Justice CommitteeWritten evidence from Jan Savage

I am writing to express deep concern at the Government’s decision not to allow the release of the Department of Health’s transition risk register regarding the potential effects of the Health and Social Care Act.

As you must be aware, the Health and Social Care Act aims to bring about radical, extensive changes to the National Health Service, changes that must inevitably be attended by a significant degree of risk. Mr Lansley has said that the Government has taken an ‘exceptional’ step in opting against disclosure of the transition risk register because it would affect the quality of advice that civil servants might give in future risk assessments.

This makes no sense. What kind of risks would advisers not wish to be seen identifying? Perhaps Mr Lansley is saying that advisers generally provide a ‘worst-case scenario’ and would be more circumspect, less thorough in their assessment, if they knew that the `worst-case’ became public. But if this is what lies behind the decision not to disclose the NHS risk register, the Government seems to be maligning the professionalism of its advisers, implying that they will vary the rigor of their analysis according to their audience. It also suggests that no one other than Government ministers can recognise the difference between worst-case and other scenarios — in other words, that no one else, whether a member of the public or the Government’s Opposition, understands the nature of risk assessment. If this is the case, shouldn’t the Government be arguing that all risk registers remain undisclosed?

According to the Information Commissioner, the veto resorted to by the Government should only be used in cases (such as war) that meet exceptional criteria of nondisclosure. I hope that the Committee will establish:

the “exceptional” criteria that the Government used in making their decision;

whether these criteria are appropriate; and

whether the Government have any sustainable grounds for vetoing disclosure.

May 2012

Prepared 25th July 2012