Public Administration Select Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 75

Back to Report

Taken before the Public Administration Committee

on Wednesday 28 November 2012

Members present:

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Chair)

Alun Cairns

Paul Flynn

Robert Halfon

Kelvin Hopkins

Greg Mulholland


Examination of Witness

Witness: Rt Hon Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, gave evidence.

Q157 Chair: Minister, may I welcome you to this session on opensource policymaking? We will also be asking some questions about Civil Service reform, but this will by no means be the only session that we might be asking about that. We also have launched #AskMaude on Twitter. At the end of this session, we will be asking you some quickfire questions that have been submitted by members of the public, though very often members of the public seem to be people that we know. First of all, can I ask you to identify yourself for the record, please?

Mr Maude: Yes. I am Francis Maude. I am Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Q158 Chair: What evidence is there that there is some vast unmet demand for much greater public involvement in policymaking?

Mr Maude: I do not know that there is a huge amount of evidence for it. There is a belief, which I share, that a process of policymaking that is closed and exclusive sometimes leads to a narrower and more conventional approach than perhaps is possible or desirable.

Q159 Chair: In the Civil Service Reform White Paper-sorry, the Civil Service Reform Plan-it is not a White Paper, is it?

Mr Maude: It is definitely not a White Paper.

Chair: Because you said you were not going to have one.

Mr Maude: Exactly.

Q160 Chair: You say, "Policy advice is not always consistent or designed with implementation in mind". If there is going to be even more separation of policy from implementation, how are we going to make sure that implementation is borne in mind?

Mr Maude: Who says we are going to separate policy more from implementation? We say exactly the reverse in the paper.

Q161 Chair: Policy used to be concentrated in the same Departments that were delivering the implementation, and therefore there was quite a closed feedback loop between the implementation of the policy and problems with implementation with feedback into the policymaking process.

Mr Maude: Yes, but actually that did not always work as well as it should have done. There was insufficient pushback or there was often seen to be insufficient ability for those who were going to be charged with implementing a policy to be able to push back on the policy. Hence train crashes like the introduction of tax credits, where there was plenty of advice from those who would be charged with implementing the tax credit policy that it was going to be very much at risk of error and fraud, which turned out to be correct, but Ministers chose to plough on regardless of that advice about implementation with, as all MPs know, terrible consequences for our hardworking lowpaid constituents, who found themselves suddenly receiving letters from the Revenue demanding repayment of overpaid tax credits.

Q162 Chair: In fact, opensource policymaking is as much about bringing implementation concerns into the policymaking process as anything else.

Mr Maude: No, it is not. These are slightly separate issues, because actually policy development is not a neat, linear process. It used to be slightly thought of that way: that you look at options; you publish a Green Paper, which you consult on; you publish a White Paper, which sets out your policy; you legislate and then the results are handed to officials, who implement it. I do not think that model is necessarily the right way to approach it, though it is in some circumstances. It is a much more flexible and more agile process that we would seek now, where you would want, at the early stage particularly, to open up to a wider range of possibilities, suggestions and input. This is really what open policymaking is about but, at the end of it, the ultimate decisions on policy need to rest with Ministers, either individually or collectively, who will have received advice, largely but not exclusively from their policy advisers in the Civil Service, but not just in the Civil Service. That advice should be informed by the concerns that there may be about implementation.

Q163 Chair: If I was to ask about what the current level of public satisfaction is with engagement in policymaking and whether you are hoping to improve that, I am really asking the wrong question, because actually the only thing the public are interested in is outputs and whether they are engaged sufficiently in order to ensure that they get the right output.

Mr Maude: Yes, that is broadly true, but that does not mean all of us as MPs are not subject to plenty of input from members of the public about what they think policy should be. I do not know about you, but from experience of my surgeries and my post bag, I tend to have plenty of people who have suggestions-some good, some not so good-about how Government policy should be changed. I would not draw any conclusion from that about the level of public satisfaction with the level of engagement. Some people will want to engage; others will not.

Q164 Chair: Are you going to be measuring it? Is it a measurement of your success?

Mr Maude: Ultimately, the measure of success about the amount of engagement, is that what you are asking?

Chair: People’s satisfaction with it.

Mr Maude: Are you talking about satisfaction with policy, because the test of that is a general election, or the level of engagement?

Chair: I think you are not going to measure it.

Mr Maude: I do not know how you would measure it.

Chair: I think that is probably correct.

Q165 Kelvin Hopkins: Just very briefly, Mr Blair in his time was very keen on focus groups and policy forums. It was very obvious that the people he wanted to avoid above all were active people in his party, senior politicians, senior MPs and the Civil Service. He wanted to cut right past that essentially to get control at the centre, under the guise of consulting people. Is the present Government motivated by the same desire for central control, and to marginalise the Civil Service and activists in their own party?

Mr Maude: No, not a bit. Political parties draw their ideas and stimulus from all sorts of places, to some extent from their activists and members, clearly. Political parties, at the end of it, have to put a policy platform to the public at an election. In terms of where you take advice, parties in opposition will open themselves out very widely to input. You have policy groups with experts from different areas involved. The concern I would have is that, whereas in opposition you operate in a very open way, you should not suddenly, when you come into government, close off all those external inputs. This is very much a view that Jeremy Heywood has expressed publicly. You should not just assume that there is a kind of closed order of policy advisers who are called "civil servants" and they are the only people you should listen to, excellent though they may be and good though the advice may be. You actually want to hear discordant voices. The most useful meetings I have are ones where people argue in front of you, because that is what throws light on the issues, from unexpected angles.

Q166 Kelvin Hopkins: I know it sounds admirable, but does the present Government not have a tightly knit group of special advisers who really decide things?

Mr Maude: No.

