Government Communications - Public Administration Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-126)


14 JANUARY 2010

  Q1  Chairman: Can I extend a warm welcome to Matt Tee who is the Permanent Secretary, Government Communications. You have been in post since January last year, so a year now. I am afraid that one of the things that comes with the job is having, from time to time, to come in front of this Committee; this is the first time that you have had to do this, so it is a pleasure for us. As you know, some years ago we got ourselves involved in some of these communications issues after various troubles in the system and that in turn led to the review by Bob Phillis, whose death recently we mourn. Out of that came this post of Permanent Secretary, Government Communications. Did you want to say something to us before we started?

Mr Tee: If that is all right, Chairman.

  Q2  Chairman: Yes, do that, and then I will start asking questions after that.

  Mr Tee: Briefly, as an opening statement, I would say that I started almost exactly a year ago. I came from a rather varied background. I have been a communicator professionally for most of my career but most recently I was the Chief Executive of NHS Direct and I think that gave me some useful experience for coming here. I think I see my role as having three substantial parts to it—which we will be able to cover today—firstly as head of profession for all communicators in government; secondly, helping the Government to develop capability in new areas such as digital engagement, behaviour change and citizen insight; I also oversee the work of the Central Office of Information (COI). I take a role in the effective co-ordination of substantial cross-government communication issues; Afghanistan would be an example of some work I have been doing in recent times. As head of profession in the last year I sought to have three substantial priorities which I know from looking at previous evidence to this Committee will play into some of the areas that you have been interested in before. Firstly, in the capability of communicators across Whitehall looking at how we develop our own talent and how we improve the Government communication service; secondly, looking within capability at communications being more strategic. I speak sometimes about the tyranny of the press cuts, the pilot cuts that land on a minister's desk every day which sometimes drives the activity when I think we should be thinking more about citizens as it were. A second priority of mine has been propriety. You mentioned the events that led to this post being created and I think the implementation of the Phillis Report has meant that actually I have to deal with relatively few propriety issues, but that is only because we maintain an awareness of propriety across the Government communication network and that takes work. Thirdly, a priority for me this year has been around efficiency and value for money and I think looking forward to the public finance situation that we foresee, that will become increasingly important. Very briefly, I have two or three reflections on both the year I have spent but also on coming back into the Civil Service. I first came into the Civil Service in 1999 at the Department of Trade and Industry as head of news and I would reflect that communicators in government are, across the board, more capable now than they were when I first came into government communications. I think communicators undertake far more roles and have a far greater scope than they did when I first came in. It would be absolutely true to say—I am sure we will get into this—that there are more of us and we spend more on communications in government than we did in 1999. I think the real difference for me is that when I first came into government, although it was not quite true that a policy official would develop a White Paper, hand it to you and ask you for a press release, it was not far enough away from the truth, and I think where we are now is much more central to policy and the delivery of public services. When I look at issues, from my background in health particularly, such as smoking, drinking, sexual health, strokes and so on, communications is seen as a central part of managing to achieve government priorities around those in a way that I do not think it was a number of years ago. The final thing I would like to say is just to give one example of where I think we can show that over time the focus of communications in government has shifted from what some might have characterised as spin in the past, to being absolutely about helping citizens to understand public services. An example I would use is Lord Darzi, the Health Minister's, consultation on health services in London where one of the great examples—I was there to see this—was a deliberative event he held where the question really was: if you had a stroke would you prefer to be taken to the nearest accident and emergency department or would you prefer to go past that accident and emergency department to the nearest accident and emergency department that had a specialist stroke unit? Seeing people in that room deliberating on the pros and cons of that, using data to do that, all supported by government communicators, I think is a really good example of where communications can add value not only to the work of government but to the citizens' understanding of their public services.

  Q3  Chairman: Thank you very much for that. You mentioned there were these issues about the size of this operation. I think we thought when this post was created that you would be telling us in a way that we could understand every year what the size of the Government's communication effort was by department, who was doing what, and yet the figures are not clear at all. There is no such source where we can go to easily find this; there is no report given to Parliament. Some figures that were produced for the House of Lords committee looking at this divided it between communication staff and press officers and we find that both had increased by around 72% between 1998 and September 2008. We know there has been a huge growth, which is one thing we could talk to you about, but why can we not just have these figures in some easily understandable, reliable form?

  Mr Tee: I am going to explain why I think it is difficult and then I am going to explain what I am doing to make it easier. There are two reasons that make it difficult. The first is that I am not the accounting officer for the number of staff employed in communications across government. Each permanent secretary in a department is responsible for their own staffing and resources and makes those decisions accountable to their own ministers. That means it is difficult for me to either give you a number for which I am responsible or indeed to control those numbers.

  Q4  Chairman: You are the head of profession so you really should know how many people you are the head of.

  Mr Tee: I think I have a pretty good idea of how many people I am the head of. What we have done, Chairman, in the year that I have been here—I think this is partly driven by where we are going to go in public finances—is to have built substantially on the community that is the directors of communications in each of the departments. What I have got them signed up to now is some proper benchmarking between departments which will enable us to clarify definitions of who is a communicator and also then to compare between departments on those numbers. We are working with the Treasury (through the OEP[1] scheme on that) and with the National Audit Office. I am working to a position where we can get auditable numbers that will enable you to get the year-on-year comparison that you want. A part of the problem with that—and interestingly Treasury and the National Audit Office now accept this—is the definition of who is a communicator? One of the things that has been a great success of my post is that not only have we built capability within professional communicators, actually we have built capability in communications across the Civil Service. We now have a substantial number of civil servants who do jobs which you and I would probably describe as communication jobs who may not see themselves as career communicators. I point to speech writers as being a frequent example of that. Ministerial speech writers are often policy officials who move into speech writing for a year or so and then they move back to a policy job. In my terms they are doing a communications job, no question. In their terms they are doing one job in a series of jobs in their policy career.

  Q5  Chairman: I understand that in some cases there are problems of definition and there are career posts, but there are a lot of people who are recruited to do communications work—communications specialists, that is what they do—and we should be able to know how many such people there are. This figure of a growth of 72% in such people over the last 10 years, is that one that we are working to?

  Mr Tee: I would say that was a slight underestimate. My view would be that if you looked at the people who are dedicated communicators and you started from 1997-98 to the current day, the growth in the number of people employed in government who are in that sense professional communicators would be a bit greater than 72%.

  Q6  Chairman: That is an extraordinary growth.

  Mr Tee: I think it is a very substantial growth and I think I would point to three reasons why that growth has taken place. The first thing to say is that what professional communicators do in government now has expanded considerably. If you go back to 1997-98 the web was a very new discipline for us within government and actually the majority of people who worked in web in government sat in IT departments; they do not now, they generally sit in communication departments and there are more of them because we understand the potential of using the internet to communicate with people. The second thing I would say is that there has been a growth in press officers and this is partly because we now have a greater diversity of media—we have the internet as a media channel so we have more channels and so on—but also I think we have become much more pro-active with our use of press officers and our use of press officers in the media. If I give you an example of that, if you go back to 1999 when I ran a press office in Whitehall we were largely reactive. We would put out a press release for the ministerial announcement of the day and we would take calls from the media. I was over at the Home Office just recently seeing their team who had been working with the policy team who do violence against women and girls and their press office team had set up a whole pro-active series of partnerships with young women's magazines in order to highlight the elements of this campaign. If I go back to 1999 we just would not have had the capacity to have done something like that pro-actively, very much aimed at an audience which government was targeting a particular policy at. I think there has been a very substantial growth but I have to say that when I go round to departments and I visit press offices and other areas of communication I do not find people sitting there looking for something to do; they are very busy. The final area I would just mention—because I think it has been a major area of growth for us—is the area of internal communication, where I think again if you go back to 1999 internal communication was almost always a discipline which sat within an HR function. I do not think it is now; it is really seen as an important communication function. If you look at capability reviews across Whitehall and studies of capability across Whitehall the best departments are those where staff are most engaged and that is as a result of internal communication, so it has been a substantial growth area for us.

