Session 2010-11
Publications on the internet

To be published as HC 904 -i

House of COMMONS



Work and Pensions Committee

appointment of the chair of the social security advisory committee

Wednesday 30 March 2011

deep sagar

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 41



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Work and Pensions Committee

on Wednesday 30 March 2011

Members present:

Dame Anne Begg (Chair)

Andrew Bingham

Karen Bradley

Kate Green

Mr Oliver Heald

Glenda Jackson


Examination of Witness

Witness: Deep Sagar, DWP preferred candidate for the post, gave evidence

Q1 Chair : Good morning, and thank you very much for appearing before us this morning. We had hoped to have this hearing about two months ago; I am not sure if you have been involved in this process for all that time. This is obviously the preappointment hearing of the Select Committee for your appointment as Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee. So the Committee welcomes you. We have a number of questions. We hope that the questioning will take an hour or less, and obviously the questions might be quite wideranging. Can I begin by asking why you applied for this position? What did you think that you could bring to it?

Deep Sagar: First, good morning and thank you for the opportunity. I think for me, Chair, I applied because of the subject, its potential and the opportunity to contribute. I thought that my skills would be the right thing in terms of a contribution. Let me expand on that. Most of my recent working life, as you might have seen from my CV, has been about trying to directly help ordinary people-make their lives better. Among those people, we would agree that benefit claimants are a very important part. The subject of welfare benefits and social security is hugely important. I genuinely believe in it, and I think that the historic changes that the system is going through mean that the moment to contribute is very opportune. When I think about the Committee’s record, it has a fine reputation. It has done quite well. Given the skill sets required for it to perhaps make a further and more important contribution, I think I might be the right person.

Q2 Chair : The whole process has taken a long time. We have delayed this hearing twice, and this is the third attempt to get here. It seems to have been very protracted. Because of the protracted nature of the selection process, you will be expected to take up your position, I think, on 1 April. Has all of that process, and the fact that you have had very little time to prepare before taking up what will be quite a challenging role, caused you any kind of difficulties?

Deep Sagar: Chair, I would say no difficulty at all. The process, I think, has been slow but rigorous and fair. I have learnt more as the process has gone along, because I applied for this in the middle of December and the first interview took place towards the end of January. Before that interview there was a psychometric process as well, and I met with a consultant. The process has helped me. In fact, the quickest part of the process has been arranging this hearing. I learnt less than a week ago that I was the preferred candidate. Thank you for asking, but I have had no difficulties and I feel absolutely prepared. Thank you.

Q3 Chair : As you were going through the interview process, was there anything that stumped you or that you found difficult, or where you were not quite sure what it was that they were asking?

Deep Sagar: When people began to talk, once in a while, of specific Government plans in terms of policies and where I might stand, that was slightly difficult. I see the role of the Committee and its Chair as not necessarily making policy but advising on regulations that might come on policy. It might sometimes advise on matters relating to policy where the Committee is asked, or where it is interested. Apart from that I have not had very many difficulties. People have been very collegial in the way things have been conducted. I have been able to bring my previous experience to bear.

As you would have noticed, one of the assets that I have is that I have worked directly with people on benefits. I did a job in Glasgow a few years ago where, for about two years I worked with benefit claimants and Welfare to Work directly. I would suggest to you that I met over 500 benefit claimants directly, as part of projects, and that really was very valuable. I worked with people in social housing, people with poor health, exoffenders, and so on, across the field. As you would probably agree, there are overlapping circles that interact in terms of this population. I feel relatively confident that I understand the scenario, and therefore I have been able to cope with whatever has been put to me.

Q4 Glenda Jackson: Good morning, and thank you for coming to see us. You lead a very busy life indeed. You hold a number of positions already. Are you going to retain them, or will you give them up? How much time do you think you can justifiably and exclusively give to the Committee?

Deep Sagar: That is absolutely a fair question. What I have in mind is something as follows: I am required to put in 60 days; my commitment would be to put in 60 more days, if necessary. That is absolutely clear. What happens with my portfolio just now is that the only appointment that has a significant time commitment within the working week is as Chair of Flood Risk Management Wales. I would hope to organise my diary around these two appointments. Usually, the way that life works for me during the working week, Monday to Friday, is that I still have about a day free, which I can devote to strategic issues that might have come up for the important organisations that I am supporting.

Two of my appointments are coming up for review in the next three months, and three others towards the end of the year. To be on the safe side, if I thought, based on advice, that I needed more time, I would hope to give up maybe one or two of those. That is my rough plan. Again, I am happy to consider advice from you and the secretariat as time goes along.

Q5 Glenda Jackson: I suppose in that instance, the proof of the pudding will be in the actual eating. You are prepared to prioritise the SSAC over other commitments that you have at the moment, should that need arise?

Deep Sagar: Clearly my priorities are the chairing roles. Within the chairing roles, chairing this Committee and chairing Flood Risk Management Wales are of a totally different character, so yes, I would absolutely prioritise those two.

Q6 Glenda Jackson: As a concomitant to the first question, are you a member of a political party? Are you affiliated to any organisation that could be deemed to have a political input, such as think tanks or anything of that nature?

Deep Sagar: No. Not at all.

Glenda Jackson: That is precise enough. Thank you.

Q7 Mr Heald: Could I just ask one question arising out of Glenda Jackson’s? You mentioned that you have three positions coming up, and there were another three. Can you just tell us what they are? I only have five on my list, and you mentioned six.

Deep Sagar: There are two and three, as I mentioned. Of the two coming up for review in the next few months, the first one is Commissioner of the National Lottery Commission, and the second one is NonExecutive Director of the Planning Inspectorate. The National Lottery Commission is going through a merger process with the Gambling Commission. My appointment will come up for review around July or August. My first term is ending.

