3 Ministerial Effectiveness |
66. Our academic witnesses argued that if ministers
were better equipped with the necessary skills it would be possible
to meet the administrative needs of government with fewer of them.
Lord Norton expressed a number of concerns about ministerial ability
to perform their jobs. He believed that currently too much of
a premium was placed on parliamentary skills.
Members who are good at the Dispatch Box and in committee
are more likely to be promoted than those who may have strong
managerial skills but who are poor parliamentary performers. Some
ministers survive because of their performances in the House even
though they may not be good at taking decisions and managing their
While he thought these skills were important, he
did not believe they were the only skills that were required by
ministers. This led
to ministers being "amateurs" when it came to
leading their department. As Professor Kevin Theakston pointed
out in his study of junior ministers, ministerial appointments
and careers in the UK follow a pattern not much different to that
of the Victorian era:
a backbench apprenticeship in the House of Commons,
leading to one or more junior posts on the ministerial hierarchy
before promotion to the Cabinet or (more likely) a return to the
backbenches or retirement from politics. Today, as in the nineteenth
century, MPs continue to win office primarily for political reasons
and because of their skills as parliamentarians, and not because
of specialist subject expertise or extra parliamentary executive
67. This contrasts with experience elsewhere. As
Professor Richard Rose has observed, only a limited number of
ministers enter office with sufficient specialist knowledge to
be able to initiate measures on their own. By comparison with
other Western countries, British ministers are among the least
likely to receive office because of specialist expertise.
An MP is unlikely to have been involved in the problems
with which the ministry deals prior to entering Parliament; to
have little opportunity in Parliament to come to grips with the
dilemmas of choice that the ministry faces; and often, to have
had no preparation as an Opposition spokesman on the subject.
68. Allied to the lack of specialist knowledge is
the turnover of ministers. By the time they feel they have a good
grasp of the issues and how to run the department, they get appointed
to another post or are removed from the Government. New ministers
come in and, in essence, are left to re-invent the wheel, relying
on their experience and observations as junior ministers, their
outside experience, their intuition, or guidance from officials.
69. Before the Second World War, a minister was usually
in place for about four years. In the quarter-century after, it
was on average two years or less.
Nowadays, some ministers may be in place for only a matter of
months. Some have held several offices within the space of a few
years, John Reid (now Lord Reid of Cardowan) being a particular
example. Within a period of eight years (1999-2007), he held seven
posts in Cabinet. Similarly there have been 6 Secretaries of State
for Defence since 2005.
70. The UK Government
is thus distinctive not only for having a relatively large number
of ministers, but also ministers who are unspecialised in the
areas for which they are responsible and for which they may have
responsibility for only a short space of time. This lack of continuity
in government departments can only serve to undermine ministerial
effectiveness. Prime Ministers should resist the temptation to
hold regular, extensive reshuffles.
Training and guidance
71. Senior ministers have usually been appointed
to office with little guidance from the Prime Minister as to what
is expected of them and have been left to determine for themselves
how they should manage their departments, including their junior
ministers. Some training
is now made available to ministers. The National School of Government
already offers professional development for ministers in the form
of its "Ministerial Programme." Its website describes
the programme as follows:
There are no lectures, no traditional classroom training
sessions, and no "off the shelf" courses. Everything
we do is tailored to the needs of individual Ministers. Our approach
is based heavily on active participation, informal workshops and
access to the right experts at the right time.
Lord Norton shared with us his answer to a Parliamentary
Question asking for details about the provision made for training
...the number of Ministers who have attended induction
events organised by the national school, or who have commissioned
expert briefings or other forms of leadership development, are
as follows: induction workshops: 31 Ministers; induction briefings
to individual Ministers or to specific teams of Ministers: 32
Ministers; expert parliamentary briefings: nine Ministers; expert
finance and governance briefings: three Ministers; and individual
work on leadership development: nine Ministers.
While welcoming this provision, he remained of the
opinion that the provision of training remained "somewhat
sporadic". As a consequence he believed that:
Government has tended to be inefficient, relying
on quantity rather than quality in the provision of ministers.
Senior ministers are not trained in managing a Department and
do not necessarily know how to get the best out of their junior
ministers. They may well be able to do more with less.
72. Another complaint sometimes made by former ministers,
in addition to a lack of training, is the absence of any formal
induction. One former Lords minister commented that:
I was dropped right in it. A few weeks after appointment
I was taking a Bill through the Lords. It was sink or swim.