  Q7  Chairman: When you read newspaper headlines—which you do all the time because your job is to read newspaper headlines—like, and I have one here, "Wages of spin under Labour is £220m a year", which is the Daily Telegraph talking about the huge growth in the number of people doing communications and press work, do you groan when you see those sorts of headlines?

  Mr Tee: I groan at the use of the word "spin". I think there is a very legitimate conversation to be had about the resourcing of government communications, and given the public expenditure climate that we face and the reduction in public expenditure, how we reduce the amount we spend on communications is a very legitimate question. The bit that I do groan at is the use of the word "spin" because I do not see the people who I am the professional head of as doing spin. I think spin is not something that I feel is part of the function.

  Q8  Chairman: So when you hear Nick Hurd, the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, saying, "Gordon Brown's promise of the end of spin has been exposed as a sham. He now spends more taxpayers' money on spin than Tony Blair. Labour has bankrolled a vast spin machine, politicised the Civil Service and created a corrosive culture of deception at the heart of Whitehall", you must groan even more.

  Mr Tee: I would not wish to comment particularly on the comments of an opposition spokesperson but, as I say, I do not accept that what the resource spent on government communications does is spin. If I can give an example of another press office—I think press offices is where the allegation of spin is very much centred—the Department for Work and Pensions right now has a team of press offices (because of the cold weather going back to just after Christmas reallocated responsibilities) whose job it is to be in touch with key newspapers and broadcast outlets so that when they do stories about the cold snap they include within those stories information about cold weather payments for older people. That is their job. For me that is really proper public service communication; that is ensuring that a really important message to a really important part of the community is conveyed within the blizzard (sorry, no pun intended) of broadcaster media coverage around the cold snap. That, to me, just is not spin; that is just very proper public service communication which is the sort of thing we should be doing.

  Q9  Paul Rowen: With respect on that issue, the figures for the numbers of pensioners who are entitled to cold weather payments and are not claiming them have actually been released by my party. If these people are doing their job properly that should have been highlighted. There are between 1.4 and 1.7 million pensioners who are entitled to cold weather payment. We do not need 150 press officers at the Department for Work and Pensions to do that.

  Mr Tee: There are not 150 press officers doing this.

  Q10  Paul Rowen: That is according to the Telegraph.

  Mr Tee: I do not think there are 150 press officers in the Department for Work and Pensions but I can find the accurate figure for you if you would like me to. However, what I would say is that it would be disproportionate if 150 press officers were working on ensuring that older people were aware of cold weather payments because, as you say, it would be a disproportionate number, but I do think it is valid at a time when the media will be highlighting the cold weather that a proportionate resource at the Department for Work and Pensions is highlighting the issue, ensuring that, as part of the rest of its coverage, the media is aware of the availability of cold weather payments for pensioners.

  Q11  Chairman: Do you think it would be possible for you to work under an alternative government?

  Mr Tee: Yes, absolutely.

  Q12  Chairman: Even under someone who says that you are the head of a vast spin machine?

  Mr Tee: I would hope that if the Government were to change I would be able to demonstrate to a government of any colour the value of the communication work that we do. I would look forward to having that engagement and having that discussion. Some of what we are talking about here is a growth in the spend on communication as a result of government policy. Were government policy to change you could spend less on government communication.

  Q13  Chairman: I look at these figures and, for example, it says here that there are 242 press officers in the Ministry of Defence. What on earth are they doing?

  Mr Tee: Again, I do not think there are 242.

  Q14  Chairman: You say you do not think there are; that does not inspire confidence.

  Mr Tee: If you and I were to go to the Ministry of Defence now and walk around their press office and see the 240 people who are referred to there and ask them what their actual jobs are, I think you would find that relatively few of them spend their time speaking to the media about MoD policy. At the MoD they have a very substantial media effort because, for example, out in theatre—for example Afghanistan—you have a continuing series of media embeds—journalists who are embedded out with armed forces—and they need people who, I guess, would count as press officers, many of whom are serving military, to accompany them to help them understand what they are seeing. The Ministry of Defence and its operations is very substantial.

  Q15  Chairman: It just makes the point about the need for some really reliable information on this. It is in your interests to do that because at the moment you are just getting all these bad headlines, and there has been this huge growth in numbers.

  Mr Tee: I accept that and, as I say, I am doing some work to get us to a point where we have figures which the NAO—the Government's auditors—will recognise as being comparable.

  Q16  Julie Morgan: I want to ask you about your communications role in the run up to the General Election. Before I do that, you have used a few examples which are important ways that the Government has to communicate and in particular you spoke early on about this event about Lord Darzi's health policy, which is a very good example. In the period that you have been in post, can you give us an example of something you think has gone badly wrong and where government communications have not worked?

  Mr Tee: I cannot highlight something I think has gone badly wrong but I think if I were being critical of our work in retrospect I would say that some of our communications around the recession and how government was helping people could have been better targeted around the citizen and not around government departments. I think there was a period where, if you had lost your job and you were in danger of losing your house or perhaps you were running a small business, there was a danger that you were getting multiple messages from different government departments. In retrospect, as government, we should have said that the person who is losing their job who Jobcentre Plus are seeking to help is probably the same person that we may need to be helping with mortgage support, for example, and should we not join up that communication because it is aimed at one sort of citizen. In retrospect that is an area where I would say I think we could do better in future.

  Q17  Julie Morgan: So the message was not clear.

  Mr Tee: I think the message was generally clear although it was very fast moving; we were coming up with new schemes to meet new circumstances very quickly. What I think was that if you were that person who was in danger of losing their job it was like the Government dropping four leaflets through your door when they should have dropped one.

  Q18  Julie Morgan: To move onto your role now in the run up to the General Election, how do you see that period? Do you have any views you would like to give us about how you feel you would be working during that period.

  Mr Tee: I think we are in that period now; we all know there will be a General Election by June. To a large extent I am carrying on with the priorities that I have had for the last year so it seems to me that it is important in a pre-election period—but it is important at all times—that Civil Service communicators are only doing those things which are proper for civil servants and that we are spending public money in a way which is proper. Propriety is important to me. Largely, because of the work that has been done on Phillis, that is a maintenance role for me rather than having to reinforce it or intervene all the time. I would also say that whoever wins the General Election, I envisage having less resource for communication in the future. I am working with communication directors in all departments about how we will attempt to maintain the effectiveness of communications in government whilst having less resource to do it. So there is some of that work which is on-going. We have just issued guidance to departments about what will happen when the General Election is called and I have been working on that guidance with our propriety and ethics team. It is important that communicators are clear about how the world changes on the day the election is called, for example.

  Q19  Julie Morgan: I understand there was a press report that suggests that government communications will be monitored in the run up to the election. Who would be doing that monitoring?