Q167 Alun Cairns: Minister, in view of the will within Government to change to a much more open policymaking process, do you not think that you should at least have some baseline data in which to measure the success of the change in the policymaking process?

Mr Maude: I do not know how you would measure it. What would be your measure-how many people have input, how many people respond to consultations? What we are talking about is trying to get a degree of engagement that is a bit different from consultations, which sometimes tend to be seen to be somewhat formulaic.

Q168 Alun Cairns: Can I not suggest then that the Government Digital Strategy quotes figures that people are more satisfied with policy if they feel they have had some chance to input? There is a way of measuring it for the Government Digital Strategy; are you not saying that there is a way of measuring it for the open policy process? Are they one and the same?

Mr Maude: The Digital Strategy is mostly not about policymaking. Our policy of digital by default is primarily about moving transactions online, like most organisations seek to do, so that the way that citizens can interact with the Government is in a format that is both cheap for the taxpayer and convenient for the citizen.

Q169 Alun Cairns: That quotes figures that people are satisfied with the policy process, if they feel they have had an input into it.

Mr Maude: That is an assertion and I think it is broadly true. If people feel that they have genuinely had the ability to contribute to an outcome, there is some ownership. It is an emotional thing.

Q170 Alun Cairns: How will we measure then, after the process has changed to much more open techniques, whether it has been successful or not?

Mr Maude: I do not think you can. I am not aware of any means of measuring it.

Q171 Kelvin Hopkins: In a speech to the Institute for Government in October, you said that officials have deliberately obstructed or failed to implement ministerial orders. Can you give us some examples of the evidence you have to support this claim?

Mr Maude: No, I am not going to give evidence. It is invidious to do that, but it has not been contested that that has happened-deliberate obstruction. I am not saying it is a routine daily event, but the discovery that on particular occasions officials had blocked clear ministerial decisions, failed to implement them or instructed that, in some cases, what Ministers had decided should not be implemented, has not been subject to any contest. No one has contested it.

Q172 Kelvin Hopkins: Publicly, one would not expect civil servants to do that. But with such an open attack on civil servants, surely there must have been some private words with your Permanent Secretary, the Cabinet Secretary or whoever about this and possibly even some disagreement with your view.

Mr Maude: No, no disagreement with my view.

Q173 Paul Flynn: On the same thing, it has been suggested to us as a Committee that all Governments behave the same. For the first few years, they blame the last lot, the previous Government, but after two and a half years, they decide that the civil servants are ineffective. That was not the word used by the person who suggested this. Are you not following a pattern when you find that what you are doing does not work, you are pulling on rubber levers and nothing happens when you pull on the levers; this is just a process that occurs in all Governments, which has happened to you in an entirely predictable way? Now it is your turn to put the boot into the Civil Service.

Mr Maude: No, that is not what I am saying.

Q174 Paul Flynn: What do you think? What is your view of the Civil Service? Are you still stunned with admiration, as you were recently when we talked about civil servants doing gardening leave and you went into a hymn of praise to the principle of Civil Service and their work? Are you still uncritically approving of the Civil Service?

Mr Maude: I have never been uncritically approving of the Civil Service.

Q175 Paul Flynn: Can you share your thoughts with us?

Mr Maude: Yes. My summary view is that we have some exceptionally good civil servants. The Civil Service needs reform.

Q176 Paul Flynn: Are they "blocking"? It is this word "blocking".

Mr Maude: Some have been, yes. Because I drew attention to that publicly and there have been some conversations about that internally, I believe that that will be less so in the future.

Q177 Paul Flynn: It has always been the case that civil servants, who have great expertise and a memory of what has gone on in the past-sometimes going back as far as 2030 years-act as a brake on some of the extravagant ideas of extreme Governments, like the present.

Mr Maude: It is a very proper function of civil servants to provide challenging advice to Ministers. Nothing that I have said is, in any way, a complaint about having challenging advice; actually the reverse. What my complaint has been-and I stress that this is not routine; it is exceptional, but it has happened in ways that matter-is when civil servants do not provide the challenging advice and do not challenge what it is that Ministers have decided to do. That is fundamentally wrong. Jeremy Heywood and Bob Kerslake have both publicly said that that is utterly unacceptable.

Q178 Paul Flynn: What are the examples of this?

Mr Maude: I have said that I am not going to give examples. It is invidious to do that. No one has contested that these examples exist.

Paul Flynn: In the interest of transparency, open government and communication, it would help if you-

Q179 Chair: Can I make a suggestion? I do not think he is going to answer. May I make an observation that the Department for Education is regarded as having carried through one of the most radical programmes under this Government, where other Departments seem to have perhaps been less able to carry through Government reform. At the same time, I think it is fair to say that there is a perception that Michael Gove’s team have had less regard to the norms and rules of Whitehall and have thought more outside the box about how to persuade their Department to go ahead. Do you think there are some lessons in that?

Mr Maude: Ministers should not have to persuade their Departments to implement their policy. The Civil Service exists to serve the Government of the day.

Q180 Chair: In order to be effective, I would submit that Michael Gove and his team have, some would say, broken the normal rules of Whitehall in order to get things done. Do you think there are some lessons in that?

Mr Maude: I am not aware of any rules even being stretched. Michael Gove and his team have a very clear view of what they want to see happen, and they have rightly insisted that, after taking proper advice and listening to the advice-and it is absolutely in the Ministerial Code that Ministers should seek and listen to advice from their civil servants-

Q181 Chair: The lesson from you is that clear and forthright leadership delivers the results. That is the lesson.

