Appointment of the Chair of the Infrastructure Planning Commission - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


  Q1 Chair: Can I welcome you, Sir Michael, to this pre-appointment hearing. If I could start with a few questions about the recruitment process which you have just been through up until this point and which we are not entirely clear about. Can I ask you, first of all, did you respond to an advert or were you headhunted?

  Sir Michael Pitt: I had a phone call from recruitment consultants called Veredus and that started the process. Then I think I joined in with everybody else who was being considered as a candidate.

  Q2  Chair: And had you had any dealings with that headhunting agency before? Were you on their books?

  Sir Michael Pitt: Probably in the distant past. I think when I was Chief Executive of Kent County Council we used Veredus for one or two appointments, but I cannot think of any other occasion, but I think they have done some work for the NHS quite recently in Cornwall.

  Q3  John Cummings: Were you out of work before you were approached by the headhunters?

  Sir Michael Pitt: No, sir. I have been involved in quite a lot of activities. I am not sure if you want me to list them now but I have been doing probably about five or six different jobs.

  Q4  Chair: Are you still doing them, or will you still be doing them?

  Sir Michael Pitt: At this particular moment in time I am still doing them. If I were lucky enough to be appointed to this job then I will be resigning from all the major activities I am currently involved in.

  Q5  John Cummings: What would be the minor activities?

  Sir Michael Pitt: If I can run through those very quickly for you. I currently chair NHS South West, that is the strategic health authority which oversees all of the NHS services in the South West of the country. I currently chair two small companies, one is SEL, which is a small consultancy company based in London, and another is the Direct Labour Organisation of Swindon Borough Council, quite a large DLO with a turnover of £60-£70 million a year and over a thousand employees. I run my own company which undertakes quite a wide range of consultancy work on behalf of both the private and public sector, and I also chair a charity based in my home county of Wiltshire. So that is the range of activities I am currently employed in.

  Q6  Chair: Would all of this continue if you were to be appointed?

  Sir Michael Pitt: The things I would like to continue with are the work with the charity, that takes up probably about half a dozen days a year so it is not a huge commitment, and the other one which I need to consider carefully is the chairmanship of the Revalidation Board on behalf of the General Medical Council. You are all wondering what that is, but because of Shipman and other problems within the NHS it is now going to be an obligation for all doctors, 150,000 of them, to be appraised and revalidated on a regular basis for them to carry on practising. I have been asked to chair, and I am currently chairing, a board which is overseeing the implementation of that across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. That role is 12 days a year but since I will be giving up my NHS chairmanship of NHS South West I need to ask the General Medical Council—and I should qualify my remarks by saying if I am lucky enough to be appointed—whether they would like me to carry on in that role or whether they feel that somebody who is an SHA chair is better suited to it in the longer term future.

  Q7  Mr Betts: I would just like to pursue the issue of outside interests. In time commitments it does not seem a great deal but I am sure you are aware of the perception of the need to be absolutely independent and removed from any of the decisions that not only you but the new Commission is going to take. Do you think, therefore, it would be appropriate, even if these two roles you identify, first of all, are acceptable, that as a matter of general practice you would not have any interest with any private companies or private organisations?

  Sir Michael Pitt: No, I would have absolutely no conflicting interests at all. If I were offered this job, there is nothing I would be doing in the future which would conflict in any way, and I feel very strongly about that. There will be a code of conduct which will govern the way in which commissioners carry out their jobs and they will be obliged to conform with that code of conduct, and I think it should be pretty strict in terms of when commissioners are allowed to make decisions on individual applications.

  Q8  Mr Betts: I think there is an even greater need for you as the prospective chair of the Commission to have absolute independence, because while clearly it will be potentially possible for you to have an interest which you declare and therefore do not get involved directly with a particular application, that application will then have to be heard by a commissioner who ultimately is responsible to you. I think there is an issue here of perception as much as a direct conflict of interest.

  Sir Michael Pitt: I completely agree with the point you are making, and if I can turn to my personal circumstances, I think either the role with the General Medical Council or the role with the charity seem to me to be so far removed from anything that the IPC might be involved in that it would not create any conflict of interest.

  Q9  Mr Betts: What is the charity?

  Sir Michael Pitt: The charity is a family mediation charity. It is about securing the safety of children and their families and sorting out disputes between teenagers and their parents or guardians. It is a relatively small charity but it is something I was asked to do last year and I was very willing to take on.

  Q10  Sir Paul Beresford: And what area is your own company consulting in?

  Sir Michael Pitt: My personal company is just me really. I have done work recently, for example, for a unitary council. They had problems in relation to their planning processes and I wrote a 20-page report with recommendations for that council after a 3-month detailed investigation, and based on their reaction to the report that has been very well received, so that would be one example. I have done some work for a private company which is involved in outsourcing, again giving advice on how to deal with the public sector and how to market their products, so a variety of jobs on a relatively small scale but something which has kept me reasonably well occupied since I left Kent County Council.