  Mr Tee: I am afraid I am not familiar with the press reports. I guess I feel it is part of my role to monitor government communications across the board because one of the important parts of my role is that I am responsible for that communication being proper and for us only using resource on those areas where it is proper. I am not aware of somebody else scrutinising us particularly.

  Q20  Julie Morgan: So you see yourself as carrying on as you have been.

  Mr Tee: As we have seen from the beginning of the year, the political media becomes more active in the run up to a General Election. I think there is always in that a need to maintain propriety and that the Civil Service is keenly aware of the difference between government communication and political communication.

  Q21  Chairman: I have a chart here showing government advertising spend over the last 25 years and it shows, with the single exception of 1991-92, spending on advertising rose in every year immediately prior to an election and in every case it fell following the election. Do you think that is just by chance?

  Mr Tee: What I would say—certainly for me in doing this job now and I cannot speak for the period before any of those other General Elections because I was not doing the job, as it were—is that I, with the chief executive of COI who reports to me, take a very keen interest in what we are spending our advertising money on. Last year, for example, there was a very substantial jump in the amount of money spent on advertising and the amount of money spent through COI and I asked the chief executive of COI to give me the rationale for why that was, and it is actually pretty simple to explain. There were some substantial campaigns that we were carrying out already which evaluate very well on which we spent more money, so tobacco—smoking cessation, as it were—road safety, act on CO2 and particularly armed forces recruitment in 2008-09 spent more than they had done previously. But we also launched some major new campaigns, so the Department of Health's obesity Change for Life campaign launched in a very big way in 2008-09 having done some very, very detailed research on its effectiveness before it launched. The stroke campaign, which has proved to be very successful, launched last year. There was a big campaign about new apprenticeships and we also launched the environmental performance certificates in that year. Those campaigns made up the absolute majority of the spending and the increase in spending through COI. Having looked at those campaigns I do not see a way in which they could be construed as being party political.

  Q22  Chairman: So it was just as it happened, the fact that we get this big increase in spend in a pre-election year.

  Mr Tee: If ministers decide, based on advice from officials, that they wish to expand a communications campaign around a particular government policy area, I think it is legitimate for them to do that. What I have to do is to be sure that that is legitimately supporting the policy area and is not about party political advantage.

  Q23  Chairman: Do you not think you should say, "Actually I don't think we should spend more in a pre-election year than we spent the year before because, if we do that, the trust in the whole operation will be diminished"?

  Mr Tee: I am not the person who spends the money—because the money is spent in departments—therefore I do not have a way of imposing a cap like that.

  Q24  Chairman: You are the guardian of propriety, are you not?

  Mr Tee: Yes, and the way that I guard the propriety is by ensuring that I am comfortable that the campaign activity that we undertake is a proper way of supporting a government policy objective and does not give party political advantage.

  Q25  Mr Prentice: Has a campaign ever been vetoed, where the minister has been told that we are just too close to a General Election for you to even contemplate running this particular campaign?

  Mr Tee: We have been working on this sort of thing for a long time but I am not aware of a campaign that has ever been actually vetoed. What happens a lot is that we have a discussion about whether a campaign would be appropriate, so it is early advice and sometimes campaigns do not take place, as it were. Certainly there are campaigns that would not take place too close to a General Election; once we get a General Election called very few campaigns will take place.

  Q26  Mr Prentice: What do you think about Jonathon Baume's comments about using the Treasury to rubbish the Opposition's figures on the performance of economy and so on? This was Alistair Darling wearing his Labour Party hat rather than his Chancellor of the Exchequer hat?

  Mr Tee: I think that the guidance on the costing of opposition policies pre-General Election is clear and Gus O'Donnell has re-issued guidance after that.

  Q27  Mr Prentice: Was there any discussion on that particular issue within the "mandarin-ate".

  Mr Tee: It was highlighted in the newspapers as a concern and so of course there was discussion about it.

  Q28  Mr Prentice: Did you have any concerns about it?

  Mr Tee: What was done by the Treasury fell within the guidelines on costing opposition policies and I think both Gus as Cabinet Secretary and Nick Macpherson at the Treasury felt that the costing that was done was in line with the guidelines. The guidelines say that the costing, having been done by Treasury, the presentational aspects are down to the political party and I was not involved in the presentation of those figures, nor were government communicators.

  Q29  Mr Prentice: So maybe in a month's time or two months' time when the Liberal Democrats—Vince Cable—bring their costings, it would be legitimate in these circumstances for the Treasury to be brought in to examine them and discredit them if needs be?

  Mr Tee: It would depend whether we were into an election period as I understand it.

  Q30  Mr Prentice: What is the election period? Under election law we have the long campaign which has already started and we have the short campaign.

  Mr Tee: The election period begins when Parliament is prorogued.

  Q31  Mr Prentice: Is that sufficient safeguard? You could have a very, very short campaign of three weeks but in reality an election campaign has started now.

  Mr Tee: As I understand it—this is really a matter for the Treasury; I do not get involved in the presentation of those figures so the propriety of it is not a matter for me—given that the Treasury would, if asked by a Member of Parliament what a policy might cost, would give those figures but it seems that the Treasury, if asked by a minister, would cost policies in the same way.

  Q32  Paul Rowen: What do you do to ensure that what information is put out is accurate? According to the Sunday Times the Home Office is being investigated at the moment by Ofcom for an advert that was put out in the Government's policing pledge which claimed that 80% of officers' time was spent on the beat.

  Mr Tee: There are two things we do there. Firstly, as part of the work that I do routinely across the government communication network on propriety, we stress the importance of honesty and integrity and of using figures that stand up to scrutiny. I work very closely with the National Statistician, for example, on the release of statistics and the statistical code and so on.

  Q33  Paul Rowen: Is something like that spin? Clearly anybody with any information about what police officers do know that that is not the case.

  Mr Tee: I am not familiar with the evidential basis on which that campaign was produced. Clearly if Ofcom felt that it had breached the advertising code, I would be concerned about it.

  Q34  Paul Rowen: What about the advert that the Department for Children, Schools and Families put out last year claiming a diploma was accepted by all universities when it clearly was not? How are you going to ensure that that sort of thing, which is deliberately misleading, does not happen again?

  Mr Tee: I emphasise, as head of profession, that our communications should be honest and based on integrity and have a good evidential base. I also look in the case of paid-for publicity to the chief executive of COI to be ensuring that advertising we do falls into that. If there are instances where we fall short of that, then that is not good and that is something we will review and see what steps we need to take in order to ensure that what we do is honest and full of integrity.

  Q35  Paul Rowen: To give you another example, the Home Office are piloting identity cards in the Manchester region and telling people they can use these in place of their passports. These have been paid for in adverts that have appeared. Before Christmas people contacted me to say that going on holiday they were not accepted. That is a clear example of where an advert is misleading.

  Mr Tee: I am not familiar with that advert and clearly we would not want to be spending public money on something that was misleading, and we certainly would not want to be spending public money on something which was untrue. I would be very happy to have a conversation with the Home Office and write to the Committee about that particular example if that would be helpful.

  Q36  Mr Burrowes: Going back to the coming election period and the concern for the campaign being used for party political advantage, that also covers brands as well. I think you communicated your view to the press concerning use of the Government branded Building Britain's Future by Labour using it on their website as a logo, is that not a blatant use by a party of a government brand for their own advantage?

