Examination of witness (Questions 1 -
WEDNESDAY 7 FEBRUARY
1. Welcome to the Committee. I am going to start
with a small moan, which is that we asked for MAFF's memo reporting
progress on the establishment of CAPPA on 18 December, we asked
for it by 26 January, and we prepared this brief on 1 February,
by which time it had not come. This is a continuing saga of the
late delivery of documents and responses, if that could just be
noted. Mr McNeill, the advert for your position said, "This
post needs a leader with a successful track record of delivering
radical organisational change in a substantial private or public
sector service delivery organisation. You will be familiar with
ICT systems, and you will be keen to grasp the opportunities of
e-business." So why you?
(Mr McNeill) Chairman, I was not on the panel, so
it is difficult for me to take a view as to why I was selected.
I think my previous experience in the Meat Hygiene Service, which
was setting up a significant organisation from scratch, dealing
with a number of crises which we have had, of course, in the meat
industry over the past five years, probably stood me in good stead.
Prior to that, a track record of change management in local government
and the private sector, and a successful track record at that,
I think also probably stood me in good stead. I do not claim to
be an IT expert, and indeed, Chairman, my weakness in that area
I will acknowledge now. I have had experience, of course, in developing
management information systems and putting in new systems within
the organisations I have worked in, but nothing of this scale.
My weaknesses, of course, will be addressed by the appointment
of the Director of IT or Information Systems, and indeed, we are
advertising. This is the advertisement which appeared in this
Sunday's Sunday Times, and you can see it is for the CAPPA
Director of IS and Director of Finance. If you read the advertisement
and look at the job description and personal specifications, we
are obviously seeking experts in these areas to strengthen the
management team led by myself for CAPPA. In addition, we will
be advertising within the next couple of weeks for a Business
Development Director. We trawled through Whitehall and we have
had some applicants, but the panel has met and decided we should
seek additional expertise, rather more expertise than the candidates
that have applied from Whitehall have. That advertisement will
also be in the papers in the near future. Between those three
posts, we are seeking the very best candidates we can get in terms
of IT experience, significant change management experience, delivery
of electronic services, and of course, we will strengthen that
line management function. These directors, as part of the management
team, will be strengthened by the use of consultants, and we are
very fortunate, as you are aware, Chairman, to have £130
million of funding for this project, which is a very substantial
sum of money. Certainly our intention is to make sure we acquire
the very best people possible.
2. When you got the job and you went home and
gulped, did you take a piece of paper and say, "I will make
a few quick notes now of things that immediately come to mind
to do on day one, the first priorities." If you had done
thatperhaps you did do itwhat would have been the
(Mr McNeill) In my experience in these changes processes
it is important to see some action. We have had some year plus
of discussionsdiscussions with trade unions, discussions
with industry, discussions within MAFF, discussions within governmentso
I felt that it was important to give some identified leadership
to staff, and that on my appointment I should push to create "early
CAPPA" as quickly as possible. In other words, it is fine
to look three or four years down the road, and it is obviously
essential that we do that in terms of developing the systems specifications,
etc, but I feel it is important to put together the management
team that is going to bring this about, and also to give certainty
to the staff that are currently processing claims in the various
offices round the country. After all, they are going through a
very uncertain time, and they need to actually see a management
team for CAPPA, to have line managers who are CAPPAnot
Intervention Board, not MAFF, but CAPPA. I feel that was a message
that should be sent very quickly, hence moving ahead now to get
the structure in place, to get CAPPA people in place, and to move
away from the current tripartite arrangement. I am in a somewhat
difficult position, obviously, until I have line management responsibility.
At this time the Intervention Board is still a paying agency and
the regional service centre function of MAFF is still operating,
so it is important to actually create CAPPA, whilst, of course,
not taking our eyes off the "end game", which is to
develop a new systems specification, to look at the work that
is undertaken in the regional offices and in IBEA, to identify
whether there is a better way of doing that, and to develop a
specification for the systems and put that out for tender. That
is one of the critical paths in all of this. That process of developing
the systems requirement, Chairman, should be complete, I mention
in passing, by the end of this financial year.
3. Looking at all the major government programmes
which have depended heavily on the acquisition of new technology,
and looking at how many of them "went pear-shaped" in
very short order, what do you think you can do to make sure that
this does not go that way as well?
(Mr McNeill) I have read a number of books and papers
on the analysis of why these schemes failedand we all know
about the Passport Office and the consequences of that, not least
the resignation of the Chief Executive, which often comes with
these things, so I am very much focused on the importance of getting
4. Do you have good severance terms?
(Mr McNeill) No, Chairman, not as good as they should
be! Some of the issues that arise are poor scrutiny of the whole
process, people sitting in darkened rooms thinking this up, and
the end game not being what everyone anticipated. I can assure
you that this project is already under intense scrutiny. There
are bodies such as the National Audit Office on the various boards.