Q8 Mr Heald: I thought that you said that three were coming up.

Deep Sagar: There are three coming up later in the year. I will explain to you. I did suggest two plus three, two in the next few months-

Q9 Mr Heald: I thought you said three and three.

Deep Sagar: Sorry. I did say two and three, but I might have made a mistake.

Mr Heald: It is alright.

Chair : I think we have got that.

Q10 Andrew Bingham: Your CV is very full and busy, and you have a lot of experience in the private sector. You have spoken to us about your time working with benefit claimants, so you have answered a little bit of what I was going to ask you. But, given your private sector work, do you think that you will see advantages and disadvantages from having that background in this role?

Deep Sagar: There are definitely advantages, and I can suggest some to you. Let me think about whether there are any disadvantages. Yes, possibly. There are clearly advantages. My private-sector background has given me a passion for thinking about consumers. You do not produce results, I believe, from my sort of background, if you have not thought about consumers and the public you want to interact with and perhaps get money out of. Secondly, I have experience of leadership of organisations, what that involves, working with people, dealing with complexity. Thirdly, keeping a focus on strategic issues, and fourthly, building relationships, doing the right sort of analysis, and so on and so forth. I would suggest to you that all those things are positives.

The slight disadvantage is that you start with the need to build credibility in the public sector. I suggest to you that I have done that time and time again. Most of the stuff that you are doing at leadership levels, as you might agree, is with a team of people. With the help of colleagues, you can get past that initial barrier.

Q11 Andrew Bingham: So you are quite confident that you will be able to build a level of trust with stakeholders in this role?

Deep Sagar: I think so. Again, I suggest to you that if you look at my background, I have done it time and time again with the help of people. I have led similar committees of talented and eminent people. I will give you a couple of examples: chairing the Leasehold Advisory Service, or chairing the Reducing ReOffending Partnership South West. There were all sorts of eminent people on those bodies. The latter was an advisory committee not dissimilar to this one. I was able to bring their talents to a consensus, and move towards concrete results.

In terms of stakeholders, I suggest to you my chairing of NHS 24 might be an example. As some of you might know, in the year that I took over NHS 24 as Chair, it was described in the press every week as a "beleaguered organisation". Important opinion leaders, including some important politicians, wanted it to be closed down. I worked with the team, with colleagues and with stakeholders on a very organised basis. Just six months later, the Health Minister certified the organisation as remarkably successful. These are quotations from his official report, and what the media quoted. The stakeholders did not disagree. I would suggest to you that I have that confidence that, with the help of colleagues, I would be able to do that.

Q12 Andrew Bingham: You said that you had done two years’ work with benefit claimants. Can you just tell us a bit more about that-the actual nuts and bolts of what you did?

Deep Sagar: Yes. From 2004 to 2006 I was Director of Glasgow Employer Coalition. In effect it was a publicprivate partnership, funded eventually by DWP. In practice, the job was getting the private sector, and employers in particular, involved in Welfare to Work-moving benefit claimants to jobs or training. I led that organisation, and the things that we were able to do were roughly as follows: firstly, we carried out innovative test projects that could be replicated and expanded by mainstream organisations if the model was right. For example, one of the test projects that I was able to bring in we called eventscumfollowup projects. We put subsets of benefit claimants, people on unemployment or inactivity benefits, into a hall together with employers. It was almost like speed dating. The ideal result was that people got a job out of that conversation; the less ideal result was that they got to know a bit more. For a small section of that population we aimed to set up specific tailored projects with those employers. We had a group of people who were on incapacity benefit and disabled people. We had people with no qualifications in another group. We had refugees in another group, and lone parents in another. There were other examples of those innovative projects.

The second part was to contribute strategically to the agenda, bringing businesses in. For that period of time we were able to bring in a sizeable number of businesses and organisations to support the Welfare to Work agenda, working either with that organisation, with Jobcentre Plus, or with other providers. The third contribution was to have the whole Welfare to Work value chain working under a partnership model. There were over 150 organisations at that time claiming to work in Welfare to Work. I think that one of your advisers, Alan McGregor, is probably the same gentleman who did a study for us, getting that number out. We were supporting the idea that everyone worked in synergy. That is roughly what we did.

Q13 Andrew Bingham: So you were not working directly with the claimants yourself? You have not sat in a room with benefit claimants and listened to their tales, and stories, and experiences?

Deep Sagar: Part of the work involved that, because one had to learn exactly what the issues were. When I started, professionals gave me this general answer: there were 110,000 people on jobrelated benefits in Glasgow, which is a very high number when the population is only 400,000 to 500,000. My question used to be, "Why is the number so high, and why is it not reducing?" The rote answer came back, and from professionals who were very wellminded, "Firstly, people on benefits do not want to work, and secondly, these businesses do not want to employ them." Of course I and my colleagues had to go down and learn. When I actually knocked on people’s doors and talked to people, my impressions were quite different. Benefit claimants said, "We do not trust the system. We do not know what is possible." Of course, there are a minority of whom you could say that they did not want to work. Businesses would say: "We want to help, but we do not have the time. Make it possible for us to help." So we started building those projects.

Yes, on most projects, day to day, I would not have gone and sat with benefit claimants, but that particular model that I gave you, of eventscumfollowup projects, happened in a day. I would organise it with the help of other organisations and colleagues. The benefit claimants came there through charities who worked with benefit claimants, and through Jobcentre Plus. The businesses came through our direct contacts.

Q14 Karen Bradley: Thank you for coming to see us this morning. You have mentioned the private sector versus the public sector. I wonder if you could expand on what you see as the differences between working in the private sector and the public sector, in your experience.

