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Jon Trickett: I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully. Does he agree that the Mott McDonald report, which is a critical document on which the Government rest much of their case about public sector comparators, measures deal creep within the public sector but fails to take account of deal creep in the private sector, which means that we end up comparing apples with pears?

Mr. Bacon: The hon. Gentleman anticipates my concluding point. I fear that this is simply another way—if a rather more sophisticated way—to provide any number that the Government require for the public sector comparator. Given that the Treasury uses the report and that Departments say that it gives them numbers based on it, it is strange that the report states that

The report states a number of reasons for that:

that is always a good one—

In other words, the basis for the numbers that are now being used is itself flawed, but the Treasury still recommends it to Departments.

I turn to the conclusion of the Mott MacDonald report, which states:

This exercise, which was undertaken on the Treasury's behalf, is in fact a laudable one. Getting some form of scientific measure of what goes on inside large projects, why they go wrong and the precise extent to which they go wrong is very helpful. But I come back to my point about transparency. At the moment, there is no transparency. One cannot go through the report and discover how the figures have been arrived at, so the suspicion remains that the whole exercise is still just another way of manipulating the data, just as the public sector comparator itself too often seems to be a way of manipulating the data, in order to demonstrate the required result.

I turn briefly to the future. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I worry that our reports and the legion warnings issued about projects in many different areas

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of government—particularly, but not only, computer projects—are so often ignored. The national health service provides us with an example of huge procurement: the National Programme for Information Technology in the NHS in England. The NPfIT concerns the provision for clinicians of electronic patient records, and it is costing a fortune. Estimates have varied. A recent announcement valued contracts in the region of £2.3 billion. That figure rose to £2.6 billion, and following the recent letting of quite a few contracts, it has reached some £4.2 billion. Indeed, it is expected to rise still higher. The problem is that however much money is spent on the programme, it will not work unless there is buy-in from the users. One of the classic problems with such projects is that the users are not consulted adequately or in time.

The magazine Computer Weekly and the NPfIT itself jointly undertook a study of this issue. A health care market research firm called Medix undertook a survey of people in the health service who might need to have contact with the programme. It asked, "What consultation has there been with you personally about the NPfIT?" One per cent. described such consultation as "More than adequate"; 3 per cent. said it was "Adequate"; 8 per cent. said it was "Barely adequate"; and 11 per cent. said it was "Inadequate". However, 75 per cent. said of such consultation that there had been "None at all", and 2 per cent. were "Unsure".

The NPfIT was so furious about these results that it issued its own press release, in which it completely ignored any of the survey's negative findings. Those who want to check the survey can do so easily, as it has helpfully been made available on the internet. That is one of the few ways in which IT manages to hoist itself by its own petard.

Slightly worryingly, the striking report by the National Audit Office—we are not really debating it; indeed, it was published only today, and we have yet to take evidence on it—says in large letters on page 7:

it is referring to the Criminal Records Bureau—

In the report on the Libra project, to which other Members have referred, we offer the following warning on page 4:

The NPfIT says that it will begin redesigning the business processes, but it has already let the contracts. The warnings that we are giving are current. We have not even had the chance to consider the NAO report, listen to the evidence and issue our own report. However, the advice is clear: consult early. In respect of the second report, we already know that the NPfIT is ignoring the need to design business processes in parallel while introducing IT.

That brings me to my final point, about the Office of Government Commerce. The NAO's report on the Criminal Records Bureau states, in paragraph 13 on page 3,

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That raises the question of whether the gateway reviewers are culturally too close to the people whom they are reviewing.

The Work and Pensions Committee is currently conducting a study on the IT projects under way in the Department for Work and Pensions. I hope that we shall also look at that, and that the Treasury will take account of it. One of the witnesses for the study was Sir Peter Gershon, chief executive of the OGC. He was asked whether he had ever stopped a project, and also whether he had ever advised that a project was too complex. In each case he gave answers that were long, difficult to understand and non-committal, which suggests that the real answer was "No". I hope that the OGC will seriously consider publishing gateway reviews; perhaps the Treasury will give it a nudge in that direction.

Mr. Allan: I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the effectiveness of the gateway review process. I have looked into it myself, and my impression is that the process has no power to stop projects. If a red light is thrown up, it is for the Department or the public body to decide whether to proceed.

Mr. Bacon: That is true. What is also true is what I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to say: the gateway process does not apply to the health service or the NPfIT.

The central point is this. If these matters were in the public domain and MPs, members of the public and journalists could read about them, the Department might be helped to conclude that it should take a slightly more robust view, and perhaps occasionally stop projects in their tracks.

I think the OGC does a great job, and that it negotiated a fine deal with Microsoft. Sir Peter Gershon's recently conferred knighthood is well deserved. If the title "Hero of the Taxpayer" existed, he would be worthy of it, because he does a tremendous job—but he does it in very difficult circumstances. His only real power is one of suasion. He cannot point at Departments and tell them what to do.

Mr. Leigh: Sir Peter is retiring after three years as a permanent secretary.

Mr. Bacon: I am disappointed to hear that, because I think he was just getting into his stride.

One of the central aspects of the problems we face is the fact that the civil service is constantly on the move. Permanent officials actually move far more often than Ministers. I had the opportunity to have a chat with the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) the other day. I gave him a lift in my car. I was picking up my laundry from the launderette, as you do, and there he was walking along. As his office is in Norman Shaw South, I decided to give him a lift. He said that when he was Leader of the House one of the most extraordinary things he discovered from talking to parliamentary counsel was that when drafting Bills parliamentary counsel almost never get to talk to the same civil servant twice about the same subject, because civil servants move on so quickly.

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I was delighted to hear that Sir Andrew Turnbull is thinking of introducing four-year posts for civil servants. That will be a very interesting development, if it actually happens. I was also delighted to hear from Sir David Omand, when the Chairman and I went to Heathrow airport to visit Customs and Excise, that the Government's approach to risk management will in future be tied not just to the statements of internal control that permanent secretaries must sign, but to the spending review process. If they can get traction on that, it will be very interesting.

Another point made by David Lipsey in his book was that the Treasury and the PAC ought to be allies. I sometimes feel that we are not nearly as close allies as we should be, and I believe that one of the reasons is the fact that the information that would enable us to work more closely together is held too closely. The Whitehall culture is the same in other Departments as it is in the Treasury: "Your job is to defend your Department against outsiders". From the Treasury's point of view, Parliament is just another outsider.

As the NAO has pointed out, we are about to spend an extra £61,000 million of taxpayers' money over the next three years in the spending round. A 1 per cent. improvement would lead to an extra £14 billion going into front-line services. I have considerable scepticism about whether that will happen, but if we are to see the changes that we want and achieve the fundamental shift in the way that the Government deliver services to the public, which Sir Peter Gershon spoke about in his ongoing efficiency review, we need to use every lever at our disposal. I believe that the most important lever is transparency—and oxygen—to enable the people of this country to govern themselves, to criticise their Governments more effectively and to ensure that taxpayers get value for money.

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