Home Affairs Committee - Work of the Permanent Secretary - Minutes of EvidenceHC 561i

Back to Report








Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 101

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Thursday 6 September 2012

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Michael Ellis

Alun Michael

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick


Examination of Witness

Witness: Dame Helen Ghosh, Permanent Secretary, Home Department, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: I apologise for keeping members of the public and the witness waiting. We were dealing with a large amount of correspondence that arrived just this morning from the Home Secretary about Olympics security, and we were trying to digest all the facts. This is a continuation of our inquiry into Olympics security, and in particular it is, Dame Helen, your valedictory appearance. I understand that you have indicated that you will be leaving the Home Office as its Permanent Secretary.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Indeed. I shall be leaving the Department formally at the end of this month, and will be joining the National Trust as director-general in the middle of November.

Q2 Chair: I and, I think, others are a little puzzled that, having been appointed Permanent Secretary at the Home office, you are leaving after only 17 months. In effect, you control a budget of £10 billion, and you are going to run the National Trust, which has a budget of £450 million. You are taking a cut in your salary, and you are the shortest-serving Permanent Secretary since 1977, when the then Permanent Secretary went on to become the Cabinet Secretary. I am a little puzzled as to why someone who was appointed at a time of such enormous change for the Government should suddenly decide to go.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I have long taken the view that at some stage in my career I wanted a different leadership opportunity, and in particular the experience of leading a major organisation in the voluntary sector. The National Trust is an organisation in the voluntary sector that supports different areas of activity and services to the public in which I have a passionate interest in terms of heritage, landscape and access, reinforced by my time as Permanent Secretary at DEFRA. The suggestion that it is a smaller organisation is debatable-

Chair: Its budget is £450 million compared with £10 billion.

Dame Helen Ghosh: That is its annual budget, but it has a large range of property of almost incalculable value, and it has 4 million members. I think the reach of the impact it can have on the lives of individuals is as important as a Government Department. That opportunity was not going to come up again in short order. As I said in my message to the Department, I was torn about leaving, but decided that this was a moment that I couldn’t let pass.

Chair: Sure, but when you took up the appointment, your predecessors had served an average of 7.7 years. It is one of the top jobs.

Dame Helen Ghosh: It is a marvellous job.

Q3 Chair: It is one of the top jobs in the civil service. When you took up the job, did you indicate that it was not the dream job that you have always waited for, and that being the chief executive of the National Trust was something that you had always wanted to do? This is a time of change for the Government, with so much going on. It is a critical time with the formation of the National Crime Agency, the abolition of SOCA and the National Policing Improvement Agency, the creation of a new college, and all the trouble that we have had at the UK Border Agency, and you just decided to go and fulfil your lifetime’s ambition. That is puzzling to me, bearing in mind that you are rated as one of the best civil servants in the country.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I am very grateful to you for that last comment. I strongly believe in the power of the team, and one thing I am extremely proud of over the past 17 or 18 months-20 months by the time I leave-is the fact that I have helped to build a very high-performing group of DGs in the Department. The appointment of Rob Whiteman is an excellent one, and my decision to split policy from operations has given him more operational space and freed up more strategic thinking on immigration. We have an excellent shadow head of the NCA, and I have an increasing group of extremely talented directors for the future. I do not believe a Permanent Secretary should be an indispensable person, and I believe that the Department is in very good hands. If I had not believed that, I would indeed have thought differently.

Q4 Chair: So all these positive things were basically done by you rather than Ministers?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Building a top civil service team, and attracting the sort of talent we have in the Home Office is fundamentally an issue for the Permanent Secretary and, as anyone in Whitehall would say if asked, it is one of the features of my style of leadership. I believe too that some of the projects that were perhaps not in a very strong place when I arrived, such as e-Borders and ICW, under Rob’s leadership but with my very strong support are in a much better place than they were. I am also, of course, extremely proud of how the Department came through the Olympics. All those things lead me to think the Department is in a good place and I will be handing over to my successor a machine that is definitely operating well.

Q5 Chair: Well, let us take you through some of the things that you might find went wrong. Your intervention in the Brodie Clark issue, when you insisted that he should not get the nine months’ pay that he had asked for, which would have cost the taxpayer £100,000, ended up costing the taxpayer £225,000. You made it very clear to the Select Committee when you last appeared that this was your decision, so there is £115,000 that the taxpayer has to pay out as a result of your personal intervention in the Brodie Clark affair. On the G4S fiasco, where, as Permanent Secretary, as you said, you led the team, it was £284 million of public money. I am sure you are aware of the concerns that were expressed by this Committee and others and, indeed, the Home Secretary about the way in which that had been handled. Finally, there is the way in which the UK Border Agency has operated over the last year and the whole issue of risk-based checks.