  Mr Tee: I am absolutely clear in the case of Building Britain's Future that that is a government brand and were anybody to use that brand in a way which was improper or which implied ownership by anybody other than the Government I would feel that that was improper and I would take steps to address it.

  Q37  Mr Burrowes: Have you done so, given that the Labour website has a page entitled Building Britain's Future that sports the same logo used? Have you taken action?

  Mr Tee: If I am right, based on the most recent information I have, the page on the Labour Party website references Building Britain's Future as a government document and links to it. I think that is not inappropriate and a lot of other people have linked to Building Britain's Future. What I would be concerned at is Labour or any other party or any other organisation seeking to somehow claim ownership or sponsorship of a government brand.

  Q38  Mr Burrowes: In the same website when it is talking about the Labour Government creating a "fairer, stronger and more prosperous society" and so forth and also, interestingly, cleaning up politics as well, is there not a concern about using that brand? I think in your own words you responded by saying, "If we reached a position when someone else used it, I'd have to consider the risk that citizens could be confused about where the messages are coming from". Surely if it is on a Labour Party website with the same logo, citizens are going to be confused into thinking it is coming from the Labour Party and associate the two together and it is affecting the integrity of the Civil Service not least?

  Mr Tee: If, on a website, it makes clear that what it is referring to is a government document and a piece of government policy, then I am comfortable with that.

  Q39  Mr Burrowes: Let us move onto the money side of things. Can you just give some figure about how much is the marketing and communications bill?

  Mr Tee: The total bill for marketing and communications in government?

  Q40  Mr Burrowes: Yes.

  Mr Tee: I am afraid I cannot, because so much of the money which I think you and I would feel was marketing and communications is now not spent out of a marketing or communications budget. If I give you an example, when I was head of communications at the Department of Health, the vast majority of the money spent on what I think we would all consider to be communications—so, for example, the smoking campaign or the work on obesity or strokes or teenage pregnancy or any of those things—came out of the policy budgets for those areas and not out of my communication budget. So at any one time it is actually very difficult to aggregate together all of those figures across the patch.

  Q41  Mr Burrowes: Were you asked to give any information to the Pre-Budget Report?

  Mr Tee: In what sense?

  Q42  Mr Burrowes: The Pre-Budget Report says that the marketing and communications budget will be cut by 25%. How were they able to make that assertion if we do not have a clue what the marketing and communications budget is?

  Mr Tee: I think that is a very reasonable point. The pledge in the Pre-Budget Report came out of a piece of work I referenced earlier, which was working with the Treasury efficiency team I have been beginning to carry out some benchmarking work across departments which will get us to the figure that you are looking for.

  Q43  Mr Burrowes: What is that figure? What is a 25% cut?

  Mr Tee: I do not actually know what that figure is.

  Q44  Mr Burrowes: So it is pretty meaningless in the Pre-Budget Report for them to say there will be a 25% cut of something they do not they are cutting.

  Mr Tee: Except that what I have agreed with the Treasury is a short piece of work that gets us to what a base line figure is that the 25% comes off.

  Q45  Mr Burrowes: Is it the case that it is what the Prime Minister says when he says he is looking to find £650 million cuts to consultants and media managers? Is that accurate?

  Mr Tee: That consultant's figure is separate from the communications figure.

  Q46  Mr Burrowes: So that £650 million cuts is not the totality of the 25% cuts to the media and communications bill.

  Mr Tee: No, because it also includes the pledge to cut 50% off consultancy within government.

  Q47  Mr Burrowes: Which is how much?

  Mr Tee: I do not know.

  Q48  Mr Burrowes: Do you have details at least of the numbers of the consultants and media managers which make up the £650 million cuts the Prime Minister has promised?

  Mr Tee: The consultancy part of this is not media consultancy, it is management consultancy.

  Q49  Mr Burrowes: Would you be able to get the details of those media managers and consultants that make up £650 million?

  Mr Tee: The consultants are not my responsibility; that is management and policy consultancy and I think the Office for Government Commerce has taken the responsibility for the 50% cut in those figures. What I would be very happy to do when, in the next couple of months, I have reached a baseline understanding with Treasury of where the 25% cut will come from, is to write to the Committee indicating what that looks like.

  Q50  Mr Burrowes: Just to go back to the totality of the bill, when it is suggested by Nick Hurd that the PR bill is now approaching a quarter of a billion pounds, it is hard to rebut that figure when you do not have a figure to suggest what the communications and marketing bill is.

  Mr Tee: Yes, I think that is reasonable to say. I think Nick Hurd, in the work I have seen from him, does not define what he means by PR and so I find it difficult to know on what basis he has compiled the quarter of a billion figure. From both sides I think the definitional issue makes it difficult for me to rebut it.

  Q51  Mr Burrowes: We had your predecessor giving evidence to the Committee in November 2006, "trying to ensure that we have a trusted and authoritative government communications function". Surely one of your responsibilities and functions is to ensure there is accurate information for all concerned, which is no doubt going to lead to commentary and comment by politicians and the media, so surely it is incumbent on you, particularly as we are dealing with issues of finance and cuts at the moment, to come forward with accurate and trusted information.

  Mr Tee: Yes. I do not disagree with that. I think the complexity of the definitional issues makes that a piece of work which is not trivial. I have begun that piece of work and I do hope to reach a definition and some numbers which will do what you ask.

  Q52  Mr Burrowes: When will that be completed?

  Mr Tee: We have begun the benchmarking work with the Treasury and the National Audit Office. There are others outside government I would like to consult about definitions, because I think we should also be able to benchmark between government and other areas of public service and between government and the private sector where that is possible. Having done that, I would hope to be in a position where I felt that I had comparable data within six months.

  Q53  Mr Burrowes: After the election?

  Mr Tee: Yes.

  Q54  Chairman: Just on the pre-election propriety question, I see you are quoted here as saying, "I am responsible for propriety in government comms and I encourage civil servants to come to me if they have concerns about activities on which they are working. I would hope that these cases do not increase in the run up to the General Election." Do you get civil servants who raise propriety issues with you?

  Mr Tee: Yes; we have a very tried and tested system laid out in the Phillis Report of an escalation process for concerns about propriety. What we have set up is a sort of propriety triage team where anybody in a department who feels they have a question about whether something is proper or not can refer it for a very quick overview from the people in my team. We work very closely with the propriety and ethics team within the Cabinet Office. It tends to be in the form of early advice as opposed to having to intervene to veto something, for example. I cannot recall a situation in the last year where I have had to intervene in order to stop something from happening.

  Q55  Chairman: Is there an increase in such approaches in the run up to an election?

  Mr Tee: There is an increase in questions about what might be permissible during an election campaign or not in the run up to the election. I would not say there is an increase in day to day questions about propriety issues.

  Q56  Kelvin Hopkins: Looking at the figures for the expenditure on advertising through the Central Office for Information which the Chairman referred to, during John Major's term of office that fell to a 30 year low. In the first four years of Tony Blair's Government the figure trebled; it peaked just at the time of the 2001 General Election. Was that really objective advertising for public information purposes to help to stop smoking for example, or was that something to do with politics?

