Mr Prentice: I am not rerunning
the inquiry, I am absolutely not, but who would decide that an
email was important enough to archive? You say it is deleted after
a certain period.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Could I just
take advice on precisely what "deleted" means, because
if you delete from one system it can be retrieved, can it not?
They are all retrievable. It is a myth that you can delete anything.
It takes it off one part of the system and puts it somewhere else.
It is much harder to get at that somewhere else, which is why
it took weekend working and looking at servers and the like to
get all of that. Basically it is there.
Q75 Mr Prentice: So out there in
cyberspace somewhere there will be the emails, or the shadows
of emails, that have been deleted that could have been recovered.
Sir Gus O'Donnell: And were. All
of these things were made available.
Q76 Mr Prentice: I only ask the question
because the man who was leading the inquiry did not know about
the procedures for archiving. My second and final question on
this is Assistant Commissioner Yates spoke to you once very early
on in the inquiry, that is what he told the Committee. There have
been suggestions that the inquiry did not get full co-operation
from Number 10, but at any stage did Assistant Commissioner Yates
or one of his people contact you to urge you to speak to people
in Number 10 urging them to co-operate with him and the inquiry?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: No.
Q77 Mr Walker: A very quick question
and then I really will leave this alone. Did officials have any
meetings or conversations with Sir Ian Blair during this investigation
to convey their concerns about the way it was being conducted,
in particular the way the press handling was going on?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: No. There was
a slightly ambiguous status for Sir Ian Blair in this whole process
because there were press reports that he had recused himself from
it. I was not at all clear whether that was the case.
Q78 Mr Walker: Why were you not clear
that was the case?
Sir Gus O'Donnell: Because as
far as I could tell the reporting line on this case went through
Yates to Stephenson.
Q79 Mr Walker: Okay. And not Sir
Sir Gus O'Donnell: That was my
Chairman: I can report, by the way, that
Mr Yates has just written to the Committee wanting to correct
aspects of the record in relation to the session that we had with
him, particularly on the matter of his contacts with lobby journalists.
We shall be including this in the report that we eventually make.
10 Oral evidence taken before the Public Administration
Committee on 23 October 2007, HC (2007-08) 153 Q 249 Back