Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 920 - 934)

WEDNESDAY 17 MAY 2000

MR GERRY GAVIGAN, MR ALEX ALLAN AND MR CHRIS PARKER

Baroness O'Cathain

  920. That is low value items. How low is low value?
  (Mr Allan) I do not know the exact figure.

  921. Paper clips, is it?
  (Mr Allan) No, it is going bigger than that, but it is not including warships.

  922. I hope we do not have any more warships. This question is about job applications. I did see, in the United States and Canada, where people are looking for candidates to apply for jobs, they say, "Please come on-line and visit our website, get the application forms, fill them in and send them on. We do not want any of this post business." Do you think that you see a situation where the Civil Service would actually recruit on-line?
  (Mr Allan) We are doing quite a bit through the Recruitment Advisory Service. I certainly see scope for that. Looking at it the other way round, one of the other services that the job centres are now offering is on-line job search for people who are looking for jobs. That is obviously looking at it the other way round, but I certainly see there will be huge scope for that, and it is already happening.

  923. My real question was; have you developed a template for doing business in e-commerce which you can actually give to other departments, because you are obviously way ahead of the game and you know what you are talking about? I am sure there are pockets of government which are not necessarily Luddite, but are not necessarily embracing this e-commerce. You find this in corporations as well; there are certain areas of corporations where you have to get them kicking and screaming before they co-operate. Have you developed a template which is easily available to other departments in government?
  (Mr Allan) That is exactly what we are doing as part of the e-government strategy.

  924. To make it easier for them?
  (Mr Allan) What we are doing is working with individual departments to help them. Every department will have to produce an e-government strategy document that will set out how they are doing it. What we are doing is providing some consultancy help to them at the moment to go and talk to each individual department and see if they have the right systems in place to do this, and if they have not, to help them and make sure they have it set up, because we have a commitment to publish by October when we are on e-government strategies, and so each department, by then, will need to have worked it out.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

  925. One of the things that has struck us in this inquiry is that there has been loads of enthusiasm on the part of leadership of the various organisations and other bodies that we have seen, but I think some of my colleagues are sceptical about how far down in the organisation that commitment goes. We have heard some evidence that middle management and a couple of tiers down are unwilling or unable to take the initiatives for change which are going to be needed. Do you recognise this as a problem? If so, how are you dealing with it? Have you any secret way of making sure you can get your message across to everybody?
  (Mr Allan) I recognise it is a problem. I think it does vary hugely between departments. I have sometimes heard it put the other way round; it is the people lower down in the departments who are enthusiastic users of the new technology and it is the people at the top who are frightened by the change. From my perspective the key is to make sure that it is the top of the departments who are involved and supportive and seized of the need for change, and then to rely on them to enthuse and motivate their staff. We are doing quite a lot in that direction, not just at the very top, but at various levels down. We had the Cabinet session in March and the commitment from all the Cabinet Members around the table was very encouraging towards getting their department to move on this, for example on managing IT projects where there is a general recognition that this is something where you have to have the strong leadership at the top to make sure that what is promised is delivered, and you have to keep a grip on that. Equally, among other ministers, there is the Information Age Ministerial Network that meets at a junior minister level and discusses the issues in more detail. Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary, chaired a session at Sunningdale this year where there were presentations on the need for change and the implications of change, and there is fairly regular discussion among permanent secretaries. I chair a group called The Information Age Government Champions, which is a variety of individuals in each department who are specifically charged with having a role in making sure that the department knows what is going on and making sure that the enthusiasm is generated. There are a number of other such cross-cutting meetings. The Centre for Management and Policy Studies is planning a series of workshops and policy seminars for various different tiers of government.

Viscount Brookeborough

  926. I have had a look at the list of names of the people who are the champions and it surprised me that you have pitched them at the level that you have. These are people who are already very fully employed with a whole range of tasks of one sort or another. I would have thought that you would be identifying champions that would be given the job to perform exclusively.
  (Mr Allan) I think part of the need is to make sure that what we are doing is something that is an integral part of the Department's business. The other roles of champions vary, but typically they are directors of planning or strategic corporate control. There are a variety of different types. It is very important that they, having a key role within their department, are also seized of the changes that are going on and the need to drive this through. I think that in some cases departments are finding that they need to set up different structures, and we may see things change as e-government becomes more and more of a reality. Certainly at the moment I am comfortable with the idea that what we want to get is the right person in the department who is not just doing this, but is also using what comes out of the work of the champions in their other work in managing and driving forward change in their departments.

Baroness O'Cathain

  927. You took them from a very small group, strategic planners and human resource people, is that the sort of area? You would not have, for example, picked out a very bright go ahead young graduate at the age of about 25 and said, "You are going to be the champion for the DTI"?
  (Mr Allan) We have, I think, in almost all cases, left it to the department and we have gone along and talked to the department and said, "We want somebody who is---", and it has varied. I do not think there is anybody quite in the category that you have described, but they are people very much in the management hierarchy. Our requirement is that they have to be at board level in order to give them the standing within the department.

Chairman

  928. Which is an issue of some concern to us. We had Professor Loughton, who was one of the principal authors of the report that came out last autumn and we took evidence from him and asked him what he would do if he had his time over again. He said, "Well, I would make sure that we were moving much faster than the programme has set out." You have addressed that, in part, by adjusting your targets, but particularly important to us is that he said, "You really do need to be looking for a change in culture and attitude at middle management, rather than simply pitching it at the top level." He felt that that was the area in which greater effort needed to be made. If you can find a 25 year old graduate with the enthusiasm, that is the kind of individual that you should be going for if you are really to generate change.
  (Mr Allan) I think we need to do it throughout the departments. As I was saying a few moment ago, it will not do any good if we get enthusiastic people lower down the departments and the top management is all saying, "This is too difficult."

