UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1582-vi

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Public Administration Committee

ROLE OF THE Head of the Civil Service

Monday 19 December 2011

Sir Bob Kerslake

Evidence heard in Public Questions 503 - 601

USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT

1.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.

2.

Any public use of, or reference to, the contents should make clear that neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

3.

Members who receive this for the purpose of correcting questions addressed by them to witnesses are asked to send corrections to the Committee Assistant.

4.

Prospective witnesses may receive this in preparation for any written or oral evidence they may in due course give to the Committee.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Public Administration Committee

on Monday 19 December 2011

Members present:

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)

Paul Flynn

Kelvin Hopkins

Greg Mulholland

Priti Patel

________________

Examination of Witness

Witness: Sir Bob Kerslake, Permanent Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government, gave evidence.

Q503 Chair: Welcome to this final evidence session on the future role of the Head of the Civil Service. Could you identify yourself for the record?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes, I am Bob Kerslake, Permanent Secretary of DCLG and soon to also be Head of the Civil Service.

Q504 Chair: Thank you. You very kindly sent us a letter. I wonder if it would be helpful if you could make a few points about your letter before we start our questions.

Sir Bob Kerslake: There are two or three things to say. Firstly, I am very excited about taking on the role of Head of the Civil Service. It plays particularly to my own experience of being involved in leading and managing big organisations. As I said in the letter, what I bring to the role is a combination of having spent a long time in public service, often dealing with civil servants, and now having spent over a year working as a Permanent Secretary. So I have a combination of having been in the civil service long enough to see its considerable strengths but not so long that I cannot also see the areas where it needs to focus on for improvement.

The second thing I would say is what the role is about. I think it about two key things: first of all providing visible leadership for the civil service, including taking responsibility for performance management of a number of the Permanent Secretaries, but it is also about being the champion of change. It is clear to me that whilst the Civil Service has great strengths it also has areas that it needs to change, not least because the world around it is changing and we need to respond to that.

A final point I would make before we go over into questions is that we have sent you some information on respective roles and responsibilities between myself and the Cabinet Secretary. What I would say is that the things we do together are as important as the things we do distinctively. We think that it sets out a pretty clear description of those roles but inevitably it is work in progress and we will build and develop that as we go into our new roles in the new year. I will stop there and invite questions.

Q505 Chair: Thank you very much. The emphasis of all this is very much on leadership, and your leadership. How does that leadership work? The Government has just rejected our proposal to make Cabinet Office more like an operational headquarters of Government; how does leadership work if you do not have the authority to direct?

Sir Bob Kerslake: In most organisations you perform the leadership role through a combination of direction and also influence. I very much see a key part of this job being to bring together the senior leadership of the civil service and get them behind a major programme of change as identified by Ministers and the Government.

So the first stage is to identify the "what": what is it that we think needs to change? A lot of work here has been done by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude. Your own Committee has done a lot of thinking about these issues and we need to pull all this together with other views to form an agenda for change, which as the Minister for the Cabinet Office told you last time he was here, will be available by the spring.

The second part is the "how": how do we organise the resources to deliver? I don’t think that is about the responsibility for direction, although there clearly are some areas where direction is appropriate. As much as anything, it is about harnessing the capacity of the civil service to get behind a clear and identified change programme. One part of the leverage I have is to draw on the resources from the Cabinet Office teams that worked specifically on this. So, for example, the civil service reform team will report pretty much directly to me. Secondly I also take on a role of performance-managing many of the Permanent Secretaries and I would expect, as part of that performance management, to assess them on how much they have played a part in leading the change process that I have talked about. So there are plenty of levers here to be effective in the role.

Q506 Chair: It sounds more like an act of persuasion than an act of leadership.

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is a combination of the two. Many people would say that good leaders are also very good at persuasion. Good leadership is both a combination of leading by direction and leading by influence and argument. It is both, but you must not underestimate the importance of the second part of it.

Q507 Chair: Do you expect to be as influential as, say, the Secretary of State in that Department?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think I will be influential in my role, as has been the case for any Head of the Civil Service, in driving change in the civil service. As I said earlier, I see the job as having two parts. The reason I was interested in the job, alongside being visible, is that it has a change dimension to it.

Q508 Chair: How do you avoid your priorities and your agenda being the second-tier priority compared to the Secretary of State’s agenda, which is likely to be much more day-to-day and much more pressing?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Many of the things that will be on the Secretary of State’s agenda for change-better programme management, more flexible ways of working, a strong senior civil service cadre and flatter structures-are things that are most effectively implemented if they are done in a coordinated way across the civil service. Part of the argument to Secretaries of State is, "You all have goals and ambitions for your Department; you have to save money and deliver more efficiently. You are likely to be able to deliver many of those goals as effectively, in fact more so, by collaborative working across the civil service." A good example of this is support service costs. If we are going to drive down the costs and improve the efficiency of support services, it is likely to be much more effective if this is done through a shared service model. The argument here is not whether it is about Ministers or corporate leadership of the civil service. Actually, you deliver Ministers’ objectives through effective corporate leadership.

Q509 Chair: You will only have relationships with some of the Permanent Secretaries, who have a direct report to you. Is your leadership and influence in some way limited to the delivery Departments rather than the cross-cutting Departments?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I will have a relationship with all Permanent Secretaries in one way or another, not least because they attend the regular weekly meetings we have and they are likely to be participants in the cross-Whitehall civil servant groups that we have in the future. So this is not simply a question of having a relationship with those who report to me. I will also link in with other Permanent Secretaries as well and they will be part of leading the change agenda that I have spoken about. What I am saying is that a specific lever that I have and that Jeremy has is through our performance management responsibility. So it is not just going to be just a relationship with those that report to me.

Q510 Chair: There must be a qualitative difference in the relationship between those who report to you and those who do not. How will you define that difference?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think there is a difference, clearly because in relation to their performance I am taking a direct role. This is a key point: if we have agreed an agenda for change, this will be something that I have signed up to and so also has Jeremy. Between the two of us, we will performancemanage all of the Permanent Secretaries. In that sense, every Permanent Secretary will still be held accountable for their contribution towards the change agenda, either though my performance management role or that of Jeremy.

Q511 Chair: So it is very dependent upon you two being held in parity of esteem.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Absolutely, yes.

Q512 Chair: How will you measure your success in delivering these priorities?

Sir Bob Kerslake: My success will come from a number of things; it will not be one measure. One part of my success will come from the visible leadership point. I cannot be known by every civil servant but I can be known of, and the sense in which I have been able to communicate across the civil service what the agenda is for the civil service, what it is strong on and what it should be recognised for as doing well, but also on what it needs to change.

The first test is whether I have achieved a level of visibility across the civil service about what I do and what the change agenda is. That is the first test. The second test is one you alluded to. I work collaboratively with the Cabinet Secretary on a shared agenda for change in the civil service. A third test will be that we are strengthening the capacity of the civil service to deliver on the Government’s agenda, which is after all the most critical part of my job. A fourth test will be whether I have put in place effective performance management arrangements that ensure that I know how individual Permanent Secretaries are performing. The final test is that I have harnessed the capability and capacity of the senior civil service on an agenda for change. Those would be the things I would pick out.

Chair: Those were five very crucial tests.

Q513 Paul Flynn: Who is the enforcer of the Ministerial Code?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The enforcer in terms of Ministers will be the Cabinet Secretary. My role would be in relation to the Civil Service Code.

Q514 Paul Flynn: What does Sir Philip Mawer do then?

Sir Bob Kerslake: As you know, there is a change being made there. In terms of who is the guardian of the code, it lies with the Cabinet Secretary, and clearly the successor to Sir Philip Mawer will play a key part in the case of where there are issues to be investigated.

