Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)

MONDAY 12 NOVEMBER 2001

MR JOHN GIEVE CB, MS EITHNE WALLIS, MR RICHARD CRADE AND MR PAUL SLEIGHTHOLME

  20. Which is the important thing, is it not?
  (Mr Gieve) No, it is not the only important thing. Of the £118 million £12 million went on CRAMS, so there is quite a lot else besides.

  21. All you were putting in was a hardware system.
  (Mr Gieve) Hardware and software, e-mails and so on.

  22. You put a hardware system in before you can use the software. It is no use putting in the hardware system if the software does not work. The software does not work.
  (Mr Gieve) There is a lot more besides CRAMS on all these probation services' hardware. They have a suite of programmes.

  23. Why were the local offices given permission not to use it? Ms Wallis has said that they were not computer literate. That is a pathetic excuse, is it not and they are not going to be computer literate until the year 2003. That is an appalling indictment.
  (Mr Gieve) I did not hear her say that.

  24. Did you say 2003?
  (Ms Wallis) No, I said at the outset across England and Wales not all services were full of staff who were actually computer literate and there was not a lot of hardware around at that time. The hardware tended to be stand-alone machines or a small number of areas which had local area networks. Part of the business benefit we have received from the NPSISS contract is the fact that we now do have a computer literate workforce and we have had for some time.

  25. That is good to know. Why were local offices allowed not to use it?
  (Ms Wallis) Two reasons.

  26. What is the point of a national scheme if you are going to say small offices need not use it?
  (Ms Wallis) The decisions whether to use it or not rested with the area committees at that time. We did not have a national service, so there was no power to insist. It was a local committee decision. There were the powers of persuasion but at the end of the day the committees made their decision, some on the basis of their own cost-benefit analysis chose to use it, some did not. It is also well documented in the NAO report that there were some health and safety issues to do with the CRAMS software. It has been acknowledged that it was complex, that it was difficult, it was not easy to use. It did put a considerable amount of pressure on users in those early days. For those reasons some committees made a decision that they would not invest.

  27. Health and safety. They were in danger of their health breaking down using a computer system.
  (Ms Wallis) It is recognised that in the early years it was a difficult system to use. If you are talking about people who are learning to use technology for the first time, then yes, it was difficult.

  28. Would they have been under stress?
  (Ms Wallis) Some staff certainly found it difficult to use.

  29. It was such a bad scheme that it did not even do external e-mail, did it? You could not even get on the Internet with it. It was useless, was it not? Your firm produced it, Mr Crade, and it was useless, was it not?
  (Mr Crade) What we were asked to provide was a system which provided a wide area network connecting the probation services together and also the offices within a probation service to the centre of that probation service, electronic mail facilities and office software as well. Most probation services up to that point did not have many of these standard office facilities and they certainly did not have a standard IT infrastructure across all of those probation services.

  30. We are talking about up to 1999 and they could not access the Internet and they could not send an external e-mail. Any kid's computer can do that.
  (Mr Crade) You have to remember that there are security requirements around access to the Internet which only started to be resolved by the Government secure Internet.

  31. Was there any effort to update the scheme as you were going along? Did anybody have the bright idea that people might want to send an e-mail one day or it might be handy to get onto the Internet? Did anyone in your firm say that should be in the contract?
  (Mr Crade) We did have those discussions but they were not in the contract initially, because the contract was let in 1994.

  32. Why was the scheme not abandoned altogether? It was clearly useless, so why was it not just abandoned?
  (Mr Gieve) We had a contract for seven years. Secondly, we have not abandoned it in that we are still using it and the probation offices around the country are using this system every day. Some of them, I agree only a minority, are using —

  33. Sixteen of them.
  (Mr Gieve) No, 16 of them are using CRAMS. So far as I know all the offices which have NPSISS are using it. We cannot just abandon it. None of the probation offices in the country could do without their IT systems.[1]

  34. You could have put the hardware and infrastructure in and not abandoned that but why did you not abandon CRAMS which was not working, was useless? It cost you £11 million which is something like three times the original cost; something like £4 million originally, was it not, and it went to £11 million? It still cannot achieve what it is supposed to do.
  (Mr Gieve) I shall ask Eithne to explain exactly what has happened in the last two years but after developing CRAMS to make it more user friendly, which it is—I saw the current version and it is very much more user friendly than the original version—we did stop development of CRAMS and we did not insist on rolling it out to other probation areas.

  35. I cannot resist coming back to a point the Chairman made. It seems to me that the Home Office were so concerned that they had seven different project directors, only two knew anything about IT anyway, so there was not a great deal of dedication in the Home Office, was there, to make things very successful? If you had been worried about it, surely you would have put somebody in charge who knew what they were doing in the first place.
  (Mr Gieve) Having seven different people and especially having the sharp turnaround in 1997 for the years after that was certainly not planned.

  36. Did the Home Office know what was going on at all? Had they kept any checks whatsoever?
  (Mr Gieve) These were Home Office officials, so of course they did.

  37. Somebody in your position. Not you personally but was somebody who sat in the chair before you or maybe a little bit more junior taking any interest in the scheme?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes.

  38. Clearly the Home Office were involved because there were seven people in seven years, but what I am asking is whether anybody was interested in making the scheme a success?
  (Mr Gieve) Yes. First of all there was a senior Home Office official, Eithne's predecessor, and there were two during this period. There was the head of the probation side of the Home Office concerned at this time.

  39. They were not that concerned, were they?
  (Mr Gieve) I imagine this was a lot of what they did every day.


1   Note by witness: Since the publication of the NAO report, 33 probation services are currently using CRAMS and 6,000 registered users have access to 920,000 case records. Back


 
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