Examination of Witnesses (Questions 201-249)
Q201 Robert Halfon:
Why can it not lend directly? Why do there need to be intermediaries?
If a little charity in my constituency comes to the Big Society
bank, why can it not get access to funds?
Adrian Brown: The
Big Society bank is not being constituted as a direct lender in
that way. That is how it is being set up. Gareth will know more
Robert Halfon: In essence,
it means that it will still be decided by the great and the good.
Q202 Chair: We
are taking evidence next week on the Big Society bank, so perhaps
we can leave that. On the question of contracting, we all know
that the public sector tends to migrate towards larger providers.
How do we get through to the smaller providers, which tend to
be the mutuals?
Adrian Brown: I
think you have to ask: why does the public sector do that?
Chair: Because it does
not have the capacity to deal with it.
Adrian Brown: Because
it is a lot easier to deal with fewer larger contracts with people
with a track record of doing what you have asked them to do and
can provide the data you need to see that they have done it. In
future what one would hope according to the Big Society logic
is that commissioners change their mindsets andto go back
to my definition of deployment of resources efficiently, effectively
and easilydo not think how they can get the resources out
and commission services that will achieve what they want to achieve
but instead think how they can tap into a much wider range of
resources, which would force them, if they were thinking in that
broader sense, to start approaching maybe smaller charities and
organisations that they would not necessarily turn to just because
it was a big, easy contract for them to write.
Q203 Chair: You
need different people with different skills, don't you?
Adrian Brown: I
would have thought so.
If I may come back to the idea of scale, some problems in public
services are big. Yesterday we had a conference of international
health reformers. Some of the people there were from Valencia
in Spain. What they have done in that region is divide up their
health regions into 25 big sections each having hundreds of thousands
Q204 Kelvin Hopkins:
Like PCTs, but they ask private-sector organisations to run them,
and they do that at a cost that is at least 25% less than the
public-sector operators, and they have just as good, if not better,
quality metrics. It is a huge success and they are very proud
of it. But the point is that one organisation is responsible for
the health service. Because of that they have been able to bring
together primary and secondary care. I will not go on about it,
but it is a perfect model of what this Government want to do.
Q205 Lindsay Roy:
We seem to be preoccupied with profit-making companies and financial
profit. As far as I am concerned profit is endemic in all of this
and it is about dividends, benefits and improvements. Whether
it is a private enterprise company, a mutual or a local authority,
it is bringing the biggest dividends you can to the people who
Perhaps the profit-making organisations have scale and they will
be able to make progress quite quickly on this agenda.
Q206 Lindsay Roy:
All I am saying is: let's not get it out of perspective.
Perhaps, but let's not forget the benefits of speed of action.
This talk of other ideas creates uncertainty and prevents investors
wanting to come in to finance all of this. There is no sign of
a wave of investment in public services of a new kind, which is
what the Government were hoping for, and this talk of different
models is hindering that.
Q207 Alun Cairns:
Mr Davies, obviously the Government are keen to see more public-sector
mutuals and social enterprises, but do you think that the Civil
Service and other public-sector agency staff are geared up to
allow and facilitate that to happen?
There is a range of action on mutuals. First, there are the 21
pathfinder areas and a range of quite small examples where we
are partnering organisations with what were public-sector bodies
but have been spun out to create some kind of social enterprise
structure. If you look in Cambridge, Tribal are working with the
families and children at risk to create an organisation focused
on problem families. Interestingly, the Cabinet Office has recently
announced reforms of the Civil Service pension administration.
We are now looking to create a mutual joint venture as a formal
structure and spin out the Civil Service administration, bring
in a private-sector partner and create a mutual environment. There
is a lot of interest there. More generally, we are already seeing
a lot of interest from civil servants across Whitehall to create
their own mutuals. What they see is the opportunity to have more
control and power over the services they provide and to sell their
services to other bits of the sector.