Mr Maude: The lesson is: when you make a decision and you are clear about what the decision is, you expect it to be implemented. I would not have had a complaint if the decisions that I had made had been carried out. Ministers operate with a tiny staff, mostly themselves of civil servants. If you are a Cabinet Minister, you have two special advisers; junior Ministers have none. They cannot personally be expected to be following up on every single decision. Ministers make tens of decisions every day; you cannot possibly personally be following up on every single one of those decisions to check that it has been implemented, nor should you have to. When a Minister makes a decision, a proper lawful decision, there should be no question about whether it is implemented. If there are doubts about it, concerns about it, then of course officials should come back to Ministers to raise those with Ministers. What is unacceptable, and Jeremy Heywood and Bob Kerslake have been absolutely adamant about this, is that lawful decisions made by Ministers should, without telling the Ministers, simply not be implemented. That is unacceptable.

Q182 Paul Flynn: One of the results of Mr Gove’s actions is that there has been an overspend of £1 billion on academies in England. Would it not be better if there was a block by civil servants in that Department in order to save the country from the eccentricities of Mr Gove?

Mr Maude: What you put forward is the argument of autocrats through the ages that democratically elected politicians can legitimately be frustrated by those who claim to know better. I would have thought that, as a long-standing Member of Parliament, you would be quite wedded to the principle of the democratic mandate.

Q183 Paul Flynn: With limits. I am not wedded to the infallibility of Governments; far from it. The longer I stay in Parliament, the less faith I have.

Mr Maude: Who else would you like to be able to frustrate the Government of the day?

Paul Flynn: You frustrate extreme views and people coming in with ideas and dogma, which have to be taken apart by the following Government.

Mr Maude: I am afraid we are on a different page.

Q184 Chair: It is true to say that the Civil Service provides continuity for most of the functions of government that Ministers are not thinking about, because actually Ministers generally only try to change quite small aspects of government. Most of government carries on, through 380,000 civil servants, on autopilot and we depend upon that continuity and stability.

Mr Maude: Absolutely.

Q185 Kelvin Hopkins: All this suggests that disparaging the Civil Service in public, which is rather new, and indeed in private by Ministers, is a factor in the breakdown in trust between Ministers and officials. Is this not rather different? We have had radical Governments before, the 1945 to 1951 Labour Government, but there was not a breakdown in trust between Civil Service and Ministers, as far as I recall from that time, but there seems to be now.

Mr Maude: There is not.

Q186 Kelvin Hopkins: Clearly civil servants will surely not like being attacked publicly.

Mr Maude: Ministers do not like being obstructed.

Q187 Kelvin Hopkins: Is that not a matter for private discussions? In the past, I know that civil servants frustrated, say, Tony Benn over energy policy. Those civil servants went to the Cabinet Secretary, who spoke to the Prime Minister, who took the civil servants’ side against Tony Benn.

Mr Maude: That is completely fine. I would not have a problem with that, because at the end of it that is a decision made by the Prime Minister and the Ministers the Prime Minister appoints. That is completely legitimate if there are concerns about the appropriateness of decisions made by Ministers, which there may well be. Ministers are not necessarily right. If a Permanent Secretary, as an accounting officer, has a concern about the appropriateness from a valueformoney point of view of a ministerial decision, then the Permanent Secretary is completely at liberty to ask for a written direction, which sometimes gets turned into a sort of nuclear thing that could not possibly ever be used, but I think we should be more relaxed about that. If a Permanent Secretary has a real concern, then to ask for a written direction is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. Ministers who are confident about what they are doing, who have taken advice and considered it, should be willing to justify what they are doing.

Q188 Kelvin Hopkins: I agree with that, but it is the differences. It is an attack in public rather than private, which is the beginning of regarding the Civil Service as a political force, rather than the source of impartial private advice to Ministers. It is the public attack that is different.

Mr Maude: To some extent, this inevitably becomes a bit public, because we are embarked on a process of Civil Service reform. There are issues about the accountability of the Civil Service. The House of Lords Constitution Committee under Baroness Jay’s Chairmanship has recently produced a report on the accountability of the Civil Service. We talk about accountability in the Civil Service Reform Plan. These are issues about accountability, where Ministers, perfectly properly-and I do not seek to change this-are accountable for what the Department does. If that is to be the case, which no one is seriously contesting, then there has to be very clear accountability of the Civil Service to the Minister, otherwise the system will break down.

Q189 Chair: I think you are saying something very important which is, in summary, you do not mind challenge; you do not mind open debate.

Mr Maude: I absolutely want that.

Q190 Chair: But what you do not want is obstruction. Is there not something dysfunctional about an organisation that does not know how to challenge, openly or in private, and does not know how to debate? As we heard in our seminar on Civil Service reform last week, the reason why dysfunctional organisations fail is not because people in them do not know that the organisation is failing. In fact, we heard how the majority of Enron executives knew that Enron was going bust three years before it went bust. The problem is they did not know how to talk about it. Is your objective actually to improve trust, so that people do feel that they can talk about the things they think are going wrong, so that there can be open discussion about them within the organisation to put them right and resolve their concerns?

Mr Maude: That puts it very, very well, if I may respectfully say so. You absolutely put your finger on it.

Q191 Chair: I understand why Ministers might have outbursts in public that undermine public confidence in the Civil Service, but is that actually going to improve that atmosphere of trust that you need, in order that people will speak more openly to you in private?

Mr Maude: Yes, I think it has actually, because it has enabled me to make the point. Some people have lazily assumed that what I was concerned about was open challenge and candid advice about policy. That is not remotely what my concern was, and so I have been able to make absolutely clear that all good Ministers welcome, and are obliged under Ministerial Code, as I have said, to seek and listen to, advice from officials, and good Ministers will want to hear very candid advice. Absolutely-and I say this again, but it cannot be stressed too highly-what Ministers want is not to stop or discourage challenging advice; they want that. What they do then want is, when they have made decisions, to be confident that those decisions are going to be implemented swiftly and effectively.

Q192 Chair: The conversation has to move on from anger and frustration to sharing and understanding.