Q515 Paul Flynn: It seems to say in the Ministerial Code that the sole enforcer is the holder of the office that Sir Philip Mawer holds now. No?

Sir Bob Kerslake: He clearly has a key role in terms of enforcing the code, but I thought your question was about who, between myself and the Cabinet Secretary, took that lead role. I am quite clear that, on ministerial matters, the Cabinet Secretary would be undertaking the investigation.

Q516 Paul Flynn: In the Fox/Werritty affair, there was evidence that civil servants from his Department had expressed their unhappiness to Liam Fox about his conduct, but did not pass that on outside the Department. Is this how they should behave?

Sir Bob Kerslake: In his review of the issues, Sir Gus made it clear that effective communication of issues arising in Departments through to the Cabinet Secretary is an important part of the system here.

Q517 Paul Flynn: In that particular case, and in another issue that was less important involving your Department, it was suggested that Ministers can divide themselves in two. On some occasions, they can behave privately; on other occasions, they can behave ministerially. The occasion with your Department involved the Secretary of State, who had a meal provided by Bell Pottinger, which could have been thought to be a lobbyist. The firm at the meal was seeking some favour with his Department, but he claimed that he was eating privately that night and not ministerially. There is a rather serious issue involved in the Fox/Werritty affair, where the Secretary of State, Werritty and one British official spoke to a group of Israelis who, according to The Daily Telegraph political correspondent, were Mossad, which is a matter of some interest, I would have thought, given the fact that we might be moving to a war with Iran.

Chair: Can we just get to a substantive question?

Paul Flynn: I have to give that background, I am afraid, to make sense of this. Do you think that, in the circumstances, there should not be a division between somebody eating or having meetings privately or ministerially?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There are two or three points to make on this. The first point to make is there is a distinction between an event that somebody is going to in a private capacity or in their capacity as an MP, which is different from their capacity as a Minister. As you know, the judgement on that issue ultimately lies with the Minister to make, but they very often do so with advice and discussion with their private office. There are clearly different ways in which such meetings are handled. If it is a meeting as a Minister, they will get a briefing and, very often, in most cases, someone from the private office will attend that meeting.

What I think we found in the Werritty case, if you look at the recommendations from Sir Gus, he said that, if there are meetings where substantive issues of departmental business are discussed, clearly someone from the private office should be there. At the very least, the meeting should be reported back. So I think there is a difference between the two types of meeting. What I think emerged in the Werritty review was that where a meeting occurs that palpably may have started as, or was thought to be, a private meeting but moves into departmental business, there has to be a reference back. I do not think you can drop the distinction between the two, but it needs handling with care. If you move into a different situation, you need to be aware of it.

Q518 Priti Patel: May I come back on the agenda for change and the objectives you highlighted to the Chairman? Are you aligned with the Cabinet Secretary on those five areas that you highlighted in terms of objectives? Is that something that you have both jointly signed up to? Do you have a working programme going forward or a timeframe for delivery of the objectives? When do you hope to see progress by? Do you have milestones of progress? What kind of immediate or significant differences do you expect to see and by when?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Are we agreed on the key priorities of the areas on which we want to work? Absolutely, and that is something we have had discussions on already. Is it yet in the form of a detailed programme? The answer is not yet. As I said at the beginning, work is in progress at this stage. Neither of us has formally started our jobs, but we have talked about moving fairly quickly towards agreeing a programme of activity. The key point here is to sort out the "what": what the programme for change is, building on what the MCO and others have said. That is something you would certainly want to see in place no later than the spring.

Once we have that, we can very clearly identify the milestones and measures of success on the change programme. The first stage is to establish that very clear programme. That does not mean to say-as a last point to make here-that everything waits for that. There is already a huge amount of change going on across the civil service. That will carry on. Specifically on your question of whether we have worked through a detailed programme yet, the answer is not yet, and that is something we will work on together in the new year.

Q519 Priti Patel: Do you view this as an ambitious programme of change?

Sir Bob Kerslake: What is going on already is pretty ambitious. If you talk to individual Permanent Secretaries about the scale of change they are making, the scale of reductions, the changes in role and the changes in the way services are provided, there is no question that it is already an ambitious programme. What we would not want to do is cut across that change programme, because that is a big task in itself. It is to find the ways in which the civil service itself needs to change, so it absolutely has the capacity and resources to deliver that change well. It is definitely an ambitious programme that will test the civil service across the piece.

Q520 Priti Patel: In your letter to us, you indicated your two roles. We would be quite interested to hear about the management between the two roles and the risks identified in undertaking these two parallel roles. How do you intend to manage these risks? Can we have more of an insight from you about how you envisage the use of your time, obviously within DCLG but also around this ambitious project of leadership and change in which you will be heavily involved?

Sir Bob Kerslake: That is a very good question. The first thing to say, and this is quite important in a way, is that there is a lot of misunderstanding in asking whether I am doing this job as Head of the Civil Service part time. The truth is it has been a parttime job almost since its inception. It has always been shared with another responsibility, either another Permanent Secretary’s responsibility, if you go back before 1981, or alternatively it was parked alongside the Cabinet Secretary role. It has always been a shared job; it is just that now it is being a shared job in a different way.

Where do the risks come and how am I managing them? Obviously one of the risks is that I put too much time into one or other aspect of the job to the detriment of the other job. I am absolutely clear in my mind that I can and will do justice to both jobs. I am absolutely clear about that. The way I think I am going to do that is through putting in place some very clear arrangements. First of all, I am clear that I will do around two days a week as Head of the Civil Service. I have identified broadly which two days they are likely to be every week. I have also identified which of the things I do in the Department I will now look to my deputy, David Prout, to do on my behalf and which I will retain. I have gone through each of the things that I do and divided them up in that way.

Alongside that, I have been very clear that I cannot do the job unless I have good support for the role. Two or three things are happening there. First of all, I will have a shared private office with the Cabinet Secretary. We will be located in two rooms alongside each other in the Cabinet Office with our private office right next to us. There is a very clear arrangement for that. I also have a team within the Cabinet Office that will head up the civil service reform programme to support me. We are going to strengthen some of the capacity of things like communications as well, which are a key part of visible leadership. So I will make absolutely sure that I have strong support arrangements, both from the Cabinet Office to support me in that role, and within CLG.

The final thing, as I touched on earlier, is that I am clear that the job of Head of the Civil Service cannot be done by me alone. I have to draw in other Permanent Secretary colleagues to lead large sections of that change programme. My job is to orchestrate that and provide overall leadership. In all those ways, I will make sure I keep both jobs effectively covered. One of the things I do is to meet regularly with Ministers in CLG. I will get their feedback directly as to whether or not things are falling between the cracks.

Q521 Priti Patel: Do you envisage spending a disproportionate amount of time in the early days being spent in your role as Head of the Civil Service, while strategically you get plans up and running? You have mentioned two days a week in that role, but obviously once you start to get the plans going, you have objectives and work things through-do you think that could increase to the detriment of DCLG? I know you have just outlined the support you will have at DCLG and that your deputy will take on key functions as well, but do you think there is enough flexibility, not just in terms of your work and approach but within the two jobs that you have, so that if one is slightly more demanding at one particular time then you will have the flexibility to switch over?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think so. I should have mentioned, in terms of support, that we are also moving to recruit a post that this Committee was very keen to see in place, which is a DirectorGeneral of Civil Service Reform, so we will put that in place. I think you are right that the early period may require more time to get things up and running as the Head of the Civil Service, but I will be very determined to keep the balance right, even allowing for that. There is enough flexibility here, partly because we have undergone a lot of the big changes in DCLG in the last year. For example, we have taken through the major Bill for the Localism Act; we have undertaken a very substantial restructuring and reduced the number of posts by 37%. Quite a lot of the building blocks for change in DCLG are in place now. That is not to say that the whole job is done, of course, but that will have helped to create the flexibility I need.

