Some thoughts on the Minister’s responses to Puffles’ tweeted questions
The Public Administration Select Committee invited members of the public to submit questions via Twitter to Francis Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General. So, through Puffles, I did.
The Minister’s first response to my question on risks – asked by Kelvin Hopkins MP (for which I am grateful) around outsourcing policy were batted away with a simple:
“I don’t think there are any risks”
To which I was gobsmacked – for a number of reasons. For a start, I had listed a number of risks associated with the outsourcing of policy functions in this blogpost back in March 2012. It made something of an impact because it was featured in The Guardian not long after.
There are only two reasons I can think why he gave this answer:
- He wasn’t briefed about what actions were taken by his policy team when scoping this policy
- The policy team had not done one of the very basic standard policy exercises that I’d expect with any policy: a risk scoping exercise
I’d like to think it was the former rather than the latter, because it seems that from the follow-up questions from both Hopkins (which didn’t land) and from the Committee Chair, Bernard Jenkin MP (whose very much did) seemed to indicate Maude wasn’t entirely on top of his brief on some of the policy development processes.
If, however it occurs that the risk scoping exercise has not been done, things are a little bit awkward for Sir Jeremy Heywood too, because it was his comments back in March that first muted the idea of outsourcing policy advice beyond the civil service. Would a minister be within their rights to ask of their senior policy officials: “Why wasn’t I advised of these risks?”
Bernard Jenkin hits the mark with his question:
“How do you choose which think tank to throw money at?”
This was a direct follow-up to my question on transparency and propriety that Bernard Jenkin asked. To be fair, Maude indicated he would respond in writing to this point – a response Jenkin indicated would be published on the Committee’s website.
In terms of basic policy making processes and sound public administration, I recommend to the Select Committee to seek reassurance on the processes they went through on developing and implementing the policy. There are some significant risks there. I listed some on my earlier blogpost, and these were quite rightly raised by the Select Committee. A basic risk scoping exercise, followed by the creation and population of a risk register (including mitigation) is standard practice. It is a reasonable question for MPs to ask what the top risks are, and on what steps are being taken to mitigate for them. I’m not expecting full risk registers to be released. My analysis of the NHS Bill risk register should give an idea of why civil servants are reluctant to release ‘live’ risk registers. It is ultimately up to ministers to decide how open they want to be about the risks associated with given policies and what steps are taken to mitigate for them. But to pretend that there are no risks with a given policy is something I find astonishing. All policies carry some sort of risk because they rely on human beings to implement them.
I hope that the Select Committee will follow up – either orally or in writing – these points with the Minister to seek reassurance that the development and delivery of this policy is being properly administered.