These are not issues that you can be proud of in terms of the way in which they have been handled. You have told us all the good things, but actually some may say the reason why you are going is simply all these errors of judgment that have been made by senior civil servants. Ministers, in the end, have to be responsible to Parliament, but these are management decisions that really ought to have been taken differently.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Let me take the Border Force first. As you say, Chairman, we had this discussion at the time of Brodie’s departure. I think there were some very clear choices, in terms of the messages to be sent, about Brodie’s departure. As I explained to the Committee then, I strongly took the view that, given the reasons for which Rob Whiteman had suspended him, it would not be appropriate to, as it were, sidestep the proper procedures in terms of disciplinary arrangements inside the Department, and that the message one should send the Department was about personal accountability. I believe very strongly that the work-

Q6 Chair: Even though it has cost the taxpayer £100,000 more?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I was aware at the time that there was the potential challenge-potentially in the end at an employment tribunal. The process that we had gone through in the heat of the events at the beginning may not have been one that was ideal in terms of the formal processes, so I knew that there was that risk.

In terms of where the Border Force is now, as a result of that action, as a result of the work we did and as a result of John Vine’s work in his report, I think we are in a much, much better place in terms of understanding how the Border Force operates and the delivery of good customer service and 100% checks. I think our experience during the Olympics is completely flawless in terms of doing-

Q7 Chair: So you are taking credit for the flawless delivery?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I am saying that, in that particular instance, the events of November 2011 actually were the catalyst for significant improvement, which I believe, in terms of both service to the public and secure borders, is evident now. I make no apology for the fact that it was a catalyst for change.

Q8 Alun Michael: I can understand the exciting challenge of the National Trust, so in terms of your personal choice, I do not find it at all surprising, but don’t you think you are giving an unrealistically rosy view of the state of the Home Office as you leave it? Although it is a Department that has many good people working in it, it still has big problems. Aren’t you really abandoning ship for a nicer berth, leaving those large numbers of staff without leadership?

Dame Helen Ghosh: They are not without leadership. That is the first point I would make.

Q9 Alun Michael: I think you have made the point about the team. I am talking about the fact that the Permanent Secretary is the responsible leader in terms of the administration and organisation of the Department.

Dame Helen Ghosh: The Permanent Secretary is one of the leaders. I am sure-

Q10 Chair: Sorry, one of the leaders? We were under the impression that the Permanent Secretary was the leader of the civil service in the Home Office. Is this a co-leadership issue?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Sorry, but Mr Michael made the point about the Department. The ministerial team is also the leadership of the Department.

Q11 Alun Michael: Yes, but part of the problem is that we do not seem to be able to get anybody to be responsible for anything. That has happened with all the questions we have asked about the UK Border Agency, which is always referred to as if it is something off over there and nothing to do with the Department. The Permanent Secretary is responsible, surely, for everything that goes on in the Department and is the leader of the civil service in the Home Office.

Dame Helen Ghosh: The Permanent Secretary is the leader of the civil service in the Home Office, and I do not think I could be accused in any way of reneging on my responsibility for senior management of UKBA. I was in this room yesterday before the Public Accounts Committee with Rob Whiteman and Brian Moore, and we had a detailed discussion of the performance in both those organisations over the past year.

Q12 Alun Michael: This Committee has had detailed discussions about that organisation, which is part of the Home Office, over many months and, crucially, it is the responsibility of the leader of the Department, yourself. I come back to the point that the Chairman made at the beginning: 17 months and you are off. That must be pretty dispiriting for people in the Department.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I do not believe it is dispiriting for people in the Department. On the whole, they understand my desire to do such a big voluntary sector job at this stage of my career and life.

Q13 Alun Michael: Yes, but that is about you. I am asking questions about the Department.

Dame Helen Ghosh: They fully support the decision I have made. They are not concerned, for the reasons I have described. The projects that the Chairman set out are well under control and are operating extremely successfully, with the exception of some of the-

Alun Michael: Okay, everything is wonderful.

Dame Helen Ghosh: No, I am not saying everything is wonderful.

Alun Michael: It sounds like that.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I am saying that the fundamentals are there for continued improvement, such as in the transformation programme, which Rob will discuss with you. The foundations for all of those things have been well set. Of course, as I said in my announcement to staff, I feel torn. In some ways I would have liked to have had more time.

Q14 Alun Michael: I am sorry, Dame Helen, but those sound like "Yes Minister" replies. Let us go to a specific area. I asked you a question on the first occasion that you came before us about whether you accepted that the responsibility for procurement and strategy for internet and ICT-related elements should be on the desk of the Permanent Secretary, and you gave a very good answer: "Yes, I am in charge of the Department. I must take responsibility for that." That reflects the question I asked you about the role of the Permanent Secretary. As you leave, what is the state of the Department and its agencies in relation to ICT and technology generally?

