Select Committee on Treasury Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 60 - 65)

WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001

MR JOHN ROQUES

  60. The fact is that Customs and Excise thought in 1998 that they had taken steps, having had the shock of this diversion, and you come along and say there are still more they can take to improve serious weaknesses.
  (Mr Roques) Yes, but they had taken steps. I think there were still more, obviously as I made my recommendations.

Chairman

  61. On the National Investigation Service point, you draw attention to a lot of weaknesses there in the management, poor report systems and light oversight and little strategic planning. You then say it performs reasonably well despite all that. You say, "Its recent focus on the development of strategies should enhance performance substantially". Then you immediately go on to call for a major review of it. Is it performing well or not?
  (Mr Roques) I meant to say it did well because in terms of the processes it adopted and its effectiveness on investigating an individual case—and I examined eight or nine cases—I thought those cases were well managed in themselves. In terms of setting the strategy for the Department between where you allocate resources, to which fraud aspect, including drugs, what the relative importance is of prosecution and prevention and disruption, basically I would say the prosecution process which has been their cultural drive is shown to be almost the least effective way of attacking this problem. The resource requirements are absolutely massive because the time from when, from their point of view, the case is complete and the amount of effort then to take it through the courts is absolutely enormous in terms of resource use. Therefore I would say it was that strategic management and that assessment of best use of resources which did not exist at all. That did not prevent them, if a team was sent out on an individual case, doing a good job in my view.

Mr Plaskitt

  62. Your report has 65 recommendations, 57 accepted, others either not or modified and just one not accepted, is it? Overall at this point, how do you feel about the response to your recommendations?
  (Mr Roques) I thought the response was good. I apologise for repeating myself but I think the most important one which they have not followed is the structure within finance and analysis and the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. If they succeed in doing what I think they should do with their structure, then I am delighted with their structure. If it does not succeed then somebody should revisit as to whether my structure might have a higher probability of success. That is the only area of important difference.

Chairman

  63. You draw attention at one point in your report to the absence of discussion concerning Excise at the Board. I think you mentioned it twice. Were you very surprised about that?
  (Mr Roques) Yes. I was very surprised by the working of the Board, which in my mind rarely discussed any of the things which I would have expected them to discuss regularly. Obviously I focused on Excise because that was what my task was, but as far as I could see, they did not discuss operational issues and performance issues and they did not look at data; they had hopeless management accounting information. All the things I would have expected a "board" to do, it did not do. In their defence, on the face of it they had established committees which you might have thought would do all these things. If the committees had been very effective, then that would have been fine, but the committees did not seem to do any of those things either. As a combination I thought it was extremely surprising.

  64. What comes across to me at any rate, certainly from the earlier structure of the Board which you detail—I think there have been changes since—is that it does not seem to have been a real Board.
  (Mr Roques) I agree; I do not think it was.

  65. Nothing like the board of a commercial enterprise at all.
  (Mr Roques) No, it was more like the board of a charity.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed for appearing before us.





 
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