  Chairman: I think we are finding in many cases that they are also very keen to make sure that as part of getting the innovative culture going that they do tap-in to what is going on and where they can find people who are much younger and have drive. The Civil Service is changing from being one where it is completely hierarchial and determines by age what your role is, to one where there is more scope for recognising talent. This is obviously a big issue.

Lord Woolmer

  929. I am sure that amongst other things that you have been doing you have kept a close eye on bench-marking elsewhere in the world, and good examples are where government departments have applied e-commerce not only in a sense, within their existing business, but to transform the business. Can you give us one or two examples of very good current best practice around the world, in the United States or Europe, where you think this is where we should really be at and where you could actually say to ministers or civil servants, "It can really work. If you go there you will see how it works", because at the moment it seems very general? The income tax thing, for example, my recollection is that in the last few days it has all been taken off because there is a security glitch and it did not really work.
  (Mr Allan) I can give you an example. In Australia, where my previous job was, what is interesting there is that a lot of the services are delivered at State level rather than at Federal Government level. The State that has devoted most effort of this is Victoria, and in Melbourne there are a very extensive range of services you can do online. They have put in a huge effort, driven very much because the government ministers then responsible for that in Victoria were personally committed and drove it forward. So the interesting thing is that it is not true in every state in Australia, some of the other have devoted less effort to this and have not made nearly as much progress, but in Victoria you can make a number of payments on-line and you can get an extensive range of information. One of the statistics that interested me when I was there talking to people was that they enabled people to pay parking fines on-line and they did the business case on the basis that 2 per cent of the transactions would be paid online and discovered within a year that they were getting 20 per cent paid online. That may say something about the sort of people who get parking fines, but nonetheless it is a remarkable statistic.

  Lord Woolmer: Some of the best have been the Scandinavians who have put in a big effort. The Finns and the Swedes have put in a lot of effort on e-government. The Finns, for example, have quite ambitious plans using national government issued smart cards for identification, which clearly does raise different issues.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

  930. Has it ever occurred to you that your remit might cover this House and the other House of Parliament?
  (Mr Allan) I think I would be very cautious to make any assertion that my remit extended to cover that. I know that there are separate organisations involved in this.

  Lord Faulkner of Worcester: I would certainly agree. I think it is very much to be encouraged, the work that is going on.

Lord Woolmer

  931. I am interested very much in this issue of transforming the business process rather than just having a look at the way this may apply to something in a way they could not do before, which in a sense is self-evident and the logical thing to do and might reduce costs a bit, but does not transform the business process. Which part of the service in the United Kingdom at the moment is coming nearest to beginning to think about transforming the business process as opposed to being able to reach out on-line to the public?
  (Mr Allan) I think my examples may go to some of the smaller agencies, which is perhaps not that surprising, but if you take something like the Public Records Office, one of the things they were doing was producing their catalogue as a computer database and then it suddenly hit them that one of the things they could do was to actually put that on-line and save vast numbers of queries, people ringing up and saying, "Is this document---" or "Where is it available", and just put the database on-line, which they have done. I think that actually has interesting parallels with the private sector, because one of the things that some of the most innovative companies in the private sector have discovered is that there are huge savings to be made by transforming the business so that e-commerce is not just a means of transmitting an order, it is one where you can actually track the status of the order, you can find out where your parcel is if it is being delivered, or where your computer is if you are ordering a computer.

Lord Skelmersdale

  932. Not if you use Parcel Force.
  (Mr Allan) By doing that they made huge savings from people not having to ring up and go through paper files and find out what the process is. There are obvious implications for government in terms of many different processes where you need to apply for some licence or form or document, and if it has not arrived you have to ring up and somebody at the end of the telephone has to go and chase a paper file. Once we can transform the process there will be very big changes within the Department.

Viscount Brookeborough

  933. Can you tell us what the state of play is in local government, and is it uniformly coming on?
  (Mr Allan) I think the answer is, not uniform. There are good examples of local authorities doing a lot to both join up their own services and provide information and transactions wherever possible on-line, and there are others that are a bit further behind. We work closely with the local authority associations to try and make sure that we understand what is going on, and equally to look at where we will want to be; in a position where what we are doing is joining up central and local services. There are quite a number of cases where that is the obvious way; where you are not just interested in dealing with central government and local government separately, you want to deal with both. Some of them are very innovative and imaginative, and others have further to go.

Chairman

  934. I rather suspect there is more in the latter category than in the former. We are grateful to you for giving us your time. I think you may have sensed, and this is based on evidence which has come to us, that the Committee is somewhat concerned about the pace at which change is taking place within the area in which government actually has control. We often find that from the evidence that comes to us, people speak about issues at a distance, they have lots of opinions and ideas about what should happen there, but when it comes to their own back yard, where they have direct control, not so much is happening as they would like to see happening in the bigger world. The view which is coming through to us from a fair number of people is that on the Government front there is a lot of running to a done to catch up, we are well behind what has been happening in e-government in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Scandinavian countries and, indeed, France where there is a good deal of interactivity that takes place between the ordinary taxpayer, the members of the communities, and the authorities. So we await with considerable interest to see the new targets which have been set and we wish you well in delivering them. We have had some very good reports produced by government over the last 12 months. What we will be looking for in the 12 months that run from October 2000 onward is that we will actually start to see the delivery taking place and we wish you all success with that. Thank you.
  (Mr Allan) Thank you.





 
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