Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. I understand that the money is only going round in circles but nevertheless it is interesting to know how much value they thought they were getting out of it as compared to the value they thought they were going to get out of it when you started and the value you had promised them when they started. Why are the five who are not using—originally five but you are now saying four—NPSISS at all not even in it now?
  (Ms Wallis) Because we did not want any of the areas to lose functionality. There are four areas not yet in and we wanted to move them in under the phase one contract. We have already joined up all the e-mail systems. The four areas which are still not within NPSISS have been given Lotus Notes so that they can take on board the other applications which are currently being developed. We are adding to their functionality.

  121. Are you saying they are working better because they are not in?
  (Ms Wallis) We wanted to ensure that they did not lose any functionality.

  122. So they would work worse if they were in.
  (Ms Wallis) There would be more cost and it would be more complex. As we were already moving towards a procurement for the next stage contract then the most cost efficient way of doing it with the least disruption to frontline services was to add to their functionality where appropriate, but take them completely within the New Steps programme when that new contract kicks in on 1 January. They have already benefited from the changes which have been started due to the recovery plan per se. They are connected up to e-mail, they have Lotus Notes and they have other applications coming on stream to be made available to them. They are keeping what they had but are also being given more during this process of migration.

  123. In the original business plan when you decided to go ahead you presumably had the benefits costed at greater than the cost of the programme. Are you now saying that the benefits are greater than the cost of the programme, which is £118 million? Are the benefits which have in fact accrued been greater than the cost?
  (Ms Wallis) The assessments which have been done have indicated where some of the benefits have lain. To repeat what the Permanent Secretary has said, the benefits which have come from a NPSISS contract have been about the infrastructure, about the training, the IT literate workforce, e-mail and particularly Lotus Notes. There have been some developments in those Notes.

  124. That is a lovely qualitative description but it is not quantitative. What I asked was whether the benefits have been greater than the cost.
  (Mr Gieve) We have not measured it.
  (Ms Wallis) We have not measured it in that way.

  125. Do you not think it is about time you did? We are coming to the end of the time when it was supposed to be up and running fully and you still do not know whether your benefits have met the original plan. That seems to be something which was fairly fundamental.
  (Ms Wallis) The learning we have tried to do from this is make sure that in setting up the new contract we do make sure that we cost out those business benefits and that is where the energy has been going at the moment.

  126. You told me that you costed out the benefits originally, but what you have not done is see whether those business benefits actually came about.
  (Mr Gieve) Paragraph 2.5 in the report, the greater part of the net benefit of the system was to come from greater productivity in the offices. There has been greater productivity, which is estimated here as 18 per cent, £16 million a year. What we did not do systematically through this period was to attribute that to the IT rather than to other developments. There have been many other developments over those seven years. We could go back over that exercise and try to do it retrospectively. In fact our efforts have been trying to put in place a new contract which we do certainly believe will bring greater benefits and costs.

  127. I have to tell you that I am staggered you have not already worked out how much the benefits were. I am even more staggered, given that you knew you were going to come before this Committee, that before you came to this Committee you did not work out what benefits have actually accrued. A brief question about the number of programme directors which other members of the Committee have also highlighted. You said that there were five programme directors in quick succession in 1997 and you knew where they all went to. May I ask first of all whether the two who had significant IT project experience were two of the five who went very quickly or whether those two were in fact the two who remained for some time, the very first one and presumably you have one now who has lasted for some time.
  (Mr Gieve) The original head of the information service group was there for four years.

  128. Was he one of the ones who had had IT experience beforehand?
  (Ms Wallis) She. Yes, she did. She was there for four years.

  129. She was one of the ones who had had a lot of experience beforehand.
  (Ms Wallis) Yes.

  130. She lasted for four years or so up until 1997.
  (Ms Wallis) Yes.

  131. Who was the other one who had had experience?
  (Ms Wallis) The second was Sandie Grimshaw and she was interim head of services, but she was a consultant and she was brought in on a short-term contract.

  132. She did not last very long. One of them lasted a long time who had had a lot of experience, but the other one did not.
  (Mr Gieve) The other one was brought in for a few months. Now we have a new one who also has a lot of IT experience.

  133. After five left in quick succession and you said you knew where they all went, how many of those left because they chose to leave to go to some other job and how many were offered new posts by the Civil Service which they preferred?
  (Mr Gieve) I do not know the answer to that question.
  (Ms Wallis) People left for three reasons. Some left through a process of natural attrition; they had other reasons to move on to other jobs. Ann Fletcher for example took early retirement.

  134. Was appointed and almost immediately took early retirement.
  (Ms Wallis) Four years.

  135. Sorry, she was the first one, was she?
  (Ms Wallis) She worked for four years, so there was a normal process of attrition.

  136. I am talking about the five who left quickly.
  (Ms Wallis) You have some turnover in any staff group. There were others who were there as consultants and who were appointed on a short-term basis in the first instance. Yes, there were others who left because it was a difficult and complex task. It is accepted that the comments in the NAO report are fair when they say that some of those staff in the team did not actually have the experience and the capacity to do the job, it was a difficult working environment and some of those left.

  137. Basically you appointed the wrong person; somebody who was not up to the job.
  (Ms Wallis) It was a mixture of people competing, people offering themselves up, wanting the job and over a period of time finding that it was not the right job for them.

  Mr Rendel: A very short period of time in some cases.

Mr Jenkins

  138. You will be pleased to know that I shall not ask many questions because I think the Committee have covered it reasonably well. There are one or two things which I want to clarify. Am I wrong? In my part of the world, and it is a terrific part at this time of year, my trading standards officers have a lot of work because of people going round the streets and telling residents, primarily elderly residents, that their chimneypot is loose and they can fix it for £50. When they come down they suck their teeth and say it is a bit worse than they thought, it is not £50, they have to repoint the chimney. Of course the poor, usually old, people do not have a clue because they cannot get up on the roof and look at it. What is the difference between you and the people going round the streets fixing chimneys?
  (Mr Crade) Are we relating this to the CRAMS application in particular?

  139. Yes.
  (Mr Crade) May I make the point then that the CRAMS application was one which we inherited. It was one we were given, it was developed by Northumbria probation service; so we did not build the chimney in the first place. When we got it, it was not to the standard we had expected, or indeed documented to the standard we had expected and therefore it took a lot more to develop the additional functionality we were asked to develop on top of that. Therefore in actual fact we did not make money out of CRAMS because in doing fixed price developments where we actually take longer than we are asked to there is obviously a difficulty. Many of the faults we were trying to fix were faults in the original application rather than faults we had introduced.

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