Q208 Alun Cairns:
I recognise that, but I want to highlight a situation where an
innovative, entrepreneurial civil servant, or group of civil servants,
thinks service can be delivered in a better way but it is not
in the interests of senior management within the Civil Service
to allow that to happen because their staff count would drop and,
I would expect, their terms and conditions would change as a result.
What is important, as ever with these reforms, is to get the incentives
right. One thing we are looking to bring in in the early autumn
is something we call the right to provide, where civil servants
have the right to put in a request to spin out as a mutual or
social enterprise, which then needs to be considered by Ministers.
They will have power to ask that, and that needs to be considered
transparently. The full details are being worked through, but
that is the way in which it will operate, just as in health you
already have a right to request to spin out to a social enterprise.
We have seen a lot of that in terms of social work practices.
The obvious example is Central Surrey Health. They have already
spun out and created a very viable organisation.
Q209 Alun Cairns:
The Localism Bill has a community right to challenge. Any group,
or even individuals within the local authority, can challenge
the local authority to deliver a particular service. Do you think
civil servants should be given the same right within national
agencies or within the Civil Service in general?
Yes, and that will be the right to provide. The right to challenge
will be for third sector bodies, communities and local authorities;
the right to provide will be for civil servants to spin out their
Q210 Alun Cairns:
I am still not clear from your answer about the response from
the senior management within the Civil Service, who really do
not want to see it or have not bought into the process, bearing
in mind that could well be their line management. I am thinking
of a situation with which I have been quite closely involved,
where an innovative civil servant came up with an idea and was
almost put on disciplinary action because he dared to share that
idea with me rather than his senior management. As soon as senior
management saw it, they sat on it.
I would be worrying if that was happening. As ever, in any large
organisation there will be mixed practice. Certainly, in the sessions
that I have been running with senior civil servants there is a
lot of interest. The critical way in which the right to provide
will operate is through that ministerial check. The fact is that
it will be considered by Ministers will allow civil servants to
bypass people who might be more resistant to ideas.
Q211 Alun Cairns:
Mr Brown, you talked about the risks of romanticising mutuals.
Do you want to share your thoughts on that?
Adrian Brown: I
think you are referring to a blog I wrote at the Institute for
Government. There is a danger with the mutuals agenda that, because
they sound very enticing, with people running their own services
and public servants being able to carve out their own bit and
have the freedoms and vision to go off and do it by themselves,
that very positive viewno doubt all those benefits are
realmasks the significant organisational and managerial
challenges of making that happen. That is why I think the Cabinet
Office is putting effort into the pathfinders.
As soon as you look at any particular area of public
service and say, "Can we make a mutual out of this?"
and think about the practicalities of doing that, then you can
imagine the legal implications of taking a piece of an organisation
and pulling out the staff contracts; you have to think about pensions,
etc. When this organisation is outside of the public service,
it has to fend for itself; it will have to have a business plan
and a long-term vision about how it will create value, and from
where it will get its income. It will have to manage its own IT
and back office functions in ways that probably it did not have
to think about before. All of that might be a price worth paying,
but we should not underestimate the challenges of all those things
when thinking about whether or not to go for mutuals. I think
I said in that blog that the tone of the debate tended to focus
far too much on mutuals as a wonderful, warm, glowing future place
where we could all head, and not very much on the quite dull managerial
challenges of making that happen.
Q212 Alun Cairns:
Are there inherent risks in mutuals because of their lack of access
to capital, for example?
Adrian Brown: I
think that is a risk, but I would say a greater risk is that,
even if a mutual can carve itself out and have access to capital
in order to do what it wants to do, it is suddenly opening itself
up to competition. Some of the bigger organisations, who are swimming
around in whatever space they happen to be mutualising themselves
into, will have a direct and immediate interest in the new kid
on the block and whether business is being taken away from them.
