Examination of Witnesses(Questions 80-99)|
CB, MR ANDREW
WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002
80. I know that. I am giving you a real example.
A person running this small company may have done all this analysis
off screen, and you have got to get them to plug in on-screen
and plug it down line rather than stamp it and send it off. What
are you going to do?
(Mr Broadbent) I will try and develop the point. If
one could do what I was just talking aboutchanging the
nature of the processinstead of that small business person
being faced with the choice between a paper return and an electronic
return, he has to do nothing, his VAT return will be e-mailed
to him and filled out saying this is how it has been fitted with
your pattern last month or the last two or three months, are you
happy, and it will be virtually a zero touch event. At the same
time he might have some flexibility in changing payment dates.
He may also be able to access his own account details. He may
also be able to pay excise at the same time if he is an excise
taxpayer as well as a VAT payer. At that point the interaction
with the organisation becomes a quite different experience and
potentially an added value one.
81. Your basic take on that is that you take
them through, you put in the last period's sales in each box,
and then say now fill in this one, and it does a calculation on
the screen. That is basically where we are. That is what you currently
do on paper.
(Mr Broadbent) I go beyond that. I think you are rightI
do not believe simply having the existing VAT paper form on a
screen base is going to lead to a huge amount of change unless
we induce people and, in a sense, what is the point in paying
people to use a service that is not adding value? I do believeand
this is the work we are doing to develop our strategythat
if we approach it slightly differently and create a different
opportunity to inter-act with us so what actually happens, as
I sayand this is a hypothetical exampleis in a small
company, a busy managing director gets an e-mail once a month
saying it has been done for you, are you happy, just tick the
box, press the button, at the same time he has some flexibilities
about access to other information, guidance and flexibility about
payment dates. He may have some opportunity to change his return
if he wants to. He does not have to. If he pays other taxes for
which we are responsible, he can do that as well.
82. Probably the sales will not be the same
and obviously they are going to change them and they would have
done that anyway. I can understand it will make a slightly easier,
but I do not see that as compelling reason for take-up and therefore
I do not imagine at the moment from what you said your targets
are at all achievable.
(Mr Broadbent) Our targets relate to all our services.
I was making clear in relation to VAT, although we might achieve
it across the board
83. You are not going to get 50% on VAT returns.
What is the objective for 2005 for VAT returns?
(Mr Broadbent) The work we are doing at the moment
says that if we are able to approach the issue slightly differentlyand
this is the discussion that requires spending the money differently
and possibly spending a different amount of moneythen I
think we can create an environment in which 50% will be at the
lower end of the range not the upper end of the range.
84. Right, so you will achieve more than 50%
VAT returns by 2005? Is that what you are saying?
(Mr Broadbent) I believe that if we e-enable the organisation
in the way I am talking about we will see the sorts of levels
of take-up we have seen, for example, in imports and exports,
but I agree with you that we will not achieve that level of take-up
by simply inviting people to fill out a form on line when they
can fill out on paper if they wish.
85. Perhaps I can ask Mavis McDonald this, has
there been any thoughtand this might sound a scandalous
thing to sayto providing the opportunity for people going
into government sites to buy things that might not be government
services to give them another reason to go in?
(Mavis McDonald) I will ask Andrew to answer that.
The kind of thing we have been thinking about is where third parties
might have an interest in where they can get an added intermediary
into public services.
86. You could sell double glazing or whatever
(Mavis McDonald) I do not think we have gone into
product sales as an extra. There is a genuine point about who
else might be helped to do their business differently with their
customers, which also helps us and helps the client. If people
working in different aspects of financial services, consultancy
or accountancy are consulted on this they may be able to interact
differently with their clients if we are giving then a front end
into which they can go.
87. There might be some added value. Obviously
double glazing is a joke but one would want to go into these sites
and you might get benefits other than being able to fill in the
form on the screen.
(Mr Broadbent) We have had a number of approaches
and some discussions with a fair range of companies who would
like to use our services and our site for exactly that purpose.
We are approaching those discussions with extreme caution.
88. I thought I would ask that.
(Mr Pinder) If I can add to that answer. Clearly we
want to try to protect the government brand and therefore there
is an implied approval that if something is on our site then we
take responsibility for it. There is a natural caution there which
I absolutely agree with and I propose. But another way of doing
this is to do it the other way round and to allow the delivery
of government services through other people's sites. We have been
building up a number of partnerships to try to do that. Going
back to the tax return, although the Inland Revenue's tax return
is currently off the air for the reasons we have talked about,
there are other tax returns (which the Inland Revenue have approved)
available on other people's sites, so people have no excuse for
not filing their tax return, they just have to do it through a
third party. That is, as it were, taking your point but doing
it the other way round and saying
89. If it is cheaper for accountants to help
you do your VAT or tax returns via the e-mail perhaps they should
be offering products to clients and saying we can help you access
through and you should be facilitating that in the market operations.
