Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. The Home Office were not even aware of what was going on. They were not even aware of the fiasco until the National Audit Office pointed it out to them. You did not know what the costs were, the scheme had not been reviewed, you did not know what the achievements were, you did not know whether there were any achievements. You did not have a clue in the Home Office until the National Audit Office came in when you realised what was going on.
  (Mr Gieve) No.

  41. It says so in the report.
  (Mr Gieve) The whole Probation Service was aware of the difficulties with CRAMS and the importance of the IT system. It is true that only the joint inspectorate/NAO report which preceded this brought the whole picture to the surface of how the thing had developed over the years. Certainly the people working in the Probation Service were very well aware of the problems.

  42. Here is the Probation Service. They cannot use the system, they were spending a million pound developing their own schemes because this scheme did not work. Did it never click?
  (Mr Gieve) Did what click?

  43. That it was not working, it was no good.
  (Mr Gieve) Yes, of course it clicked.

  44. It did not click terribly well.
  (Mr Gieve) When you look at the history of this all the way through there were constant reviews and stops and people asking for this to be sorted out. This happened all the way along. Looking back on it, we were not successful. We made CRAMS an easier system to operate but not a good enough one for people to adopt voluntarily.

  45. Why was the Probation Service not more forthcoming, why did they not make stronger representations to the Home Office?
  (Ms Wallis) Again one has to go back to how the service was at that time. The service at that time was not a national service. There were 54 quasi-autonomous probation services operating out there. Whatever the policy under review or consideration at the time, there was very little consensus ever. Services tended very much to plough their own furrow. Small groups would sometimes get together. It was a very mixed view across those probation services. Some did actually express their views and did make that known.

  46. Were they ignored?
  (Ms Wallis) No, they were listened to and sometimes they were agreed with, sometimes they were not. A number of services did actually provide people who tried to work closely with Bull and with the Home Office to try to effect redesign, to create change. A lot of people did continue to try to make this work.

  47. It is incredible, is it not, that even when the department realised that the contract with Bull was illegal and they placed no new orders after February 2000, we have been told that prevented further research into the provision of e-mail and Internet. Even though this was now not possible because the contract with Bull had been stopped at that stage, you were not developing it during that time. I just find that incredible.
  (Mr Crade) It was not developed at that time. We did have discussions with the Home Office about moving to that technology, but it was not developed at the time; it was not taken forward, largely because it was difficult for the Home Office to place new purchase orders to us under the contract, having taken legal advice.

  48. That is not really the question. The question I am asking is why it was that even at the year 2000, when the contract was stopped the excuse from Bull is that they could not then develop the Internet and develop the e-mail? What I am saying is why had you not been developing that all along whilst the contract was in being? You would have thought that would have been a basic thing to do.
  (Mr Crade) There was a question of priorities. We agreed with the Home Office and probation services what was to be done. The latest refresh of the technology had been done as part of the Year 2000 work. We took the advantage of doing the Year 2000 work to do some refreshment of the infrastructure but external e-mail was not viewed as a high priority at the time.

Mr Bacon

  49. Could you say whether you think there is something about the Home Office that makes management of IT projects more difficult than elsewhere in government? You had the passport fiasco, you had the immigration and nationality directorate problems and now you have this. We had Professor Likierman last week telling us about the implementation of resource accounting and how he was particularly concerned about your department. Is it something about your department which makes management of it difficult, or is it something about the managers?
  (Mr Gieve) I do not think we can claim we have peculiar difficulties compared with the rest of Whitehall. I was looking at the PAC report on IT projects which had gone wrong and even in that the Home Office did not stand out; there seemed to be a lot of examples around government. Like the rest of government, we have had to learn some fairly painful lessons over IT management and contracting out over the last ten years. You are absolutely right, those lessons have been drawn out by this Committee, they have been drawn out by the Cabinet Office report and by OGC guidelines. I hope that our management is now in a fit state to avoid making the same mistakes again.

  50. The things you mentioned earlier about clarity of ownership, of objectives, of outcomes and having those both through the letting of the contract and subsequently the implementation are not new though, are they? I am not sure which Cabinet Office report you are referring to. Are you referring to the 1994 one?
  (Mr Gieve) I was referring to the 2000 one.

