Examination of Witnesses (Questions 920
WEDNESDAY 17 MAY 2000
920. That is low value items. How low is low
(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
(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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.