Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
MONDAY 12 NOVEMBER 2001
GIEVE CB, MS
1. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome
to the Committee of Public Accounts. We have a new member, Mr
Nick Gibb, whom we welcome this afternoon. We are considering
the implementation of the National Probation Service Information
Systems Strategy (NPSISS). Welcome, Mr Gieve, perhaps you could
introduce the other witnesses.
(Mr Gieve) Eithne Wallis on my left is the National
Director of the Probation Service. Richard Crade on my right comes
from Integris, Bull Information Systems. On my far left Paul Sleightholme
is also from Integris.
2. Clearly probation officers were having difficulty
in understanding this system. Just as a matter of interest, have
you yourself tried to work the system?
(Mr Gieve) I have had it demonstrated for me.
3. Did you find it difficult to penetrate?
(Mr Gieve) I had it demonstrated by someone who knew
how to do it so it was not particularly difficult to penetrate.
4. In 1997, when it was obvious that the difficulty
the probation officers were having in using the system was becoming
a major issue, why did the Home Office not listen more carefully
to the concerns of the probation officers? I am thinking particularly
of the remarks made in paragraphs 2.29 and 2.30 on page 21. In
1997 doubts were being raised and it seems that the Home Office
were not paying sufficient attention to what the probation officers
were saying about the difficulty they were having in accessing
(Mr Gieve) This is the CRAMS system.
5. Yes; I should have made that clear.
(Mr Gieve) As you can see here just over the page,
the Home Office did issue a warning to Bull that the thing was
not working well. At that point, after negotiation, the Home Office
felt it was worth pursuing and that it could be made to work better.
Indeed it has been working in some probation services; there have
been some who have made it work, others have decided not to.
6. A system which cost £12 million and
some probation services are using it and some are not using it
at all, because of the difficulty of access.
(Mr Gieve) That is right.
7. Surely this matter was not helped by the
fact that in the first seven years to 2001 the Home Office's programme
management team was led by seven successive programme directors,
of whom only two had significant experience of managing major
IT projects. That is a point made on page 23 in paragraph 2.39.
Why is it not a prerequisite of being a project director that
you have to have managed a large IT project already? Seven successive
directors seems to be a bit of an exaggeration.
(Mr Gieve) Clearly it did not help at all, no, having
seven in seven years, especially the very rapid turnover after
1997. That is one of the key lessons of this episode. In terms
of training for and preparation for people running major projects,
I absolutely agree with you that we have to have people who are
trained for the job. We cannot always have people who have already
done it before but we can always have people who have gone through
project management training and hope in their team to include
people with experience of other negotiations.
8. It was not made any better, was it, as paragraph
2.43 on page 24 tells us, that the management team was "badly
under-resourced . . . with misaligned skills". What lessons
are you taking from this? Why did the Home Office not recognise
sooner the need for appropriate resources to manage the implementation
of this complex programme?
(Mr Gieve) The lessons are the obvious ones: that
you have to invest in and properly resource not just the initial
programme design but the management of the contract. That is what
we are trying to do now, not only in the Probation Service but
other parts of the Home Office. Why did we not do it earlier?
We should have done, is the first answer. Why did we not reach
that conclusion? The answer is partly that up until this year
we were dealing with a decentralised system in which the local
probation services were under the control of 54 independent boards.
You will have seen from the report that in 1997 we set up a management
board for this project in which the Home Office were observers
rather than leaders. The idea was that the Probation Service as
a whole should own and manage the programme. Looking back on it,
this was a rather optimistic plan. Nonetheless that is possibly
why we did not resource up at the centre in order to control the
programme better: because the decision had been taken in 1997
to try to decentralise it.
9. Could one of the problems have been, as we
have often seen with the introduction of new IT systems in central
government, that you were trying to do two things at once? You
were taking central control over the Probation Service from local
authorities and you were bringing in a new IT system. Perhaps
some probation officers would have seen this as a tool, a centre
of control, or something they were suspicious of and you were
just trying to do too much.
(Mr Gieve) At that stage we were not taking control
of the Probation Service. That only happened in the 2000 Bill,
from April 2001. Nonetheless we were trying to get a degree of
commonality and it may well be that that was resisted in some
parts of the country. I shall ask Eithne, who was in the Probation
Service at that stage, to answer that.
(Ms Wallis) It was a combination of the governance
at that time being scattered through 54 committees, but yes, there
was some resistance in the staff group itself. One of the actual
benefits of NPSISS is that we do now have a computer literate
workforce and that is a very real advantage to us as we try to
make the improvements and realise the benefits into the future.
It is true that at that time, a lot of the workforce was not IT
literate and there was very substantial resistance in some parts
of the country to acquiring and developing those skills.
10. You say that progress had been made. I understand
from paragraph 2.15, page 17 that some probation services are
having to rely on paper-based systems. We are still back really
in the old-fashioned systems because the CRAMS system is so difficult
to understand. That is not very satisfactory, is it?
(Mr Gieve) CRAMS has definitely not delivered as much
as we had hoped. This paragraph is particularly about public protection
work on potentially dangerous offenders; that is one aspect of
11. I wanted to ask you about that. The whole
system is supposed to ensure that if you have a dangerous offender
then the probation services around the country know exactly what
is going on. If some probation services are having to rely on
paper-based systems, they cannot access the new computer system,
the public may be put at risk, may they not?
(Mr Gieve) Obviously we have been worried about that
and we have asked the Chief Inspector of Probation specifically
about whether the staff or the public had been put at risk by
the lack of a proper case management system. He said that they
had not. You are absolutely right that one aspect of the CRAMS
system was to support work with dangerous ex-offenders, but it
was intended to do rather more than that.