  Mr Tee: I was not doing this job in the run up to 2001 so I cannot say from my own personal accountability whether it was or it was not, but what I do know is that there have always been checks in place to ensure that government advertising is a proper use of public money and, as a result of the Phillis Inquiry particularly, that we strengthen those checks. What I would say about government advertising is that we have changed significantly the use of advertising in the course of the last 10 or 12 years. If you go back to 1999—when I first came into government—we used advertising almost always to raise awareness. What we use advertising now is very much more as a central plank of policy implementation. If we take obesity, as I was at the Department of Health, the work that the team did on obesity came up with a range of interventions which might prevent a child from becoming obese or help a child that was obese or close to obese to become less so. As one of those interventions we used marketing and communications but we also set up the Swim for Life campaign and so on where we gave free swimming to children. So advertising is now seen, I think, by policy teams as being one of a range of tools they have for achieving their policy objectives, not just for raising awareness of a piece of government policy.

  Q57  Kelvin Hopkins: I am trying to draw a clear distinction with genuine public information films. In the immediate post-war era, which I just remember myself, public information films were all very helpful, about eating properly for example. In those days we had also rationing which stopped us eating too many sweets!

  Mr Tee: You mention eating properly and one of the things we now understand is—and this plays into part of my role to do with how government achieves behaviour change—that advertising on healthy eating is probably not one of the most effective ways of getting people to eat more healthily. For example, in school canteens where food is placed in the school canteen probably has a greater effect on what children eat at lunchtime than government advertising.

  Q58  Kelvin Hopkins: I do not want to be diverted into detail, but just suppose public information films do help us to eat more healthily, that is fine, but that is not what a lot of the spending is about. Is it not really about public relations, about propaganda, about manipulating the media, making sure that they get the right messages from government about the wonderful things they are doing?

  Mr Tee: I really do not think it is. I think if you look at the major areas of spend through the Central Office of Information in last or indeed in recent years what you will see is that the big areas of spend were on armed forces recruitment, on work from the Health Department (particularly around smoking, obesity and stroke), around the Act on CO2 campaign coming out of Defra and DEC. It is those sorts of areas which I think are what you have referred to as public information.

  Q59  Kelvin Hopkins: Going back to the beginning, you used a phrase—and alarm bells started to ring with me when you said—"helping citizens to understand public services". That definitely has a kind of New Labour-ish flavour: the people have got to have it explained to make sure they get the message right. Helping citizens understand public services sounds innocent, but then you went on to say "So that they understand, for example, they might want to choose a different hospital if they have a stroke". Quite frankly, if I have a stroke I do not want to fill in a questionnaire; I want to be taken to be looked after immediately and I would like to think before I had the stroke that all the hospitals would do a good job and we did not have to make a choice and tick a box.

  Mr Tee: I am afraid, Mr Hopkins, that the plain fact of the matter is that not every hospital is as good at treating strokes and the government policy response to that was to designate certain hospitals as stroke centres. The conversation with the people was: would you prefer to be taken to a hospital that was a stroke centre? Overwhelmingly people said they would rather drive past the hospital they had hoped was good at everything and get to a stroke centre.

  Q60  Mr Walker: Who is doing the driving?

  Mr Tee: An ambulance.

  Q61  Mr Walker: Surely the ambulance would take them to the best hospital for treating strokes. They can have a chat with the patient.

  Mr Tee: They are not going to have a chat with the patient. This was something I covered in my opening which was about a piece of work with the public that Lord Darzi did to consult with the public. I used to work in the ambulance service a number of years ago and it used to be the policy that you took any emergency to the nearest hospital. We are now in a position, particularly on stroke, where an ambulance crew would take the patient, without having the conversation with them, to the nearest specialist stroke unit. That has been a change of government policy but that is a change in government policy that is right that the Government has a conversation with the citizen about because it is different to a suggestion that every hospital is equally good at treating every situation.

  Q62  Mr Prentice: In this deliberative event that you told us about with Lord Darzi, did any members of the public say, "I would prefer money to be spent on my local accident and emergency department so that they can treat my stroke?" Did anyone say that or were you leading?

  Mr Tee: People did say that.

  Q63  Mr Prentice: What was your response?

  Mr Tee: I was not leading the event; I was merely an observer at the event. The purpose of the event was to work through what most people thought with the information they had before them. Yes there was a body of opinion that said "I think every hospital should have a stroke unit" and there was then a conversation that took place about whether they were prepared to pay for it through their taxes and that was the sort of discourse that was taking place in the event.

  Q64  Kelvin Hopkins: The flavour of what you were saying struck me as being sub-text promotion of the "choice agenda", which is a political decision to promote a choice agenda rather than universal public services, all good for everybody.

  Mr Tee: If that is government policy then it is legitimate for government to publicise the availability of that choice.

  Q65  Kelvin Hopkins: Is your job about persuading the public on government policy or just neutrally presenting it?

  Mr Tee: I think my job is to support the Government in promoting its policy and ensuring understanding of it. In the case of choice within the health service, given that there is a government policy which people have choice about, for example, which hospital they are treated at, I think it is legitimate that public money is spent in helping people to exercise that choice.

  Q66  Kelvin Hopkins: You are a persuader but you have not persuaded me on that point. We have had a study in our Select Committee on the language used in politics and I almost throw things at the television screen when I hear public statements from government full of judgmental terms. We do not have a Department of Education any more; it used to be a Department for Education which has a flavour about it. Children, Schools and Families are warm words, like motherhood and apple pie. The whole flavour of government statements in recent years strikes me as being an endless propaganda exercise meant to persuade us and lead us in particular directions, rather than using neutral terms. I use one example: we had this silly term "Jobcentre Plus"; what about the Employment Office? Employment Office is neutral; what does Jobcentre Plus mean? I could mention dozens of phrases like that used by government. Every year it seems we invent new terms for government departments; it is not the Board of Trade, it is Business, Innovation and Skills and so on. Do you see your job as softening up the public to get them to accept government policy or simply presenting it?

  Mr Tee: I see my job as supporting the Government in implementing its policy. Not everybody will agree with all elements of that policy and if they do not agree with elements of that policy they might not agree with some of the communication about that policy. In the case of the Department for Children, Schools and Families what it reflected was a widening in the remit beyond education. It does explain a difference in the department. If I might just pick up on the language question—I know this Committee has done considerable work about language—I do think that within government we still speak in a language sometimes which is impenetrable for the public which is not based on clear communication and I certainly see part of my role as being to help people across the Civil Service understand the benefits of communicating clearly to the public.

  Q67  Kelvin Hopkins: You say that but I think the public would understand Employment Office rather better than Jobcentre Plus. What does the Plus mean for a start?

  Mr Tee: The plus means that you get more there than you used to get at an old Job Centre.

  Mr Walker: Why not the "Employment Office and Benefits" because that is the extra bit?

  Q68  Chairman: Have you thought about sending a little glossary across Whitehall of all these terms not to use? It would be helpful, would it not? Let us get rid of "going forward" and "win win" and "across the piece" and all that kind of stuff. Could you not send a memo out saying, "For goodness' sake, don't use this sort of language"?

  Mr Tee: What we know is that one of the least effective ways of getting the whole of the Civil Service to do something is actually by sending out a little memo. I think you are right, Chairman, I would like us to use less of those sorts of phrases that the public find a turn off or less meaningful, but we have to do it in a way which means that for the fast stream, for example, we are making it clear to new fast streamers that communicating clearly in a way that your mother or your sister would understand is an important part of their work.

  Q69  Mr Prentice: What about this 20 page document that was circulated in Whitehall advising civil servants on how to tweet?

