I think there was another question somewhere over there. Yes, next to one.
Q: Thank you very much for what has been a genuinely inspiring and motivational talk about the civil service and I think what you identified what makes the civil service a really great place is how we recognise achievements and success and build upon them, but what I think is equally important about what makes the civil service unique in providing an exceptionally good place to work and a good service for all is how we can recognise some of our limitations and our failures, but ultimately respond to them.
And on a personal level we are told often to do that. And I was just wondering if personally in your capacity during your tenure have you had to deal with, some failure or policy that hasn’t quite gone to plan, and really identified some things that you're not quite happy with; some criticism and how you responded to that on a personal level?
Ursula Brennan: If you're – if you're addressing that question – well …
Chris Grayling: I think, you know …
Ursula Brennan: … all of us could answer that one.
Chris Grayling: Yeah we could all – we could certainly all answer it. I mean I think, look, if you take some examples, we have had some interesting times with legal aid reform, we have taken some decisions and then untaken some decisions because we thought actually we got it wrong.
I think what I would say to all of you is that there is never a shame in changing your mind, deciding you think you've got something wrong and taking a different – a different tack. Equally, there's never a shame in trying something and getting it wrong.
So I do think that and I've said it one or two times over the years up here, that what I don’t want this to be is a department where the culture is about caution. You – we can't deliver change in difficult times without being bold. And I think, you know, that transforming rehabilitation is a case in point.
There are lots of people sitting over the cabinet office and elsewhere who thought this was ridiculous, couldn’t possibly be done in the time frame, and we shouldn’t have even tried, but we went for it and we did it. And that’s to my mind what this department should be about, we won't always get it right, we’ll individually take decisions that are wrong, we’ll collectively take decisions that are wrong, but the only way we’re gonna really face up to the challenges that we've faced over the last two and a half years and will carry on facing in the years ahead is to be bold in response.
Nobody in this room should ever feel scared to be bold in trying to tackle a problem.
Ursula Brennan: I think actually there's an interesting thing that if you are at the top of an organisation, sometimes the only things you seem to see are the things that are going wrong so I can think of lots of – lots of examples of things where I've felt we didn’t get that right, and sometimes they're big things, like the problem we had with G4S and Serco on our commercial capability.
That was a thing that we got wrong. When we delve in – delved in to it and looked at it we realised that there was a whole set of things we needed to do to improve. Earlier this week the executive team sat down and looked at what we’re now doing to improve our capability to manage commercial contracts, and it's just hugely impressive how people took that problem, and yes we had to own up to what we’d done wrong and we had to account for it, and we had some tough times accounting for it, ministers and officials owning up to what happened there.
But what we've done now is really to take that, to learn from it, to improve our skills, to bring in more people with more skills, to train the people that we have, really to focus on individual contracts and ask ourselves ‘What do we need to do to get it right?’
People talk a lot about learning from failure, I think that’s a really good example of something we got wrong but where what we've done in response to it has taken us leaps and bounds ahead of where many other departments are in relation to contract management.
Simon Hughes: Okay, I'd like to add a word or two just to complement that. Look, in a coalition government things are by definition a bit more interesting. And as a liberal democrat surrounded by all these right wing Tories, then, you know, there's a bit of a challenge.
But tribute to the Secretary of State, I think the reality is we have honest conversations and I can testify to the fact that for example if we have realised something needed to be adjusted we have sought a way to adjust it. There have been bits of the legal aid system where we have moved. Not – we haven't pulled it up by the roots.
Give you one little example, we've been working on whether we can put back in to public expenditure the very simple DNA test to discover who is the dad in a family case, rather than the Victorian contest in the courts which is, to be honest, not something we should be doing. And – and it's going to change because we have realised that we need to do that and we have had the conversation and we've worked out how to do it. I think my frustration is often that we can't do much more much more quickly, and the reality is we need huge amounts of extra work to make sure women in the criminal justice system have better opportunities for work and housing and so on, that – that they don’t go back in to the cycle.
It's a shared objective, it's not an objective where we’d be in a different place. There are things that we need to promote better, we’re just about to do the campaign on the office for the public guardian to promote people planning ahead so that they have enduring powers of attorney, lasting powers of attorney and make wills. We've stopped going ahead with some ideas for fee changes because we changed our mind. We – it was justified in logic but it wasn't justified in political relationship between us as a department and the public.
So just to reassure you, perpetually we do – we are questioned about whether we’re doing the right thing, and sometimes we’re very clear that we are. Secure colleges, for example controversial; labour party saying, they would not go ahead, we’re clear that sending people in to places which are more – look like prisons when you're 15 and are about custody and repression rather than about education and training is wrong.
And we have to be bold sometimes, and even bolder, probably all of us would like to be even bolder than we’re able to be given the constraints. We also share the view that sadly there won't be any more money in the next parliament for the MOJ, time will be hard whoever the ministers in the department. And we have to absolutely confront that. I would love that there was, if we pay off the deficit and the economy is booming hopefully your pay will be better and be more money for the MOJ, but it's not gonna be there for the next few years.