Mr Maude: Yes, I think it is actually. We are in a much better place.

Q193 Chair: Can we perhaps look forward to a new chapter of the Civil Service Reform Plan that is about this? Perhaps this should be embedded in the values of the Civil Service.

Mr Maude: I made the point the other day, when I spoke at the meeting of the top 200 civil servants. The stated values of the Civil Service are very good values: honesty, objectivity, impartiality and integrity. I do not quarrel with any of those, but they are all both static values and quite cold values.

Q194 Chair: If I can just pick you up, I think I know what you are going to say, but the point is there is not much integrity in going to a meeting, not voicing your concerns and then going away from that meeting and deciding not to implement what has been decided by the meeting.

Mr Maude: I agree, which is why that behaviour is improper. The point I was going on to make is that Gus O’Donnell, when he was Head of the Civil Service, had four Ps that he used to talk about, which were: passion, pace, pride and professionalism. Actually those are all good values and they are warm and dynamic values. The point he was making is that the impartiality that we talk about in the Civil Service can, in some people’s minds, translate into being utterly dispassionate about it, so it is somehow improper to betray any enthusiasm for a policy. The point Gus was making was a very powerful and good point, which is that the best civil servants, while being true to the value of impartiality, inject passion, enthusiasm and commitment into both the advice that they give and the implementation of decisions.

Q195 Chair: The Reform Plan was published in June. What progress do you think you are making? In particular, what progress are you making in helping it to be good for people’s careers in the Civil Service to be open and honest about what they think about Ministers’ proposals? Historically, it has been rather bad for Civil Service careers to be a bit too open and honest about what they think about Ministers’ proposals. People do not like people coming along and saying, "This is all going horribly wrong." The bearers of bad news get shot.

Mr Maude: You are raising two completely different issues.

Chair: They are the same issue.

Mr Maude: No, they are not, with respect. I will talk a little bit about progress in implementing the Civil Service Reform Plan but, on your second point-what is being done to encourage people to be frank with Ministers-all you can do is encourage them to. At the end of it, it is not Ministers who decide on the future careers of civil servants. One of the things that we have committed to, actually after publishing the Civil Service Reform Plan, is that Ministers must have the ability formally to feed into the appraisals of civil servants whose work they see. In most places that would happen routinely, but it does not happen routinely and it now will happen routinely. I do not think anyone would find that remotely controversial. But at the end of it, it is not Ministers who decide what the ranking is of civil servants or what their future career is, except at the very highest level, where the Prime Minister appoints Permanent Secretaries.

Your point about shooting the messenger is that, actually, if a civil servant is regarded as having, properly and in accordance with the Civil Service code, told unwelcome truths to Ministers-

Chair: Or indeed other senior civil servants.

Mr Maude: I cannot comment about that, because that is not in my gift to do anything about.

Q196 Chair: That is where the dysfunctionality of the organisation lies as much as anywhere, does it not?

Mr Maude: You talk about this as if it is all or nothing. The Civil Service is huge; some would contest whether it is an organisation at all or a collection of organisations. One of the things we have said, and Bob Kerslake has been very forceful and committed on this, is that it needs to be a more unified organisation than it has been. It is very disparate and very, very dispersed, but it is a collection of different organisations. You talk about it as if the Civil Service is either dysfunctional or it is completely functional, and the answer is parts of it are absolutely terrific. I have some brilliant people who work with me who absolutely fulfil the Civil Service values, but are nonetheless loyal, committed and passionate about what they do, and do a brilliant job. There are other parts of the Civil Service that operate much less well. In fact, the point we make in the Civil Service Reform Plan is not that it is all terrible and it all needs to be turned upsidedown; it is that we need to get much more consistency, so that much more of the Civil Service operates to the standard of the best.

You asked about progress in implementing the Civil Service Reform Plan and I will give you a quick thumbnail sketch. I would say it is mixed. It has taken longer than any of us would have wanted to assemble a team around the implementation of the Reform Plan, and that is now just about in place, not complete but getting there. We will slip on implementing some of the actions. Some have been implemented. We have moved ahead on making the first contestable open policymaking fund. We have a project underway on that; that has been launched. We have got slightly ahead of ourselves: we said we were going to publish an interim digital strategy; we have done better than that, so we are ahead of ourselves on that. Other things have not gone so well. We committed to producing a fiveyear capabilities plan, which is a hugely important document. It has never been done before for the whole Civil Service. We said we would do that in the autumn; it will not be published in the autumn. It is not ready; not enough work has been done on that, but it is hugely important, so I would not agree to publishing something that was not a good enough document.

Q197 Chair: Does it need to be published in one block? Does it need to be published as one document?

Mr Maude: Not necessarily. We need to have something that looks at the entirety, but we have identified four areas where the Civil Service is in deficit in terms of the skills it needs. One is in commercial skills. In a world where more services are going to be commissioned from outside organisations, whether public service mutuals spinning out or from conventional outside organisations, whether commercial or voluntary, charitable or social enterprises, more civil servants need to have commercial skills to negotiate, commission and then manage contracts. We are short of digital skills. In fact, our Digital Strategy has quite a big chunk on the development of digital capability. We are short of project management skills. We have started to fill the gap, particularly in project leadership, with establishing the-

Chair: Minister, I am really sorry to rush you.

Mr Maude: Well, I will just touch on the fourth one, which is something that constantly comes up in the Civil Service People Survey, the staff survey, which is that the Civil Service is poor at leading and managing change. Those capabilities need to be developed. Those four areas are the first areas we are looking to address, and we need to do that urgently.

Q198 Chair: We will certainly have Stephen Kelly in front of this Committee shortly, I hope.

Mr Maude: Good. He has only been in his job as the Government’s Chief Operating Officer for a short time, but has made an enormous difference.

