Examination of witness (Questions 20 -
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY
20. So from 1 April you will be accountable
not just for the establishment of CAPPA but for the ongoing operations
of IB and the RSCs across the country?
(Mr McNeill) That is correct.
21. How often are you personally going to report
to ministers, either in writing or at face-to-face interview,
about your progress in establishing CAPPA?
(Mr McNeill) I had a meeting with the Minister only
last week, and he indicated that he wants to be kept closely informed
of progress. The Permanent Secretary has made it very clear that
he wants to be made aware of any difficulty in the project as
quickly as possible. There will, of course, be formal mechanisms.
There will be an Ownership Board, which will probably meet on
a bi-monthly basis, involving various stakeholders, which, of
course, is the Minister's advisory board, so the Minister will
be made aware of any concerns. In addition, it is proposed there
will be another steering group made up of internal and external
expertise, which will scrutinise the change process, apart from
the day-to-day running progress of CAPPA, and will report also
to the Permanent Secretary, who will probably chair it and report
to ministers on progress.
22. You said in your introductory remarks that
you had looked at the IT projects within government, or some of
them at least, that had failed. One of the projects that is parallel
to what you are doing, which is developing a new way of doing
business whilst an existing one continues, was the introduction
of self-assessment in the Inland Revenue, a £250 million
project involving both Revenue officials and an outside IT provider,
EDS. Have you looked at that project?
(Mr McNeill) No, I have not, but I certainly will
23. Given the very comprehensive risk management
strategy that was developed therebecause obviously no government
wants to have an interruption in the flows of its basic raw material
moneydo you think there is merit in looking at this?
(Mr McNeill) I certainly intend to. It is my intention,
once my management team becomes established, to look at these
particular cases with experts, to draw parallels with the work
we are doing and identify the lessons to be learned.
24. Would I be right in saying the fact that
I posed that to you and you very generously say, "Yes, I
will look at it," it may be the first time that somebody
has suggested you do that? Is your adviser, whether it be the
person who fulfils this Director of IS or somebody else, going
to present a comprehensive picture of success and/or failure in
terms of government IT projects? I sense you are aware of difficulty,
but equally, I wanted to be reassured that you were aware of success.
(Mr McNeill) Yes, our intention is to look at the
good and the bad in terms of the delivery of new systems as a
management tool and to learn from that.
25. As one of your milestones, which we will
come on to talk about shortly, have you established a point in
time when that assessment process will be completed and you will
therefore be able to look across the board at the projects that
you want to?
(Mr McNeill) We have already on the team an experienced
and highly qualified risk manager, who is very au fait
with the various failures that you have mentioned and the difficulties
that have arisen, and we are very focused on ensuring that a risk
management plan is maintained within the organisation. But we
certainly, as a management team, when my management team is established
with permanent people, will be spending time looking at good practice,
bad practice, lessons to be learned. For example, this is one
of the documents which we have in circulation now for discussion,
looking at some of the software failures. In addition, I am aware
there has been a PAC report, which we have copies of, and we will
be going through that as well.
26. Just going back on some of the ground you
have covered, I am mystified as to how independent you are going
to be and how constrained. You are a government agency, and this
marvellous advert says, "...building a new organisation with
a new culture and an uncompromising focus on quality customer
care. We need people who will deliver, because failure is not
an option." That is marvellous stuff! Your qualifications
as specified in the advert were really entrepreneurial, were they
not, yet you report to the Minister and you are a government agency?
How independent are you going to be in building up your own organisation
and dedicating it to its purpose?
(Mr McNeill) Of course, you will be aware that, as
a next-steps agency, our relationship with the Department and
the Minister is clearly defined in the framework document which
is approaching completion. It has been the subject of discussions
with, obviously, the Minister, and with officials in MAFF. I have
reviewed it with some colleagues, and the trade unions have been
involved. There are a number of people looking at the framework
document, which really defines what that relationship will be.
Within that there are some constraints. For example, I cannot
take decisions on senior civil servants' appointments to CAPPA,
because those are in the gift of the Permanent Secretary. If CAPPA
were to make changes which resulted in senior civil servants being
out of a job, they would have to return to the core department,
which would have to seek to employ them and to accommodate them.
I do not find that unreasonable, and in developing the structure
to date I have to say everyone has been quite positive and helpful.
I have not identified anyone who is anything but enthusiastic
to ensure that we do everything possible to ensure that this project
operates successfully and is completed successfully. After all,
this is a flagship project for MAFF, and they are very aware that
it is essential that it is delivered; otherwise there will be,
as you say, serious problems. Even though there are safety checks
and balances in there in terms of parallel running when new systems
start to come on line, etc, everyone is aware that if we spend
this amount of money and do not deliver this project successfully,
we are obviously going to have very serious difficulties.
