Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
MONTAGU KCB, MR
MONDAY 18 MARCH 2002
60. I read somewhere that you are planning to
spend £200 million between April 2001 and March 2004 on `e'.
How much of that money have you spent already?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) To date it is just under £105
61. So you are saying more than half of that
£200 million has been spent already?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Indeed.
62. Are you expecting by March 2004 that you
will be on budget or are you expecting that you will have to spend
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) No, I am expecting to be on
budget by then.
63. How much money in round terms do you expect
`e' to save you?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Again, I cannot give you that
answer, Mr Bacon, I am sorry. It is not like the other one, it
is not that I have not got it. What we are talking about here
is large-scale long-term investment. We are putting in an infrastructure
to deliver the Government's undertakings on making the United
Kingdom the best place to do business electronically. Over time
as take-up increases, clearly there is the potential for considerable
savings. At this stage I am looking on it as up-front investment.
64. Have you not estimated what the savings
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Only to the extent that it
is in the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report.
65. It says in Paragraph 2.4 that you have got
a target of 50 per cent take up by 2005. "But the target
is ambitious. Experience to date elsewhere suggests such levels
of take up is unlikely to be achieved." You agree with that?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Yes, in the sense that I agree
as an across-the-board target we will not achieve it. We will
certainly achieve it and possibly exceed it with some services.
66. Over the page it talks about this electronic
lodgement service and says at the first bullet point on Page 14:
"The Electronic Lodgement Service, introduced in 1997, enables
tax agents (such as accountants) to file Self Assessment annual
returns electronically on behalf of their clients using an electronic
data interchange service. Over 267,000 returns were submitted
in this way in 2000-01, equivalent to seven per cent of the target
audience". One would have thought that this body of professionalstax
agents and accountantswould have a huge vested interest
in taking up the electronic lodgement service because presumably
it enables them to get a much quicker turnaround and it will save
money while they can still charge the old "quill pen"
fees to their clients, and yet you have only got a seven per cent
take up. Why is that?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) I do not know. Again, as you
know, tax agents come in many shapes and sizes, from the big to
the very small. We have tried to promote electronic lodgement
because it has got all the advantages that you mentioned, but
to date we have only got just under 3,000 users.
67. That has been over five years.
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Yes.
68. On page 36, Appendix 6, this talks about
progress made in Australia, Electronic Lodgement Service in Australia.
It says, "9 million taxpayer returns each year and 75 per
cent are lodged using this service". How is it that the Australians
can achieve such a high take-up and the Inland Revenue cannot?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) I think there are two points
here. I need to sound a cautionary note that Sir John does and
that, indeed, the office of the e-envoy does in even starker terms
about international comparisons. Australia is generally more switched
on electronically than we areBarry and I were there looking
at what was going on before we went to Singaporethey have
48 per cent, as opposed to 34 per cent here, internet usage. Remember
that in Australia, unlike here, you have universal filing and
you have systems in which most people are due a repayment of tax
at the end of the year. That, I think, accounts for quite a lot
in the comparisons between us and Australia.
69. The fact that they are due money means they
are more likely to do it on the internet?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) To do it on the internet, to
do it on time and to be prompt about it. Remember that in this
country 17 million taxpayers have their affairs dealt with generally,
and absolutely rightly, very simply through the PAYE system and
do not need to contact us at all.
70. This group of people we are talking about,
I assume when you refer to the 1,194 agents you are talking about
tax agents, presumably if 1,194 is 7 per cent, then 100 per sent
is roughly 14,000 or 15,000 across the country, these are people
who have a professional interest in doing the thing the cheapest,
fastest and most economical way. As it says on page 36, in Australia
the paper based tax lodgement can take seven weeks to process
and e-service has a ten day turnaround. You would expect that
the difference would be similar in any jurisdiction. The incentive
for professional tax agents to take up this service, if it is
such an improved service, from their point of view would be huge
because of what they could then do for their clients, yet they
do not seem to have responded?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Slow take-up, again, Mr Bacon,
I quite agree. Under 3,000 for electronic lodgement and 1,194
for internet filing is not enough. Remember that is 1,194 in the
first year. I do expect it to build and we will continue to target
tax agents, with whom we work very closely, to e-file.
71. I really only want to ask you about one
more area, that is computer security. It says on page 39, Appendix
7, iii, concerns about security in electronic transactions can
deter people. This is the NAO, "We were satisfied that the
Inland Revenue's security standards matched best practice".
My question is whether the fact that they matched best practice
is much of a reassurance in light of the types of `cock-ups',
if I can use that phrase, one hears about in both the public and
the private sector? You hear about Powergen putting all of its
credit cards on to a website so that anyone can look at them,
and mistakes by Barclays Bank. We have the recent example of the
Independent Learning Accounts, where people were hacking into
the computer at Darlington, run by Capita, and stealing thousands
of ILA numbers. What steps have you taken to reassure yourself
that the security that is in place is adequate? That is the first
question. What, if any, research have you done among customers
to see what might be done to allay their concerns about these
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) On the second point I think
it is something which we would talk with customers about as a
matter of course, saying, what do you like, what do you not like?