Q199 Chair: Finally, the shared services review is meant to be published about now.

Mr Maude: Again, we have made less good progress on this until very recently, but we are now much closer. We are in a much better place in terms of delivering the savings and the better performance that come with real shared services. This has been talked about; Peter Gershon first proposed this eight years ago.

Q200 Chair: When will it come?

Mr Maude: We may get the strategy out this side of Christmas. If not, I hope early in the new year. It has been unbelievably slow to get agreement on what needs to be done, but we have now, really in the last few weeks, achieved some breakthroughs there, so I would be much more optimistic.

Q201 Robert Halfon: Before I go on to my question, I would like to ask some other questions. Can I just go back to the digital engagement part of the debate? Can you just explain to me what you think we mean by digital engagement, in practice?

Mr Maude: I will give you one example of something we did back at the beginning of the Comprehensive Spending Review, where we created the public spending challenge. This was not for the public more widely, but it was for the entirety of the public sector, so 6 million or so people, where we invited, through a website, public sector employees to put forward their ideas for how money could be saved in ways that would not damage services. Keep the quality but cut the cost. Rather to our surprise, there were a lot of responses, over 60,000. They were all reviewed and a lot of them were sensible and actionable ideas that did get actioned. I am remembering the number as about £500 million of savings that accrued from implementing those proposals. That was digital engagement. It was not people sending in postcards.

Q202 Robert Halfon: How do you move on from that being very important, but it just being an ideas bank and a place where people deposit information, to genuine engagement? Can you foresee that actually people would then be able to vote on various Government measures-I am not talking about specific legislation, but ideas-what they think of certain consultations and so on, by using the internet?

Mr Maude: I do not think you would ever get to a position where the public decides policy in that way. The public elects Members of Parliament to pass laws; Parliament puts in place a Government, which makes decisions. At the end of it, I do not think you can delegate that. What you can have is a rich and realistic process, whereby members of the public, those who want to, can influence policy.

Q203 Robert Halfon: If you take the example of a consultation, most people believe that most consultations are decided in advance and that any Government goes through the motions, because of legislation. If you then allow people to digitally engage on that consultation and a significant number of people suggest one course of action, and then the Government takes a different course from that consultation, how is that described as genuine digital engagement?

Mr Maude: At the end of it, Governments have to make decisions and justify their decisions. I think you are right that it is often seen that consultations are a kind of lip service, and they tend to be conducted after the Government has basically taken a policy stance. The consultation may throw up things that the Government has simply not thought about, in which case you need to change direction, adapt and evolve. That is fine too.

Chair: I must ask you to press on, Minister, because we only have you until 10.45 and I do not want to delay you, but we will have to if we take too long.

Mr Maude: Fine. I think I have said all I can usefully say on that.

Q204 Robert Halfon: On the Civil Service side of things, do you think there is a high turnover of senior staff in the Civil Service?

Mr Maude: Not particularly.

Robert Halfon: In the sense of not necessarily leaving the Civil Service, but moving from Department to Department.

Mr Maude: Not all that much between Departments. Actually, I would like to see there being more movement between Departments. One of the problems is that the Civil Service is very siloed. I would like to see more interchange between Departments. The approach we are taking with the Fast Stream graduate entry will be much more like that.

Q205 Robert Halfon: Do you not think that, if people are in the same position for a good period of time, it means that the Department has a lot of experience, wisdom and knowledge whereas, if they turn over all the time, that means you lose when a new person has to come along and start all over again?

Mr Maude: Yes, but that is about the speed with which they change. It is a settled view, among both Ministers and the leadership of the Civil Service, that there is too much rotation of civil servants. Civil servants do not spend long enough in jobs. It used to be the case with Ministers as well, but is happily less so now.

Q206 Robert Halfon: Given that there still is a high turnover of Ministers, do you think that it would possibly be a good idea to have chief executives in Departments for long periods of time, who are then responsible for those Departments? They would then build up the wisdom and knowledge that was needed.

Mr Maude: The point you make about the need for there to be an institutional memory is a very good one. I do not think we are as good at that as we ought to be. Part of that is that there is excessive rotation. I do not think it is about the chief executive or Permanent Secretary moving too frequently.

Q207 Robert Halfon: I was told by one special adviser very recently that, on his floor where he works, there are a fair number of civil servants. The only people who have been there since 2010 are him, the Minister and one other civil servant.

Mr Maude: Yes, which can be an advantage for the Minister.

Q208 Chair: That is a bit of an indictment of the system, is it not? Would you agree that there really has been a loss of expertise and institutional memory at the top of Departments? That is one of the things that inhibit good crossdepartmental working, because the people at the top of Departments know less about their Departments when they are talking to other Departments, and therefore crossdepartmental management does not work very well.

Mr Maude: I think that may be. It is absolutely the case that there is, in too many Departments, a loss of institutional memory. I do not think we are as good at that as we would have been. One of the reasons for that has been a change in approach over the last, I guess, 20 years or so, where it has been assumed that all posts must be openly advertised and it is kind of fine for civil servants to apply for any job and get any job. Actually, in the time when I was in Government previously, which was, I admit, a long time ago, there would have been much more proactive management of careers. I think there is a growing view in the leadership of the Civil Service, which I strongly share, that actually for the leadership cadre of civil servants right through the Civil Service, from Fast Stream graduate entry right the way through to the leadership roles, there should be much more active management of careers. The idea that it is fine just to move on when it suits you, those days are probably going.

That is one of the reasons why the Public Accounts Committee has consistently criticised the high turnover in senior responsible owners, the leaders of big projects. One huge project had got through a new SRO every six months, which is a shockingly bad way to operate.

Chair: We are going to come back to this topic, because we are very interested in it.