I would worry that the people who take these mutuals out suddenly
find themselves in a highly competitive situation and are up against
the big boys, and find that any bit of value that is worth having
will be immediately taken away from them, or they will find themselves
in a highly competitive position. That will be very challenging.
As you think about mutualisation, how you manage the transitional
period during which you go from the safe, protected waters as
part of the state to a future where you are out there fending
for yourself is extremely important.
Q213 Alun Cairns:
So, how should policy evolve to best manage that position?
Adrian Brown: I
think that transition has to be thought through a lot more because
it will take time. As many people have already said, a lot of
the elements of the Big Society are such fundamental changes to
the way the state is organising itself and the way the culture
of the people who work in the state develops that they do not
happen over night; they will not happen in one or two years. As
Matthew said, it is probably a 10- or 20-year vision. Therefore,
I think that on the mutuals agenda we need to be honest that certainly
it is great to have a vision where mutuals are a core part of
our public service delivery, but is that in the next six months?
I do not think so. It will have to be five or 10 years, and you
will have to take your time to manage this transition; otherwise,
you risk destroying everything in an instant because it will all
be competed away.
Q214 Alun Cairns:
Mr Taylor, do you have anything to add to that?
I think one has to distinguish between the goal of allowing parts
of the public sector to break away from being part of a huge bureaucracy,
and therefore to have more freedom to focus on a particular set
of functions and to be more entrepreneurial and develop different
ways of working and collaborating, and the question of governance.
How should those things be governed? At the risk of being repetitive,
it takes you back to what you are trying to achieve here. The
idea of mutualism is that it is a good idea that people who work
in an organisation have a stake in it, whether it is a financial
or governmental one. That is fine. It is an important idea. It
works in certain circumstances, but there are also downsides in
relation to flexibility, for example, and possibly in relation
to spontaneity. These organisations may want to spend a lot of
time talking about what they want to do rather than necessarily
I would concur with what Adrian said. On the one
hand, one needs to be pragmatic. I am in favour of greater plurality,
so it is good for any system to have different ways of doing things.
Let's have more mutuals, private sector, public sector and local
authorities; let's have lots of different ways of doing things.
I am in favour of that, but in terms of the specifics let's be
pragmatic and not underestimate the dangers; in particular, as
Adrian implied, remember that when we create a mutual how will
we ensure that it will stay in that position in three or five
years? How do we know that what we do not have is someone who
just comes in to asset strip it? We have seen what happened to
Southern Cross, which is a different kind of example. If you are
a medium-size organisation that has a good contract you are a
sitting duck for somebody to come along and take you over. How
do we vest these organisations with a long-term commitment to
Q215 Kelvin Hopkins:
Referring to the question of profit-making companies in what were
public services, Mr Brown and Mr Haldenby seemed to dismiss the
realities that mutuals can do very much and it will actually be
profit-driven private companies. What is the role of private companies
in future for delivering our public services?
Adrian Brown: Of
course, today private companies are responsible for delivering
a lot of public services, so again it is not a case that the Big
Society suddenly leads to an instant transformation in the role
of the private sector in the delivery of public services. That
is the reality and that has developed over quite a few years.
It is important to acknowledge that private companies do have
a role in this agenda because often the talk of Big Society has
been very much to emphasise charities and mutuals and perhaps
to downplay the role that the private sector can play. But, as
Matthew just said, the plurality of provision is one of the most
important parts of this, so the private sector undoubtedly has
a role to play in that mixed market.
As we have just been talking about, the challenge
will be: how do you balance the different types of incentives
that these different organisations have if they are out there
competing, directly or indirectly, for the same space? How do
you balance the different capacity of these organisations to access
capital and respond to Government tenders, which we have already
talked about, because one would imagine that the larger private-sector
organisations would be better placed to do a lot of those things
compared with the smaller nonprivate organisations.
Q216 Kelvin Hopkins:
So, we go through a temporary period of Maoist chaos and eventually
it all falls into the pockets of the global corporations who can
really do the job and make a lot of profit?