Q522 Priti Patel: Can I just ask one final question? I am genuinely intrigued by the two roles you will be managing. Have you thought about how many hours a week you will be working in total across those two Departments?

Sir Bob Kerslake: No. I have never counted the number of hours I do, but I am used to working pretty long weeks and hours, as is anybody at a senior level. That is unlikely to change in this new role.

Q523 Chair: Just moving to the costs of all this, we are advised-and I have been tabling a number of questions-that it is the intention that these changes at the top of the civil service should be costneutral. Is that your understanding?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes, it is. I am confident we will deliver that as well.

Q524 Chair: Does that include any additional seniority given to your DirectorsGeneral in your own Department?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes.

Q525 Chair: Will they be paid for that?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There is no intention to pay lots of extra money to the DGs. Where they take on particular additional tasks, we will deal with those as they arise, but we are not giving an acrosstheboard increase of salaries here.

Q526 Priti Patel: Just out of interest, are there any performance reward schemes in terms of the role you will be taking on? For example, if you meet your objectives, you are ahead of time and you have already brought about great change in a good period of time, although we hear it is supposed to be cost-neutral, are you aware of any bonuses that may come your way off the back of it?

Sir Bob Kerslake: As far as the current job is concerned at DCLG that did not involve a bonus scheme. I would envisage that the Head of the Civil Service role would be covered by the wider senior civil service bonus scheme, but the details of that have to be worked through.

Q527 Priti Patel: In previous witness sessions, we have heard concerns about the seniority of the post of the Head of the Civil Service compared to that of the Cabinet Secretary. Do you have any views on that at all, or any concerns? If so, how do you think you would be able to address them within the environment you are going to be working in?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Bluntly, I don’t have any concerns about that issue, going into the job. We are on the same level. We both report to the Prime Minister. We both have access to the Prime Minister in terms of issues. We both have an ability to attend Cabinet meetings. We will both be on the same salary. We will be sharing a private office. Going into the job, I don’t have any concerns about it at all. The test of it, in the end, will be whether I perform the job well. That will demonstrate the status of the role against the Cabinet Secretary, but it is not an issue that is a concern for me.

Q528 Priti Patel: Do you feel-I am genuinely interested in this-that, come what may in terms of giving advice, strategic leadership and dealing with some of the challenging aspects around change, both within the civil service and at the levels of other senior leaders and Permanent Secretaries as well, you will be able to bridge any hostility, difficult questions and challenges around the cultural change that you are looking to bring in? On the other side of the coin, you are equal with the Cabinet Secretary. Do you feel comfortable and able enough to speak your mind openly to, for example, the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister on some quite challenging issues and areas?

Sir Bob Kerslake: On the first question, which was around whether I would be able to command support and agreement from Permanent Secretaries, I do think that will come. Since getting the job, I have spent quite a bit of time going around and meeting Permanent Secretaries individually, getting their view of the world. There is a considerable appetite both to have a clear change programme and to deliver it together. That is a strong message that I pick up. Clearly each Permanent Secretary will have their own agendas in their own Departments, but there is no sense of people saying, "We want to do it on our own. We will go alone and we are not interested in working collaboratively." I have not experienced any of that. To a large part, that is a testament to what Sir Gus has achieved in this last period. I start from quite a strong position of acceptance of collective leadership in moving forward.

On your second question about giving clear and honest advice to Ministers, if I cannot do it there is a problem, because it is part of the code and I would expect to be able to do that as clearly and as honestly as I do to my current Secretary of State.

Q529 Priti Patel: Can I just come back to the first point, in terms of the discussions and being the advocate for change across the civil service? We have had previous witnesses who have referred to the culture, the siloised mentality across Departments and the fact that that is just the way it is, basically. There is not enough collaborative working. In the discussions you have had thus far are there any major barriers, obstacles or hurdles that you can envisage that have come to light already, which you can share with us?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I have not picked up anything that cannot be overcome. Of course every institution has inherited ways of behaving which we have to work on. What gives me confidence about this change agenda is that it is not just about internal drivers; there are external drivers as well. The drive for better value for money, the expectations of Government and the public-all of these things push you towards recognising an agenda for change and the need for it to be delivered collectively. In my view, yes, there will be frustrations and issues that come up along the way. Frankly, it is hard to see what those will be initially but, because of the underlying imperative, I think we will overcome them.

Q530 Kelvin Hopkins : Sir Bob, you are to line-manage Permanent Secretaries’ of delivery Departments, while the Cabinet Secretary is to line-manage Permanent Secretaries from crosscutting Departments. Which Departments will have Permanent Secretaries reporting to you and how will your relationship work in practice with the crosscutting Permanent Secretaries whom you do not line-manage?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I don’t have the full list, but I am happy to supply that to you, if that is what you want. I have a list of who that constitutes but, essentially, it covers the major delivery Departments that you would expect it to cover-Health, DEFRA, Defence and so on. I will give you the full list of them rather than reel them off now.

Q531 Chair: Could you give us that list in due course, because we have had an indication but we don’t feel we have had the definitive version?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I am happy to do that; it will take me five minutes to do that. Your second point is similar to the question that the Chair raised earlier. The point to make here is first of all, the agenda we move forward on will be one that is shared between myself and the Cabinet Secretary, so we will have dual ability to lever responses here. Secondly, it is not necessary to have every one of those Permanent Secretaries reporting to me for me to have a relationship with them on the change agenda. It might perhaps be easier if I give you an example. The Permanent Secretary at the Treasury will not report to me, because that is one of the crosscutting ones who will report to the Cabinet Secretary, but the Permanent Secretary of the Treasury will be on the civil service board that we have, which I will chair, and will contribute to that board. I don’t think it is necessary to have everyone line-managed by me to have a relationship with them. It is perfectly possible to make it work.

Q532 Kelvin Hopkins : A thought occurs to me: isn’t it rather important to have a role managing the big important Departments like the Treasury? The Treasury is so important. Having that taken out of your purview, so to speak-

Sir Bob Kerslake: I don’t think it was taken out. It was always clear when we set up the posts and they were advertised that we would share the responsibility of performance-managing Permanent Secretaries. If you think about the numbers involved here that makes absolute sense. Having come to that conclusion as part of the recruitment process, you then have to decide how best to divide it. There is no scientific answer to that. We felt collectively, when we spoke about this, that the best way of doing it was to have a clear distinction between those that were the major service Departments, if you like, and the crosscutting Departments. It was always part of the plan to share that responsibility, if nothing else than for practical reasons; it would be incredibly hard for one of us do all of the performance management alone.

Q533 Kelvin Hopkins : How do you plan to engage more Permanent Secretaries in delivering a crossGovernment agenda of civil service reforms?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Again, we touched on it earlier. First of all, I think they are already engaged because, for them, delivery of some of their key objectives can only happen if there is an effective crosscivilservice approach. Secondly, I think it will be part of the deal of being a Permanent Secretary that you do commit time and effort towards this agenda. That will be part of the performance management conversation that Jeremy and I would expect to have with them.