73. The IfG is currently engaged in a major research
project investigating ministerial effectiveness, which is being
led by Rt Hon Peter Riddell. The project will be addressing the
following questions: what are the characteristics of an effective
minister? What are the main influences on effectiveness? Why aren't
there more effective ministers? And what can be done to improve
the situation? This
project has not yet been completed or reached any firm conclusions.
However, Mr Riddell's submission included some suggestions as
to how ministerial effectiveness might be improved. These were:
i. Improving the management of ministerial careers
- greater stability in office; a more formal appraisal system;
ii. Improving ministerial development via systematic
mentoring, coaching and advice at various stages of a ministerial
74. When we put these suggestions to former ministers
there was some appetite for more training and a genuine review
process. Lord Rooker commented that when Labour came to Government
it initially ran awaydays for ministers to allow them to collectively
discuss problems across different departments, which he had found
useful. He also commented that more formal professional development
for ministers would be useful, including a "genuine appraisal
Other suggestions made by former ministers included a:
mentoring process, whereby a more experienced minister
acts as a guide for a newly-appointed minister.
Another possibility was to provide written guidance;
something already done in New Zealand, Scotland and the US.
75. Professor David Richards, University of Sheffield,
interviewed former Labour ministers about their preparation for
office in 1997. This had included a seminar series at Templeton
College, Oxford. However, participants were dubious about its
value. For Margaret Beckett, who served as Secretary of State
for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
for a large part of Tony Blair's administration, "...
the key issue was that no training can prepare you for the pressure
of ministerial life, only experience helps". Another,
unnamed minister found the training "irrelevant".
76. Mike Penning MP expressed a major reservation
about giving more training to ministers
I would really worry if you had to do a course and
pass a course to be a minister, because we're not clones, we're
individuals. [...] I'd have failed the course; whatever course
you put me on.
Norman Baker MP said that he felt his time as an
opposition spokesman had provided him with the knowledge necessary
to perform his job. He also argued that that many of the skills
needed to be a successful minister were those which he had developed
during his time in the House:
Part of the skills of being a politician, in so far
as you have them, you learn them before you get to office: how
to communicate with people, I hope; how to prioritise your time;
and how to absorb information quite quickly. Those are the skills
that a Member of Parliament has to have, so in that sense a Minister
just has the same skills.
77. We are not persuaded by these observations. Undoubtedly
Parliamentary experience does provide many of the skills that
Members of Parliament need to perform well as a minister. However,
other skills notably those required to oversee a large and complex
organisation are unlikely to be developed during a Member's career
in the House.
78. Our predecessor's Report Skills for Government
concluded that more "could be done to professionalise
the ministerial side of the business of government."
It recommended a systematic performance appraisal system and argued
that there was a need to instil a "culture of commitment
to professional development amongst ministers."
79. We endorse
the recommendation of PASC in the last Parliament that there should
be more systematic training, mentoring, coaching and assessment
of ministers. While we concur with the scepticism expressed that
it is impossible for any training or induction to prepare a minister
for all the challenges that he will facing during his time in
office, this does not mean that such training is useless, merely
that its limitations should be understood. The purpose should
be to help them identify areas of their performance where they
can improve. This should not be seen as criticism of current ministers'
performance, merely an acknowledgement that everyone, including
ministers, can always find ways to be better at their job.
83 Q 142 Back
Ev 57 Back
Q 164 Back
Kevin Theakston, Junior Ministers in British Government
(Oxford, 1987), p.41 Back
Richard Rose, Ministers and Ministries (Oxford, 1987),
p. 81 Back
Ibid. p 81 Back
Ev 59 Back
Rose, Ministers and Ministries, p 83 Back
Geoff Hoon, John Reid, Des Browne, John Hutton, Bob Ainsworth
and Dr Liam Fox. Back
Philip Norton, 'Barons in a Shrinking Kingdom: Senior Ministers
in British Government', in R. A. W. Rhodes (ed), Transforming
British Government, Vol. 2 (Basingstoke, 2000), p 106. Back
"About the Ministerial Programme", National School
of Government, 11 February 2011, nationalschool.gov.uk Back
HL Deb, 27 October 2010, col. 291W. Back
Ev 58 Back
Yong and Hazell, Putting Goats Amongst the Wolves, p 37 Back
Ev 55 Back
Qq 92-93 Back
Yong and Hazell, "Putting Goats Amongst the Wolves",
p 32-33 Back
Yong and Hazell, Putting Goats Amongst the Wolves, p 33 Back
David Richards, New Labour and the Civil Service, (Basingstoke,
2008), pp 80-81 Back
Q 274 [Mike Penning] Back
Q 275 [Norman Baker] Back
Public Administration Select Committee, Ninth Report of Session
2006-07, Skills for Government, HC 93, paras 149- 151 Back