Adrian Brown: Only
if the commissioners of public services are completely blind to
their responsibility not just on a moment-by-moment basis to say,
"Have I procured the best value service today?" But
I think commissioners need to think about the long-term health
of the systems for which they are responsible. It sounds terribly
technocratic but it is the simplest way I can think of to describe
it. They should feel that they have responsibility to manage those
kinds of tensions in the long run.
Q217 Kelvin Hopkins:
Earlier Matthew Taylor talked about the importance of having competition,
profit, contestability and a variety of providers in the health
service. Elswehere in the world, the health service that is actually
private and competitive is in America. They spend twice the proportion
of their GDP on health than we do and get a less good service
with millions without any proper healthcare. Certainly, at one
time the most efficient health service, despite criticisms in
the world, was the National Health Service. In terms of equity
it was incomparable with America.
But a lot of our health and social care is provided through the
private sector. GPs are private contractors. Our care sector has
long been largely dominated by the private sector. Certain areas
of healthcare with very vulnerable patients, people with severe
mental illness, have also been provided by the independent sector,
for example quite a lot of secure accommodation.
Q218 Kelvin Hopkins:
You state the case, but I was coming on to that in my next example.
I am just saying that the system you are praising is already a
mixed market, so it obviously not a principled issue here.
Q219 Kelvin Hopkins:
But you are stating what exists. What we want is evidence that
one is better than another. Under the Blair Government we had
measures that effectively forced local authorities to close down
care homes and shift everything into the private sector, like
Southern Cross. It happened in my constituency. First-class care
homes, which were loved by the people who lived there, by the
staff who worked there and by the communities, were forcibly closed
down and now they are all in the hands of companies like Southern
Cross. Vast profits have been made out of that and put into rich
people's pockets. Is that the direction in which we are going?
There are lots of things to say, but we are going in the direction
of more efficient public services. For obvious reasons, that is
clearly associated with the financial and fiscal environment.
On care homes in particular, I think it is important not to single
out Southern Cross and deduce from that that the difficulties
of that company mean that the entire private social care
Q220 Kelvin Hopkins:
It is reported today in the press that other companies are in
Of course they are, but, hold on, let's have a look at the industry.
The industry of residential social care is in some difficulties,
in the case of Southern Cross because bad business decisions were
made, but, most importantly, because local authorities and people
themselves would now much prefer to be cared for in their own
homes, not residential care homes, so demand for those places
is falling and that business model is changing.
Q221 Kelvin Hopkins:
We all accept that people want to stay in their own homes but
some need residential care, which must be provided. Let's go to
another example. The health service is being pushed into a much
more-not mutual-but company-like arrangement with foundation hospitals.
They were forced through by the last Government. I voted against
them. We finished up with Mid-Staffordshire Hospital, where 400
people died as a result of setting up a foundation hospital driven
by commercial concerns.
One of the key conclusions of the inspection report on MidStaffordshire
was that managers had taken their eye off the ball because they
had been preoccupied with Government targets, not their responsibilities
to their local populations in being a foundation trust. One should
not generalise from individual cases. There are many examples
of successful private-sector delivery of healthcare.
Q222 Chair: Indeed,
foundation trusts are public sector organisations.
Yes, they are. But, to take the point about commercial, business-minded
organisations, there are many, many examples of successful private-sector
organisations in this country and overseas.
Q223 Chair: Would
that all our public hospitals had the same infection rates as
private-sector hospitals, but that is another matter. Perhaps
I may press Mr Davies on the role of private companies and the
leaked memo about the meeting between the Minister and the CBI.
Will there be a bias against big contractors and big private companies?
What is important is to maintain a diversity of suppliers. I think
that any good commissioning model will ensure that what you do
not do is lock yourself into a single provider. That is where
trouble lies. The key is to ensure a diverse range, be they profit
making, social enterprises or the public sector. It is about neutrality
Q224 Chair: So,
it was a message about neutrality and not about bias?