Deep Sagar: Let my try to think on the spot. There are differences. In the private sector, what I found was clarity of objectives, number one-what you are trying to do. What I also found was focus on some big things, such as profit, revenue and volume, which relate back to the first point. What I found was clear emphasis on delivering that effectiveness in an efficient manner, so you would not necessarily waste money. What I found was a focus on training up the right resources and skills. You built up an organisation and you would want it to grow. There was also a competitive focus, because typically most fields in which you operated were competitive.

In the public sector so far, I would say that the differences I have found are sometimes a lack of clarity about what you want to do, greater complexity, and nobler objectives. It is not about selling Coke, for example, which I was trying to do. Getting people to change their minds from living on benefits to not living on benefits, or getting an exoffender not to reoffend, are much bigger and tougher objectives. They are not only complex, but sometimes, in the way people are approaching them, they are probably not as clear. They have not simplified them in terms of effectiveness. There are difficulties in getting stakeholders aligned, which I have also found to be an issue. What else have I found in the public sector? Sometimes there is not really the right support for people who want to deliver. I have found very wellintentioned, very motivated people, who come in with the right motives, but for some reason the organisation, the leadership and the systems do not seem to be giving them the support that they need. I have found the public sector much more challenging, but I think that even so I have brought some value to this area. With the help of colleagues, I have seen good examples of achievement, and it can only get better.

Q15 Kate Green: Thank you very much. First of all, I just wanted to pick up on something that the Chair was asking about regarding the timescale. Has it been possible for you to have a handover with the outgoing chair, Sir Richard Tilt?

Deep Sagar: No. I am afraid that I have not met him at all. I have read about some of the evidence that he has given, and I saw, in preparation for this Committee, one of the evidence sessions that he had, I think, with Welfare Reform Bill Committee. However, I have not met him at all. I have had, in fact, just a cursory conversation with the Department: there has been no real briefing and no handover.

Q16 Kate Green: So you are jumping in at the deep end next week?

Deep Sagar: I am happy to do that, if you agree.

Q17 Kate Green: The subject matter that the Social Security Advisory Committee deals with is very, very technical and quite complex. It is also undergoing rapid and extensive change as a result of the Government’s welfare reforms and ambitious proposals in relation to pensions. You have touched already on the issue of credibility with stakeholders. I wonder if you could explain to us how you will ensure that you are up to speed on the most recent developments and their likely impact, and how you will be able to convince the technical experts that you are on top of your brief?

Deep Sagar: Let me address your question in two parts, if that is okay with you-firstly the technical side, and then the credibility with stakeholders. If I have missed something, do let me know. I think that as far as the technical bit is concerned, I see that as another challenge that I have faced in different areas. I suggest to you that if the will is there, and you take help from the right people, lots of technicalities can be simplified. I have demonstrated that in area after area. I will give just a couple of examples to do with the technicalities.

I am a Member of the Parole Board, taking decisions about parole. I have mastered the complicated criminal law system that operates. I know the difference between determinate, indeterminate and extended sentences, for example. When looking at those decisions, I am faced with professional judgments from technical experts such as psychiatrists, psychologists and all sorts of professionals. You have to make some sense of what are typically contradictory opinions, because they are talking about somebody’s mind and what they might do tomorrow. I have to use the science of risk management and the common sense and experience that I have about risk management and what might happen tomorrow, based on my experience and what the science tells you. Finally, there are legal arguments, mostly with barristers on both sides. I have been able to do that.

By way of another example, I was a member of the Casino Advisory Panel, which was dealing with a very controversial, sensitive issue, as you might remember, about 17 new casinos, including the socalled supercasino. I had to look at the socioeconomic analysis of over 60 applications with colleagues. We had to look at the legal, economic and social side, and so on and so forth. I did that very rigorously, very openly and in a lot of detail. I think that I have done that. I would hope to adopt a similar approach.

In terms of building credibility with stakeholders, I suggest to you that the fact that I have some direct exposure to the welfare area is an asset. The fact that I have kept up with the subject, as someone who is interested, is an asset. For example, I contributed to the Employability Framework for Scotland, and the Welfare Reform Green Paper that the last Government brought out. I think that that is an asset. The rest of it is down to doing what people need to do. When I go into a job, I would have something like three parallel tracks operating. The first track is that the Committee should operate with business as usual. Work does not stop just because a new Chair has taken over. The second track is that I have to come up to speed, so I read, meet the right sorts of people, go to the right sorts of places, and hopefully, in a maximum of three months’ time, I am up to speed and have some rough ideas. The third track is about building the Committee in terms of a team, building onetoone relationships, linking up with stakeholders, etc. Again, you can coordinate back to those three months and say: "What ideas would I bring to bear?" Hopefully, the business plan after three months would be bought into by everybody. That would be my rough approach.

Q18 Kate Green: Do you feel that you have a sense of the extent and complexity of our social security system? I am very impressed by somebody who can be up to speed in three months. I have been working in this field for 10 years and I still feel like quite a beginner in it. I wonder what reading you have done so far-not into the employment side, where I think you have very good experience, as you have described to us-on the social security side, the regulations and so on. Have you been able to look at the regulatory framework?