27. "Failure is not an option"! But
you are happy personally that you have the authority and independence
to carry out this executive role, which is really running a business
rather than a government agency.
(Mr McNeill) One of the important areas that I am
content we have control over is the ring-fenced fund, the funding
to actually bring about change. As the accounting officer for
the agency, we have control over what that is spent on, so that
it is not frittered away on other things. It will be spent on
developing new CAPPA. We have control over the staff and the structure
in developing what we need in terms of CAPPA. We have control
over which consultants we employ. One of the key decisions in
all of this, I am sure you would agree, is the selection of the
IT partner for this project, and of course, we will involve both
the Cabinet Office, e-Envoy and others in that decision-making
process to take a view, and indeed external expertise, so that
we have the very best appointment, but again, I think that decision
will rest largely with the CAPPA management team and what their
view is as well. We will have a significant influence on that
as well. I am not aware that there is any bar. We have pay delegation,
so we can look, apart from looking at systems, at how we are going
to move from the classical civil service, nine-to-five-type working
arrangements to a 24-7 type of arrangement, where farmers might
be very keen to talk after working hours. Why should a farmer
tie up his working day talking to people about his application
form? Why not have people available, either through Internet or
through call centres, or indeed some sort of front desk service,
available outside working hours for farmers? We would like to
look at things like that. Those are all issues that we have to
look at, and we have flexibility to do so.
28. So you are happy?
(Mr McNeill) To date, I have no complaints, and as
I said, Brian Bender has made it particularly clear that if we
hit any bureaucracy or any nonsense, I would go straight to him
and sort it out.
29. To follow up Mr Todd's question about the
IT systems and the cock-ups there have been in government, how
much freedom do you have to decide what systems are relevant to
your purpose and to purchase those?
(Mr McNeill) As I say, this is the key decision, and
it is my intention to get the very best advice we can get, be
it within or outwith government. If we get that decision wrong,
the whole project could fail. That is a serious worry. On the
systems specification, the first systems specification is on target
for completion at the end of this financial year, end of March,
for putting out to tender on 1 April, and given that lead time,
of course, we need to move quickly. So we will be involving as
many people as possible to give us advice as to who the best contractor
is for that work, and in addition, it is my view that we need
to make sure that it is intensely managed. We need to make sure
that we do not leave this to lower-level management in the organisation,
but have senior people. The proposal is we have someone in a significant
position in another IT company on the supervisory board, looking
at this development, making sure they are content with the way
it is going. It is by initiatives such as this that I would hope
we would be able to manage it. But at the end of the day, that
decision will be taken within various criteria. We are a public
body, we will have to consider what is best value, we will have
to consider which company provides most assurance as to delivery,
which company has the best track record of actually delivering,
and talking to their customers, and indeed, not only delivering
but supporting the system afterwards. There is a raft of issues
that will have to be considered and decided on.
30. We could give you a list of names of those
with a not very good track record. Moving on to the milestones,
the business case identifies five key milestones. The funding
for milestone 1 was approved in SR2000. Are you on target to launch
CAPPA on 1 April this year, which is milestone 2?
(Mr McNeill) As I have explained, for a number of
reasons, legal reasons and consideration of financial reporting
reasons, we will not formally launch CAPPA as a next-steps agency
on 1 April. We will move to single management; in other words,
we will move to the CAPPA management team taking over responsibility
from the Chief Executive and management team of IBEA and from
Mrs Jane Brown, as head of the MAFF Regional Services Group, and
the management team there. That will happen on 1 April. The proposal
is then that we move to a formal launch of CAPPA on 16 October.
That is actually the end of the accounting year, which, for a
number of reasons, legal and other reasons which we have discussed
at length over the last few weeks, is, I am advised, the best
date, and avoids a number of difficulties in terms of the Commission
31. Have you identified the offices that are
going to be closed as yet?
(Mr McNeill) We have a Business Continuity Director,
who is actually here today, Mr Peter Watson, who is a former senior
manager in the Regional Services Group at Northallerton. I think
the Committee went there. We also have a Business Continuity Board,
whose role is to oversee any proposals to make changes in operations
and to ensure that those proposals will work satisfactorily. That
Board has members such as the National Audit Office and others,
who have expertise in this area. I was at a meeting of that Board
last week, and it is very clear that Peter is developing proposals
as to what offices may have to have work taken from them and which
offices it might have to be placed with, and those proposals are
being considered by that Board to make sure that they are content.
Chairman: The answer to the question is no.
32. You have not identified them?
(Mr McNeill) It is not quite that simple. It is not
a static picture.