  Q11  Sir Paul Beresford: You say you are setting up the Committee for the GMC 12 days a year. Does that mean that you are intending to set up the Committee in the procedures and then chair the Committee itself?

  Sir Michael Pitt: The Committee is already established; it has met on one occasion so far. There is a strong team based within the General Medical Council itself which is undertaking all the detailed work, and my role in this is to chair the board itself, to make sure that the meetings are successful, and to liaise with the Secretary of State and other interests within the NHS and Department of Health.

  Q12  Sir Paul Beresford: Will it be anticipating having hearings, et cetera, of doctors who disagree with you and the Committee?

  Sir Michael Pitt: That would not be the role of this particular board, that is very much a GMC role, but this board is focusing all of its energy on rolling out the revalidation process for doctors across the four countries.

  Q13  Chair: So they are not actually doing the revalidation?

  Sir Michael Pitt: No, they are overseeing the arrangements. There are other boards, sub-boards, one for each of the countries concerned, and teams in each of the countries, who are doing the hard work. What we are trying to do is oversee the overall process and make sure it keeps to time.

  Q14  Chair: For the sake of completeness, do you have any shares or interests in the companies whose boards you have been chairing?

  Sir Michael Pitt: No, not at all.

  Q15  Chair: Just to get back to where we were in the first place, what actually made you interested in this job?

  Sir Michael Pitt: I have been involved in planning in some form or another and in infrastructure very much so in the earlier parts of my career, and I think I have always felt that there were significant improvements that could be made to planning arrangements, certainly for major infrastructure. I think the new Planning Act is exciting; I think it is a radical change from the existing arrangements; I think the proposals there are very much in the public interest, and I think this is a chance to make real improvements in terms of providing better infrastructure for the country and a better quality of life for people, but also saving time and money getting through these complex and detailed processes.

  Q16  Chair: And given the range of responsibilities and the powers you will be exercising, do you think that "non executive" is an appropriate description of your role?

  Sir Michael Pitt: I think that is a good question. I would say during the early stages of setting up the IPC the chair is going to have to be quite hands-on and directive. I think it is vital that the Commission establishes itself as an independent organisation from Day 1; that the new organisation is fit for purpose; and I think as a chair I would be quite focused on action and delivery, hitting programmes, hitting budgets, and making sure that we are recruiting the right people as commissioners, and to the secretariat as a whole. I suspect once the Commission is up and running hopefully the chair would be standing back a bit more, taking a more strategic view of what is going on, holding the chief executive and the secretariat to account and being very involved in quality assurance. I might come back to that later if I get a chance. I think quality assurance will be a significant priority for the chair.

  Q17  Sir Paul Beresford: You said you had had quite a lot of experience in planning and looking at the synopsis of your CV you have predominantly been at Humberside County Council and then Cheshire County Council and then Kent County Council. They do not have much to do with planning—or not the nitty gritty.

  Sir Michael Pitt: I want to go back to my earlier career. During the first 10 or 20 years of my career I was very heavily involved in motorway design and construction, a lot of the motorways that we now take for granted were being built during the 1970s and I was heavily engaged in the planning of that major infrastructure, and I can tell you about some of those schemes if you like, and therefore I was caught up in the making of main line, side road orders, compulsory purchase, public inquiries and so on. If I go back far enough in my career—and I do admit it is quite a long time ago—I was quite heavily engaged in the planning and evaluation of major infrastructure.

  Q18  Sir Paul Beresford: That is 25 years ago. A quarter of a century.

  Sir Michael Pitt: Indeed, sir. Then, moving to more recent times, as a county council you are the structure planning authority, the waste disposal authority and the minerals authority, and so plans are being prepared by the county. Added to that, one gets heavily involved in planning matters across the board because of being a highway authority as well. Then if I can just mention, the year I spent at Swindon Borough Council, which is very recent, a unitary authority and, therefore, with full powers in relation to all forms of development control.

  Q19  Sir Paul Beresford: The problem with a county is, as you say, it is strategic. You are going to be looking in this particular role at individual applications, okay they might be of strategic importance but they are quite different from a strategic approach as a county. Do you feel there are gaps there? How are you going to fill them?

  Sir Michael Pitt: I think there are always going to be gaps and I think it is up to anybody holding an appointment of this sort to be constantly learning, building on their experience, making sure that they really deeply understand the business of the organisation. I am going to add, though, that I think I have had a big enough variety of experience during my career to move into this job without feeling that there are huge problems or huge gaps in my background.

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