Neutrality is a level playing field. The key question is to make
sure you commission services at the right level.
Q225 Chair: I
think we have that on the record; it is very useful. Thank you
I know this will be a shocking thought for all of you, but if
it was incredibly difficult to find ways of giving contracts to
third sector organisations and small organisations and actually
they were all going to big organisations, what you might do is
have a meeting and let a memo be leaked that said you were trying
to do something very different. I see the political art being
played here. People are reassured by the memo but the reality
is that No. 10 and the Cabinet Office have not found a way
of making this a level playing field.
Q226 Chair: Policy
wonks are meant to be idealistic; politicians are meant to be
cynical. We have role reversal here. Perhaps we can move to accountability.
How does accountability work when you are diffusing decision making
through the system in the way that is being proposed here? Who
will be accountable for what? How do Ministers finish up being
accountable for the way public money is spent?
It is a big question, but I think that from the Government's point
of view that is one thing the open public services White Paper,
at least on the public services side, is supposed to answer. As
Matthew said earlier, different kinds of accountabilities are
being talked about throughout the public services, and it is a
bit hard to know what the Government's answer is to that yet.
Q227 Chair: But
you gave the Government a D on your score card on the issue of
accountability? Can you explain that?
In my view, in much of the public services, as we have talked
about, they should be accountable to the people who use them in
various different ways. In the case of the police, it is the local
electorates; in the case of schools, it is parents.
Q228 Chair: So,
Ministers should be able to tell Parliament, "No, that service
is not accountable to me but to its users"?
Yes. In Valencia, which I mentioned earlier, the Government set
the contract to the private company to deliver not all but most
healthcare for their citizens. They set the rate, which, from
memory, is 600 per year per citizen, and define what is
to be delivered for that money. It is the private company then
that is accountable for the delivery.
Adrian Brown: I
think this is an area that requires a lot more thought by the
Government. Without really robust alternative sources of accountability
that do not come through the Whitehall mechanism it is very difficult
for a Minister to stand up at the Dispatch Box and say
Q229 Chair: Our
recommendation will not say that the Government ought to think
about this. What should our recommendation be?
Adrian Brown: There
are five things that you need to get right if you are to think
of accountability. What are you accountable for? Are you accountable
for financial propriety or performance of the public service?
Different people could be held accountable for different aspects
of accountability. We seem to be clear on that. The problem we
have at the moment is that, because the vast majority of money
flows from the top down, that is where the accountability tends
to lie. There is an argument to suggest that, while that remains
the case, it is extremely difficult to push real accountability
away from the Treasury and the tax-raising powers at the centre.
Second, who are the people to be held to account
for these things? Third, who is holding them to account? Is it
the public? Is it people acting on their behalf or locally elected
politicians or local public servants? Fourth, how will that mechanism
of accountability operate? There are all sorts of different ways
that it could work. And fifth, crucially, what consequences flow
from accountability? If you do not have consequences accountability
is meaningless. On all of those questions across the whole of
the public service reform agenda there are a lot of blank spaces
at the moment.
Q230 Chair: So,
how would a Minister go about doing this? For each of the public
services under his control would he have an accountability memo,
say, which would be put out in a statement to Parliament, saying
this is what is being held accountable and by whom and how, so
Parliament is aware? Is that a method we could use without destroying
the principle of ministerial accountability?
Adrian Brown: Ministers
certainly need to be clear what they are and are not being held
to account for and then have good answers to those other questions.
The problem is that because good answers to those other questions
are often lackingto be honest, Ministers do not like standing
at the Dispatch Box and being accused of things over which they
do not feel they have controlthe natural inclination inevitably
as Governments mature in office is to pull accountability back
up. It takes real strength from the Government to
Q231 Paul Flynn:
A mature Government that is full of blanks and holes is a guarantee
Adrian Brown: It
will take time to fill in these blanks and for accountability
mechanisms themselves to mature. You cannot say over night that
now that you have an elected police commissioner, a mayor or voice
in a market, that is how it will work and you should feel happy
that is the case.
