Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 129)

WEDNESDAY 3 MARCH 1999

SIR ROBERT WALMSLEY, KCB and MR PAUL HATT

  120.  Could you let us have a note on that?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  Yes[7].

  121.  Bearing in mind what you said that at the end of the day it does not matter what system you develop, it is only as good as the information that goes into it, I was interested in one word I found in paragraph 3.4 where it says, "Furthermore, while modifications are issued with a request that their embodiment is recorded back...", and this seems very polite for the armed services. I know I only had to do my statutory two years in the RAF, but I do not remember getting many polite requests to do things while I was there. I seem to recollect you were told pretty clearly, "Get on with it and make sure it's done".
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  I am in no doubt that the instruction is issued in the form of a directive. The fact is though that of course there is, and I do not often use the word, but there is a cultural issue here. There is more requesting, but that does not mean you expect people not to do it. It is dead clear that these people must comply and I believe, very genuinely, their job has simply been too difficult in this respect. By the time you have incorporated the modification, done your stuff to scratch out the number and gone and found the paper and found out who to send it to, we have just made that too difficult and we have to make it simpler.

  122.  If you are saying in this context "request" actually meant "expect", you must by now, on the basis of the statistical evidence, be a very disillusioned man?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  Yes, if you measure me by my 6,000-plus Bedford trucks. No, if you measure us by our state of knowledge of the major modifications but particularly the major capability enhancement for equipment, where we have improved that in my experience out of all recognition. But I do agree until these computer systems, simple, off-the-shelf, computer systems are properly working and we have made them user-friendly, we are still not going to reach the level of sophistication that the commercial world has in this.

  123.  What progress has been made on the level of compatibility and the ability to feed information across to each other? Is that actually happening at the moment or is it something which has been aspired to in the future and, if so, how far in the future?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  I am speaking for the new Chief of Defence Logistics who takes up his formal appointment on 1st April but of course is there working furiously now, and I know he has put one of the very small number of "tiger teams", as he calls them, on to this converging of information systems.

  124.  Sorry, a small number of?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  "Tiger teams"—real experts he has put on to this problem. Because converging these information systems for the reasons I have outlined is very much one of the motivating factors behind forming the Defence Logistics organisation at all.

  125.  But that is only just starting, only just happening. He has not taken up the job yet. He is just put a tiger team in to do it. Why was it not addressed before?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  I think that question was asked by many of my superiors and there was no satisfactory answer other than, because they had separate budgetary responsibilities and there was nobody going to pay them to come together, because if you have separate stand-alone budgets who pays the money to make somebody else adopt your procedures. There was no, in other words, incentive for people to converge. Because there was no good answer to that question, the incentive was provided by making it into a single budget providing a Defence Logistics organisation, something from where I sit in the Procurement Executive is hugely important, otherwise I have to have three different interfaces with my biggest partner, the Support Authorities, which is the situation we fit into today.

  126.  One follows completely the logic of what you have just said, how long before it was achieved did it became apparent that its achievement was necessary?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  That is a very personal question. My personal view would be three or four years but others may take a different view. It was really at the moment we started to understand that the lack of convergence of business processes meant it did not matter what you said about the IT systems, they could not be the same, and therefore it needed a single line management put on top of a whole support regime to dictate—and I use that word—a common business process. Once you get a common business process, it is dead easy to have a common IT system.

  127.  So did the four services resist or did they come voluntarily to some understanding of that requirement?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  I pick my words quite carefully, I think once they could see it was happening, they volunteered.

  128.  So we may have lost three or four years because of a lack of volunteers?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  I tried to make it absolutely clear that three or four years was a personal realisation, not a departmental one.

Mr Williams:  I have the greatest confidence in your judgment! Thank you very much.

Chairman

  129.  Sir Robert, Mr Hatt, thank you both very much for an interesting session and a very clear one. Everybody has been impressed with the evidence. If I may make two requests—and that is the word—of you as there were a couple of points which I thought we could not ground for perfectly good reasons, that the data was not necessarily at your fingertips. There was some concern about the discovery and analysis, if I can put it that way, of the Tornado rear fuselage fire and I am sure there is a lot of data on that somewhere in the system, could you just let us know how that was done, what international comparisons you used, whether you talked to the Germans? A short paper on that would be helpful.1[8] The second point which a number of people touched on, including Mr Williams finally, was that high quality sophisticated data bases in very fast computers without the information in them are very good doorstops and paperweights but little else. When I asked you at the beginning about the question of how sure you were that you would not face again the problems we have had with Tornado data bases, you said you were not 100 per cent certain, you thought things would be better. I think it would be quite helpful to this Committee if you could, maybe in discussion with the NAO, let us have a note on the procedures which would be associated with these new systems, whether or not the data base entry is in the loop of authorisation, is in the loop for obtaining supplies and so on, given repairs and up-dates, so we can be a little more confident as to the fact these brand new pieces of machinery will be brilliantly well-used. Can you do that for us?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley)  I can, Mr Chairman.2[9]

Chairman:  Thank you very much indeed and thank you for your evidence.


7   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, p. 19 (PAC 98-99/136). Back

8   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, p. 19 (PAC 98-99/136). Back

9   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, p. 20 (PAC 98-99/136). Back


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 27 August 1999