  Mr Tee: It is actually rather a good document.

  Q70  Mr Prentice: Twenty pages on twittering?

  Mr Tee: It is 20 pages on the use of social media. What I said on it was that I thought the only thing that the chap who wrote it—who I think is very talented—had done wrong was that he had not done a tweet of the content of the document. I think if he could encapsulate it in 140 characters it would have been good.

  Q71  Mr Prentice: Do you tweet?

  Mr Tee: I have a Twitter account and I follow a lot of people; I tweet very occasionally.

  Q72  Mr Prentice: Who do you tweet to?

  Mr Tee: A number of civil servants I think follow me. One of the things about Twitter is that generally it is open to anybody to see my tweets and to follow me.

  Q73  Mr Prentice: Do you tweet Gus O'Donnell?

  Mr Tee: I do not know if Gus has a Twitter account.

  Q74  Mr Prentice: Does he tweet back?

  Mr Tee: Certainly I have never seen a tweet from Gus. I think my tweets are rather boring.

  Q75  Mr Prentice: At the very beginning Julie asked about flops, if I can put it that way. You said you were involved in NHS Direct; you had an interest in sexual health and so on. Was there not some experiment about sending out text messages to young people about safe sex which just did not get anywhere?

  Mr Tee: I cannot recall the specific example.

  Q76  Mr Prentice: You must recall something like that.

  Mr Tee: If it had been as bad as you suggest then I might. What I would say is that I think, within government, we should be looking to new ways of communicating with different parts of citizenship and teenage girls are a key place for us to wish to communicate with for all sorts of reasons. They tend to drink more than they should; they have sex in ways which are unhealthy for them and so on. So ways of reaching young women are a communication challenge for us. If somebody says, "I have a new technology or a new channel which may help you to reach 16 to 24 year old women" then it is a good thing for us to try it. What we should do is know what success looks like and if we do not succeed to stop.

  Q77  Mr Prentice: You tried and you abandoned it because it failed.

  Mr Tee: I do not think that is a bad thing. I think the bad thing would be if you carried on doing something which did not work.

  Q78  Chairman: That is an area worth exploring for a minute. We have talked about the spend and the numbers of people involved, but there is the question of effectiveness, what are we getting for this money? I wonder how you evaluate whether stuff is working. If you are a commercial company and you spend a lot of money on your advertising budget you can see that if your product sells more it is probably working; if your product goes down you have something wrong. A lot of the stuff that government does you think, as you look at it, "What am I supposed to do? What is that all about?" What I am asking you is how tough are you on evaluating what you are getting out of this spend?

  Mr Tee: We are pretty tough and getting tougher I would say. The Central Office of Information recently released a report on what they call return on marketing investment and I think it has some really interesting figures in it. Some of our marketing actually pays government more than the marketing costs. If you take, for example, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs' campaign around people filling in their tax returns online, that increased the number of people who returned tax returns at all and vastly increased the number who returned them online and the payback on that was about £2.65 for every pound they spend on the marketing. What we are getting to is a much closer analysis in the way that a commercial company would do it of what was the financial pay-back of this. That will not always be to government so if you take smoking for example, because we have been doing smoking cessation campaigns for a very long time we really do now understand how many people who ask for the pack will actually use it and give up, how many of those people who give up will still have given up in six weeks' time, how many of those will have given up in two years. Through that and by knowing what a smoker costs the NHS—health economists have done really good figures on this—I can tell you that on the smoking cessation campaigns we get a return to the NHS rather then the Department of Health of about £5 for every pound spent on smoking cessation. What I want to see is that all of government's communication work—it is much easier in marketing than it is in some other areas—is able to give us those sorts of return on investment figures.

  Q79  Chairman: The Government itself is getting interested these days in the whole behavioural psychology approach to policy making because much of government turns on the ability to change the way in which people behave. Presumably those engaged in communications work would also be thinking their way through all of that and it often requires a more sophisticated approach to sending messages out than was the case before. Is your side of the business actively engaged in all that?

  Mr Tee: Absolutely. When I was appointed Gus O'Donnell asked me to lead a piece of cross-Whitehall work on how you could adopt behaviour change theory, that economists and psychologists have been working on for some time, into government policy and we are holding a major conference in late February around the application of behaviour change techniques to government policy.

  Q80  Chairman: Are there examples yet of where that is coming through?

  Mr Tee: There are examples that we have used so far which have tended to be marketing and communications driven. Actually we can do behaviour change in government for ever and ever. Mr Hopkins was recalling some of the public service films; the seat belt campaign could be an example of it; the smoking campaign goes back for ages. Where I would like us to be is that people who are developing new policy or designing new public services have an understanding of the tools at their disposal. We know that government, pretty uniquely, can legislate and certainly within smoking legislation has played a part in our work around changing behaviour on smoking, but we also know that there are some of the techniques that I suppose might popularly be called "nudge" which are ways of influencing behaviour without a big advertising campaign or knocking people over the head and telling them they cannot do things. I want those to be a much more integral part of government.

  Q81  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Can I ask you about you budget? As far as I can see from this, you have had an increase in your budget of around 50% in the last financial year. Is that right? How much do you spend a year as an organisation, staff, costs and all the rest of it?

  Mr Tee: Within the Cabinet Office where I sit I oversee government communication which is cross government and I oversee the Cabinet Office communication directorate.

  Q82  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Do you have a budget personally?

  Mr Tee: Yes.

  Q83  Mr Liddell-Grainger: What is your budget?

  Mr Tee: My budget is about £8 million for this year.

  Q84  Mr Liddell-Grainger: What is your forecast for your budget next year? Do you know?

  Mr Tee: I do not know. I am still in budget planning.

  Q85  Mr Liddell-Grainger: What is your feeling? Should it go up or down?

  Mr Tee: Down.

  Q86  Mr Liddell-Grainger: What sort of percentage?

  Mr Tee: It is a conversation to be had with the Minister for the Cabinet Office and with senior colleagues in the Cabinet Office because the question is what priority we attach to different pieces of work.

  Q87  Mr Liddell-Grainger: That is what I was actually coming on to. You have an £8 million budget; you are meant to be policing not only government departments you do the quangos as well, do you not?

  Mr Tee: I do. I am the professional head for those quangos which employ people on Civil Service contracts.

  Q88  Mr Liddell-Grainger: How many are there?

  Mr Tee: Probably a bit over a hundred.

  Q89  Mr Liddell-Grainger: So there are a hundred quangos that you are meant to be looking at as well and there are things like the Environment Agency et cetera.

  Mr Tee: Yes.

  Q90  Mr Liddell-Grainger: How many people do those quangos employ? How many people are there in there that you are meant to be responsible for?

  Mr Tee: I do not know.

  Q91  Mr Liddell-Grainger: You have no idea at all.

  Mr Tee: I do not have a figure to hand. From the last census we did across the Government communication network I think it was around 1300 but I would need to check.

  Q92  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Do you not think it might be a good idea to find out, given that these are incredibly important things? Let us take the Environment Agency for instance, it is a very good example. Tetbury goes under water; obviously it must get the message out—nobody disputes that—but actually do not know how many people they have in there, what they are actually doing and whether or not what they are doing is the right sort of thing.