Dame Helen Ghosh: In terms of the fundamental provision of ICT to the Department, we have had a very successful programme for the desktops and the day-to-day ICT available to the Department through the extend and blend programme, which has extended a single IT system to all staff, including staff in agencies. That has been very successful.

On specific programmes supporting specific parts of the Department, as the Committee will know and, I believe, has discussed with Rob, there continue to be some issues. So, supported by Rob and the Minister for Immigration, I have commissioned a fundamental look at the provision, infrastructure and systems, such as the CID system in UKBA, to ensure that the day-to-day systems, particularly in UKBA, are appropriate. In the e-Borders programme, as you know-

Q15 Alun Michael: That is all within the Department itself. What about the agencies of the Home Office?

Dame Helen Ghosh: The UKBA is an agency of the Department.

Alun Michael: No, the UKBA is part of the Home Office.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Okay, what are the agencies to which you refer?

Alun Michael: All the agencies, including, for instance, the Home Office’s overall responsibility for policing.

Dame Helen Ghosh: One of the other things that I could describe, which has moved on enormously in my 19 months in the Department, is the concept of an ICT company for the police in order to maximise joint purchasing and to ensure they have a more strategic approach to purchasing. That now exists.

Q16 Alun Michael: Does it?

Dame Helen Ghosh: It exists. It was incorporated in July and has a board that includes leaders of the successful organisations. They are putting together a set of activities.

Q17 Alun Michael: We haven’t seen a great deal of information about that.

Dame Helen Ghosh: We would be very happy to give that to you.

Chair: Well, you are going, very shortly; but I think the reason why Mr Michael looks a little frustrated is that we have been trying to get this information about the company from your Department for some time, and since the Home Secretary will not allow Lord Wasserman, who is taking the lead, to give evidence to this Committee, we have not been able to have anyone come before us; but maybe you could leave a handover note to your successor-that we are very keen on knowing what is happening with IT.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Certainly. My interim successor, Helen Kilpatrick, is the senior responsible officer for that programme, so she is very knowledgeable on the subject.

Chair: Excellent. We look forward to seeing her with glee.

Q18 Mark Reckless: Why did you not begin to get a grip on UKBA in the first half of your period in post?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I am not aware that I did not try to get a grip on UKBA in the first part of my period in post. In what particular respect are you questioning?

Q19 Mark Reckless: In the respect that you said it was the events in November that were a catalyst for change in UKBA. It seemed, before that, there were vast amounts of lapses in controls, and suspensions in checks for, really, reasons of convenience and queuing, which were, I think, at the top, understood to be a matter of health and safety. Were you not aware of those issues? Shouldn’t you have had a tighter grip, or, at least, understanding of what was going on in UKBA?

Dame Helen Ghosh: These, of course, were issues that I explored with you and you explored with Ministers extensively in the autumn of 2011. As we discussed then, it was a question of what kind of management information was coming up from the senior management of Border Force to me and to Ministers. Very explicitly, I know, the Committee recognised, at the time, the information about the extent to which in particular the secure checks were not being taken, under the guise of a piece of guidance that had never been drawn to Ministers’ attention: I think this Committee accepted the point that that information never surfaced, either to me or to Ministers, or, indeed to the UKBA board.

Q20 Mark Reckless: The Committee did not accept that, and our ability to examine these issues was severely limited by your refusal to release information to this Committee. It was only later, through John Vine’s report-who of course reports directly to the Home Secretary and is in no sense independent of her-that we discovered these matters; and he was unable to find out why Ministers had not read the reports from Brodie Clark making it quite clear that these suspensions were going on. That still hasn’t been answered.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I am sorry; I think I would like to correct the fact there. John Vine never said that reports which made this point clear-that checks were being suspended-had got to Ministers and they had not read them. All the evidence-including that, I believe, in the John Vine report-said that the reports that came to Ministers never mentioned the fact that those particular checks were being suspended. I am very happy to write to the Committee on that point, but it is such an important point in terms of the integrity of Ministers that I think it is very important that we make sure it is correct.

Q21 Mark Reckless: The fourth of his updates did mention that, and we are told by the Home Secretary that she did not read that report. John Vine concluded that he had been unable to find out, he had not been given an answer to, why that information had not got to-

Dame Helen Ghosh: Had not got to the Home Secretary. I think that is precisely the point I wanted to make.

Alun Michael: That’s your responsibility, isn’t it?

Q22 Mark Reckless: Why hadn’t it got to you, and why hadn’t you done anything about it?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Because it hadn’t got to me, either. I think the story of that period was one where it was clear, for whatever reason, that information about what was happening at the ports in order to manage queue length, rather than manage security, was not transparent in terms of senior management, whether in UKBA, at their board level, at my level or at a ministerial level; and that is why, when we discovered that this was the lapse, Rob Whiteman, with the full support of Ministers, and I took strong action on it. Had we known earlier, we would have taken action earlier.