Q209 Paul Flynn: Just a very brief one. We have been informed as a Committee that, of the 20,000 applicants for the fasttrack entry into the Civil Service last year, none of the successful ones were black. Is this a matter of concern to you?

Mr Maude: I did see some report in the newspapers of that. I would be very surprised if that turned out to be the case.

Q210 Chair: Could you drop us a line, Minister, about that?

Mr Maude: I will check that out.

Chair: It is a very pertinent question.

Q211 Robert Halfon: Do you think that the public sector requires a different model of corporate governance from that of the private sector or not?

Mr Maude: Yes, but there are useful comparisons and analogies, which we can draw on in the public sector.

Q212 Robert Halfon: What feedback have the nonexecutive directors given you on the strengths and weaknesses of corporate governance in the public sector, as compared to the private sector?

Mr Maude: It is very different. The Departmental Boards, which we strengthened when the coalition Government was formed, do not have a formal role. They are not statutory and they only have the ability to do things to the extent that Ministers let them. I effectively delegate some decisiontaking to the Board; I give the Cabinet Office Board the ability to decide on big investments, for example. At the end of it, it is a decision for Ministers, but actually you want to engage the expertise and experience there is on these Boards in this way. The general feedback-and you will have seen Lord Browne’s first annual report on the experience-is that the concerns they have expressed have been about the quality of management information, which is widely acknowledged to have been poor and inconsistent. It has improved considerably in some ways over the last two and a half years. When we started, we did not know how many civil servants there were. We relied on the Office for National Statistics to do a survey.

Q213 Chair: On the question of NXDs, do you think Departments properly understand what the role of their NXDs is?

Mr Maude: I would say it is mixed.

Q214 Chair: Do nonexecutive directors know what their role is?

Mr Maude: Again, I would say it is mixed and they will be different. There is not an absolutely standard model.

Q215 Chair: Is there a plan to deal with this?

Mr Maude: I do not know about deal with it. Some of them work extremely well. The role of nonexecutives in a big operational Department will be different from the role in a smaller Department that is primarily doing policy. There is not a kind of absolutely standard cookiecutter approach here. The nonexecutives would say that, in some places, Ministers and senior officials use them less than they are willing to be used. I am working with Lord Browne to encourage-

Q216 Chair: It would help if Ministers attended Board meetings, would it not?

Mr Maude: Most Ministers do. Not all Ministers will be on the Boards. If it is a Department with a large number of Ministers, they will not all be on the Board. Again, is it mixed? Yes, it is. Ministers in charge of Departments will typically chair the Board and should do. It is in the Ministerial Code that that is a requirement, but other Ministers should attend the Board.

Q217 Chair: Again, we are going to come back to this, because there is huge potential in the improved governance of Departments by making best use of nonexecutive directors. Were you not appalled when a lead nonexecutive recently resigned because the Permanent Secretary was appointed without even consulting him?

Mr Maude: Yes, and that was a wakeup call. As a result, we have put in place a protocol to ensure that, in future, the lead nonexecutive in a Department will have a prominent role in the selection of Permanent Secretaries.

Q218 Chair: We need to get on to the Twitter questions but, very briefly on consultations, a lot of people were quite alarmed that consultations are going to be curtailed. They cannot quite see how this is consistent with more public engagement in policymaking. Would you like to say something about that?

Mr Maude: Yes, absolutely. In the digital age, consultation can be much quicker and much more effective. Being able to contribute to consultations online means that you do not need all of the time that we used to have.

Q219 Chair: Very often consultations, if they are not properly conducted, then lead to judicial reviews. One thinks particularly the requirements of what they call the Aarhus Convention with regard to the environment. Is this not going to open the Government more to the paralysis of judicial review?

Mr Maude: I do not believe so, no. Actually the judicial review tends to arise because the Government has not followed its own guidelines. If we have guidelines that are very clear about how consultations are to be conducted, and which give a proper opportunity to those with legitimate interests to take part and to put their views forward, then I think it should be fine.

Q220 Chair: Consultations have tended to be the start of a process after a Government has already decided what to do. Will public engagement in policymaking before the Government has decided what to do be a substitute for consultation?

Mr Maude: I think it can help. I do not think it is necessarily a substitute. We are probably into a world where this is much less neat and linear than the conventional model.

Q221 Chair: Turning to our Twitter questions, we are just simply going to read out some of the selected questions that are on our brief, within our remit, which have been submitted. The Fawcett Society tweeted, "The [Prime Minister] has said he wants to reduce the time spent consulting. How will the Government ensure robust consultation with women and others?" They also asked, "Local and central Government cuts mean the public must be consulted and able to challenge decisions. Do recent Government statements not undermine this?"

Mr Maude: I do not understand the logic of that at all.

Chair: Sorry, that was Mencap asking that one.

Mr Maude: The public must be able to be consulted; where there needs to be consultation, there must be consultation. I do not get the point about women. There seems to be some sort of implication that women need longer to submit their thoughts.

Q222 Chair: The Prime Minister said he is going to get rid of equality impact assessments, for example.

Mr Maude: Equality impact assessments can be a very burdensome and timeconsuming process, but we should be able to do this in a way that is much less formal and bureaucratic than perhaps this has turned out to be. It is not that we are suddenly not interested in equality effects, but having a formal process where you tick the box is not perhaps the most substantively useful way of proceeding.

Q223 Kelvin Hopkins: There is a question here: "How can you expect people to engage in policymaking when you dismiss widescale opposition to public sector cuts?" My own supplementary to that is there is a public opinion poll, which is not absolutely vital, which suggests that people would prefer to see tax rises than public spending cuts.

Mr Maude: I think it was you who, earlier, was bemoaning the tendency of the Blair Government to formulate policy by reference to focus groups. Governments have to make their decisions and justify them. The coalition Government was formed, principally and immediately, to focus on deficit reduction and we agreed our approach to that. We put it out there. Some people will agree; some people will disagree with our approach. At the end of it, the test of that has to be when we submit ourselves to election.