  Mr Tee: I would agree with parts of that and not agree with other parts of it. The Environment Agency has a chairman, chief executive and a board; they are responsible for setting the budget support for the Environment Agency and for their communication budget. They have no accountability to me for the resource that they use on communication. I do not have a remit to get in touch with the Environment Agency and say, "I think you've got more communicators than you should have" because they are a self-governing organisation. Where I think I do have a role is in the effectiveness of Environment Agency communications and so where I have an on-going dialogue is with the directors of communications in the agencies where we have a discussion about how we demonstrate effectiveness for that money. I do have a conversation with the director of comms at the Environment Agency about the effectiveness of their communications.

  Q93  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Let us take that a step further. You ask the Environment Agency how many PR people they have throughout the United Kingdom. They come back and give you the answer of 20 (I have no idea of the answer). You say that actually that seems to be too little or too many or whatever. Do you actually say to them, "Look, I think that's too many"? If you said that to them could they legitimately turn round and say, "I'm very sorry about this. It's nothing to do with you, can you please bog off"?

  Mr Tee: They are a self-governing organisation.

  Q94  Mr Liddell-Grainger: They are spending government money on PR.

  Mr Tee: I understand that it is one of the frustrations of the Committee, but actually the accountability for the use of resources at the Environment Agency is to their board and through their board to the minister at Defra. This piece of benchmarking work that I am doing with the Treasury and the National Audit Office will cover non-departmental public bodies and agencies and within that I would be expecting to have comparable information that covers those agencies. I think it would be entirely legitimate for the Environment Select Committee, for example, to be asking the chair of the Environment Agency or the minister why the Environment Agency's spend on public relations or communications was out of kilter with other comparable agencies.

  Q95  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Could I make a suggestion? You know roughly there are a hundred agencies; could you compile that list as your job and perhaps come back to the Public Administration Select Committee—that does not oversee that particularly, it oversees the overall picture—and say, "Look each one of these departments" (we have been using the Environment Agency just as an example) "has got X-amount, the RDAs have got X" and you could go through it. Would that be a possible way forward?

  Mr Tee: As part of the benchmarking work which I have already started we will get to that position.

  Q96  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Do you know when?

  Mr Tee: I am hoping it will be within the same six months.

  Q97  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Can I just ask one other question which is intriguing me? It is about the use of famous people to front government advertisements. There is one with Dame Helen Mirren and Madness front man Suggs. Do you think that the use of these sorts of people is actually a good use of government money because they tend to be a voice as opposed to a face? Do you think it resonates to the public? Are we actually getting something in return? How do you benchmark it?

  Mr Tee: I think it is important if we are going to use well-known people that we have a good and clear rationale for doing that and that we have a way of judging the effectiveness of what we did. Was it the Directgov campaign you were referring to?

  Q98  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Yes, it was.

  Mr Tee: With the Directgov campaign there was very good testing of that campaign with people. By the people it was tested on Helen Mirren was felt to be an appropriate person to be fronting that campaign. My counsel to government communicators would be that we should be very circumspect about the use of celebrity around government services.

  Q99  Mr Liddell-Grainger: Can I just take that a little bit further because the guy who directed that was a guy called Steve Bendelack who also directed—and I mean no disrespect to any of these—Royle Family, League of Gentlemen, Little Britain and Mr Bean's Holiday. Why use that sort of person, who is obviously pretty capable (actually, I do not know about Mr Bean's Holiday), but he cannot have been cheap?

  Mr Tee: The question that I think we have to answer is: did we get bang for our buck? If using somebody like that—who, clearly from the list that you have just said, understands a particular segment of audience very well, the sort of people who watch those sort of programmes—gets us a better advert than using somebody else and that advert is more effective then I think we have a justification for it. The thing that would trouble me is if we were unable through our evaluation to say whether it was worth it or not.

  Q100  Mr Liddell-Grainger: On ITV—which is our main commercial channel in this country—you rarely see very famous people on TV adverts because they cannot afford to do it. Occasionally you get people who are not quite as famous as Helen Mirren. They do not use those sorts of people because they are expensive and difficult to get, yet the Government is quite happy to use those sorts of people. I do not know how you benchmark it? Can you tell us how you do it?

  Mr Tee: What I think we look to do is firstly to test any sort of marketing or advertising campaign with the sort of people that we are hoping to raise awareness with or to influence. Beyond that what we look to do is to test firstly some of the immediate objectives of the campaign. We go out, do some polling and we ask people whether they are aware that that advertisement ran. We ask people whether they did anything different as a result of that advertisement running. In the case of something like Directgov we then look through to what evidence we have that an action happened: do the number of visits to particular parts of Directgov increase and those sorts of things. That is how we measure the effectiveness of those sorts of campaign.

  Q101  Mr Liddell-Grainger: I am using that one because it is down here, but were you happy with that, you felt that that was a good return?

  Mr Tee: It is a very recent campaign so we have not finished evaluating it yet. I cannot say I am happy with it because we do not have the evaluation report back yet. A valuable role of COI is to ensure that they are happy that the evaluation that is in the system before a campaign runs is proper to evaluate it at the end of that campaign. I come back a little bit on the question of ITV and the use of faces. We may have fewer advertising campaigns on ITV fronted by famous people, but I think there are still a lot. It is one of the reasons why I would say that we should be very careful in government communications using celebrities. There has been a trend in British advertising away from it and there are very, very examples of using celebrities in government campaigns; it is not something that we do routinely. I think I would also say that when we do use famous people they usually do some work for government at a fraction of the price they would normally charge for commercial work.

  Q102  Mr Walker: I have noticed from your CV that you worked at the Department of Health.

  Mr Tee: Yes.

  Q103  Mr Walker: Were you responsible for the "Defrost your turkey" advert?

  Mr Tee: No.

  Q104  Mr Walker: Do you remember that advert? It was a man dressed up in a turkey suit telling people to defrost their turkey properly otherwise you would end up in hospital, and he would go round banging people on the head.

  Mr Tee: I do not, I am afraid.

  Q105  Mr Walker: Do you think that was an effective use of taxpayers' money, advising people to defrost their turkey?

  Mr Tee: Without looking at the original objectives of the campaign and how it evaluated I would not want to say.

  Q106  Mr Walker: I think the original objectives were to get people to defrost their turkeys; something to do with food poisoning and eat the leftovers the next day.

  Mr Tee: It would be very difficult for government to measure whether a turkey had been defrosted but you could measure admissions to hospital with food poisoning.

  Q107  Mr Walker: Or overeating. The next question I want to ask you—this does worry me slightly and I am not going to hold you responsible for this—over the last few weeks there has been a lot of concern over mortality rates in hospitals (it may have been over outcomes) and this organisation called Dr Foster was all over our screens.

  Mr Tee: I have to declare an interest; I am a previous employee of Dr Foster.

  Q108  Mr Walker: Yes, I know that, however I thought this was an independent body and I have just read here on your CV that this is a public/private partnership. Is there government money behind Dr Foster?

  Mr Tee: I am not absolutely aware at this moment but it was. Dr Foster Intelligence was a 50/50 public/private partnership.

  Q109  Mr Walker: Here we are with people getting impartial advice on television from an organisation called Dr Foster and I have just discovered now by accident that this is information being laundered from the Government, from the NHS. Dr Foster was commenting on the performance of the NHS on national television, on BBC News, on Sky and not once was I informed as a viewer that 50% of this organisation's money came from the very organisation it was commenting on. Is this widespread practice across government or is this just an isolated case? There must be cause for concern if this were widespread.