Q534 Kelvin Hopkins : One of your priorities is to effectively performance-manage the Permanent Secretary cadre. How will you assess your effectiveness? Given that, although you have a very distinguished record and obviously have very high ability, your experience has not been in central Government but in local government, do you think managing the Permanent Secretaries might be a bit of a challenge?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Clearly it is a learning thing for me. Like a lot of the aspects of the job, I am going to have to learn on the job. I think the principles are very similar to those that would apply in any organisation. That is to say you are always, in a performance management situation, establishing the agreed priorities and tasks for the year ahead, reviewing performance against them and also reviewing the performance of the individual in enabling those things to happen in growing their Department. As it is now, it is not a difficult process to identify what the expectations are and then review whether they have been delivered or not. What is key in doing that, though, is that I also get feedback from their Minister and from their lead non-executive in going into those appraisal meetings.

Q535 Kelvin Hopkins: While I am sure they hold you in high regard and you clearly have a distinguished record, might there just not be some questioning about you having not come through the civil service ranks, so to speak, as some of there will have? Might they question your role in some sense?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I hope not. I already performance-manage people who have been longterm civil servants, and I have never experienced them saying, "You do not understand our position." That has not come across to me at all. I hope not and I don’t get any sense that that will happen from my conversations so far.

Q536 Chair: I have to say I am still struggling with this issue of how you are going to manage these relationships. I sense that you are going to be very nice, helpful, collegiate and co-operative, but when it comes to the crunch, a Permanent Secretary in another Department is not going to do what you want them to do. They are going to do what their Secretary of State wants them to do and they are going to do what the political priorities tell them to do. The old tramlines of departmentalism are going to reassert themselves. What is going to be different about this? Why is it going to be different?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think two or three things again. Let me come back to the first point I made, which is that actually my performance management is linked to the priorities for the Permanent Secretary, and those priorities are things that they will set by agreement with their Secretary of State. At the moment, my performance goals are signed off by the Secretary of State and they will be in the future. The first thing to say is that it isn’t whether they are my objectives or the Secretary of State’s. The objectives of the Permanent Secretary will be established with their Secretary of State. That is the first point to make. The second point to make here is, when I come to review performance, I will seek the views of the Secretary of State on this.

The third point I make is that, as I have said earlier, many of the things that the Department is trying to achieve are things that can only be effectively achieved through collaborative corporate working across the civil service. I do not think it is at all in conflict to have both individuals reporting to Ministers and, at the same time, holding them to account for collective corporate actions by the whole of the civil service. In fact, just to finish my last point, my experience of local government is that often the same points apply. You will have senior officers reporting into a member, in this instance-a Cabinet member of a local authority-and at the same time reporting into me managerially. I have managed to make it work there and I am very confident that I can make it work here too.

Q537 Chair: That is a very interesting comparison to make, because I put it to you that the chief executive of a local authority is a very much more authoritative figure than historically the Head of the Civil Service or even the Cabinet Secretary has been in Whitehall.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I don’t think it needs to be that way. I think it is perfectly possible to establish authority in the role or in the two roles here. It is part of my job.

Q538 Chair: Can I just suggest a kind of conversation that might take please? Permanent Secretary to Secretary of State, "The Head of the Civil Service has got this plan that means we have to do this, this and this in our Department. I don’t agree with this and your priority is to do this, Secretary of State. What should I say to the Head of the Civil Service?"

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is perfectly possible for Permanent Secretaries to indulge in that sort of game, if you like. It is perfectly possible and conceivable that that might happen but, actually, I don’t think it will, for the reasons I have said earlier: there is a desire and an appetite to deal with things in a corporate and collective way, because the performance management will be in place for the individual, and actually the issues we are dealing with are often shared issues. Yes, that is possible. I cannot say it will never happen, but I think it is much less of a problem than perhaps you are perceiving it to be.

Q539 Chair: What happens at meetings of colleagues on Wednesday mornings? You attend and chair pari passu to the Cabinet Secretary. What do you expect these meetings to achieve?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The Wednesday morning meetings are each an hour session. They are in part about information-sharing in both directions, and they are very often about a discussion on specific issues of policy or capacity in the civil service. That is how they tend to work now. They are important meetings and they are very valued by Permanent Secretaries, but they should not be seen as the sole governance mechanism for the change agenda. One of the particular things I want to focus on is how we effectively use the civil service board, as a smaller group of Permanent Secretaries, to drive forward the reform agenda.

Q540 Chair: We have just had the response to our "Change in Government" Report, which we published in September. The Government says, "We will publish an outline programme setting out priority areas for crosscivilservice reform in spring 2012." You go into the colleagues’ meeting armed with this plan, which is now Government policy, and presumably you will say to the meeting, "Come on; we all have to implement this now."

Sir Bob Kerslake: If I did it that way, they might be forgiven for saying, "Hang on a minute." Of course it is not going to happen like that. That is the plan I was referring to earlier when I answered your question. The whole point here is I will engage Permanent Secretaries in the discussion about the plan, what its content is and how we best deliver it. By the time we publish in spring, I can and would expect there to be a high level of buyin by Permanent Secretary colleagues.

Q541 Chair: The experience with previous civil service reform plans is that they are like noisy but passing aeroplanes. So long as you keep your head down and your fingers in your ears, you will be able to carry on with what you were doing after it has gone over the top.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Let us hope it is different this time.

Q542 Chair: Does it not depend on your authority? Will you be attending Cabinet on a regular basis as well?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes.

Q543 Chair: You do already, I understand.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I have been to one; I went to the last Cabinet meeting.

Q544 Chair: You have started attending regularly. Do you sit at the table?

Sir Bob Kerslake: No.

Q545 Chair: The Cabinet Secretary sits at the table but you won’t sit at the table?

Sir Bob Kerslake: No, I simply did not the last time because I was not there in an official capacity.

Q546 Chair: Don’t you think you should sit at the table to show that you have parity with the Cabinet Secretary?

Sir Bob Kerslake: That is something I am happy to explore.

Q547 Chair: I think we are too, because I am pleased you will be attending Cabinet, because that means you will get that informal moment with the Prime Minister, perhaps once or twice a week, which you would not otherwise get. Isn’t the Prime Minister’s engagement with you as important? Isn’t that what will facilitate your engagement with your colleagues?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is important that I have regular meetings with the Prime Minister. That is part of the plan and those meetings will take place. Attendance at Cabinet helps me to understand the issues around policy implementation and their relevance to my role as Head of the Civil Service, but it will not be the only way I will get that information. I will of course have regular meetings with the Minister for the Cabinet Office as well.

Q548 Chair: In a local authority, if a service director went AWOL on his own agenda, even with the blessing of a member, as chief executive you would have to square the circle somehow, would you not?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes, you would.

Q549 Chair: How will you square the circle unless you have that Prime ministerial authority behind you?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is important that you do have the authority of the Prime Minister in the role, as I said. That comes from the clarity of the role and the regularity of conversations with the Prime Minister on issues of concern.

Q550 Chair: You expect to have it.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes.

Q551 Chair: What could you indicate to us that will give us confidence that you are going to have it?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is part of the agreement in taking up the job. Meetings are already going into the diary to meet the Prime Minister.

Q552 Kelvin Hopkins : A thought occurs to me. It may just be that you have been appointed precisely because you are an outsider, in a sense, because you have had a more authoritative role within local authorities. Maybe to drive change they want someone who is not part of the old club, who will take a stronger line with Permanent Secretaries. Is that possible?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is difficult for me to judge on the balancing arguments, but I do think the combination of being in the civil service for a year, as I said earlier-I have a knowledge of the civil service and have worked with civil servants for many years in my other jobs-but also having a perspective on how things operate in other organisations is a useful thing to have. Had I had no experience in the civil service, it would have been a challenge. Had I only been a civil servant, it might have been harder for me to see the potential to do things differently.