Q232 Paul Flynn:
I have been in public office for 49 years and have lived through
reorganisation after reorganisation. I cannot think of one of
them by any Government that paid any return for the losses, chaos
and disorganisation of the change itself. Would it not be a good
thing if perhaps we stepped away from the ferment of reorganisation?
I saw a gleam in the eye of Mr Haldenby when he talked about Valencia,
where they are to split everything up into 25 bits. I guarantee
that within a decade or two someone will say, "No, no; we
should join everything together for economies of scale."
This is a constant ferment. It is great for you guys, but would
it not be better if you all went into monasteries for about a
decade or two and let the Government run the system as it is?
I think the Government do want to leap into this ferment particularly
because of the position of the public finances, and it is absolutely
right that they have to save money.
Q233 Chair: Mr
Davies, what do you have to say about this? As we are trying to
implement the Big Society across Whitehall, how will accountability
I think it will differ from industry to service and will be based
on the users. I think that in some areas there will be individual
Q234 Chair: What
about using this IFG matrix?
I think there is a lot in what Adrian said. Different types of
accountability will work in different situations. Sometimes it
will be individual accountability; sometimes it needs to be more
community based. Local Government is an obvious example; an elected
chief commissioner is another; and sometimes it will happen nationally.
Ministers will still need to have some overall system responsibility.
Q235 Chair: Ministers
will need to specify who is to be accountable for what.
In any successful system what is important is clarity of accountability
Lindsay Roy: Are there
not five other basic benchmarks, whether it is micro or macro,
in relation to the Big Society initiative? They are fairly simple
questions. Where are we now? How do we know? What are we going
to do to improve? How will we improve it? How will we know whether
we are successful?
Chair: Mr Davies?
Paul Flynn: Five seconds
Q236 Chair: Do
you want to write to us on that one?
What are we trying to achieve? It is the Prime Minister's diagnosis
that, while we are richer as a country, we are more fragmented
and dislocated as a society. What we are trying to achieve is
an improvement of well-being. What does that look like in terms
of specific measures? I would look at measures of trust and people's
sense of power and connectedness. There are lots of different
Government data that we are still keeping in terms of DCMS and
ultimately society. That is all the attitudinal data. You do not
expect to see some behaviour change in terms of giving time and
money and the use of different powers, and also the role that
more wider independent providers play in public services. More
fundamentally, what are we as civil servants doing now? We are
implementing the coalition programme and we can be measured by
the achievement of the milestones in the business plans. They
would be the three tests that I would apply.
Q237 Lindsay Roy:
Do these five basic questions not relate to drugs and alcohol
misuse in a local community and a project there, right through
to the macro issue of the Big Society and the Government's initiative?
Obviously, I am looking at this from the Whitehall perspective,
but individual communities will face their own issues and problems.
Frankly, neither I nor any of my colleagues will ever have enough
information to tackle those problems, hence the importance of
pushing power down to the lowest possible level and commissioning
action at those levels.
Q238 Chair: What
you have just said is a very important point. The man in Whitehall
does not know best.
There is no way I can know what is going on in a range of communities.
But the objective is not to push power down.
Lindsay Roy: But the theme
of Big Society, whether it is about small or local initiatives,
is fairly simple. Where are we now? How do we know? What we are
going to do about it? How are we going to proceed? How will we
know we have been successful?
Chair: And what are the
consequences of all of this diversity of provision?
Q239 Kelvin Hopkins:
One very important point is that I do not think ordinary people
in the street have been asked what they want and who they want
to provide things. When they come to me they want me to deal with
a problem. If it is a private company I have to say that I do
not have any power over them. If it is a public service I can
write to a Minister, or at least to the council, and get somebody
to do something. They are publicly accountable. But the other
factor people want, apart from high-quality services, is fairness;
they want to be treated equally across the country and have equity.