Q224 Greg Mulholland: Two tweeted questions from the Fawcett Society and Mencap said, "The PM wants to ‘call time on equality impact assessments’. #AskMaude how the Government will assess policy impacts on women, disabled people and other groups." Then there were two more that were related. "Many people with a learning disability are excluded from policymaking because it’s not accessible. How can you change this?" A final one: "#AskMaude if [equality impact assessments] go, how will authorities meet their duties under the Public Sector Equality Duty?"

Mr Maude: The first and the third are broadly the same question. I think I kind of dealt with it in answer to the Chairman’s question earlier. The fact that you do not go through a formal bureaucratic process of doing an incredibly structured equality impact assessment does not mean you do not care about the equality impacts. We should be doing this as part of policy development not, "Here is a process we need to go through at the end to tick a box." On the question about people with learning disabilities, I am not sure that we are changing anything that makes it more difficult for people with learning disabilities to have their views and concerns put forward.

Q225 Greg Mulholland: The Government, I am sure, would be committed to wanting to extend that. Are there plans to do that to make public policymaking more accessible to people with learning disabilities?

Mr Maude: I do not think there are any specific things, but I confess that I have not given very specific thought to that, and perhaps we can come back to you and Mencap with a response on that.

Q226 Paul Flynn: Could I remind you, first of all, before I ask these questions, of something you said this month last year? It was about the union leaders. You said, "If they actually call a strike based on a ballot where only just more than a quarter of those balloted actually bothered to vote at all then the pressure to change the law to set some kind of turnout threshold will really become very, very hard to resist." @MrMoonX, @LordSplodge and @Vinthedawg send similar questions to you. If union ballots without a large turnout have no mandate, how have the police commissioner elections got a mandate?

Mr Maude: The point about unions, the reason why for strikes there has for a long time been required to be a ballot, is that the union will be calling people out on strike and causing them to lose a day’s or more days’ pay.

Q227 Paul Flynn: I think we are aware of that. The other question is what is a sufficient percentage of vote, in your view, for a democratic mandate.

Mr Maude: Certainly you can make the case that the higher the turnout, the more the participation, the greater the legitimacy. Crime commissioners elected on a low turnout have much greater democratic legitimacy than a police authority that does not-

Q228 Paul Flynn: We know that. If we can break from these platitudinous answers, could you give us some idea? You said it is "very, very hard to resist" putting a threshold in. What threshold? Should it be 25%? Should it be 15%?

Mr Maude: No. I am really not sure what point it is you are making.

Q229 Paul Flynn: I am not making it. It is @LordSplodge and various others that are making this. They only want their questions answered.

Mr Maude: You are the one who is pressing it.

Q230 Paul Flynn: Quite rightly so. They have asked a question: what is the threshold in your mind? You have pontificated on this in the past, as I have just read. You said it is very difficult to resist setting a threshold. What is the threshold? Should it be 25% or should it be 15%? Most of the ballots last week for crime commissioners were less than that.

Mr Maude: The point I have said is that there is no threshold where it suddenly gets complete democratic legitimacy or below which it has no democratic legitimacy.

Paul Flynn: You are not going to answer the question, obviously.

Mr Maude: No, I am answering the question.

Paul Flynn: No, you are not.

Chair: Order.

Mr Maude: You are actually trying to stop me answering the question, which is quite boring. Let me answer the question very specifically. The point I make is that there is no point at which you suddenly have complete democratic legitimacy or below which you have no democratic legitimacy. You can make the case that there is a greater degree of legitimacy the higher the turnout. The point I would make is that union leaders who call strikes on the basis of very low turnouts, as they have done, damage their own legitimacy.

Paul Flynn: You have talked about the threshold yourself.

Chair: Order. We are moving on.

Paul Flynn: No, we are not moving on.

Chair: Mr Flynn, we have got to move on. Order.

Paul Flynn: These people deserve an answer. We have not had an answer.

Chair: Mr Flynn, order.

Paul Flynn: It makes a mockery to ask him the question-

Chair: You have asked that question very persistently.

Mr Maude: You have asked the question several times and you have then talked over the answer.

Q231 Kelvin Hopkins: There are a couple here from someone called @Puffles2010, who sounds like an insider to me because of the questions. "Have you done a risk analysis exercise on the outsourcing of policy? What were the top risks and how will you handle them?"

Mr Maude: I do not think there are any risks. What risks would there be?

Q232 Kelvin Hopkins: The questioner suggests there are some risks. The next question is-we touched on corporate memory before, but I wanted to ask it again-"How will you ensure corporate memory is maintained and policymaking functions are not hollowed out in the way IT has been?"

Mr Maude: The point is, as Sir Jeremy Heywood has said, Whitehall does not have the monopoly on policy wisdom. Where we outsource policy advice, which we are now piloting in a few areas, that does not mean the Civil Service is removed from the provision of advice. Where we do seek analysis and proposals from outside organisations in the way that we are doing currently with the IPPR, when they submit their report to Ministers, I would expect there to be vigorous analysis by Civil Service policy advisers. I would think it not a hollowingout but actually an enrichment of the capacity of the Civil Service, because actually there is other analysis and propositions coming in from outside.

Q233 Kelvin Hopkins: A supplementary from me: the professional permanent Civil Service has been diluted by outsiders being brought in. I have been dubious about this myself but, in a previous Parliament, this Committee had a report that suggested that many of those outsiders proved to be very expensive and not very good at the job. Clearly they do not have the same ethos as the permanent professional Civil Service. Has that not been damaging?