Q553 Chair: You are going to have this ability so that, when you feel something is not working, you are going to be able to discuss it with the Prime Minister. Your colleagues will know that.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes.

Q554 Priti Patel: I would like to go back to the performance management issue. We started this session off by talking about an ambitious programme of change and now we are already bogged down in management speak and line management issues. I am quite keen to find out a bit more about the actual performance management process itself, in the sense that, although the strategy has not quite been defined yet in terms of the programme of change and the timeframe for it, are you, along with the Cabinet Secretary, looking to bring in a new programme of performance management? Obviously we will be talking about completely brand new objectives, presumably, which will go into existing objectives. How do you intend to take people on that journey? This does not just involve Permanent Secretaries but the Secretary of State as well. Is that just about you investing time with Permanent Secretaries and the Secretaries of State as well to, dare I say it, educate them on the outcome you are trying to achieve and how Permanent Secretaries will be judged as part of their performance management?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The first point to say, just dealing with whether I am solely relying on performance management: absolutely not. My view, as I said at the beginning, is that we are more likely to get change to happen if we have an agenda that is understood and enthusiastically bought into and supported by Permanent Secretaries. That is the first point. In terms of the performance management system itself, many of the elements of it would be recognisable to anybody who runs such a system. On an annual basis, objectives will be set. Those will be reviewed on a midyear basis and then there will be an annual appraisal of performance.

The key point about the objectives in this context is that they will encompass the key goals of the Department, i.e. its priorities in policy and implementation terms, the change programme for that Department, and also the leadership role of that Permanent Secretary, both within its Department and across the civil service. Those will all form part of the objectives. As now, those objectives will be signed off by the Secretary of State and will ultimately go to the Prime Minister as well, in fact. There is a complete liningup of the issues from Minister to me to the Cabinet Secretary to the Prime Minister in setting the objectives. My role for those Permanent Secretaries that I supervise is to review and assess their performance against those objectives. I will do that from my own knowledge but also by seeking input from their Secretary of State and indeed, where appropriate, potentially from the Prime Minister as well, and their lead non-executive. In that sense, it is a very similar model from that which you will have seen in other organisations, but you are drawing in your information from two sources.

Q555 Priti Patel: How would you address any disputes around performance? For example, if a Permanent Secretary has not met the objectives around the change piece in particular, because they have been spending a disproportionate amount of time dealing with the day-to-day and the policy or political side, where they are also accountable to their Secretary of State. Of course they have a very strong leader in their Secretary of State, who is slightly more demanding than perhaps others may be.

Sir Bob Kerslake: That is the sort of thing you discuss in appraisals. What has happened during the year that has impacted on people’s abilities to deliver across the range of their objectives? If something happened that was unplanned-a major challenge in their Department that needed sorting-that may well have impacted on their contribution. You have to take that into account in your appraisal conversations at the year end. Again, that is no different from any organisation and how you manage people.

Q556 Priti Patel: Finally from me, will you be reporting to the Prime Minister in terms of your own performance?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes, I go to the Prime Minister. You will know that there is a separate arrangement for assessing performance through the Remuneration Committee and Bill Cockburn.

Q557 Greg Mulholland: Good afternoon, Sir Bob. I apologise in advance for my voice, but I hope it will hold up for the few questions I would like to ask of you. I am going to ask some questions about the civil service reform, and I would like to ask you one that has popped up a few times in sessions that we have had on the Head of the Civil Service. The first is to say that we, as a Committee, understand why the various roles that Sir Gus O'Donnell had have been split-personalities, fitting people into doing the things that they want to do. The outcome of that in terms of the Head of the Civil Service role, because we have also been clearly told that there are some Permanent Secretaries in some of the large Departments who simply could not fit in the amount of time or energy required to be Head of the Civil Service-that actually means that the pool of people who can become the Head of the Civil Service under this particular model, as we now have it, is fairly small and does not actually even include all Permanent Secretaries. I make clear there are absolutely no aspersions on you. We have heard very positive things about your appointment and about your suitability for the role. Thank you for your very helpful letter as well, dated 15 December. Nevertheless, do you feel that it is a slight concern-never mind your appointment, but in the future, in the same model-that not all Permanent Secretaries could actually apply to be the Head of the Civil Service, because they are too busy with their own Departments?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think it is possible for all. I don’t think I would say that any Permanent Secretary would be ruled out from doing this role. A huge amount would depend on the challenges and issues for that Permanent Secretary and their Department, which may not always be related to size. They may be related to the challenge of the change agenda they have in their own Department. They may relate to their recentness or otherwise in the role. There could be a range of factors, but I have not personally seen it as being the case that any Department would be automatically ruled out from consideration for this role. It is going to depend entirely on the circumstances at the time, and the wish and ambitions of the individual Permanent Secretaries.

Q558 Greg Mulholland: All I will say is that it has been indicated to the Committee that certain current Permanent Secretaries, at least in one Department, were simply not able to, due to current workload. Whether that is to do with the current workload or the size of the Department, we couldn’t be sure, but certainly that has been indicated to us.

Sir Bob Kerslake: That is obviously a judgment for that individual Permanent Secretary, based on the circumstances they are in and the tasks they face. What I am saying to you is that I don’t think there are any absolutes about this. It is absolutely dependent on the circumstances at the time. I don’t think any Permanent Secretary would be absolutely ruled in or out from doing this role in the future.

Q559 Greg Mulholland: Moving on to the issue of civil service reform, when you spoke to the Communities and Local Government Select Committee at the end of November you spoke about your role and said that you did not see the role of Head of the Civil Service as one where you take sole responsibility for the change occurring in the civil service. We then had Sir Gus O’Donnell at the end of last month saying to us that as Head of the Civil Service you were very much first in command for civil service reform. Indeed, in your letter you also make clear that you have that leadership role in terms of change; the powerful phrase that you use is for you to "be a powerful leader of change". Could you just make clear how you see your leadership role?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I am absolutely clear in my mind that it is my name on the overall change programme, I am clear about that. What I was trying to say, and perhaps did not say very clearly at the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, was that I don’t expect to do it all myself. I expect others to be part of delivering that agenda. Different parts of the agenda can be led by other Permanent Secretaries. Indeed it is both essential that I do so and beneficial in terms of getting different perspectives. However, in terms of whose name is on it overall, that is clearly myself.

Q560 Greg Mulholland: I am sure you would agree, even if you might not want to say so, that an interesting challenge will be engaging Ministers in reform, because Ministers do have a role here. What role do you see yourself having in engaging Ministers in taking forward the reform process, both in their own Departments and across the whole civil service, to make it more likely to succeed?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The first thing to say is that we will need to develop a very close working relationship with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who has the ministerial lead on the change agenda. However, I don’t think it stops there. What I want to understand is what the issues for the Secretary of State are in the civil service, how they find the strengths and weaknesses, and for that to be fed into the change agenda that we ultimately develop. They will have insights into what works and what does not that go beyond the particular issues of their Department, so I would want that contribution to the thinking. The second thing for the Secretary of State is that there may well be specific issues around their Department. By and large that conversation can and should happen with their Permanent Secretary; that is the proper place for that to happen. However, there may be occasions where it is appropriate for me to get involved. There will be occasions for me to get involved if there are significant performance issues that we feel are not being resolved or addressed.

Q561 Chair: I am beginning to feel that actually your leadership model is not intended to be a weak leadership model but it is a highly delegated leadership model. You are delegating leadership of change to Permanent Secretaries in Departments.

