Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 219)



  200. The nature of the contract as you explain it, is not quite the flavour as explained here.
  (Mr Gieve) I think it does say that.

  201. I understand that both people had a contract that they wanted to renegotiate or to discuss, but the exact phrasing is ". . . the negotiation had had to be completed under severe time pressure because Bull was withdrawing resources from support functions". That does seem to me not to be the action of a partner. I am surprised in these circumstances when somebody treats you like that, that you are prepared to carry on working with them.
  (Mr Gieve) The position was that Bull felt they were providing services for which they were not being paid and for which they had not ever signed a contract to provide. We needed those services.

  202. So they had you, basically.
  (Mr Gieve) We needed the services; that is how I read this paragraph.
  (Ms Wallis) A consolidated purchase order was actually put in place at this time and that again was an attempt to grip properly and control and know what was going on.

  203. You were not in the strongest of negotiating positions here, were you?
  (Ms Wallis) No.

  204. Bull are now calling themselves something else, which I can very well understand. Explain this negotiating tactic of having somebody over a barrel and then saying if they do not cough up what you want you will stop the service. As I understand it, that is pretty much what you said.
  (Mr Crade) At the end of the previous year it was identified that a number of purchase orders had been put in place which were overlapping; or it was difficult to see where one service ended and the other one started. At the end of that year, it was decided to put us on notice of termination of those purchase orders. That notice period was three months. Effectively, we then had three months to negotiate a service or we had the difficulty of whether to carry on providing a service with no purchase order cover, in which case we did not get paid, or did we stop providing the service.

  205. Otherwise you would not get paid. There was never any suggestion that if you were providing things beyond the contract that you would not actually get paid for them. Surely there was a dialogue about the terms and all the rest of it? Are you seriously suggesting that the Home Office would take services off you and then not pay for them?
  (Mr Crade) There were some services we were providing the previous year where we thought we were acting in good faith in starting the work before a purchase order and then no purchase order materialised.

Mr Gibb

  206. I think we have been a little harsh with Mr Gieve in this Committee. After all you only became the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office in April this year. It does seem to me from the answers you have given that you understand the necessity to manage these contracts better, clarity of object, contract management, properly resources, etcetera. At what level are these IT contracts approved in the Home Office?
  (Mr Gieve) IT projects as big as this? The latest extension of the contract was approved by the Minister and by me.

  207. Other than the extension of this contract, what is the most recent IT contract that you will have approved?
  (Mr Gieve) I guess the development of the internal Home Office project on finance and personnel. I also monitor the progress of various police IT contracts and I would expect to be consulted about those. The airwave project for example.
  (Ms Wallis) A specialist group has been in place to offer that advice to the Permanent Secretary and the Minister and myself and a senior responsible user from the Probation Service itself, the director of IT. There is a senior user and that is one of the chief officers from the operational services who can look at it from a user perspective, an operational perspective. There is a senior specialist and in this case the adviser was from CAPU, the Commercial and Procurement Unit. Additional organisational, IT and procurement advice is available when these decisions are being considered by us.

  208. Who is that advice given to by the people making the final approval decision?
  (Mr Gieve) The advice in the end goes through Eithne to the Minister.
  (Ms Wallis) Yes, to the Minister.

  209. Which officer, which civil servant in the Home Office on the latest contract you approved, the one about the internal Home Office systems, has ownership of that project?
  (Mr Gieve) The SIRIUS project?

  210. Yes, the one you mentioned.
  (Mr Gieve) Lynda Lockyer is the director of corporate development and services group.

  211. She is at director level.
  (Mr Gieve) She is a grade 3 director.

  212. Is that a more senior level of hands-on ownership than under previous contracts?
  (Mr Gieve) No, the equivalent senior responsible owner in the Probation Service is Eithne, who is Director of Probation.

Mr Davidson

  213. It is the issue of costs and benefits. I am just looking at section 3 on page 44 about the business benefits of this which seem to give a much less optimistic picture. In particular it is noticeable that the number of authorities saying that probation officer productivity has either gone down or is the same is far greater than those who say productivity has gone up. Twenty-nine say it has gone down or is the same and only 18 say it has gone up. The reduced use of IT support staff has not been achieved, the reduction of administrative staff which was an objective has not been achieved. The reduction of externally provided IT support has not been achieved. It did reduce postage. It did not reduce research and information costs. It did not even reduce the accommodation costs in all of those cases, the no benefit or negative impacts are greater than the positive. The striking one about the quality of service to offenders is 16 no benefit, 26 some benefit. I presume that is people saying there has maybe been some benefit out of this so they have ticked the box, which is hardly a ringing endorsement really. It is only when you look at communications within the service and communications with other probation services that you get any good. The final one I notice particularly is the one at the very bottom where the objective was to introduce IT culture: 20 got some benefit, 20 got major benefit. Given what we have heard about stress and strain and all the rest of it, this really is not very good, considering the enormous sums of money it cost us. On the previous page we are seeing that it cost the other providers £27 million in addition to everything it has cost the Government. Is this not just a story of disaster from top to bottom during this period? The fact that you have now made the best of a bad job is perhaps another issue which we might return to. During the period of this it is a pretty disastrous story, is it not?
  (Mr Gieve) It is a story in which there are a lot of failures, but nonetheless there were some benefits from this. In particular this was a way of introducing IT into the Probation Service which was successful and which nowadays we would not dream of doing without. The thing which did disappoint most was the CRAMS application which some people struggled with, some people did without and a few managed to succeed with. Of course a lot has gone wrong here; I have not sought to deny that.

  214. I just want to ask Mr Crade whether or not he was on performance related pay for any of this and did he get a bonus?
  (Mr Crade) Yes.

  215. Is that yes to both?
  (Mr Crade) Yes.


  216. On a more positive note before you leave us, Ms Wallis, could you tell us of your plans for making a success of the National Probation Service? Look to the future for a second.
  (Ms Wallis) The National Probation Service generally or IT within it.

  217. Yes, but particularly IT of course. As you are here, we should be interested to know.
  (Ms Wallis) The two aims of the new National Probation Service are first of all to become a world recognised leader in the design and the implementation of offender interventions and programmes. Because of our What Works programme, we are already well on the way to achieving that. Secondly, we aspire to being an excellent organisation. We do recognise that if we want to be a cutting edge deliverer of offender and victim programmes, we need that excellent organisation behind us. That is why the recovery plan for IT, for example, is so important to us and why we are investing so much in making sure that we learn from those mistakes. The service of the future will be better able to assess the risk and dangerousness of those 200,000 offenders every day. We shall be delivering programmes which have been designed on the basis of their ability to reduce re-offending rates. That is one of our major targets, so I hope we shall do that. We are a service which needs to become increasingly good at identifying the most dangerous offenders and in the interests of public protection working hand in glove with police and other organisations to ensure that we reduce those risks and manage them safely in the community.

  218. Thank you very much for that. We wish you well in the future. We thank you for coming before us. Thank you Mr Gieve. I think it is your first appearance before the Committee of Public Accounts as the Accounting Officer for the Home Office. I hope you found it an enjoyable experience.
  (Mr Gieve) Very.

  219. Thank you very much. As you know, although you only arrived in the Home Office in April, you are responsible as the Accounting Officer for what went on before your time. The Home Office never dies, as you know.
  (Mr Gieve) I have not sought to dispute that.

  Chairman: Thank you very much. Order, order. That concludes the public session.

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