  Mr Tee: It is very much in the public domain that Dr Foster is a—

  Q110  Mr Walker: No it is not in the public domain. If I went out and interviewed the people and asked them if they had heard of Dr Foster they would say "Who the hell is he?" What is in the public domain is when some organisation is on television called Dr Foster positioned as an impartial commentator on a set of issues relating to the NHS. The public will never have heard of this organisation before they see it on television and it is not actually widely flagged up by people commenting on behalf of Dr Foster that half their money comes from the NHS. Surely that is a bit sharp practice?

  Mr Tee: In a way it is a question for the Department of Health and for Dr Foster.

  Q111  Mr Walker: You are the Government communicator supremo. This is laundering information in a fairly naughty way.

  Mr Tee: Dr Foster has the relationship with the National Health Service Information Centre and through them with the Department of Health. That is the way that relationship works. Dr Foster is a company which is 50% owned and produces an annual report on hospitals.

  Q112  Mr Walker: What was the Government need to own 50% of an organisation called Dr Foster? What was the imperative for creating Dr Foster?

  Mr Tee: I think that is a question for the Department of Health.

  Q113  Mr Walker: You were the Director of Business Development. Why was Dr Foster created? What was your remit at Dr Foster?

  Mr Tee: Dr Foster existed before it became a joint venture. Dr Foster existed as a company.

  Q114  Mr Walker: Independent from the NHS?

  Mr Tee: As a private company and I worked for it. What happened was that Dr Foster and the NHS Information Centre got into a 50/50 deal on a joint venture which was called Dr Foster Intelligence. I think you will find there is an NAO Report on this and the Public Accounts Committee has examined it.

  Q115  Mr Walker: If I ever see it again on television I have to know what it does. What does Dr Foster do?

  Mr Tee: It is a company which analyses and helps the NHS to understand NHS data.

  Q116  Mr Walker: Why can the NHS not do that? Why does it need to have Dr Foster doing it for it?

  Mr Tee: What Dr Foster provides on top of the data is analysis and interrogative tools to assist the NHS.

  Q117  Mr Walker: Do you think you could do me a favour? Could you get in touch with the NHS and actually convey that a member of this Committee has expressed concern that when representatives of Dr Foster appear on our television commenting on the performance of the NHS it is not made clear in any way, shape or form that actually half their salary is paid by the NHS and the taxpayer?

  Mr Tee: I will happily convey that.

  Q118  Mr Walker: Excellent. More generally, I am sure you are a great champion of democracy; I know you are a great champion of democracy. The Ministerial Code says that major announcements should be made to Parliament first. So when an announcement is going to be made do you find yourself having to remind ministers they have to announce it to Parliament before asking you to instruct your civil servants to go against the Code by announcing it to the media beforehand?

  Mr Tee: I think ministers are well aware of the Ministerial Code. I have been involved in discussions about how we can stay properly within the Ministerial Code. I think it is very clear that announcements should be made to Parliament first. I think it was reiterated in the Phillis Report as well.

  Q119  Mr Walker: You are a public servant; do you feel confident enough to remind ministers who absentmindedly forget their obligations to announce it to Parliament first? Would you say, "Hold on, Minister, you've just forgotten; why don't you get in your car and nip off to Parliament and make a statement quickly now"?

  Mr Tee: I think if a department was preparing an announcement about a piece of policy or the launch of a command paper or that sort of thing, if needed—I do not think it happens very often—there would be a conversation with the communications folk that said, "Minister, how do we ensure that this is announced first to Parliament?"

  Q120  Mr Walker: How senior are you? You are a permanent secretary. I have been director of communications for some companies, not enormous companies but turning over half a billion and I always found that the director of communications—this is more a reflection on me probably—was never regarded as being quite top drawer because they did not have a profit and loss. Do you see what I am saying, it is communications, it is a bit below the salt. Do you think in government that that is the case or do you feel that you have absolute access to the most senior decision makers and that your views are given absolutely full consideration when important matters are discussed?

  Mr Tee: I have access to all the decision makers that I would wish to have access to. I am absolutely clear on that. What I would say—and I empathise with your feeling about being a director of communication at times—is that although I think communications has made considerable progress from a point where it was seen as a sort of service industry, we are still not at the point where communicators generally are seen as peers around a policy making or delivery table. That is my aspiration. That is why I am driving capability within the Civil Service communications community because I want to be in a position where a civil servant communicator at a given grade is seen as being an absolute peer with a policy maker at the same grade. What I would like to see, which we have not had yet, is that communicators, in the same way that policy and finance people do, come though the system and become permanent secretaries in departments.

  Q121  Mr Walker: Are you wining the battle in certain departments that actually less is more? Volume does not equate to quality and actually you could have less communication but more quality communication that has a better chance of capturing the attention of the audience that we are after?

  Mr Tee: I think that is a point very well made and I would say that one of the things I would expect to see in the future is that we will undertake less big advertising aimed at the entire population and more targeted communication aimed at parts of the population. I think we should do it anyway just because it is public money and I think public money is important; it needs to be looked after and spent properly. The situation we are going to get into with public finances is such that we have absolutely no choice but to be thinking very much on those lines.

  Q122  Mr Walker: I am very interested in the obesity campaign, having been very obese myself for a number of years, and I think it is a huge problem which we need to do something about. You mentioned you were still not convinced that the advertising campaign was necessarily the right way forward at the moment.

  Mr Tee: If I gave that impression I am misleading. I think the Department of Health has done a huge amount of work on what the drivers of obesity are, what the key life stages are where decisions are made or things happen that lead to obesity and actually I think the work they are doing and the different interventions they have are some of the best researched and evaluated that we have in government. You cannot say that Change for Life as a marketing campaign has worked until in two to five years' time we are able to say that there are fewer kids who are obese, but actually what we are doing at the moment is based on very, very solid evidence.

  Q123  Chairman: Could I just ask you whether you thought the recent period of extreme bad weather was a communications challenge because it seems to me that it was. I wondered why the Government had not set up something like a "freeze line". You are an NHS Direct sort of person, are you not?

  Mr Tee: I am indeed.

  Q124  Chairman: There were people without food and people without heating; was there not a case for the Government just telling people things? They had to read in the papers about the virtues of salt versus cat litter versus this versus that. Are you fleet of foot enough at moments like that?

  Mr Tee: I think we are. What we did do across government was to ensure that the key departments that had an interest in the cold weather and in communicating messages were joined up together, that we were communicating as a government, that we did not have ministers falling over each other in order to get out their bit of the message, that ministers who were doing interviews were able to speak about the transport situation as well as about cold weather payments for example. We tried to join all those communications up. What I would say is that where government put most of its effort—I think this is absolutely right—was in seeking to enable the services that people needed to happen and not overlaying it with a telephone line that did not help an awful lot. I think the wrong thing to have done would have been to have had a freeze line that gave you some bland recorded message that you had already seen on the news.

  Q125  Chairman: I was not recommending a recording, I was wanting someone there who would do a brokerage and tell you where you should go and tell you where you could get cat litter from.

  Mr Tee: I think it is one of those examples where what government did, absolutely appropriately, was to look to local authorities.

  Q126  Chairman: We have had a good, varied discussion and it has been very interesting. Thank you very much indeed for coming along and talking to us.

  Mr Tee: Thank you, Chairman.

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