Deep Sagar: I have done some reading. If, by regulatory framework, you are referring to every single order that is laid down and that has come before this Committee, SSAC for short, if I might use that, no I have not. I have looked at the summaries, and I have looked at the consultation documents, etc. I think that I could talk to you fairly knowledgeably about the Welfare Reform Green Paper and the Change Programme that this new Government and the Secretary of State have brought. I could tell you where Universal Credit is-the Bill is going through-and what is happening on, say, incapacity benefits and work capability assessments. I could talk about housing benefits, and the fact that you have been able to get the Department to agree, for example, that an independent review should be conducted of the impact of the policy on housing. I could talk fairly knowledgeably with you, I think, as somebody relatively new to those issues in terms of the deep end. I am willing to learn. I would not say that in three months I would be an expert, but I think that the confidence I have is that I understand what a Chair is supposed to do. The Chair is supposed to live the values, represent and be an ambassador. I would not claim to be the expert. I would have a Committee behind me, and staff behind me, who would be delving into the detail, giving me the right advice, and so on and so forth. I hope that with the help of other people, my confidence that I can do it is not misplaced.

Q19 Kate Green: On the broad view that you have given us on some of the current issues in relation to welfare reform and the Government’s programme, one of the traditional roles that SSAC has fulfilled has been to be a critical friend of Government. I wonder, fulfilling that role, what your impression might be of the danger zones or risks that you would be flagging up to Government now in relation to their welfare reform proposals?

Deep Sagar: Can I suggest to you that, clearly, I see my role, if I became Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee, being to represent the consensual view on behalf of the Committee. I would hope to develop my views with greater knowledge and over time. Hopefully, if there were an opportunity later, I would be able to come back and tell you. Therefore I can only talk about my personal instincts now, which is what you are asking me about.

Kate Green: That would be interesting.

Deep Sagar: My personal instincts are as follows. They arise from that intimate knowledge of what happens with benefit claimants. I genuinely believe that the number of people with talent who have been living on benefits, which are very small amounts, and living unproductive lives is a tragedy. My instincts are that the ambition of the Government is exactly right. I applaud them for it. Why should so many people be living those lives on those small amounts of benefits? Can you support them to move on, to live better and more productive lives, for themselves, for society and for the economy? Work is exactly the right solution. My instincts again are that it is absolutely right to look at fraud and error in the system, and to reduce that. My instincts are that it is perhaps appropriate to say that people drawing benefits do not necessarily get more money relative to the rest of the population.

Q20 Kate Green: Do you think that they do now?

Deep Sagar: I think that one of the planks that the Government has recently said is that there should be a cap on all benefits put together.

Q21 Kate Green: What is your view of that?

Deep Sagar: My instinct is that morally it is the right thing to do, as long as you can build a system that is fair and reasonable in terms of implementation. If you can be sensitive about the most vulnerable cases, for example through the Social Fund and others, it is not an unreasonable thing to do. My instincts are that the ambition is exactly right, but perhaps some more working through with stakeholders, taking the community with you, would be helpful. My own instinct is that if you ask an average benefit claimant, they would not disagree with this, regardless of what stakeholder organisations have said. My own instinct is that stakeholder organisations are excellent, those charities that are supporting those bodies, and I have very good experiences with them. However, over a period of time, like any organisation you become advocates of causes, rather than advocates of people. That is my instinct. The average person, I think, is as sensible as we are. I think that they take a rounder view of stuff, and that is my experience.

Q22 Kate Green: I think that that is a really interesting analysis. I agree with what you say about the advocacy bodies, and I ran advocacy bodies for 10 years. But I do think that it is a particularly technical area that SSAC addresses. It is not just the broad impressions that people have of the benefits system, and of getting people into work. It is about the way in which a national system of rights and entitlements, within a legal framework, are applied to benefits recipients. In that context, I was very interested in an article that I read that you had written last year, suggesting that the benefits system could, in a sense, be privatised and passed out to the third sector or local players to deliver. Do you feel that that might call into question your authority or credibility in evaluating a national welfare system and ensuring that it delivers effectively?

Deep Sagar: I am flattered that you have read it-I think that you are referring to The Guardian publication, which was focussed on an independent view of criminal justice, to do with indeterminate sentences for public protection. Dame Anne Owers was representing a very powerful lobby, which says that that particular sentence has not been effective. My personal experience is that that sentence has had a very good impact on people who have committed a series of violent or sexual offences. I do not think that I suggested privatisation in that article at all. Where I went on to from there was trying to highlight the point that, when you are looking at exoffenders and disadvantaged people, you have to acknowledge that the reality is very complex. There are these overlapping circles of disadvantage applying to many people who are in this population of roughly 5 million or 6 million at the bottom, unfortunately. These include social housing, poor health, addictions, possibly some crime, lack of opportunity, and poor qualifications. A host of those issues are applying together. I think that in trying to support people, one has to act on every aspect. That is not to say that because you have to act on every aspect, things will not change. That is one point that I was making.

The second point that I was making was that actual concrete results happen under local delivery. Yes, you can have a grand design, but at the end of the day, this work is about sitting opposite a particular benefit claimant, understanding their situation, supporting them in a tailored way to move forward. Because it has to be local delivery, I think that it is exactly appropriate for organisations to think about who has the best local knowledge and skills. Yes, with that in mind, looking at charities and other organisations that can support the public sector is entirely appropriate. You might have a different model. I think that bringing in other organisations will of course raise standards because we will all start getting better. My experience was that, while I was Chair of Hertfordshire Probation, it was a monopoly provider. But as soon as the Government started looking, and saying, "We want you to become a Trust, and apply, and see whether you can compete in some areas," we started giving it better attention.

Q23 Kate Green: One last question from me, Chair, I promise. The model that you are describing is of overlapping experiences of disadvantage, which is absolutely correct, and of a personalised, potentially quite paternalistic response to those from people who support disadvantaged people. How do you see that sitting alongside a rightsbased social security system? How do you see the role of SSAC in ensuring that that rightsbased system operates effectively? I am just interested. I see the role of SSAC as being related to, but not quite in the same space as what you have been describing.