If people feel that in one part of the country they get better
treatment than in another, they think it is wrong. How do we achieve
equity with the Maoist chaos that you are proposing?
In neither of those regards is public opinion as simple as you
suggest it is. Two-thirds of the public say they think more power
should be devolved to local level. Exactly the same proportion
says that public services should be the same wherever you live.
These are obviously rather contradictory positions. When it comes
to equality, what people care about is fairness, but that is procedural
fairness; it is fairness about the rules. They want to feel that
the rules have been fairly applied. I think that is where accountability
comes in. It is not so much equity that people demand as a sense
that what you get is what you deserve. You will know that the
thing that annoys people when you knock on doors in working-class
areas is less whether the system is fair and more whether someone
down the road is getting something they should not get, or, "My
next door neighbour is getting something that I did not get."
Q240 Kelvin Hopkins:
It is to do with equity, isn't it?
It is fairness rather than equity. I think accountability goes
to fairness, because one of the key criteria for accountability
is a sense of fairness. People want to see that public services
are being distributed in a way that is transparent.
Q241 Chair: That
sounds like you agree with Mr Hopkins.
No, I am not. When he says "the public thinks this",
very often what the public thinks is contradictory and depends
on what questions you ask them.
Q242 Chair: I
appreciate that, but we all know that the postcode lottery is
a natural consequence, and whatever the Government do and the
more equal they try to make things very often the less equal the
outcomes. It is seen as an obligation on Government to make things
About a year ago someone from the Department for Communities and
Local Government came to see me to make the case for localism.
They said, "What do we do about the postcode lottery?"
I said that that was the wrong way round and what we had to do
was start with the critique of centralism. The fact is that central
control has utterly failed to deliver equitable outcomes if you
look at survival rates in hospitals, school performance or police
performance. Labour had a highly centralised system. There was
no evidence at all that that led to more equitable outcomes. Therefore,
localism does have problems to do with postcode lottery, but let's
not posit that against a system of central control that led to
equitable outcomes, because it did not.
Recently, the London School of Economics published a study on
the first wave of Labour academies, which showed that their results
had improved much more than the national average. That is an instance
where decentralisation is leading towards that more equitable
level of results that you are hoping for.
Q243 Kelvin Hopkins:
We can argue from the particular to the general, which I think
is always a logical fallacy. People want equity. I think Matthew
Taylor made the point very strongly. Devolution to local authorities
is one thing; devolution to a private company, or even an unaccountable
charity, is something entirely different. Local authorities are
accountable because they are elected. When I go to a council and
say that somebody has been treated unfairly because one person
has been given a house and someone else in exactly the same position
has not been given a house, I have a case that can be made public
and can embarrass the council. My councillors have to react.
But the private companies or charities are accountable through
their contracts. Very often the contract is more transparent than
the existing arrangements. So, the idea that there is no leverage
over providers of public services if they are not public sector
organisations is not true.
I do not think this is absolutely right. There are different forms
of accountability. If I get a punnet of strawberries from Sainsbury's
and find that a couple are off and take it back, Sainsbury's will
change it on the spot. If I went to the council and said, "I
am not happy with the way you have collected my rubbish,"
it would take months and months. I am not saying that one is better
than the other, but there are different models of responsiveness
for different kinds of services. To suggest that the private sector
is inherently unresponsive and the public sector inherently responsive
flies in the face of people's experience. Different forms of accountability
and responses are needed in different contexts.
Adrian Brown: The
idea that just because a public service is delivered by a nonstate
actor, a private company or charity, it is not accountable is
wrong. That is a mistake. If we start with that assumption we
are not even looking at the possibilities of the rich way in which
they can be held to account. As to the term "postcode lottery",
a lottery implies that it is pot luck. Local accountability means
that you can do something about it. If you have in place really
strong local accountability mechanisms, which I accept are not
necessarily as mature as they could be in many public services,
then it is not actually a lottery; it is something that you can
do something about through whatever accountability mechanisms
are available to you.
