Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)

MONDAY 12 NOVEMBER 2001

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

Mr Rendel

  100. May I start off by asking the Treasury whether throughout the Civil Service there was no knowledge until 1996 of the millennium bug problem, given that, certainly as somebody who worked in computers well before that, other areas of business were certainly aware that there might be a problem.
  (Ms Constable) I am sorry, I do not have the detail of the exact date. It was something which was taken forward by the Cabinet Office. I can provide the information afterwards.[4]

  101. Does the C&AG have any idea when knowledge of the potential millennium bug first came to the Civil Service in general as opposed to the Home Office in particular?
  (Sir John Bourn) I would say at least a decade before the year 2000. It was discussed generally throughout society, so we all knew that it was a potential problem. As our reports on it have shown, the question was focusing energy and commitment to lay off the risks it brought.

  102. I am grateful for that answer, because that is certainly much more in line with what I felt about when the millennium problem first hit us. It seems to me rather odd that it did not hit the Home Office in this particular case until 1996 when it first became apparent. I wonder why the Home Office did not insist on something about the millennium problem being written into the contract.
  (Mr Gieve) The point I was reflecting was the point in the NAO's own report which says, ". . . general awareness of the Year 2000 problem did not emerge until around March 1996". I am not saying that people might not have been aware that there was talk about what would happen in Year 2000 before that. The scale and the nature of the possible faults in the system emerged around then. I am sorry, I am not an expert on whether it was March 1996, I was relying on the NAO report on that.

  103. General awareness in the Home Office seems to have hit rather late and that is the point I am trying to get at. I would have thought that most people knew that there was likely to be a problem. Nobody knew what the size of it was. Nobody analysed just how bad it was going to be. Nevertheless people did know there was likely to be a problem and I should have thought that if there is any sort of problem you automatically write that into the contract. If you do not know how big it is going to be, it is even more important that you write it into the contract.
  (Mr Gieve) I wish we had.

  104. So do I. I should like to ask a question about how this contract was set up. I think it was Ms Wallis who said that in 1994 there were 54 quasi-autonomous probation services.
  (Ms Wallis) Yes.

  105. Who decided to create a single computer system for them all?
  (Ms Wallis) It was a decision taken by the Head of the Probation Unit which at that time was in the Home Office structure, but that decision was taken in collaboration with the areas, with the probation services themselves.

  106. Did they all promise that they would buy into it?
  (Ms Wallis) No, they did not.

  107. Who was going to pay for it? Was it going to be paid for as a speculative project and nobody knew whether they were going to buy into it or not?
  (Ms Wallis) It was going to be funded in two ways. There was going to be central funding from the Home Office, but the way it was set up was that the individual probation committees could also purchase through the enabling framework. So some of the cost would be paid centrally, the development costs and the contract running costs, but each of those 54 probation committees could also lay purchasing orders.

  108. Of the 54, 49 eventually bought in to at least part of it, though not all of them actually into CRAMS.
  (Ms Wallis) Yes.

  109. Five still have not even now.
  (Ms Wallis) There are 34. We now have 42 areas; when we created the National Probation Service, there were 14 mergers to reduce from 54 to 42 to be coterminous with the police as the core building block in the criminal justice system. Thirty-four of those areas do use CRAMS in some way. About 18 of them only use it as a case index system and then about 16 do use it on the whole as a case management system.

  110. How many are not using it at all?
  (Ms Wallis) Eighteen.

  111. They have not had to pay into the system at all.
  (Ms Wallis) I beg your pardon: eight. May I correct my mathematics?

  112. You are quicker than I was. I am afraid I was not listening to the other figures very carefully. So eight have not paid into it at all.
  (Ms Wallis) All but four are now within the NPSISS infrastructure. They will have been contributing to the contract costs.

  113. But that would not be CRAMS.
  (Ms Wallis) Not to CRAMS per se but the rest of the costs.

  114. What would have happened if none of them had ever bought into it?
  (Ms Wallis) I guess there was a high risk of it collapsing in that case. For it to be implemented across the areas, that required either the Home Office to find new funding or the probation committees to cover some of the cost of the local equipment and their share of the maintenance and support costs. The choices would have been either for more money to be made available from the centre or to find an alternative way of creating a hardware and infrastructure for the service.

  115. It must have become obvious at a fairly early stage that at least some of them were unlikely to buy in as much as you thought they were going to. Some of them have never come into CRAMS and some of them have never even come into NPSISS. At a fairly early stage it must have been obvious they were not going to buy in.
  (Ms Wallis) We need to differentiate CRAMS as a piece of software from the rest of the system. When the NPSISS, that strategic aspiration, that strategy, was actually laid in 1993, there was a great deal of service buy-in to the strategy per se. The service, the managers, the committees did want to move forward. They could see the benefits that good IT systems could bring. There was gradual buy-in for the infrastructure and the hardware and some of the other applications which were going to be available. It was CRAMS per se which met the highest level of resistance throughout the service.

  116. How much of the cost in the long term was the Home Office always going to bear even in the original plan and how much is the Home Office centrally going to bear now given that it has not met with buy-in by all the area services?
  (Ms Wallis) The costs which were laid for the systems in the NAO report still stand. We still expect the total cost to come in at around £118 million. When we move into the next stage of contract —

  117. Are you talking about the Home Office central costs?
  (Ms Wallis) No, the total cost. Some of this is being paid centrally and some being paid by the committees.

  118. Some of that was going to be offset by the committees.
  (Ms Wallis) Yes.

  119. The question I was asking was how much was originally going to be offset by the committees and how much now is going to be offset by the committees, given that they have not all bought into it?
  (Ms Wallis) I do not believe a distinction was made in that sense. I have not actually seen it broken down into costs in that way. Perhaps I could submit a note on that. I can investigate that further.[5]

  (Mr Gieve) The Home Office was grant aiding the committees in any event to 80 per cent. In a sense we provided for the total cost and—


4   Note by witness: There was some knowledge of potential millennium bug problems in individual departments prior to 1966. A coordinated approach was introduced in 1996. Back

5   Ev 20, Appendix 1. Back


 
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