Deep Sagar: Once again I will start with the proviso that if I were the SSAC Chair, I would be representing consensual views, and that I would hope to develop my views with the help of other people and greater knowledge. My instincts, again, are as follows. Both of those things need not be conflicting. It is exactly appropriate to have a rightsbased system. There are some people who do need help. A system’s effectiveness actually increases in practice if people understand their rights and their entitlements.

One of my difficulties, for example, in the way that the system has been implemented so far is not only that it has been complicated, but actually consumers, the average person, do not understand it. You and I can get on to the internet, and click something, and do our online banking. Why is it that you and I can ask a question and the answer appears, "Tesco says, ‘That is the price.’" Why is it that, in the benefits system, if you looked at the regulations that were being implemented, apart from a couple of things, such as that you should not have assets or savings of more than £16,000, very few other things were clear? Most things ended up with, "If you do not have a job, you may be entitled to support. If you are unwell, you may be entitled to support." The power, in effect, is all in the hands of the bureaucrats, who may be very wellmeaning and welltrained. I respect people who have been working for Jobcentre Plus, for example. Having entitlements and rights is exactly right.

On the other hand, if a system and a policy have to work, you have to have some framework. Clearly, resources have to be considered. You have to consider how an organisation or a delivery mechanism will work. Therefore, with those issues in mind, you have to start drawing lines somewhere. Those lines could be considered arbitrary, but as long as you can draw lines that are widely considered to be fair and reasonable, I think that that approach is not necessarily wrong or in conflict with a rightsbased approach. Again, I hope that SSAC as a Committee can inform me about where it stands on these issues.

Q24 Glenda Jackson: Following on from that very comprehensive reply, the situation at the moment is that the Government is introducing a Bill that will bring about major changes in the existing system. We are led to believe that the detail of how these changes will be implemented is going to be in the main via regulations. There will be more, not fewer, regulations as far as the delivery of the assistance to people who genuinely need it is concerned. There will also be a vastly increased pool of people who will have to go down that road, who may never have been down that road before, because of changing circumstances over which they have absolutely no control. It is essentially that that I am asking you. The issue of regulations is central and essential to delivering the kind of changes that I think we all want to see in the system. I agree with you that it is overcomplex at the moment. How would you begin to approach that? I suppose at the bottom of this question is: would you feel that you were in a position to go to Government and say, "Listen, with the best will in the world, this is not going to work?"

Deep Sagar: Yes, of course. If and when necessary, I would absolutely do so. On the other hand, as you might agree with me, the best advisers build a productive relationship and work over the long term, and have something like a critical friend or nonexecutive approach. Yes, if and when necessary, I would absolutely go on behalf of the Committee and tell the Government that we do not agree. I think that everyone would agree with your point about difficult times. Who knows what might happen tomorrow? One can assume that probably there will be more difficult times, and that there may be a lot of people needing help.

I think that the point about the system not becoming more complex is a good one. My instinct is that SSAC as a Committee should continuously work on that. It should not be that with the right ambition we end up with a more difficult system in practice, because regulations have made them more complicated. I would hope that SSAC as a Committee, with the help of colleagues and stakeholders such as you, can keep that as one of the main priorities. I personally again have those instincts that it is not necessary for the system to become more complicated or complex in terms of regulations.

I know that I might be talking too much, so please do stop me if I am telling you unnecessary stuff. My instincts are that if someone tried to simplify the welfare, benefits and social security scenario into two categories, one would be "Means", where people are short of means, and two would be "Others". In the case that people are short of means, you are talking of a few specific big needs. Housing, clearly, is one of them. You are talking about living costs, maybe because you are unemployed. Living costs and housing are both perhaps then related to, say, size of family. You might have numbers of children. They also perhaps relate back to caring responsibilities, and perhaps to disability, because you might need some extra support because of that. Having covered those big causes, everything else that society or Parliament thinks is worth supporting can be put in other categories-for example, child benefit or anything else. If one tried to adopt that approach, my instinct is that regulations need not be more complicated. But I am not suggesting to you at all that I am not a novice. I am absolutely happy to learn as I go along.

Q25 Glenda Jackson: I was not for one moment wishing to imply that I thought you were a novice. The bit that you are missing out in that analysis, of course, is that the person who decides, as far as the claimant is concerned, is outside that frame. We are still unsure as a Committee in many instances of precisely what those qualifications will be for the increased need for the decisionmaker at the sharp end. As I say, the regulations still have yet to be published, but I take on board the point that you make. I am not as sanguine as you are about stakeholders all agreeing. That has never been my experience in this field, and I have not seen any major changes there.

The other question that I wanted to ask is that you refer a great deal to colleagues. Are these people that you know, or is this an overarching term for other members of the Committee? Are you in a position to be able to say, for example, "I do not find this colleague helpful. I would like that changed"? What is meant by the term "colleague", as far as your conception of it?

Deep Sagar: First, if I might just address this stakeholder point, I did not want to give you the impression that I am sanguine about stakeholders coming along. All I would suggest to you is I am relatively confident that, with my background, my interest, and my own capabilities, with the help of the Committee, we can make contributions that are positive. I think the will would be there.

Q26 Glenda Jackson: With respect, positive for whom? For the claimant, for Government, or for the general taxpayer?

Deep Sagar: Again, if I were Chair of the Committee, my instinct would be that they should be firstly positive in terms of DWP having better policies and regulations, which is the job of the Committee. Then, in effect, those policies and regulations would have to be better for the system as a whole and people on benefits, people needing social security. Otherwise there would be a contradiction. I am not sanguine, but I am just suggesting to you the will that I would have to work with others.