Remember, we do not just talk to people who did file. There was
a great gap between the number of people who registered and the
number of people who actually filed. We went back to those people
who registered and asked them why they had not filed. We got a
variety of reasons. I do not know if we have figures on security.
We are able if they do raise issues with us to give them categorical
and copper-bottomed reassurance. You quoted Sir John saying we
matched the best in the industry. We constantly revisit. Possibly
one of the most telling points is that we have got the Defence
Evaluation and Research Agencyagain I think the C&AG's
Report notes thisto look at our systems. More than that,
we have got them to try and crack our systems, and on the `gamekeeper
turned-poacher' principle, or the other way round, they should
have been able to, if anybody could, and they could not hack into
it at all.
72. Do you think that is possibly because they
did not hire any of those 15 year-olds that hacked into the Pentagon?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) It is always possible, Mr Bacon.
As you say, one reads in the press of disasters with this bank
or that building society. I do not preen for more than half a
minute, I am always aware of, there but for the Grace of God go
73. I must say you are in a combatant mood today!
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Well, I know what I am up against.
74. I hope you get away without the verbal equivalent
of GBH. Can I follow up this point about fraud? What has been
the experience elsewhere within the governmental system? Is there
anything in particular that you have learned from their experience
about hackers, and the like?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) I am not aware of any specific
experience from elsewhere. As I indicated to Mr Bacon, so far
as external security is concerned, we have the Defence Evaluation
Research Agency and we keep that constantly under review. So far
as internal security is concerned I wonder whether that is what
you have in mind when you mentioned fraud. Again, our Departmental
Security Unit keeps a really close eye on this and our system,
very importantly, is built so that we can actually check back
whoI am talking about individualsdid what in the
operation and use of the service.
75. There is no experience else where in the
world of which you are aware where moving to electronic filing,
and all of the rest of it, has caused any difficulties?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) I am not aware of it. I do
not know whether any of my colleagues are.
(Mr Hawes) There is one published example that I am
aware of, the General Accounting Office Report on the IRS, where
people were able to access information that had been submitted
through their lodgement service. Whether any of that information
was ever actually extracted and taken I do not remember. That
is the only example I am aware of.
76. Can you just clarify this, have you access
to bank interest, for example, bank accounts electronically, are
you able to assess whether or not the amount of interest is actually
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) No, we do not. What we do have
is a system with banks and building societies under which they
can pass on details of interest under third party arrangements.
Your bank account is absolutely safe from our scrutiny unless
we get a specific order on the bank to produce.
77. I am trying to remember how this system
operates, I seem to remember getting a certificate from my bank,
which I then passed on to you, which presumably then got written
in somewhere or another. Is it not easier to electronically miss
out the middleman, as it were, miss out the paper trail and just
have that trawled so that everyone who would get a paper statement
of interest that would get fed into yourselves electronically?
(Mr Hawes) The information is passed to us. The legal
position is that the individual on their tax return must include
all of their income, whether we have already been notified of
it or not. What the electronic service has opened up the possibility
of doing is advising people that if we already know at the time
they fill their return in that the amount we have been notified
of is this, that it is your responsibility to ensure that it is
right and that there are no other sources and do you want to confirm
this or change it. That is where the real benefit comes for individuals.
78. That is helpful. In all that I must admit
that I am surprised by the point you made that there is a £3
saving if people do this electronically. I would have thought
it would be much more than that. It does genuinely surprise me.
Is that net of the advertising campaign you had and any capital
expenditure? £3 seems a very, very small amount.
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) That is the transaction cost,
so it is certainly net of capital expenditure and it is certainly
net of the advertising costs. The advertising costs are essentially
both to encourage people to file electronically but also to raise
awareness of it: these are purely the processing costs. There
would be potential stationery and postage savings too.
79. That is what I thought. If somebody files
electronically now there is a £3 saving netted off, it might
be greater than that because of the savings in postage, and so
on and so forth. Presumably if they keep on doing it, and presumably
you have examined the retention rates that there are for people
who do it once and then continue to do it, presumably some way
down the line there will be virtually no expenditure on an individual
and only savings. How much is that saving then, have you estimated?
What scope is thereI presume this is a Ministerial decisionfor
providing incentives for people to lodge electronically?
(Sir Nicholas Montagu) Certainly what you say is true,
Mr Davidson, to the extent that if people file electronically
and get it right there are very considerable potential savings.
In a world in which electronic filing and payment were the norm
across the piece and we had cleaner data and people got it right,
the potential savings would be huge.