Sir Bob Kerslake: No, what I am saying is certainly not a weak leadership model. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating on that. What I am saying is not that I will simply hand it over to them and say, "You do your best," but that we are likely to get much more traction in the agenda if we engage, involve and harness their expertise as well in the change programme. As part of that you are holding those Permanent Secretaries and others who get involved to account for what they achieve. Yes, of course it involves delegation, any leadership model involves delegation because it will not work if you try to do it all yourself. Does that mean you are essentially delegating it, handing it on and forgetting about it? Absolutely not.

Q562 Priti Patel: It seems pretty clear that the scale of the challenge faced by the civil service is pretty immense around the ambitious programme of change. Obviously you have a great deal of experience in this field and in public sector management change outside of Whitehall. Can you be quite frank in your view and assessment of what managerial or organisational failings exist in the civil service that you feel will need to be addressed as an early priority?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The first thing to say is that there are enormous strengths in the civil service as well, and we should not lose sight of them. I can see, as somebody who has come in for a year, that the kind of concentration of talent and ability in the civil service is unprecedented when compared with any organisation I have ever worked for. It is really important to say that because often civil servants feel under attack and part of my job is to acknowledge what is strong and good as well. The way in which the civil service has adapted to the huge changes in the last year or so is truly impressive.

That said, there are two ways in which the civil service needs to change. The first of those is to carry on dealing with those systemic areas of weakness. For example, everyone would accept that the civil service needs to get better at programme and project management. A lot has been done. A lot is in train, such as the Major Projects Academy, but we need to get consistently better at that agenda because therein lies a huge challenge for the civil service. So there are some areas like that where the civil service has historically been weak, where it is getting better but it needs to go further, such as the professionalism work, although even there a lot of progress has been made.

The second area of change for the civil service is less to do with intrinsic strengths and weaknesses of the civil service but because the wider world is changing. So, for example, we now know that we are going to have to deliver a lot of Government objectives through different tools. We cannot assume that there is more money or that we will have lots of topdown targets. That changes the way in which delivery happens and that changes the skills you require to be good at implementation of Government policy. That is one example. The wider public can and do expect a much greater level of transparency in what we do, so that is another area of change. Civil servants have to get comfortable with being transparent in what they do and open to challenge.

A third area of change is that technology has changed the way in which people deliver business and the civil service needs to be up with the best about how you harness ways of using IT and so on. So the change programme for the civil service is a combination of things it has always had as a challenge and needs to get better at and some quite profound new challenges that come from the very big changes that are going on around us.

Q563 Priti Patel: The Government’s response to "Change in Government: the agenda for leadership" basically rejected the proposal for a corporate centre of Government. What kind of mechanisms do you think can achieve these objectives around change and transparency? What is the journey on which you are going to be taking members of the civil service to equip them for the challenges and changes?

Sir Bob Kerslake: My view about the corporate centre-and this is born of my own experience of running organisations in the past-is that the way to get it right is to see the corporate centre as the corporate leadership of the senior team; that is how you make it work. Once you get into models that say, "There is the centre here and then there is everybody else around it," you are already struggling to get things to happen. The model I want to develop is a genuine one of corporate leadership. The centre, if you like, is the corporate whole and that is supported by strong corporate resources through the civil service reform team and the whole of the Cabinet Office, which provides the kind of support for the change programme we are trying to deliver. That is the way I have managed to deliver change in the past. We have all been used to models that were highly centralist and often became very bureaucratic and very ineffective. We are also used to the model where everything was fragmented and we all did our own different things in different business units; that did not work either. We are now trying to find a model where change happens by effective corporate leadership, supported by a strong corporate resource through the Cabinet Office and others.

Q564 Priti Patel: What will that particular corporate resource from the Cabinet Office be? Will that be training programmes and workshops? To change people’s behaviour will require a degree of understanding on the from/to-in terms of what they have been doing and where they need to be-and how: how they become empowered as individuals to take that on board.

Sir Bob Kerslake: The short answer is that, yes, some of it will be about that. For example, the Major Projects Academy, as I mentioned earlier, is a crossWhitehall initiative. The High Potential Development Scheme that we run is a crossWhitehall scheme. So there are quite a few things we can and should do across Whitehall. Developing senior talent, specialist skills, and areas where we need to collectively get better all lend themselves to crossWhitehall initiatives. I would also expect Departments to have their own learning and development programmes for their own specific needs.

Q565 Priti Patel: Will you be looking to the private sector for any of those, or are they already established within the civil service?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I don’t think we have the monopoly of wisdom, far from it. The task we have is to establish what the needs are and how best they can be delivered. Sometimes they can be best delivered through inhouse teams and sometimes we need to draw in external expertise. For example, on the Major Projects Academy, external people from the private sector are coming in to give their experience of delivering effectively.

Q566 Priti Patel: For the benefit of the Committee: how many people do you expect to take through this change programme and by when?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I cannot give you a single number on that.

Q567 Chair: How about 400,000?

Sir Bob Kerslake: In one sense or another, every civil servant can and should be part of some form of development programme, both individually and collectively. How many of them will go through particularly the ones that are run across Whitehall? I cannot give you a number on that at this stage.

Q568 Priti Patel: When do you think you will be able to come back to us on that?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is the sort of thing we might want to look at in the plan. It may be one of those questions that is very hard to give a simple answer to but we will certainly look at the issue of how much of the development programme needs to be one that is run across Whitehall.

Q569 Chair: If I could just emphasise, that is the kind of detail we are looking for from this implementation plan, which we very strongly feel has been lacking: who is going to talk to whom in order to make things happen? Does that make sense to you?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It does make sense and I certainly think we will try and put as much detail as is sensible to in the plan. What I do not want is for it to become an all-singing, all-dancing blueprint, not least because we will not get it done by the spring if we do that.

Q570 Priti Patel: Which of the principal recommendations in our Report, "Change in the Government: the agenda for leadership" do you think you will actually be implementing?

Sir Bob Kerslake: We think we have taken up some of them already, such as the issue of having a DG for civil service reform and you have looked at the fact that we need new capacity around commissioning skills, which I think is really important. Quite a lot of what you have said will form part of our thinking as we go forward but those are two of the examples.

Chair: We aim to be useful.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Thank you.

Q571 Kelvin Hopkins : This discussion of a more corporate approach sounds very much like what has happened in local government over recent decades. Even from my time as a councillor in the 1970s, I remember that this was the way we were being led. You say one of your priorities is to "move the civil service towards a more corporate, shared model of management whist retaining the key principle of the Permanent Secretary’s accountability to their Secretary of State and to Parliament". There might be something of a conflict there. What objectives have you set for this priority in your first year, and how do you plan to achieve it?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is something that you have to work at but it can be done. I say that because I have seen it done. What I do not think the corporate leadership approach is is a big centre with lots of people telling other people what to do. That is not the most effective way of doing it, and that is often what has led to problems in the past. My objectives would be to have established the plan for change that I talked about earlier, to have clear processes in place to deliver that plan for change and to have some clear milestones set and evidence that we had delivered on those milestones that would demonstrate that the programme had real traction across Whitehall. Those would be the things I would want to be tested on. Also, that there was some evidence that the changes were starting to impact on areas of capacity where we knew we had to improve.

Q572 Kelvin Hopkins : Existing relationships between Departments may not be ideal, at this stage anyway, in fitting into this new, more corporate world; how will you manage relationships between Departments in the future?

Sir Bob Kerslake: My sense is that this is about modelling behaviour. If you make it clear what kind of approaches you think are right and challenge those that are not, it is surprising how much people change in the way they do business. If issues have been escalated through to Ministers when they could actually have been sorted through a collaborative conversation, that would be something I would want to challenge and test with those involved. I will give you an illustration of the point. When I came into the role of Permanent Secretary of DCLG I made a particular point with Martin Donnelly at BIS to say that although we had areas of common concern we would make absolutely sure we had a strong working relationship. That is rather a long answer to the question but it is about encouraging those collaborative behaviours that you see and challenging those where you think not enough effort is being made to sort things out. It is as simple as that.