On this point about colleagues, I would suggest to you that in the initial instance it would be Committee members, the staff that support the Committee. It would also be people who would support the Committee with information, which means DWP officials and sometimes Ministers to explain what is happening. Then of course the Committee has to pull in information from stakeholders across the piece. I would personally say to the Committee that my instincts are that we should be listening to claimants as well, and getting that insight. I refer to colleagues in that sense. In a particular instance, one colleague, or one group, might be more important than another, but I am using it in that broad sense.

On the question of being able to say, "You are not being helpful," I think that as Chair it is one of my roles to build a Committee that is collegial, productive, and that produces the goods. One of the roles is that I have to use all the talents, so I have to work with the staff and the Committee to find the right formula. I would suggest to you that any leader or Chair would be having those conversations separately, so that you can support people both in their personal development and development of the Committee.

Kate Green: I just wanted to come in on that. I think that I am getting an impression of your skill and your approach to chairing a Committee, which is to draw together the input of experts, including your Committee members and staff, other stakeholders, and you have rightly mentioned benefits recipients themselves. What I am not sure about, therefore, is how you would arrive at a positioning judgment if there were disagreements between those Committee members, or if there were disagreements between the Committee and other influential stakeholders.

Glenda Jackson: Such as the Government.

Q27 Kate Green: I suppose that our concern really is that you are new to this technical field. How do you see yourself arriving at a clear position, which you will then represent on behalf of the Committee, when you have a range of opinions and views coming in to you?

Deep Sagar: Again, I would suggest to you that my experience of having done this a few times gives me the confidence I can do it. I have done it with similar Committees-I am chairing Flood Risk Management Wales, for example, which is an advisory committee of different talents and fairly eminent people. In terms of resolving differences and getting to consensus when you are new, or even otherwise, I see it as not just work that happens in a Committee. Work has to start happening beforehand. It is about first building a onetoone relationship with people, group relationship, and a group language. Then the Committee as a whole is already thinking about these things: that we work towards consensus, that we have specific interests, perhaps that some people shadow specific subjects, or that there are subcommittees that look at specific subjects, and what they consider.

Of course, inevitably, differences arise in Committees when you are looking at important subjects. In those cases, my experience in the way that I have tackled them is basically, firstly, reminding people that we want to go through with consensus, and secondly, isolating issues, rather than people, that are at issue. Then you can see whether there is some movement possible, through my input or that of others. My experience is that if the group language is okay, either you can park a particular issue to be considered later, if that is possible, or people generally move to reasonable positions. I do not want to sound overconfident. I would hope to work with the Committee, and sometimes take help. Once, working as Chair of Patchwork Community Housing Association when there were difficult issues, we agreed to hire a consultant to come and help us, because the organisation was facing survival issues as to what was to be done. I would hope to come and use those talents, build up a particular language and system, and resolve those sorts of things. The usual discipline is that the Committee talks with one voice externally, typically the Chair’s voice, that debates happen internally and that you take all kinds of help. As long as one follows these disciplines, over a period of time sensible people come to the right sorts of positions.

Chair : I think that Karen is going to expose some of that in her line of questioning, as well.

Q28 Karen Bradley: Turning to the SSAC itself, do you think that it has a clear strategic vision today?

Deep Sagar: Again, I can only give you my instincts. I respect the SSAC for its record, its fine reputation, the fact that everyone on record has been in support of it. It survived the recent review of arm’s length bodies, for example. Clearly it has been contributing the right sorts of things, and the candidate pack says very clearly that the Department values its role, and so on and so forth. My instincts, which I would hope to test with the Committee if I were to become Chair, are that the SSAC could be clearer along the following lines, while it has done very good work. First, in terms of the content of what it does, is it trying to do too much? Is it focussing on the right strategic things that really matter in these straitened times? For example, they recently did a report on disabled people’s access to public appointments. It is a worthy subject, but is it genuinely strategic relative to where you want to be? I would hope to test those sorts of instincts with SSAC.

Secondly, is SSAC clear enough about what its objectives are, apart from saying that it is advising the Secretary of State? Is it clear enough about what its measures of success are? Does it have a guiding belief as a Committee? What I mean by a guiding belief is, is it something like a critical friend, or is it a stakeholder representative, which it might appear to be because stakeholders really support it, and they consult stakeholders very widely? Or is it the consumer’s voice, as it seems to suggest? Does it have enough insight into actual benefit claimants, as opposed to picking something out secondhand from those stakeholders that is valuable?

Thirdly, my instincts are to test: does it have the right costeffective processes to attain those strategic objectives? What I mean by that is, is it complementary to other people like you, for example, who to an extent play a not too dissimilar role on that subject? Is it duplicative? If so, why so? For example, on housing benefit, it is possible that DWP had consultations with stakeholders. You have taken evidence from stakeholders, and it is possible that SSAC might have done a consultation exercise. I am not sure, but I think it needs to consider those sorts of issues. Finally, in the way it runs its meetings, is it using all those talents as fully as it could? For all I know they must be doing an excellent job, but I hope to test those things.

Q29 Karen Bradley: Thank you. One of the things we understand DWP has indicated that the new Chair will be required to do is "oversee implementation of a revised business model for SSAC". Could you expand on what you understand by this objective, and what you can bring to that from your previous experience?

Deep Sagar: Yes. I know a little. I asked this question of the Panel in the first interview. The answers that I got were roughly as follows. Firstly, there is an issue, as with every other public sector body, to look at economies, and how you could do what you are doing with slightly less. Secondly, there might be issues about considering how the Committee could best add value in relation to its remit. I was told that they would expect the new Chair to have an important role in influencing both of those things, in terms of where the business model goes. That is the sum total of my knowledge, I am afraid. I would look forward to adding my contribution to this piece. The fact that I have worked in business models elsewhere gives me the confidence that there will be contributions to make, and I hope to do that.