(Mr Pinder) That is the sort of approach that people
like the Inland Revenue are making at the moment.
90. Microsoft have been given the responsibility
for the construction of the gateway technology, have they not?
(Mr Pinder) Microsoft have been one of a number of
partners we have used to build that site although we own the intellectual
property rights to that. They are a contractor along with Dell
and a number of other contractors.
91. If they sell it abroad to other governments
we get a margin; is that correct?
(Mr Pinder) Microsoft have asked us if they can use
our intellectual property rights for building products for other
92. Exactly how much are we going to get for
(Mr Pinder) We take a commission on their gross sales
of that product through a contractual arrangement. 24% of their
gross sales of the government gateway intellectual property will
come to us. They have made two sales so far and have a number
of other sales in prospect, so we have got a contract with Microsoft
US to get that commissioned. We felt it was right, rather than
just hold on to the technology ourselves because there was an
opportunity to recoup some of the cost of building that technology
through a licensing agreement.
93. That 22% of the intellectual property must
be bringing in money.
(Mr Pinder) We rather hope that it will give us quite
a lot of money, yes. In this particular respect we wish Microsoft
every good wish in their sales efforts.
94. Coming back to Mr Broadbent again, somewhere
in the report you mention that the cost of managing a VAT return
with a cheque is £1.16 per return. Industry research suggests
that if one did this over the Internet it would be something like
10p. Obviously there is an issue about economies of scale and
the cost of setting up all these systems if nobody is using them
and we have got a limited number of people who have got access
to the Internet and of those a sub-set of people who can be bothered
to use it and of that a sub-set that can be bothered to do their
VAT returns on it. You have got a small number, 2,500 people,
so presumably the average unit cost is not 10p but is working
out at much more than the £1.16 before we start. Have you
any idea how much it costs. Dividing the total costs by 2,500,
surely, the cost of interaction is enormous?
(Mr Fraser) The way that the system works at the moment
is that the electronic VAT return goes through the same manual
channel as material that we receive via the postal service, so
there is no full end-to-end electronic process in place. The thing
that drives the cost is the number of channels that we keep open
and we do not have a full electronic channel until we have some
economies of scale, some levels of take-up.
95. I do not mean to have a go at you, Mr Broadbent,
but just so I have some idea, what we have got is these very ambitious
targets and what I would like to do is take a picture of a possible
prospective client filling in his VAT return. It seems to me from
the Report that customer segmentation and analysis of the amount
of web use by clients, particularly small businesses which are
very numerous as you know, had not been done, but given that has
now been done, do you feel that had that market research been
done beforehand that we would have been starting with a somewhat
less ambitious target in terms of people doing their VAT returns?
(Mr Broadbent) I do not want to labour the point but
the target relates to all our services.
96. You said you were hoping that it would be
over 50% with your new adjustments by making it more colourful
or whatever you are going to do.
(Mr Broadbent) What I believe is this: we have as
part of the agreed strategy put the VAT return on-line. I believe
you are right in concluding from the experience we have that we
will not get material levels of take-up on that because there
is not enough added value to the user. We therefore have to increase
the value added to the user to get take-up.
97. I have got all this. Can I ask something
else. Maybe I can ask Mavis McDonald or possibly Mr Pender. If
you look at profiles for the rates of translation of sales from
conventional to Internet-based for various organisations retailers,
travel agents and all the rest of it, you will find that the rate
of growth is far less than the projections that we have been talking
about with Mr Broadbent. Do not you feel that the exponential
rate of these targets is ambitious to say the least and should
(Mr Pinder) In the particular case of Mr Broadbent
he is here to answer your questions. He is bigger than I am, so
I would not want to second guess on him on his targets! Customs
& Excise are one of the departments we think are doing a really
good job in government in looking fundamentally at their business.
98. I am talking about whether the targets are
(Mr Pinder) The target we have is for getting all
government services on-line and I think that has been a very useful
target to have and it is a target which we will achieve or very
closely achieve. Certainly the plans that departments have and
the plans that local government have indicate that they are making
very rapid process towards all services on-line.
99. The issue is not whether they are on-line,
it is whether anyone bothers to use the service they have got
on-line given we have spent all this money putting them on-line.
You could argue in terms of value for money that we would have
been better being slower getting these services up and running
in order to enable the public to be more conversant with use and
there to be greater penetration and usage of the web.
(Mr Pinder) We wanted to try to get services to inject
a lot of momentum into both central and local government, and
certainly the targets have seized on doing that. I think it is
right that we now, in addition to keeping the pressure on to hit
the targets, switch the emphasis to saying we want services to
be used and departments in their work should prioritise their
work towards doing just that. It is much better that we focus
on the big services and make them attractive to the public whilst
in parallel improving access to people who can use the Internet
in order to deliver what you suggest, which is value for money.
Clearly there is no point in having these services available if
no one is using them.