Mr Maude: No, I do not think so, but it is horses for courses really. The idea that the Civil Service is a kind of closed order you join in late adolescence and remain in for the entirety of your life is long gone, if it has ever been the case. There have been some extraordinarily successful people brought in from outside, sometimes in very senior positions. The Chairman talked about Stephen Kelly, who has recently joined as the Government’s Chief Operating Officer. We certainly have in the Efficiency and Reform Group a number of people who are a really good mix of mainstream longterm civil servants and people in from outside. The mix works very well. Each draws much from each other.

Q234 Kelvin Hopkins: I did put this question to Gus O’Donnell and he came from outside. The French operate in a different way. They have this cadre of senior civil servants, who go out into the private sector and then come back, but their core loyalty is to the state, l’état.

Chair: And they are paid more.

Mr Maude: Yes, true.

Q235 Chair: @Puffles2010 also tweeted, "#AskMaude how will you ensure transparency and propriety on outsourcing of policymaking functions?" How do you decide which think tank to throw money at?

Mr Maude: Whoever has the right capability to provide the advice, and so you look for a track record of-

Q236 Chair: Did you choose IPPR yourself?

Mr Maude: Yes, absolutely.

Q237 Chair: Do you not have to take advice on whether they are the appropriate think tank to use for that purpose?

Mr Maude: I looked at the propositions that had come in and decided that they were the one who best had the capability and an approach that was going to provide the right kind of insights.

Q238 Chair: How do you protect public money from being used to just fulfil your fancies? What checks are there?

Mr Maude: We do have a process of filtering the applications. I can give you chapter and verse on how the process works.

Q239 Chair: Perhaps you could drop us a line about that.

Mr Maude: This is not just done on a whim, but neither is it excessively bureaucratic.

Q240 Chair: That is the danger, is it not? It is public money.

Mr Maude: It is small amounts of public money. We made clear with the matched fund we have created that, while we do not limit it to academic institutions and think tanks, there can be other organisations that apply, but they must expect to be paid at academic and think tank rates.

Q241 Chair: If you could drop us a line about this, we will put it online.

Mr Maude: Yes, I will do.

Q242 Greg Mulholland: We were sent some #AskMaude tweet questions about the role of Ministers, civil servants and the Civil Service Reform Plan. The first from @lesteph tweeted, "#AskMaude what are the respective roles of Ministers, political parties and civil servants in more openpolicy making?" That was retweeted by @demsoc and @Puffles2010.

Mr Maude: That is quite a broad issue really. The role of political parties is expressed through Ministers. Ministers do not have to but tend to belong to political parties. At the end of it, civil servants provide advice to Ministers; Ministers decide.

Q243 Greg Mulholland: We had two questions from PCS branches, the first one @PCS_GONW_Branch, which was, "#AskMaude is it fair for a modern employer to publicly criticise its employees’ pay, pensions, and terms and conditions?" A second one was from @PCSWestCroydon, who said, "#AskMaude why is [he] pushing through pension cuts on Civil Service while [his] own taxpayerfunded pension has increased? #hypocrisy."

Mr Maude: On why we are reforming, Ministers and pensions are subject to the same reforms with the same principles as all public sector pension schemes, and operate on a very much higher contribution rate than Civil Service pensions do, even after the reforms. Why are we reforming Civil Service pensions? Well, this has been exhaustively discussed. It is to create sustainable, while maintaining good quality, pensions with defined benefits and a guaranteed level of pension, but to make them sustainable and affordable, with a fairer balance between what staff pay and what the taxpayer pays. I missed the point on the first question there.

Q244 Greg Mulholland: The other one from a PCS was, "Is it fair for a modern employer to publicly criticise its employees’ pay, pensions, and terms and conditions?"

Mr Maude: We have to ensure that the taxpayer gets a good deal. One of the things that the leadership of the Civil Service has said is that civil servants can become very demoralised when newspapers pick up on odd anachronistic terms and conditions, and lampoon them. They are often terms and conditions that civil servants themselves did not know about. Those terms and conditions, which are out of kilter with good modern practice, need to be addressed.

Q245 Chair: On open data, @GrahamGordon4 tweeted, "#AskMaude how will the UK Government use the #OGP," which means Open Government Partnership, "to develop new models of citizen engagement in policymaking?" That is a nice quick one for you.

Mr Maude: The Open Government Partnership, which has got a steering group meeting-we are now the lead coChair of the Open Government Partnership-is an organisation that has taken on quite a life of its own in the short year since it was launched. The partner members are all at different stages, in terms of their development. Some countries have joined at a relatively early stage in their democracy. Their concern is much more about the participation than about the transparency aspects of the Open Government Partnership principles. It is something where actually we all learn from each other.

Q246 Chair: Finally, two very quick oneliners: @HelenEva8 tweeted, "#AskMaude is asking questions of a Government Minister via Twitter a good idea?"

Mr Maude: I think it is absolutely fine.

Q247 Chair: @KateDobinson tweeted, "#AskMaude why doesn’t Francis Maude have his own Twitter?"

Mr Maude: I do have a Twitter account, but I use it to follow Twitter rather than to tweet myself. I am not going to repeat the Prime Minister’s own remarks about tweeting. The Cabinet Office has a Twitter account. When we take the view that there is something that I particularly want to tweet, it goes out through that channel.

Q248 Chair: Is it a secret Twitter account or can we see who you are following?

Mr Maude: It is not particularly secret. People do occasionally pick up that I have followed them and follow me. They are no doubt devastated to find that I do not actually tweet.

Q249 Chair: Minister, thank you very much indeed. We will look forward to seeing you again shortly, I hope, as we proceed with our Civil Service inquiry, about which we hope to have plenty of dialogue with Ministers, senior civil servants and their representatives over the months ahead.

Mr Maude: That will be very good.

Chair: Thank you very much.

Prepared 31st May 2013