Q30 Karen Bradley: What do you see as the challenges, when you are faced with a change like that?

Deep Sagar: I think that the challenge, clearly, is keeping the ship on the road. I do not know the details, but if someone asks you to reduce the amount of money you spend, and there is a big agenda of welfare reform change and regulations coming through, how do you keep the ship on the road? How do you keep people motivated and focussed? How do you have a long-term vision where you are actually making a difference to DWP’s regulations and the lives of ordinary people who are dependent on social security? All of those are challenges, as with any change process. This will be even more complex, because the subject is so difficult, and I think that these are historic times.

Q31 Mr Heald: You mentioned earlier on the Hertfordshire Probation board, and that you had made a great transformation there as Chairman. Could you just explain what you did, and why you say that?

Deep Sagar: I am very proud of my association with that body. I learnt a lot there, and I was able to contribute. When I started, the organisation was not necessarily a robust performer, as measured by the Probation Directorate. There were issues such as the levels of reoffending being relatively high, and somebody who had been supervised by the probation service had gone and committed something very serious. There were issues about the organisation’s own robustness, the levels of personnel turnover, etc. All of those issues linked together. I was able to go there, work with the board, revise the board to some extent, work with the management and an excellent chief officer, and support the team to get through those performance issues and deliver the mandate for that county in that period. Levels of reoffending came down. Serious further offending came down, and the Probation Directorate shifted Hertfordshire Probation from something like amber to green, consistently, with all sorts of measures. The organisation was more robust.

In addition, we then qualified to become an autonomous trust, as per the programme that NOMS had started. I was particularly proud that I was able to lead the Board and the organisation to move to some radical changes that had to be demonstrated. To an extent, the criteria to become a trust were loaded against a small county and a small operation in size, like Hertfordshire Probation. The criteria were mainly about costeffectiveness. Can you demonstrate a 15% or 20% cost reduction in your budget? Can you demonstrate a business model that works for offenders? Can you demonstrate that stakeholders will go with you when you are considering those changes? With the help of the chief officer, the board and the management team, we were able to do that.

Q32 Mr Heald: You have mentioned two issues that I wanted to ask you about, which are quite difficult. One is the resources of the SSAC, given that there will be quite a large body of new regulations coming through, which you would be expected as a Committee to examine and report on. How are you going to do that with less money?

Deep Sagar: That is a good question, again. I would suggest to you that if I were to become the Chair, if necessary I could come back to you and give you a better analysis of where the Committee was and where I felt it was. It is a difficult question in principle.

Q33 Mr Heald: What would you do, if you did not have enough money to do the work?

Deep Sagar: The first thing that I would hope to do would be, with the Committee and the staff, and with the help of DWP’s sponsor colleagues, to examine what the details were, and see whether the Committee still operated effectively within a straitened budget.

Q34 Mr Heald: What if it could not?

Deep Sagar: If it could not, and we had reached a collective judgment, I would go back and have a chat with DWP colleagues and Ministers, and express a view. If at the end of all of that nothing did happen, I think that that is one of the things that I could perhaps bring before you, or other people who might be able to support us. I think that the independence and support necessary for the Committee is essential.

Q35 Mr Heald: You described the two operations, SSAC and what this Committee does, and you have talked about the risk of duplication and the possibility of avoiding it. How would we work effectively together?

Deep Sagar: I hope that the Committee and I could develop some sort of rough formula, which would be tested with you over time, with your help, if we were to go ahead. We need to recognise that our mandates are different. Your mandate, of course, is much wider in subject, and your mandate of holding the Department to account and scrutiny is slightly different from the mandate of SSAC. SSAC’s mandate is to advise DWP on secondary legislation and regulations, and anything else that they might come up with. Having said that, with the degree of commonality, I hope that we can develop some sort of complementary ways of operating, so that business plans and material are shared. I hope that over a period of time we could develop a partnership that would lead to concrete things. My own instincts would be that, if the Chair agreed, the Chair and the Chair of SSAC would meet once every quarter. The Committees could meet maybe once every year, and then develop a formula that hopefully works for everybody and produces results for both mandates.

Q36 Mr Heald: You mentioned not taking the same evidence from the same people. That is one way that you could avoid duplications, so I suppose from that you are thinking that you would lend us your consultation responses, and we would give you ours. Is there anything else?

Deep Sagar: Again, I would hope to develop those instincts, with the help of the Committee, over time. I hope that I could come back and talk to you about those things. My instincts are clearer about process, which is about these sorts of things. There should not be duplication of our process. The independence of both Committees is really paramount, and that must remain. We might have different interests, and we might disagree sometimes. It is always possible. With regard to subjects to cover, you have done a lot of work recently on housing benefit, for example, and persuaded the Department to commission an independent review. Therefore I would say that rationality and common sense dictate that SSAC should not delve into that just now, until there is a specific issue. That is the sort of instinct that I have on subjects.

Q37 Karen Bradley: I want to take us back to the relationship that your Committee has with Ministers. There have been some quite highprofile instances of Advisory Committees’ advice not being taken, and perhaps inappropriate press coverage of that, shall we say. I am curious to know what your views are on the situation of Ministers not taking the SSAC’s advice.