Chair: Postcodes are a
far too collectivist notion for my liking.
Kelvin Hopkins: When people
come to see me and want to be housed, they want to be housed first
in a local authority home. Second, reluctantly they might go to
a housing association. The last thing they want is a private landlord.
Local authority housing is accountable; they know they can go
to a councillor. They come to me and we can get things done. They
do not want private landlords but sometimes they are forced into
Chair: You have made your
Q244 Lindsay Roy:
I think we would all agree that diversity is healthy. For me,
what is quite critical in terms of improvement is the sharing
of effective practice. To what extent is that part of the Big
Society initiative? How have people thought this through in terms
of exemplary work in a small location that can be transferred
That is a very good point. In certain areas I worry. I see a system
being replaced but I do not understand what system is to replace
it. If you take academies and free schools, I see a deep hostility
to local education authorities. Tony Blair had the same attitude,
so there is continuity there. But when we have thousands of academies
and free schools, what is the method by which those institutions
will share practice, resources and collaborate? There does not
seem to be any framework at all for collaboration, so it seems
that there is no interest in collaboration. If it happens, fine;
if it does not, fine. That is not the Big Society. I think that,
if the Big Society is about one thing, it is about encouraging
institutions to collaborate.
Q245 Lindsay Roy:
You touch a nerve. As a head teacher part of my role was to share
effective practice with other people. As a school inspector, in
the same way there was too much focus on inspection and not enough
on sharing effective practice.
It is the case that, particularly in the school sector, networks
of independent schoolsit could be in the state sectorare
coming together to share that best practice around school improvement,
but I agree with Matthew that I do not think that is part of the
Government's agenda, as it were.
Q246 Alun Cairns:
Mr Taylor, would not the point you are making about the Government
intervening to encourage or force collaboration, depending on
how you interpret it, fly in the face of the decentralisation
and localism agenda? Is it not right to say that these free academies
will start working together because it will be in their own interests
and the interests of those they seek to teach to do so? If it
is in their interests that is the whole purpose behind it. There
is ownership and responsibility, and that will facilitate co-operation
Again, I think you have to look at this on a sector-by-sector
basis. It may be in the interests of three schools and the communities
of those schools that they collaborate, but it may not be in the
interests of the best of those three schools to collaborate with
the other two. You look incredulous, but I could take you to almost
every education system in this country and would be able to point
to those schools that want to collaborate and those that do not.
It is the same with universities. Generally speaking, the higher
achieving the institution the lower its incentive to collaborate.
You do not need to collaborate; you are a high-achieving institution.
You get the students and pupils you want. Why do you need to collaborate?
Why do you want to sully your reputation by working with the school
down the road? Therefore, collaboration is a market failure and
that is why you need to create incentives for collaboration.
Q247 Chair: In
Colchester the two grammar schools are very anxious to collaborate
with the comprehensive sector because they want consent for the
diversity of provision across the whole system.
They want to maintain support for the 11-plus.
Q248 Chair: They
want to maintain consent for their selective education.
Exactlyso they have an interest of course.
Q249 Chair: They
have an interest, but I think that disproves your adage that a
high-achieving institution does not necessarily want to collaborate.
I am delighted that Colchester is a communitarian paradise, but
I can take you to other areas where the public spirit of head
teachers is somewhat less.
Chair: Do we have anything
further to add? I think it has been a very useful session. One
or two extremely useful nuggets have come out of it as well as
an enormous amount of background, in particular how the Cabinet
Office could take a more directive role in getting Government
departments to ask themselves the questions and produce the answers.
That may well be the thrust of our report, and certainly might
be the direction of the cross-examination of the Minister on this
question as we reach the end of our inquiry. Thank you very much
indeed. It has been a very rich session, and I am most grateful
to you all.