Q573 Kelvin Hopkins : You have talked about not having a lot of people at the centre but will you establish the Cabinet Office as an effective heart of Government for civil service reform?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Absolutely. What I meant by not having too many at the centre is that I don’t think you should pull every activity into the centre. That is what I was saying. Efforts to try and do that in other organisations have not worked. What you do need is enough capacity and high quality to drive the change programme. If you do not have that, no matter how much corporate buy-in you get from Permanent Secretaries, it will not work. You do need to have quite small teams of high calibre people who will help you deliver what you are seeking to do.

Q574 Kelvin Hopkins : In many Departments there is a strong culture of loyalty to the Department first, rather than the overall aims of the civil service. Will you have problems addressing those strong departmental loyalty cultures?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The truth is that we all have multiple loyalties, and that is true in any organisation. In any organisation, people will have a loyalty to their division, their department and to the whole organisation. I think the trick here is to ensure that both have a proper place in the way people think about their roles. In particular, we need to ensure that what they do not do, through their loyalty to their Department, is shut off the opportunities for dealing with issues collaboratively. We all live with those. I will continue to live with it in terms of my role as Permanent Secretary of DCLG, but what I want is people who can see those multiple loyalties and act appropriately.

Q575 Kelvin Hopkins : It is natural that civil servants will still continue to want to put their Department first, but you have to develop a broader sense.

Sir Bob Kerslake: The reason you need that broader sense is that actually some of the things the Department are trying to do cannot be done alone. That is the point I was making earlier. It is not often a contest between the two and they will get better results, both for the civil service and for themselves, if they work collaboratively.

Q576 Chair: Can we just cut to the chase here? Crossdepartmental working in Whitehall is awful isn’t it?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is patchy on occasions, yes.

Q577 Chair: That will do; I will settle for patchy. Why is it so patchy? As an outsider you have come in and observed these sometimes endemic turf wars, with strict competition. I cannot remember what it is called but some civil servants are actually trained to defend their Department’s turf as opposed to facilitating crossdepartmental working and to stop another Department grabbing a bit of policy off their own Secretary of State.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I guess there is always that story. Institutions develop forms of behaviour that become very entrenched, don’t they? You can find many examples of collaborative behaviour and what you are trying to do, as always in these situations, is to make that more the norm than it is at the moment. It can only be done by positively rewarding examples of collaborative behaviour and challenging it when it does not happen. It is not going to be a quick overnight process; it is something you work at steadily and signal what you want to see.

Q578 Chair: Isn’t the answer that where you rely on this rather archaic concept of lead Department on any crossdepartmental issue, as soon as that lead Department established, if that is not your Department then it is their problem and you let them get on with it? Lead Department is the killer of the cooperation.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I do not think so. Lead Department does not mean sole Department and if you have a model where sometimes another Department will lead but I need to get involved because there is a shared outcome and vice versa, it is perfectly possible to make that kind of approach work. I must not overplay the local government contrast but if you go back 30 years ago, that is how local government was as well. Everything was done departmentally and very little collaborative working happened. In the best authorities that has changed. It can, is changing and will change in the civil service as well.

Q579 Chair: In local authorities is there not a very much stronger customer focus whereas Whitehall Departments are very accountability-focused? The accountability can destroy the perspective that a Department needs to serve its customers properly.

Sir Bob Kerslake: As you know, I have done quite a lot of work on accountability and I do not think that clear accountability and clear leadership means you cannot have collaborative approaches to dealing with policy issues. What we can say in the civil service is that it will be held to account for implementation. Because there are very few things that we try and implement that can be done solely on our own, almost everything we do-particularly in DCLG, which is a crosscutting Department-needs to draw in others. It is going to be in every Department’s mutual interest to work collaboratively because on some issues they will need others to support them and vice versa. Maybe I am a rationalist at heart but I think this will become obvious over time.

Q580 Chair: It may be a triumph of hope over experience.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I hope it is experience that gives me the hope.

Q581 Kelvin Hopkins : This leads straight on to what Sir Gus told the Committee last month. He said that there is "a long way to go" in terms of staff engagement at all levels in the civil service. What you have just been saying seems to confirm that. What measures will you take to improve staff engagement? You obviously have to be more proactive; you cannot just lead from this front and hope it will happen. How will you promote that engagement?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I agree with Sir Gus’s view on this; we have got more work to do on engagement to match the best of organisations. It is a combination of what happens in individual Departments and how they have clear programmes of raising levels of engagement, and also doing those things that can only be done civil servicewide. So, for example, civil servicewide, the civil service look for a clear sense of championing things that they do well and positively promoting those to the wider world. That will help with engagement. People want recognition and they will get it in their own Department, but there should also be recognition and positive promotion of achievements across the civil service. The steps I would take are for each Department to have their own plan to raise engagement but also across the civil service, as part of the change programme, to have a programme of things that we are going to do civil servicewide as well.

Q582 Kelvin Hopkins : I don’t know if other Members have found this, but I have found that different Departments perform better or worse than others. There are some Departments that have not performed well, in my view, and others that have performed better, in my experience as a Member of Parliament. I think there is a general view about certain Departments that do or do not perform well. When they do start to behave more corporately, do you think the cross-pollination will help improve the quality of work delivery?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think so. It is interesting that when we had the discussion this year we looked not just at areas where engagement scores had gone down but where they had gone up as well. Those provide opportunities and case studies for Departments to learn from each other. I am absolutely with you on that point.

Q583 Kelvin Hopkins : What other challenges have you identified from the People Survey results, which you will take forward in your role as Head of the Civil Service?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There are two or three challenges that we need to pick up from them. One is that we saw over time the learning and development scores fall. We have to look in more depth at why that is, both departmentally and across the civil service. Raising our game on learning and development is really important. A second one is that generally the scores on managing change are not good across the civil service. That is something we really have to look at because we are in for a period of more change for a whole range of reasons; that is the one thing we know. Therefore we have to understand why our staff see us as not being as good as we need to be on that.

Q584 Priti Patel: Can I come in with some questions on engagement? We have the Civil Service People Survey as a benchmark here but what are your own views around morale with people in the civil service on the change programme? I am interested in the point you have just touched on: the fact that the scores are not that good around the change piece generally. What do you think you can do to improve that?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There are a number of things going on in terms of morale. When you talk to staff they replay back to you issues around what has happened on pay, pensions and so on, and that is perhaps inevitable. Also they recognise the context in which these changes are being made. You also pick up two very clear messages. One is that they feel that they want to see a championing of what they do well but also challenging when they think there is unfair criticism of the civil service. That is a very keenly felt issue. They often feel the media do not do the civil service justice and they want to see that challenged when it happens.

A second thing you pick up is the sense of feeling that there is an honest communication of the challenges ahead, so while it may not be good news at least people can see it. There is also an issue about there being some sense of what the offer is to be a civil servant and why you should become a civil servant, so the positive things should be sold. After all, despite all the challenges around pay and pensions, there are many very strong attractions to being a civil servant, such as the interest in the work. We are still a strong employer so there are strong things to say about being a civil servant but perhaps we have not been clear enough in saying them sometimes.

Q585 Priti Patel: On that point about the champion, are you going to be the champion for the civil service? Will you be the one publically out there, extolling the virtues and saying, "These people do a great job in X or Y Department"?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Part of my role is to champion and to signpost really good examples of practice. As I said earlier, I do not think that means saying everything is good and there is no need for change. However, where things have been done well and done brilliantly in my own Department I would praise it, so I should be doing that as Head of the Civil Service as well.

