Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100-119)|
CB, MR ANDREW
MONDAY 13 MAY 2002
100. I did not say that.
(Mr Barrett) I am sorry. I have misunderstood your
101. I did not say that. I asked whether you
had always awarded to the lowest bidder. It may have been in your
view also the best value for money. The question is: have you
ever awarded one except to the lowest bidder?
(Mr Barrett) Yes, I have.
102. How many? What sort of percentage?
(Mr Barrett) Over my entire career as a procurement
103. I was thinking in terms of major Government
(Mr Barrett) I have never awarded a major Government
IT contract. I have only been a civil servant for 13 months.
104. How many major Government IT contracts
over the last two years have been awarded to anyone except the
(Mr Barrett) I do not know the answer to that.
Mr Rendel: If you cannot tell us off the top
of your head, it would be interesting to have that in a note,
if we may. Thank you.
105. May I ask you about take-up and different
types of people? I think I am right in saying that the areas of
lowest take-up, those who are economically less advantaged and
those who are older, are those who perhaps consume more Government
services. That is true, is it not?
(Mavis McDonald) Yes.
106. Second, I think I am right in saying that
we have very limited information about the needs and preferences
of those particular groups which happen to be the heavy consumers
of Government services. Is that true?
(Mavis McDonald) I cannot agree with that last statement
because people know different amounts about different groups.
Quite a lot is known about the way the factors of deprivation
can come together, particularly can come together in certain places.
107. Do you think take-up amongst those groups
would be much better if we knew much more about their needs and
preferences and spent more time putting together sites which are
more easily accessible to them and also relevant to them?
(Mavis McDonald) On the more general point, there
has been over quite a long period in various regeneration programmes,
starting probably with the single regeneration project but certainly
the New Deal for Communities programmes and the Neighbourhood
Renewal Fund, a component of those programmes which has been about
developing capacity and skills in localities, which has very frequently
involved introducing people to the scope of IT and using it both
for training purposes as well as helping run the particular programmes
on the ground. A lot of work involved the Employment Service in
working as part of the partnerships around those programmes and
that is still going on. This is something where our information
and knowledge has been building up and where most people's perception
of take-up is that actually there is a huge interest whatever
the kind of grouping you are talking about. Something like Castle
Vale HAT, for example, had a very significant programme which
spanned a lot of age groups.
108. What are we doing to help older people
take up these facilities? First, they are not particularly interested
in them, many of them obviously do not have computers at home
and third, when they do try it is very difficult because the sites
have not been constructed in a very user-friendly way.
(Mr Pinder) It is not just people who are old. Lots
of people sometimes have difficulties with all sorts of sites,
including Government sites. We produced something called the Government
Web Guidelines which are targeted at Departments, encouraging
them to build sites which are accessible. By "accessible"
we mean they are accessible in technical terms, they load relatively
quickly onto people's computers and there is no worldwide wait
that someone referred to earlier. They are accessible using a
speech browser which is essential for people who have poor eyesight
or are blind. They are not written in the classic Civil Service
way of assuming a very high reading age and so on.
109. Like a speech browser, when they come along,
allows you to talk to the computer, that sort of thing.
(Mr Pinder) Yes. The RNIB will have services which
provide blind people with a speech browser which sits in the computer
and as a website comes up it will read the site out aloud to people.
Designing a site which is going to be used by one of those things,
you have to design it so it is not a conventional site. It has
to have particular features in it which make the most of the website.
110. Would it be possible, for instance, for
someone to come into a waiting room for a service, whether the
Health Service or a passport service, and you stick them in front
of a screen and switch it on and then you leave the room and they
just talk to it and they have never used the internet before.
Is that possible?
(Mr Pinder) Not that way round. The UK online sites
and the major Government Department sites are accessible using
a speech browser so that the site itself will read to you.
111. You cannot interact.
(Mr Pinder) No, you need additional software in order
to be able to do that. We design sites and we have these guidelines
to push Departments to design sites in an accessible way. We are
also very conscious that many people do not have access to the
internet at home and if they are out of work or their work does
not allow them internet access, they have no way of getting in.
We are in the process of opening up a large number of UK online
centres, including libraries, where people can get access to the
internet on-line. We also need to make sure that people are catered
for not just in accessibility and physically and the site looking
good, but we also need to design the service in a way that they
want it. We have been working very hard with Departments to get
them to think about how to take into account the needs of their
users. So Departments are increasingly going out there and taking
groups of users and asking them and trying out different designs
and different services with them to understand what they need.
112. Obviously a lot of these people do not
have electronic facilities in the first place. May I move you
back to the quotation in the Sunday Times about taking 20 per
cent out of the cost of staffing over ten years? You did not say
(Mr Pinder) No.
113. What sort of savings have we seen in staffing
in Canada, the United States, Singapore, who are ahead of us in
this area over the last year or two in converting services on-line?
(Mr Pinder) I do not know the answer to that question.
114. You should know, should you not?
(Mr Pinder) The reason I do not know is because I
think they are actually not ahead of us; they are at a similar
stage to us. They are themselves trying to understand the effects
of this new technology and are working through a series of new
115. Do you think it is reasonable for the taxpayer
to expect you to manage your budget in such a way that you want
to try to recover the investment in IT from reductions in labour
costs which people naturally assume will happen?
(Mr Pinder) It is very reasonable for the taxpayer
to assume that Departments, including the Department I am part
of, recover their costs by getting value for money and improvement
to services. Sometimes that value for money will be delivered
in a reduction of staff or reduction of other resources. On other
occasions it will be delivered by improved services, whether it
is improved accessibility or a better range of services.
116. This article, to which you deny contributing,
suggests that of the four million total, two million are in areas
where you could cut 40 per cent out because they are not in the
job of direct delivery of services. What the Government want,
or the public want, is for more money maybe to be spent, but that
money to be focused on direct delivery and not unnecessary backroom
jobs. We are all in favour of redistributing resources to increase
outputs. What I am interested in knowing is whether you have any
sort of idea of how much the backroom admin can be reduced whilst
keeping up efficiency levels so you can re-allocate that resource?
(Mr Pinder) It is really very hard for me to comment
on an article to which I did not contribute.
117. Forget the article. I am just asking what
you think. You are in charge of all this. I would have thought
that as a businessman you would have some idea where we are going
to make some savings in public expenditure to redistribute.
(Mr Pinder) There are clearly opportunities for Departments
to improve the way in which
118. Do you have any quantification in any Department
of how much savings we may be able to make over the next few years
in order to redistribute towards front-line services or not at
(Mr Pinder) That is very much a matter for individual
Departments to come forward with individual business cases. Often
those business cases will have a range of things in them, for
example, they will put a service on-line, but they will also be
doing other things to their back office to make the off-line service
more attractive as well and more efficient as well.
119. That is the idea. The idea would be to
save some money in the admin and spend it somewhere. I am not
trying to cut jobs. I am trying to create more jobs in nursing
and teaching instead of people pushing pens when they might be
(Mr Pinder) Of course. The idea in all this is to
try to improve accuracy, which having a service on-line does.
6 Note by witness: This information is not
held centrally by the OGC. However, I have analysed the 13 NAO
Reports on IT projects produced in the past two years to see if
this information could be discerned. I have found two contracts
which were reported to have been awarded to the lowest bidder
and three where a combination of client and supplier factors led
to the competition having only one bidder. I was unable to determine
this information from the other eight reports. I regret that the
information is not available for me to answer the question more