Q23 Mark Reckless: But John Vine was not able to get to the bottom of this matter as to why the fourth report from Brodie Clark, which very clearly referred to these suspensions, had not been read and considered either by Ministers, or, it appears, senior officials at the top of the Home Office. This was in August. There is a suspicion it is because some people had gone on holiday, or some things were not going into red boxes that usually were, but John Vine specifically said he was unable to get to the bottom of that issue.

Dame Helen Ghosh: But I do not believe that was anything to do with a cover-up, or anybody trying to mislead John Vine in any way. It is simply the fact that, in a complex organisation, why did that not get to my box, to Ministers’ boxes? It is very, very difficult to establish that kind of fact.

Q24 Mark Reckless: On cover-up, why did you initially try and suppress the information as to how much Brodie Clark had received as a pay-off?

Dame Helen Ghosh: We never tried to suppress the information. We knew that the amount that he would be paid would become clear in our resource accounts, and that was the context in which it would be made public.

Q25 Chair: Actually, that is not correct. Sorry, Dame Helen. We did write and ask for this information and you did not write back and say that it is all going to be published; you said, no, you could not give it because it was confidential. That is what you said.

Dame Helen Ghosh: The compromise agreement, which in the normal way one signs on these occasions, said that the contents-the nature of the settlement-were confidential until there was a specific requirement to publish in the way that there was in the accounts. So I was anticipating-

Q26 Chair: But the point that Mr Reckless is making is that the Select Committee in Parliament is not a party to this agreement, so we were unaware of what was written in there and you did not write and tell us that.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I was certainly not attempting to cover it up. I knew that it would be public and would be published in due course.

Q27 Mark Reckless: Will you confirm that the specific requirement to publish came from the National Audit Office and not from yourself? On the basis of your advice the Home Secretary had sought to suppress that information by refusing to give it to the Select Committee.

Chair: I think it is a yes or no answer.

Mark Reckless: Do you agree that that information was only published once the NAO instructed the Home Office that it had to be published?

Dame Helen Ghosh: No, I will not agree to that statement because I-

Chair: No is fine. We are happy to accept that.

Dame Helen Ghosh: No, I do not agree to that statement because the publication of that kind of information and settlement is the normal thing that happens in annual resource account publication every summer. I know-I knew-that that is when, in the normal order of things, it may be a rule that is set by the National Audit Office, but in fact it is just the normal practice and it happens in every Department’s resource account, so I was not instructed by the NAO to publish.

Q28 Mark Reckless: Why didn’t the Home Secretary tell us that when we asked her how much had been paid, rather than saying that she could not reveal the information?

Dame Helen Ghosh: She may have been referring to the NAO rules about the contents of resource accounts, but I am very happy to write to the Committee and explain to them the sequence of thought that went into those letters.

Q29 Chair: I think you have given us an answer of no. What would be very good is to see the justification in writing. We do not need a long essay on what happened, just straightforward facts.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I would be happy to do so.

Q30 Chair: We are only interested in facts in this Committee, and that is all Mr Reckless has been trying to get to. Just to conclude this issue of your resignation, when did you inform, and who did you inform, that you were resigning? What was the date that you informed the relevant person that you were resigning?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I believe that the relevant person for this purpose is Sir Bob Kerslake.

Chair: The head of the Home civil service.

Dame Helen Ghosh: The head of the Home civil service.

Q31 Chair: You told Sir Bob when?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I told Sir Bob-sorry, I am just trying to reconstruct the nature of events.

Q32 Chair: You must remember when you tried to resign.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I am trying to remember what date that particular Sunday was. I told Sir Bob Kerslake on Sunday 29 July, if 29 July was a Sunday.

Q33 Chair: When would the Home Secretary have known?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Early in the following week, on a confidential basis. The reason it was not made public-

Q34 Chair: Because of the Olympics?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes, and also because on these occasions one needs to ensure that, particularly in an organisation that has a large number of stakeholders, such as the National Trust, you are able to inform those people as well. That is why there was then a two-week delay in the formal announcement.

Q35 Chair: And your new post had been advertised before 29 July? When you applied for the job?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Oh, I see. It had been advertised in the middle of June.

Q36 Mr Winnick: When you applied for the job, did you tell the Home Secretary that you intended to do so?

Dame Helen Ghosh: No, I did not tell the Home Secretary.

Q37 Mr Winnick: I am not suggesting you should have done, I just wanted to know.

Dame Helen Ghosh: No, but in fact Sir Bob was aware that I had done so.

Q38 Chair: Let us move on to Olympic security. It would be helpful, as we have the Home Secretary next, if we could have yes/no answers, but please feel free to write to us with any caveats.