(Ms Wallis) The lack of functionality in CRAMS is
more accurately described as an opportunity cost. It is a benefit
that the service aspired to, it was a benefit that the service
very much had and which was not delivered. That should not be
confused with it actually putting us in a business at risk. It
did not. The service continued to do its assessment and its work
with those offenders without any actual drop in performance. The
Chief Inspector of Probation actually acknowledged that point
and made it very clear that this system simply did not assist
the probation officers to do their job in the way that we had
hoped, but that job was actually done. The public were not put
12. Let me ask about the legal agreement with
Bull. Paragraph 2.52, page 26, says that legal advice received
by the Home Office in 1999 suggested that any new orders placed
under the enabling agreement with Bull would be unlawful. What
developments have the Home Office had to put on hold as a result
of this advice? This is a fairly extraordinary situation. You
sign a contract, you want to make some changes and now you have
to go back, you have to open the field out further than Bull.
Is that right?
(Mr Gieve) The problem here was that we had two layers
of enabling framework contracts before we got to particular purchase
orders from Bull. The legal advice was that the top level contract
did not allow for a second framework contract. We then took the
decision not to contract for new substantial services under the
contract with Bull. With some minor emergency work we have had
to do, we have stuck with that since. As it says, the other intended
developments which this delayed, were the extension of the network
to the head office in the Home Office, access to the Internet
and links with the police computer.
13. Paragraph 3.15 on page 29 of the report
refers to the cost of remedial work required to make the NPSISS
network Year 2000 compliant. Why does Bull consider it acceptable
to supply a system, which so soon afterwards required major modification
at further public expense?
(Mr Crade) The original contract was awarded in 1994.
The awareness of the Y2K problems came to light round about 1996.
Later on in 1997 we started talking to the Home Office and probation
services about how we might mitigate the risk of Year 2000 and
in fact we carried out a study at our own cost to help advise
the Home Office on the way forward. What we were doing through
that was looking at the various software components which we supplied
and trying to get warranties from those software suppliers as
to the Year 2000 compliance. On some of those we were not able
to get those warranties.
14. When you supplied this system, did you have
any inkling, or did you know, that it might not be compliant for
the Year 2000?
(Mr Crade) No, not initially.
15. When did you find out?
(Mr Crade) When year 2000 compliance issues started
to come to light and there were concerns about the impact of Year
2000, then we started to look at the systems we were providing
and tried to come up with a resolution to the issues which might
arise from that.
16. May I ask Ms Wallis a general question about
establishing links with IT networks being developed by other criminal
justice systems? When will the National Probation Service be able
to share its case information with the IT networks of other criminal
(Ms Wallis) It is unlikely that we shall be able to
have full sharing of information within the new contract, that
is likely to be still two and a half to three years away into
the phase two, the strategic contract. What we do have is a gradual
moving towards that in a variety of ways. For example, one of
the new applications currently under development is called OASYS,
Offender Assessment System. That is a joint development with the
Prison Service, a very critical partner for us. Thirty-six per
cent of our work is done in partnership with the Prison Service.
Every day we have 200,000 offenders under our supervision and
we need to be able to do individual assessments of their risk,
their dangerousness, their need. We need to develop not just the
professional tools to do it but the IT software to support that,
to facilitate and enable our staff. This is a joint development
with the prisons. We have worked on it together, we have a single
specification, we have the same paper-based system. At the moment
we are developing IT systems separately because we cannot actually
make our systems converge just yet. We are introducing the IT
support separately for the moment. Roughly within the next three
years, we hope that we shall be able to converge and that is one
example of a way in which we shall be able to move together.
17. Are you telling us that despite the rather
sorry saga of this, £12 million, several probation services
not being able to use it, difficulties, that your new strategy
is going to deliver on time and will be rather more successful
than CRAMS was?
(Ms Wallis) Yes, I am going to tell you that.
18. This is a further example of a failed government
IT scheme, is it not? I just do not know how you get away with
itnot you personally but civil servants. If politicians
were squandering money the way the Civil Service does, we would
be out on our ears. Yet it goes on and on and on. It is a catalogue
of complete comedy and disaster since 1993. I understand that
you were responsible for the comprehensive spending review. What
is your opinion of the way it has been handled since 1993, bearing
in mind that you have been responsible for the Government's spending
(Mr Gieve) Two things. There were many failures in
this story certainly, but the project was not a total failure
in the sense that it did introduce linked IT systems, hardware
and e-mail through most of the Probation Service, which is described
as a considerable achievement by the National Audit Office. That
is just one point. In terms of the lessons learned from it: a
number of lessons are common to this and other IT projects of
the last ten years, particularly the need for clarity of ownership,
clarity of objective in terms of outcomes. Secondly, continuous
review both before the project is let but also through the implementation
of the project. Thirdly, the development and sustaining of skills
and investing in skills in the departments. There is no doubt
in this case, as in others, we under-invested in contract management.
19. The plan was to put a high IT scheme into
the Probation Service between 1995 and 1999, was it not? Then
a common record and management system was to be put in. Out of
54, 49 actually put the infrastructure in, but only 16 have used
the system substantially. One hundred and eighteen million pounds
have been spent and seven years on only 16 are using it. It is
70 per cent above the estimated cost to the taxpayer and it is
not being used. Tell us why it is not being used?
(Mr Gieve) The computer system, NPSISS, is being used
in 49 of the 54, or, now they have been reorganised in districts,
by the majority of the districts very actively. What is only being
used by 16 is CRAMS, the case management system.