Q586 Priti Patel: I have one other question on engagement. How do you propose to engage members of the civil service who are trade union members and were going on strike earlier on in the year? Presumably you have a job of work there to engage them on that change programme too.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I think the job of engagement is one that is there for staff who are in a trade union and staff who are not in a trade union; we have a responsibility to all staff. We have trade union recognition agreements and we should work through them as we do now. The job is not one for either trade unionists or for those that are not; it is for all staff and they should all be part of the communications plan.

Q587 Greg Mulholland: I have a last couple of questions on the People Survey. I have to point out that the results, when looking at those from your own Department, DCLG, came out poorer than the median on some key questions. Notably the engagement level was 48%, compared to 56% in the civil service as a whole. Those who had a clear understanding was only 63%, compared to 84% as a whole. 27% thought that change was managed well, compared to 41% as a whole. I will also point out that in the Department there was a generally higher percentage for questions on the topics of line management and performance management, which no doubt will please you. Have you got any comments on that, and what steps have you taken in your time as Permanent Secretary to try to deal with those?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Like all Departments, we have a challenge in improving our engagement, and it is something we take very seriously. We have just gone through year one of what we see as a two-year change programme and year one involved pretty big changes about the role of the Department, the size of the Department and how it was organised. That has inevitably had some impact. What we want to focus on in the year ahead is moving from the smaller agenda to the stronger agenda, focussing in on the purpose of the Department, how people can relate their jobs to that purpose of the Department and how we can improve our learning and development offer. Earlier I touched on the issue of learning from other Departments, which is something we will do. Thirdly, we want to work on getting back to business as usual. One of the consequences of having gone through such a very big reduction over a short period of time is that a lot of things tend to be put on hold, such as opportunities for promotion and opportunities to move people are a bit harder to do.

Having got through that big change we want to tackle some of the other issues that staff say impact on their engagement. So yes, we have a challenge ahead, as have all Departments, and one of the benefits of being Permanent Secretary of a Department as well as Head of the Civil Service is that I can see first-hand some of the practical challenges that are faced.

Q588 Greg Mulholland: That leads very nicely on to my final question. From what you have just described-the figures and challenges-what do you think you can draw in your forthcoming role as Head of the Civil Service to take across the civil service as a whole?

Sir Bob Kerslake: The things I would draw from it are that we are undergoing a very big change. People objectively understand why but that does not take into account the emotional impact that it has on staff and the uncertainty they go through when they are not sure about their job for the future or getting to grips with a completely new role; all of these things have an emotional impact. Part of my job is to communicate that I understand that and also to consistently recognise good achievement and praise those involved. Inevitably, when you are going through this scale of change, people do start to question what they are doing and how they are doing it. We need to reassure them about what they are doing well and what they are delivering well for Government through this period of change and uncertainty.

Q589 Chair: But engagement is a key performance indicator for someone who is leading an organisation.

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is, yes.

Q590 Chair: So if engagement does not improve then you are not doing your job.

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is absolutely right to say that engagement must improve. What we would say in the last year is that, given the scale of change, holding the engagement score across the civil service was a good result. We now need to find ways of delivering change and improving engagement at the same time.

Q591 Chair: Even in the civil service, recognising that engagement is something that really matters itself would be a change in the culture of the civil service wouldn’t it?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Its importance is absolutely understood at the senior level, not least because Sir Gus has made it such an important feature. Whether we quite have it understood at all levels-that is perhaps a bigger challenge.

Q592 Chair: I would concur with that. Finally, there are some questions on training. The NAO has been excoriating about the effectiveness of much civil service training. The July 2011 Report, "Identifying and meeting central government’s skills requirements", highlighted "a pervasive lack of data on the costs and benefits of skills development". The NAO Report published in December 2010, "Maturity of process management in central government", revealed that 13 out of 34 business areas assessed could not demonstrate an understanding of whether staff had the skills to complete the process they worked on. 30 out of 34 did not "support staff to develop the skills to continuously improve processes". This is culturally pretty bad, wouldn’t you say?

Sir Bob Kerslake: I certainly think there is room for improvement and it will clearly be one of the areas we have to look at as a priority in the plan that we talk about.

Q593 Chair: So we are going to get rid of the National School of Government.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Yes because the way in which people receive training has changed and the view taken-in my view rightly-was that actually the National School of Government did not fit the kind of requirements we had for the future.

Q594 Chair: So what role will you undertake as Head of the Civil Service with regard to civil service training?

Sir Bob Kerslake: Two things, really. One is to hold individual Permanent Secretaries to account for what they do in their Departments, through the performance management system. It would also be to establish what the key agenda is for training and development across Whitehall and ensure that we are effective in delivering that as well.

Q595 Chair: So how will you measure how well Permanent Secretaries are assessing their skills shortages and skills gaps and how well they are addressing them?

Sir Bob Kerslake: There are two things really. Whether they have a system for assessing it and whether it is happening is the first thing-whether they have effective appraisal and development conversations happening. That is the key bit for me.

Alongside that, what are we picking up from the People’s Survey in terms of staff perception of learning and development? Those are two key measures.

Q596 Chair: I would like to come back to the plan we hope to see in April 2012. In order to address the skills piece, does that not need to have a clear view of what the civil service as a whole is for, what its key and core capabilities should be and how the skills levels necessary are going to be achieved within a given timescale?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It is certainly going to need to say something about the role and purpose of the civil service and the capabilities it requires to deliver that role.

Q597 Chair: So we can expect some flesh on the bones around that agenda in this 2012 report?

Sir Bob Kerslake: It will certainly address the issue-because it has to-about capability and capacity to deliver the role of the civil service, yes.

Q598 Chair: You mentioned a little earlier about your desire to see an improvement in project management; it certainly seems to be a skill that is lacking in many Departments and is evidently lacking in many different ways. How will you address that in the implementation of change agenda?

Sir Bob Kerslake: To be frank, it is uneven in Departments. There are some good examples of project management that probably don’t hit the news because they are well done and the projects are delivered. So we should not assume it is all bad. The way we move forward on it is through the development of the Centre of Excellence that we have, the Major Projects Academy that I spoke about, and through Departments doing their own assessments of what gaps they have in this agenda. The proof of the pudding will ultimately be in the eating: can we see evidence of projects being better managed through the gateway review processes?

Q599 Kelvin Hopkins : Can I just make one comment, following my colleague, Priti Patel? Would you accept that civil servants, often senior civil servants, taking industrial action in no way contradicts their absolute commitment to public service and the public interest? I hope that would be recognised at the most senior level. Some of the most conscientious senior civil servants of all would have taken industrial action but that would not have any bearing on how committed they are to the public interest.

Sir Bob Kerslake: I know from talking to staff that many went through quite a serious discussion with themselves about whether they took industrial action or not. Some went on the side of taking it and others did not. You will know that the Government’s view was that it should really have awaited the completion of the negotiations. However, staff have that right. You would clearly want and hope that it would not be exercised except in circumstances when they felt an absolute need to do so.

Q600 Chair: I certainly think we have covered the waterfront, Sir Bob. Thank you very much for being with us today.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Thank you.

Q601 Chair: I would like to take this opportunity to wish you, and indeed the civil service, the compliments of the season and to wish my colleagues and Committee staff a very happy Christmas. With that, I will close this session.

Sir Bob Kerslake: Thank you very much. This will no doubt be the first of many conversations we have in the future.

Chair: Indeed.

Prepared 23rd December 2011