We have looked at the history of this; the Committee is producing a report for the end of September about G4S and what has happened. We know that the Olympics have been a success, so we do not need to go there. Well done to everybody-lots of credit to you and everyone else who has been involved. We want to look at the run-up to this and the statement that the Home Secretary made on 9 July to the House. During Home Office questions, she said she was confident that her partners were going to deliver on the contract that had been given. When did you discover that they were not going to deliver?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I discovered at the same time as the Home Secretary-on the same day, which was 11 July.

Q39 Chair: Were you surprised?

Dame Helen Ghosh: We were extremely surprised. If I may give you some facts-

Q40 Chair: Yes, please.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I think it might be helpful to-

Chair: No, facts would be fine.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Let me go back to the assumption we had made on the basis of our contract in December 2011 about the make-up of the 23,700, because that might assist the Committee. At that stage, we believed that the make-up of the guard force at venues, under the contract that LOCOG had signed, would be 10,400 people provided by G4S, up to 7,500 military-

Q41 Chair: That’s the contingency?

Dame Helen Ghosh: No, that was part of the venue security. It is not the separate contingency. The various contingencies for increased-

Q42 Chair: That was agreed, a done deal? You would have 7,500 military?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes, to cover the peak days. Then, there would be a combination of about 6,000 volunteers and Bridging the Gap candidates, and then 2,000 people out there. So, it was always part of the plan that up to 7,500 military should be part of the guard force.

Before that, and through the successive period, both LOCOG as contract owner and the Olympic Security Directorate were closely monitoring progress. The first indication of any problem, as I think has been made clear, was towards the very end of June.

Q43 Chair: July of which year?

Dame Helen Ghosh: This year-27 June.

Q44 Chair: So you didn’t see Sir Denis O’Connor’s report?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes, of course, we had commissioned-

Q45 Chair: We have just received a copy of that report and I have just read the conclusion, which was very clear that there were problems at the end of 2011. Shall I read out the conclusion?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I would rather just continue with the narrative. As you say, I saw the evidence that Sir Denis gave to the Committee-

Q46 Chair: We know the narrative. We just want to know when you knew what was happening. Charles Farr will give evidence on Tuesday.

Dame Helen Ghosh: We were aware that there were issues-or rather, risks-around ensuring appropriate delivery of the right number of guards, appropriately trained and accredited.

Q47 Chair: Where from? What date?

Dame Helen Ghosh: On 27 June, just to be clear-

Q48 Chair: I am sorry. You keep going back to 27 June.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Because I think it is very significant.

Q49 Chair: Can I just ask you, because you are the Permanent Secretary and Sir Denis has now- We have now received both reports, from September 2011 and earlier this year, and both conclude that there are problems with numbers. Sir Denis’s reports are very clear about training, so there were concerns, were there not? We know that the responsibility was LOCOG’s. We know that you did not have to produce these people.

Dame Helen Ghosh: We were aware that one of the key risks around the provision of an appropriate number of guards was recruitment and training.

Q50 Chair: From when? That is what I am trying to establish.

Dame Helen Ghosh: We knew from the moment that there was the demand that that was an issue we would have to keep an eye on.

Q51 Chair: But what was the date, Dame Helen? I just want a date.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Well, from the reports that HMIC made in September 2011, it was clear that that was a risk we had to monitor, and that is why we monitored it.

Chair: Excellent.

Dame Helen Ghosh: By 27 June, and I will explain-

Q52 Chair: Fine. Take us forward to 27 June.

Dame Helen Ghosh: By 27 June, there were already 10,000 G4S-recruited staff who had done job-specific training. That was a very strong indication that numbers and training were not a problem, and we had accredited 20,000 potential guards. So, there was no reason to believe on 27 June that, having identified the risks as in Sir Denis’s report and then taken action alongside LOCOG to keep an eye on it and to work very closely with G4S to mitigate the problem, there was actually a problem about numbers and training.

Q53 Chair: Because nobody told you all there was going to be a shortfall?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Because there was no shortfall in terms of the number of people who were coming through the system at that stage.

Q54 Chair: Understandable.

Dame Helen Ghosh: On that day-

Q55 Chair: 27 June.

Dame Helen Ghosh: 27 June. Nick Buckles did mention-

Q56 Chair: Mentioned where?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I assume in-sorry, Charles could give you detail, but I-

Q57 Chair: Mr Charles Farr.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Charles Farr could give you detail of when he did, but possibly at one of the formal meetings and possibly at one of the many informal meetings we and LOCOG were having with suppliers-that, possibly, there might be problems with scheduling enough people and perhaps they would not be able to produce 1,000 or so of the people they were due to produce. But against those figures that I cite, there was no absolutely reason, apart from that little niggle of anxiety, that there was actually a fundamental problem about numbers in training.

Q58 Chair: If I could stop you there.

