Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



Mr Bennett

  60.  Could you perhaps give us a note about it?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  Yes.

  61.  And are all the windows clean now?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  There are no problems at Great Minster or Ashdown. There have been problems with the track. Eland is a glass-house and therefore you have to have a system that is absolutely safe for people to move across; the roof itself is glass. We can clean the windows but we are not using the tracking system and the actual gondola, or whatever it is, in quite the kind of way that we want to, and that is something that we are still in discussion with the landlord about.

  62.  But they are all clean now?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  They were cleaned only, I saw them being cleaned, about a couple of weeks ago.

Christine Butler

  63.  Would you advise the Committee, eventually, when you know who will be picking up the tab for all this, would you send a note to the Chairman, please?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  We will send a note on where we stand at present, and then, when we have resolved it, we can tell you what actually happened. As always, this is a situation in which there are claims from the contractor, who claims that it is our fault because we varied something, or our consulting engineers, and we, of course, claim that they did not perform according to the conditions of the contract.

Mr Olner

  64.  You said the building was in some state of not being completed when you were basically forced to move in. Was the contractor very, very late in his delivery times, in the new building?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  At Eland, not very late, a few weeks late.

  65.  A month, two months?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  I think it was probably, we were hoping to move in in early December and we ended up moving in in January/February, so it was maybe of the order of six weeks. In Ashdown, the delay was several months, but there we took the decision that we would leave the divisions in the buildings as they were until all these problems with the fit-out——

  66.  But, in reality, Eland might have been six months late, if it was not sort of ready, so that you could move in, and it could work correctly?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  I would distinguish two things. One is, it being late in the sense of was it available to be accepted; the other is, a building of that kind, simply eliminating the snags and then developing the rather sophisticated control mechanism for all these air-conditioning and heating mechanisms, that has taken us time, to get the measure of how all those systems work.

Mr Gray

  67.  I just wonder, when is that great blot on the Westminster skyline, the Marsham towers being finally obliterated, or perhaps it is not your responsibility?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  It is not my responsibility now, it is now the responsibility of PACE. We would like to see it go tomorrow. I am hopeful that a contract will be let some time before the end of the summer. The reason for the delay is that there are various other Departments around Whitehall who have building projects and they keep coming round and saying, "Well, maybe we will want to decant into here", and we say to them, "Well, are you serious, do you really want to do this?" But it is now empty, there is an understanding with Westminster about the nature of the development of the site, and we would like to get on with it as soon as possible. But it is now the responsibility of PACE, rather than us.

  68.  Moving on to the Ordnance Survey, when you set up the resource accounting system, what value are you placing on the service which Ordnance Survey gives the Government?
  (Mr Ballard)  The Ordnance Survey, as you know, is a separate Department, it happens to share Ministers, so, in effect, the decision on that will be ultimately for the Ordnance Survey rather than the DETR. Having said that, I can sketch out something about how we see the future of the Ordnance Survey but I cannot actually say what the value would be in resource accounting terms. What we have seen in recent years with the Ordnance Survey is a steady improvement in terms of efficiency, and also, at the same time, they have been demonstrating increasingly an ability to exploit commercial opportunities, and that is reflected in the general level of Exchequer funding, which has progressively reduced in recent years.

  69.  It is fairly sharp, is it not?
  (Mr Ballard)  Yes, but such has been the progress, we do think there is now a real opportunity to move the Ordnance Survey on to a trading fund basis, which would obviously give them greater commercial flexibility, and we are talking with the Ordnance Survey and with the Treasury about how that might best be effected. Part of that process would be recognising formally and in financial terms the non-commercial work that is done by the Ordnance Survey for Government, and what we are exploring is how we could draw up a National Interest Mapping Service Agreement, which would form part of the structure for a trading fund. Now all of that, as a proposition, is being pursued through the Comprehensive Spending Review process, and if that process comes out as we would hope it does, and that we get sufficient resources for the National Interest Agreement, then we would hope that the Ordnance Survey would proceed to trading fund status in about 12 months' time.

  70.  But it is now £6 million, or something, thereabouts, is it not; £4 million (of it has currently gone today, has ?) it not, the Ordnance Survey?
  (Mr Ballard)  Yes.

  71.  Presumably, you should now be able to quantify how much the Government has to pay the Ordnance Survey for the maps of the obscure bits of Britain that nobody else wants, as it were, and all those things that the Ordnance Survey do. Once you have done that, presumably, it could be privatised perfectly happily and the Government simply become a customer; is that right?
  (Mr Ballard)  Actually, the level of Exchequer assistance, just to go back to that, in 1997-98 was £5.1 million, it will be £2.4 million in the current year. The degree of assistance that is reflected in the Mapping Agreement would obviously reflect the level of service that the Government decided it wanted to buy; there are various estimates, according to the level of service, that are around, but broadly speaking it is within the range of £5 million to £15 million.

  72.  Sorry to be a real bore, and it is merely a factual thing, but, just for the record, on page 143 of the Report it seems to indicate the figure of £3.8 million for the current year, that is just a matter of fact, I would not want to pick up an accountant on his own business, but just to check which way round it is?
  (Mr Ballard)  If there is a difference I will come back to you.

  73.  On page 143?
  (Mr Ballard)  Yes, I have seen that.

  74.  Anyhow, perhaps you could have a quick look into that?
  (Mr Ballard)  I will look into that.

  75.  If we move on to the presentation of the Annual Report in general, why are there no indicative figures for the outturn in 1999-2000?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  This reflects the fact that the Government set financial plans for two years, then set in hand the Comprehensive Spending Reviews, which have come to a head more or less this week and next, and then there will be three-year figures, so the Reports not only of this Department but of all Departments have a shorter time horizon than is normal.

  76.  I understand that, but in last year's Report you did have indicative figures up to the year 2000; why have you dropped them this year?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  Because the last year's Report was simply taking the figures out of the last Conservative survey, and I think it was felt that since the figures for 1999 onwards were all up for review there was not a lot of point in putting in a figure that really had no status or Government commitment.

  77.  That was quite a significant policy change on the Government's part, to say that "We were using indicative figures produced by the previous administration", bearing in mind that most of these things are not policy matters, they are unavoidables, are they not, "we are no longer going to use those indicative figures now, we are going to drop that completely and wait until the Comprehensive Spending Review comes out." That is quite a significant change of position, is it not?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  If we were to say which of these two positions makes the more sense, I would say the one that we have now got.

Mr Bennett

  78.  Can I just ask on that, surely the crucial thing is for the public to be able to make comparisons with what was the previous policy and what is the new policy, and, therefore, surely to keep the run of figures is quite important, so that when they are changed people can make comment on the changes?
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  I think Ministers felt that the figures for 1999-2000, in their eyes, had no status, and were all being reviewed in a very comprehensive way, and when the reviews are complete then they will publish them.

  79.  Yes, but they were the previous Government's estimate of how things were going, and so, surely, as far as informing the general public, the logic is that those figures should be available so when new figures come out you can make comparisons as to why they have changed? If the figures keep changing, because you do it a different way each year, then it makes it very difficult for people to follow the figures, does it not? That may be the plan, but, well, I will take the answer yes.
  (Sir Andrew Turnbull)  The answer is, we have followed the agreed procedure round Government; this is not a choice made by this Department, this is how the Treasury have asked for these to be produced, and we have followed that common format.

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