  51. There was a 1994 Cabinet Office report which said, when talking about the use of external consultants, that to maximise ownership and accountability, the same individual where possible will often see the project through from inception to implementation. Yet, as we have already heard, you have had seven programme directors, five of whom knew nothing about IT procurement. Do you not find that absolutely extraordinary?
  (Mr Gieve) I do find seven in seven years pretty extraordinary, although I can understand how it happened. The whole team did not change over in that time.

  52. There was a very significant turnover of the team as well, as the NAO report points out. It was at both levels, was it not? The programme directors changing every five minutes and lots of people on the staff of the project team changing; both.
  (Mr Gieve) Certainly, yes. I was looking upwards rather than downwards, in terms of the head of the Probation Service. Yes, I am sure it was not desired or planned by the Home Office that we had that rapid turnover and it must have been damaging.

  53. You say you understand why it happened. Can you explain a little more why you think it happened, because it does not happen quite so much in the private sector where sponsorship of these sorts of projects tends to be at a high level.
  (Mr Gieve) What must have happened here, going back a few years to 1997, was that a number of people were brought in essentially as emergency cover and did not stick. One head of information was in charge from 1993 to 1997 and then there were five in very rapid succession after that. I know where they have all gone, but I do not know why they all left so quickly.

  54. What I was really asking was whether there is something about the way the Civil Service manages itself and moves people on that is inimical to good project management. I asked that question of Peter Gershon when he addressed this Committee a few weeks ago and he said yes, there is something wrong with the way the Civil Service pushes people around in terms of aiding good project management. Would you agree with that?
  (Mr Gieve) It is a patchy picture, but I know what he is talking about because I have talked to him about it too. Particularly in the Civil Service headquarters there tend to be rewards for having breadth of knowledge rather than specialist knowledge and we tend to promote people into wider and wider commands. What that means is that it is quite difficult to keep people focused on a relatively narrow objective for many years. That is a problem. It is a big problem for me and for other people running Civil Service organisations.

  55. You were getting warning bells in this particular project from way back. The probation officers were saying as far back as 1994 that the thing was not working. Paragraph 2.22 tells us that the CCTA drew attention to the need to do more to communicate with probation services. "However, no further action was taken to introduce a communications strategy." Why not?
  (Mr Gieve) First of all, we should have done. If you ask me why it did not happen, this was at the point at which we were trying to operate a decentralised system. Remember at this stage it was not a National Probation Service, it was a decentralised service under the control of local government essentially, local boards. The move after that was to try to give greater ownership to that set of local services rather than to take command more in the centre and then sell it through the country, but it did not work.

  56. May I draw your attention to paragraph 19 of the executive summary on page 7? It talks about the PRINCE 2 project management methodology, which was used for the project, at least from 1996. It says that it did not include a project assurance function, which is part of PRINCE 2. Could you say why it did not include a project assurance function?
  (Mr Gieve) It says further on in the report that we expected the project assurance function to be undertaken as required in the field by the people taking delivery of the system. This has actually been a problem more widely in government if the truth be known and this is something which the OGC system of gateway and post-implementation reviews is intended to address right across government and certainly within the Home Office.

  57. This paragraph goes on to say, ". . . formal project management methods were not embedded firmly in working practices and they fell into disuse". What is the point in saying, as apparently happened in 1996, that you were going to run this project using the PRINCE 2 project management methodology, if you then take no notice of what that methodology says?
  (Mr Gieve) Clearly they should have continued on PRINCE 2 methodology. I am not going to make excuses for it.

  58. You mentioned the PAC report earlier on IT projects in government going wrong. Right in the opening pages summarising the conclusions of that report it stresses the need for top management to take IT projects, their delivery, implementation and conclusion much much more seriously. What have you done since you took over at the Home Office to give effect to that in terms of the way you run your department?
  (Mr Gieve) As soon as I arrived at the Home Office I formed executive boards, which there had not been before, at group and departmental level, that is group including the agencies and department not including them. I commissioned a report from our head of procurement on project management through the Home Office. That reported a month ago. We agreed immediately to go ahead with better training of SROs and the whole of the senior Civil Service in the Home Office group in project management disciplines and to have more intense training of the people working on major projects. There are various other recommendations in the report which we are still looking at, which bear on the organisation of central support for procurement and project management through the office.

  59. You would agree essentially with what the PAC conclusions said that the management and oversight of IT projects by skilled managers is essential for ensuring that they are delivered to time and to budget and failure can have a profound effect on an organisation.
  (Mr Gieve) Yes.

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