Dame Helen Ghosh: And so that is when, the next day, none the less, we put-

Q59 Chair: Sorry, can I stop you there for one second, so we can just get- This is important and I am grateful. You mentioned 27 March.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Of June.

Q60 Chair: Of June. At all the meetings that you were attending-presumably you attended the meeting that the Prime Minister chaired on 28 March.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Of March? No, I didn’t attend a meeting-

Q61 Chair: So you didn’t attend any of the Olympic security board meetings.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I attended the meetings that the Home Secretary held; the inter-ministerial meetings in the Department.

Q62 Chair: You’ve taken us to the 28th-

Dame Helen Ghosh: 27 June, when, in numerical terms, the question of numbers of supply and training and accreditation were still looking very positive.

Q63 Chair: And then?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Because we were concerned about whether or not they would actually be able to produce the numbers of staff they were promising-that is, get them to the venues on time-we had a military contingency of 1,000 staff, military personnel, whom we had identified earlier in the year, and we put them on 24 hours’ notice, just to be clear.

Q64 Chair: Very helpful. We know the figures, actually. It is helpful for you to give us the figures. We are keen on knowledge and action. So we will get the rest of the detail from the Home Secretary and Charles Farr. We want to know what you knew as Permanent Secretary. Can I take you to Home Office questions on 9 July? Leveson shows us, as those who have served as Ministers know, that civil servants prepare briefing documents for Ministers before questions.

Dame Helen Ghosh: They do.

Q65 Chair: In the briefing to the Home Secretary on 9 July, were there lines to take and indication of any of these problems that you were informed about on 27 June? Because she was confident in the House, and she will answer for herself shortly that, actually, there were no significant problems. In the lines to take, which you oversee-

Dame Helen Ghosh: I did not receive the lines to take. I did not clear the lines to take. But I am absolutely confident that the lines to take, the briefing that she will have had-and remember she was taking a very close personal interest because these issues are so important-would have accurately reflected the facts.

Q66 Chair: Excellent. Who is to blame for this fiasco?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Actually, I would reject the proposition that, in terms of the outcome, this was a fiasco.

Q67 Chair: No, not now, but for the Home Secretary to get up in the House of Commons and announce 3,000 extra people to help-you are saying that the fact that there was a shortfall was not a problem?

Dame Helen Ghosh: No.

Q68 Chair: It was okay; it was perfectly fine?

Dame Helen Ghosh: You did not define what you meant by "fiasco".

Q69 Chair: Okay. The fiasco of the shortfall.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I believe, and indeed you have had Mr Buckles in front of your Committee, he did not tell anyone until 11 July that they would not in fact be able to meet their requirements. We then, I think, extremely professionally and successfully-

Chair: Of course.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Implemented a contingency. It was completely in line with the fact-

Q70 Chair: So it is G4S’s responsibility; they are to blame for this?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I believe so.

Chair: Nicola Blackwood had a question.

Q71 Nicola Blackwood: I find it a little surprising that there were weekly meetings with LOCOG and G4S up until, I believe, May-from February 2012 until May 2012-and then there were daily meetings, and during that time it took until 11 July to ask G4S a direct question about whether it would be able to deliver on the contract. It seems very late in the day. When we asked Nick Buckles, he said no one asked them directly whether they would be able to deliver on the contract, despite the fact that there were obviously very significant concerns about this high-risk problem with the scheduling, which seems to have become evident through these assurance reports, and despite the fact that the scheduling issues had been an increasing concern since the 27th. I wonder whether Home Office officials were raising that within the Department.

Dame Helen Ghosh: As the Committee is aware, LOCOG were primarily the owners and managers of the contract. You are right that both they and the Home Office were in daily formal or informal contact with G4S. What is surprising is that G4S senior management seemed to be completely unaware of this specific issue. We asked ourselves why that was. It was not about absolute numbers, not about training, certainly about accreditation, which we were delivering, but about the management and communication with their staff.

It was very clear-Mr Farr will be able to give more detail-that they themselves were not aware of it. Explicit in all the data and the management information that G4S were giving us was assurance about numbers trained and people accredited. At the end of June-the date I talked of earlier-they were predicting an over-provision of G4S staff for this activity. The reason somebody did not say, "Are you absolutely promising?" is because they were absolutely promising through the management information that they were giving us.

Q72 Chair: Until?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Up until the 10th, up until the day before, if one had said, although it would have been slightly odd in the context, "Can you absolutely promise that all this management information that you are giving us is correct?" the senior managers may not have known the answer. It was only on the 11th that it became clear to the senior managers. All the management information absolutely supported us: the 10,000 figure of trained staff and the 20,000 figure we had accredited. The absolute numbers was not the issue; the management and communication was the issue.