33. It is either yes or no.
(Mr McNeill) We have identified them, yes, but there
are some decisions yet to be taken, because it is not a static
picture. We have at the same time as establishing CAPPA, as you
will be aware, the setting up of RDS and the setting up of government
offices. That is creating a scenario which has to be carefully
considered. For example, there are a number of senior managers
in those offices currently involved on Regional Service Centre
work, on IACS work, etc, who have now been appointed to posts
in Government Office, who have been appointed to posts in RDS,
and that influences the thinking as to how secure and safe it
is to leave certain levels of work in those offices. There are
issues such as whether there are people we can put in post in
those places. There are accommodation issues, where obviously
RDS is trying to brigade its staff into certain offices, and the
State Veterinary Service is making certain moves in Worcester
to set up a scrapie unit. There are a number of influences which
are now coming to the fore.
34. These are influences in the light of which
your decision will have to be considered.
(Mr McNeill) Exactly, yes. So in the meantime, I cannot
sit here now and say to you, "Our plan is to do this, this,
and this." We have now been made fully aware of a number
of issues which will have to be considered in deciding how work
is moved, and indeed, which may influence which offices close
where. I am trying to indicate that it is a dynamic situation.
It is not, "Look at the business plan. It said shut this
office." We may well still follow the proposals in the business
plan, but there are a number of other influences which are coming
to the fore, and until that thinking is finalised, I cannot say
to you, "Yes, we know which offices are shutting when."
35. In other words, you are living in the world
of politics rather than business efficiency?
(Mr McNeill) No. I am in the world of management.
These are management issues. You are aware as a Committee that
MAFF is splitting up into a Regional Development Service, Government
Offices are being set up and CAPPA is being set up. We have to
live in the real world. People cannot run the RDS or CAPPA if
they are spread in small numbers round different offices. They
want to re-brigade them. Unless we add extensions to buildings
or whatever, we have to say, "It would seem now to make more
sense if we move out of this office and move that work."
The other thing which we have done which has come to the fore
is that we are putting in an IT linkage to the Intervention Board
site at Newcastle. There is an empty wing in the Newcastle office
of the Intervention Board, which has just been vacated by the
Employment Service. We can acquire staff in that area, whereas
we have difficulty in other areas. That is a new angle to the
continuity plan which we are considering, how best we can use
that resource which already exists within CAPPA.
36. Do you expect the whole programme will stick
to the timetable that is outlined in the business case?
(Mr McNeill) No. Anyone who has ever put any of these
systems developments in place will expect that we will have to
review that timetable as we progress. I am not suggesting that
we will allow slippage, but I think we will have to consider the
timetable. We are retaining the services of Nick Harper as the
Programme Manager, and a part of that job is to be realistic and
not just stay on the railway tracks because that is what we said
we would do. If we realise we have difficulties and we need to
spend more time at a certain stage to avoid problems further down
the line, we may well do that. Having been through other projects,
though certainly not on this scale, I think that is a sensible
approach. We will certainly challenge any suggestion that we delay,
or challenge any reason why we should divert from the present
plan. At the same time, I cannot sit here and say to you, "We
will certainly deliver this project to the day."
37. Can I follow on Mr Mitchell's line of questioning
just to clarify a point which is emerging from your response to
the first two questions. I think you made an observation about
the difficulties of people being involved in this project who
also had day jobs to do ferreting away at night and at the weekend
trying to do this. Who at this moment in time is solely engaged
on this particular project, apart from yourself, obviously?
(Mr McNeill) There are a number of streams of work
being picked up by stream leaders, for example, human resources,
IT development, and finance. There are some 10 or 11 streams of
work that are being undertaken at this moment in time. In looking
to set up early CAPPA and launching the agency in October, I have
not deflected people from that work, but a lot of that work is
being done by people who have day-to-day experience of running
the current business, and so it should be. That is important,
but that is obviously putting pressure on them as well.
38. Just to be clear, the people who are in
charge of developing the streams of work that you have identified
are doing that and nothing else?
(Mr McNeill) In some cases, for example, in IT, we
have a stream leader, David Davison, who is a consultant, and
yes, that is a very important stream. In other areas, for example,
the current IBEA Finance Director is heading up the finance stream
as an additional responsibility, so he obviously has a day job
and is working on this stream.
39. Would I be right in assuming that once this
Director of Finance is appointed, that person will take over the
sole job of developing the finance side of the project?
(Mr McNeill) As I said at an early stage in this discussion,
it is my intention to ensure that senior management are appointed
with a structure which enables them to delegate as much as possible
the day-to-day responsibility of running the business. After all,
we are just not here to set up new CAPPA; we have to run a substantial
business and make sure we do not incur disallowance, etc. My intention
is to make sure that the person who we are really seeking to drive
the change has time to do so. They still need to understand the
business; they cannot develop new CAPPA in isolation. They must
understand what happens day to day.