Deep Sagar: Clearly that is their entitlement. That is a democratic system. We are in the gift of Ministers, really, as SSAC. They sponsor the Committee, they ask for advice, and they fund it, and one must keep that in mind. SSAC, on the other hand, has to be totally independent. It must be proud of its independence and must give free and frank advice, with the objectives in mind. There are processes in place already where SSAC’s advice has to be made public. If there were other issues, they could easily be put into the Annual Report of the Committee. More than that, I would be happy to consider your advice. I do not think personally that SSAC’s role is to go out to the media, or necessarily to take a public stance. That is the mandate. There might be an odd occasion. However, this is not to say that you do not engage. You engage with the media. You engage with all stakeholders. I personally think that the media can be very useful in this sort of role, in telling you what the person on the street and the taxpayer feel, and what the average benefit claimant feels.

Q38 Chair : It is not just this Committee that depends on the analysis that SSAC carries out with regard to the regulations, but also those MPs who sit on statutory instruments committees. There is an element of trust that is required, because they do not have the technical expertise to pull apart the regulations to see whether they will work in the way that it is intended that they should work. How would you make sure the trust that already exists amongst MPs and the advice that comes from SSAC continues? As Mr Heald said, there might be a lack of resources that mean that SSAC is not able to give the kind of detailed analysis to some of the things that will come before this House at various times over the coming two or three years, as the big reform programme goes forward.

Deep Sagar: Chair, on stakeholder contact, I would hope SSAC has something like an ABC plan of Aclass, Bclass and Cclass stakeholders. My own instincts are, unless the Committee corrects me in its wisdom later, if that was to happen, that MPs, Committees and opinion leaders would be Aclass stakeholders. One of the main jobs of the Chair would be to continue that contact and that communication, and not necessarily just with this Committee. That was the first part of your question.

In terms of keeping track of regulations and giving advice, I genuinely believe that SSAC might be better served, if it tries to do fewer but more important things better, rather than every single regulation. That is, unless a regulation and implementation can be bad for benefit claimants and the objectives of the change programme, in which case of course it should address them. It should definitely record all of the regulations that have come through, and be open to taking advice and soundings from all stakeholders, including you, and to reviewing. SSAC has monthly meetings, so there is enough time for it to review that something has been missed out and this regulation needs to be looked at. I personally think, just to give you an example-I am sure that was your intention-that SSAC might be spending too much time on every single information product. Information and advertising is extremely critical, of course, but is it using its limited resources well, if it spends all its time on that, when there are major things to do with housing benefit, Universal Credit, etc, on the line?

Q39 Chair : Those of us who have been MPs for some time, and those of us who have been on this Committee for some time, will have examples of constituents coming to us who are caught in an almost catch22 cycle of regulation. We are fairly sure that the originators of the regulation did not intend it, but it happens nonetheless. Without the work of SSAC, that kind of difficulty can arise quite often. Often, as individual MPs, when we go back to Ministers and say that there is a problem with a regulation, the reply comes back, "But you voted for it." It is crucial in order for us to be able to do our scrutiny role effectively that we have the kind of technical expertise that has looked at the interplay between the different regulations, and how they might play out in practice. We need expertise that has looked at what will happen when a real person comes up against this minefield of interrelated regulations that have different effects, depending on their different and individual circumstances. People do have complex lives. How confident are you that as Chair of SSAC, that kind of detailed information will be available to us in order for us to do our scrutiny role?

Deep Sagar: Chair, I would be confident that SSAC has a good record in that respect. In all that I have read so far, I have not noticed that particular criticism, so I can see that it is a hypothetical point. That is one thing. The second thing that I would suggest to you, from my experience and if Committee members agreed, is there are ways of handling this sort of thing. What I would hope to do is to get them to agree that the secretariat, who seem to do a fine job there, address every single regulation. Then perhaps there would be a smaller subcommittee of one, two or three members who are particularly suited to that role, who vet that particular thing and then it goes ahead. In that way, not all the talents are necessarily being spent on that particular thing. It is as any group of people would do. You do not necessarily have to have everyone involved in every single thing. If one concentrates on things like that, I would hope that we can accomplish that task. But I would hope to test that particular model over time.

Q40 Kate Green: Can I just ask a very broad question? What do you think that the purpose of the social security system is?

Deep Sagar: My instincts are as follows. First, anyone in this society needing help, because they cannot sustain themselves, should get that help, and terms like "safety net" have been used. I think that is one purpose of the social security system. The second purpose is to support them to live better lives, whether through work or through other things. The third is to have support from society that this is a reasonable way of looking after people. If I have understood your question, I would suggest that it is those sorts of things.

Q41 Glenda Jackson: Another rather broad question: what is your definition of independence, as far as the Committee is concerned? What would be your line in the sand?

Deep Sagar: The definition of independence is clearly that the Committee independently reaches a view, which is part of the process, that it genuinely believes in something and expresses it. There should be no undue influence on what the Committee wants to say to the Secretary of State when it comments on regulations or issues that have been brought before it. I think that the line in the sand is really about expressing strong disquiet, say, with Ministers on a particular regulation or a particular issue, and I think that the Committee should feel confident in doing that, if it has a just evidential cause. If you go back to my background, I wrote that piece in The Guardian just because I felt very strongly that point had to be made against a very strong lobby. I think that fact should give you confidence that I, as Chair, would safeguard that independence.

Chair : On that very important last word, can we draw this hearing to a close? Can I say thank you very much for coming along this morning. I realise that it is quite a daunting thing facing such a big room, and the inquisitive nature of our questions, but thank you very much. We will now agree our report. I think that you will get a copy of it tomorrow, and it will be published on Friday. I think that we have something pencilled into the diary, where your Committee and our Committee will have an informal meeting. I look forward to that, as the Committee will. The offer of meeting regularly is certainly one that I would welcome as Chair. It is certainly something that I had with the previous Chair. Thank you for that offer, as well, and no doubt we will be in touch.

Deep Sagar: Thank you, Chair.

Chair : Thank you very much for this morning.