Q73 Nicola Blackwood: But there was no certainty with those 20,000 that many of them were still available because, once they were on that system, there were no checks to ensure they were still on the system, which was the flaw.

Dame Helen Ghosh: G4S was still assuring us-LOCOG in the first instance-both about their existence and their availability.

Q74 Mr Winnick: On 9 July at Home Office Questions, the Home Secretary was asked by one of my party colleagues, "Will the Home Secretary therefore confirm that she has signed off G4S’s recruitment schedule? Will she also give a personal assurance to the House that those 9,000 security staff can be recruited, vetted and trained in the next 18 days?" The Home Secretary answered, "We have been testing our plans thoroughly and are confident that our partners will deliver a safe and secure Games, but we are not complacent and will leave nothing to chance, so we will stay on the case."

Dame Helen Ghosh: That completely reflects the position. As I said, there was no reason, given the data available to us and the understanding of senior G4S staff at that stage, for her to have given any other answer.

Q75 Mr Winnick: It is difficult to understand-perhaps you do not consider it difficult-that, with the Games so near after 9 July, the Home Office, yourself and the Home Secretary were not constantly in touch with the company G4S to find out what was happening. It seems that the contract was signed and there was no progress-chasing at all.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I cannot say how incorrect that vision can be of what was happening in those months and throughout the Olympic period.

Q76 Chair: Give us a correction in a nutshell.

Dame Helen Ghosh: There were constant contacts between LOCOG and G4S, between my team and LOCOG. There were formal meetings, of which the Committee is aware. There were numerous informal meetings and informal contacts. We were constantly in touch. As I say, you are dealing with a company that had a fundamental failure to understand how its management systems worked. It was impossible to get to the underlying facts. In the end-again, it may be of interest to the Committee-

Q77 Chair: Dame Helen, if you could be as brief as possible, I should be most grateful. Technically, the Home Secretary is still your boss, and she is outside. I do not want to keep her too long.

Dame Helen Ghosh: I am so sorry. I just wanted to make one point, which was that, in terms of the G4S performance through the Olympic period, overall it provided 80% of what it had originally been contracted to do. On a peak day, like 1 August, it provided something like 7,600 security staff. On that day, the military was 8,400 security staff. At the most, the military provided 9,000, only 1,500 above what we had assumed in the first place. There was a 94% satisfaction rate in the spectator experience of security, which was extremely good. Having taken the contingency action and worked very closely with G4S, we got to a much, much better place.

Q78 Mr Winnick: You are telling us, as the Permanent Secretary, that all was well and that, on reflection, you would not have done differently and that there is no reason for criticism whatever?

Dame Helen Ghosh: No, of course I am not saying that for a moment. I am simply saying that, given the failure of G4S to understand its own systems, it would have been very difficult given the facts that were available to us to know that its underlying management system was going to fail. We will learn no doubt from G4S’s own investigation and the views of this Committee about what, if anything, that teaches us for next time.

Chair: We will come back to that.

Q79 Mr Winnick: You do not think that anything could have been done differently by the Home Office? That is what I am asking.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Given the data that G4S had and its own understanding of its management, it is hard to think what we would have done beyond responding as effectively as we did to the contingency. But, of course, one would ask different questions next time.

Q80 Michael Ellis: Dame Helen, can I see if I have this correct? You are saying that G4S not only failed to tell you and the Home Office what was going wrong, but actually misled you, effectively, by telling you things that encouraged you to think that things were going right?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I would not like to say that it misled, because that is not clear.

Q81 Michael Ellis: It is not civil service language.

Dame Helen Ghosh: No, it’s not that it is not civil service language.

Q82 Chair: We will accept, "I don’t know". It is perfectly fine to say, "I don’t know".

Dame Helen Ghosh: There is a question about whether the senior managers themselves understood whether there was a problem.

Q83 Michael Ellis: The senior managers who were in contact with you at the Home Office unwittingly misled you into thinking the situation was better than it was?

Dame Helen Ghosh: That finding is for this Committee and others to decide.

Q84 Michael Ellis: But would you support that contention, if it were said to you?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I would not speculate on it.

Q85 Michael Ellis: I want to establish what you will say as far as G4S is concerned. I am simply trying to put into a synopsis what you have been saying in a little more detail to other witnesses. It is your position that G4S has not conducted itself in this process as it should have done-or as it might have done-to give you the best result?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes, because one would have expected a company on that scale to have appropriate management information and systems to deliver the number of guards that it was contracted to deliver.

Q86 Michael Ellis: Right. It failed in that regard and, to be fair, it accepted that it failed in that regard?

Dame Helen Ghosh: It does indeed.

Q87 Michael Ellis: As far as information at the Home Office was concerned, it also failed to transmit that information to the Home Office in good time?

Dame Helen Ghosh: If it knew it itself.

Q88 Michael Ellis: Stop, please. It failed to transmit that information to the Home Office in good time, because you did not know about it until five minutes before, effectively?

Dame Helen Ghosh: I am sorry. In a sense, it is not a question for me to answer on behalf of G4S about when it knew.

Q89 Michael Ellis: I am not asking you when it knew.

Dame Helen Ghosh: On 10 July, it was still saying that it would deliver. On 11 July, it was saying that it would not deliver and would need help. That suggests a realisation between the 10th and the 11th.

Q90 Michael Ellis: So on 11 July, it is the first time that you hear that it is not going to plan-two weeks before the Olympics?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Two weeks before the Olympics, at which point we put into action what turned out to be very effective contingency arrangements based on our original proposal.

Q91 Michael Ellis: So you have not been told in good time that there is a problem? They might not have realised themselves that they had a problem.

Dame Helen Ghosh: No-exactly. Sorry, I am making almost a philosophical point: you had to be told in good time, but the person telling you has to know it, and I am simply saying I do not know when they knew it, but they certainly did not tell us in good time.

Q92 Chair: Are you done, Mr Ellis? We have another witness.

Michael Ellis: I am aware of the time. I know we are overrunning, but that has not been due to my questions. Let me move on quickly.

Q93 Chair: Can we have a final question?

Q94 Michael Ellis: Final question as far as the military contingency force is concerned. I am concerned about the compensation aspect. I want to know what you know about the availability of compensation for members of the armed forces who had their leave cancelled and who were drawn down at short notice to support the Games. I appreciate that it was a smaller number than was at one point anticipated, but nevertheless 1,500 military personnel did assist when they were not expecting to. What is happening as far as compensation is concerned?

Dame Helen Ghosh: As you will be aware, in terms of the formal contractual issues, those are currently under debate between LOCOG and G4S, as LOCOG is the contract owner, so I cannot comment on anything that may be in there in terms of fulfilling Nick Buckles’ commitment to cover our costs. As you know, Nick Buckles has, in recognition of some of the issues that you describe, made a contribution to forces’ charities. We will of course work closely, as will LOCOG, with the MOD to ensure that appropriate recompense is made to the MOD.

Chair: Thank you. A very quick supplementary from Miss Blackwood. I am afraid we are going to have to curtail this session.

Q95 Nicola Blackwood: It is just a final and very short question on a point of principle. Since G4S did undertake a contract to deliver Olympic security, which is a fairly fundamental and very important contract, do you not believe that they had a responsibility to deliver that fully and a responsibility to understand the implications of that contract?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes.

Q96 Nicola Blackwood: And therefore to know whether they could deliver it?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes.

Q97 Nicola Blackwood: And therefore to be able to tell you in good time if they could not?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Yes.

Q98 Nicola Blackwood: And therefore do you think that they should take their management fee in full?

Dame Helen Ghosh: That issue is one of the many issues under debate with LOCOG in the commercial negotiations, so I cannot comment.

Chair: Thank you. If we could have a similar set of responses to Mr Michael, that would be terrific.

Q99 Alun Michael: G4S is the largest security company in the world and the Government is its biggest customer in the UK, so the Government is at risk if there are any future failures. I want to know what processes you have put in place to make sure that in future-because the past is what we know about-the robustness of the offers for G4S or any other similar company are tested. Secondly, how are you going to make sure that for the Home Office and other Departments in future, big contracts like this do not produce the moral hazard of the public sector underwriting the risk of provider failure?

Dame Helen Ghosh: In a financial sense, the public sector has not underwritten the contract. We will get our costs fully reimbursed-

Q100 Alun Michael: We will know that when we know the outcome of the negotiations.

Dame Helen Ghosh: There is provision in that contract, as there are in all Government and, I am sure, other contracts. There is provision for the Government to step in and for costs to be recouped. That was clearly in the contract. The fact that procurement arrangements are now driven centrally through the new Cabinet Office arrangements, so there will be what is called a Crown representative for G4S and indeed for other major companies, means that the lessons from this experience can be handed on and driven through very effectively to any future contracts of this kind, and indeed with similar sorts of companies. So I think we have very good mechanisms for doing that, and of course we will learn the lessons of this experience.

Q101 Alun Michael: Could that be spelt out in detail in writing to us?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Certainly.

Chair: That would be very helpful.

Dame Helen, this is your last appearance. We have covered a number of different subjects in your brief. Thank you very much for appearing.

Dame Helen Ghosh: Not at all

Chair: And thank you for always agreeing to come before us whenever we have asked and for the information you have provided. I am afraid we have left you some homework before you go, with a number of notes.

Dame Helen Ghosh: That is quite all right.

Chair: May I, on behalf of the Committee, wish you well and an enjoyable time in your new post?

Dame Helen Ghosh: Thank you very much.

Prepared 28th September 2012