On the board scrutinising the whole process we are hoping to have
a computer expert from one of the leading computer companies.
Between using internal resources and external experts, we hope
to have an intense scrutiny of the process right the way through.
I think that is important. Secondly, we must give senior management
in CAPPA time to manage the process. There is a feeling that if
people end up doing this work in the evening and at weekends,
they are not focusing as much as they should. That is not a criticism,
but they have their day job to do as well. In developing the early
CAPPA structure, I am trying to make sure that we do not put in
too lean a structure, which leaves staff, the senior management
of the organisation, and indeed others in the organisation, too
tight for time to really focus on this significant task. We are
spending £130 million of government money. This is in itself
a massive piece of work. It is not our intention that it should
be run by consultants. It is not our intention that we let the
technicians take over the game. What we will do is make sure that
line management have a regular day or two days a week, whatever
is required, regular time focusing on new CAPPA and how it is
to come about, and we will use consultants in the proper way,
which is to bring in expertise which does not exist within the
team, or indeed, to challenge us on what is happening to make
sure that what we are doing is correct.
5. You mentioned the process of recruitment.
What are the terms and conditions of these posts?
(Mr McNeill) The Director of Information Systems is
on a package up to £90,000, and the Director of Finance,
a salary to £65,000 plus benefits. Shall I circulate this
6. Yes, please. I have to say, from my experience
in this field, I would have said those are not competitive rates
for the job, and that you will find some difficulty. You have
said you are looking for leading players in these fields, and
to take on a task of this kind you will require them. You are
not, I think, going to attract people of the calibre that you
probably require to do this job with those packages. Indeed, I
commented when I looked at your own package that you might have
difficulty in attracting the right person to do the job.
(Mr McNeill) I could not possibly comment.
7. You may have managed to negotiate an improvement.
I do not know. Certainly, in my experience, these were not, within
the private sector, what you would expect to command to take on
such a dramatic change management and new technology role.
(Mr McNeill) I would agree with you. It is a constraint,
obviously, in attracting the very best, particularly in the current
economic climate. I would have liked to have paid more, but we
have to live within what is possible in the Civil Service.
8. The difficulty is, if you have to live within
the possible, we may end up with a project which is less effectively
led and less competently carried out than would be desirable.
(Mr McNeill) I was going to add that, if you look
at the advertisement in detail, it does make it clear that more
is available for an exceptional candidate, and while that is the
indicative figure which the current job valuation system within
the Civil Service would indicate should be paid, we have flexibility
within a certain range to perhaps offer more, or a better package.
9. I am slightly out of date on this, but you
could add 100 per cent to those rates. I do not know what "more"
means in this context.
(Mr McNeill) I do not think it would be as much as
100 per cent, but there is some flexibility. Having said that,
we had discussions with the Director of Establishments in MAFF
and others, and indeed PricewaterhouseCoopers, the independent
consultants, advised on these appointments and the remuneration
level, and were content that at that level we should be able to
fill the job.
10. I am sure you will fill the jobs, yes.
(Mr McNeill) Not taking a B team, but with a suitable
candidate who could do the job. But there is more available for
a more experienced candidate who brings more value to the process.
In addition, we already have some IT consultants working with
us, who, of course, are on substantially more than that, but they
will continue to work on the process.
11. Let me turn to you. Your MHS experience,
I think you would probably concede, has not been necessarily lauded
from every corner of the industry. How would you view your relationship
with your key customers and the rest of the sector that relies
on the MHS?
(Mr McNeill) Of course, Chairman, the MHS, apart from
standing for the Meat Hygiene Service also stands for the Most
12. You said it, not me. I think that is a fair
(Mr McNeill) It is well-known. The function of the
Meat Hygiene Service is hardly attractive to the industry, or
indeed to farmers. I would accept that the MHS did not have fans
in all areas, but we had an industry forum which was made up of
some 30-40 representatives from farmers' unions to meat trade
representatives, which met on a bi-monthly basis, and I can only
say that over that time I think we had a very constructive dialogue.
Let us be honest about it, there were some fundamental difficulties
with the Meat Hygiene Service. One was that we charged for the
service, which was the biggest area of concern on behalf of the
industry, but that is government policy. So it was not as if the
organisation was not operating effectively.
13. That was not the only problem.
(Mr McNeill) There were other things. We were considered
heavy-handed in terms of enforcement, but I think now, when we
look at what is happening in Europe, perhaps we were not; perhaps
the line we took was right, and whilst it was not popular at the
time, on reflection, as indeed was identified in the BSE Inquiry
by Lord Justice Phillips, the actions taken by the Meat Hygiene
Service played a significant part in addressing the BSE problems.
14. Would you perhaps concede that the culture
of an organisation reflects its Chief Executive, and the image
of the MHS with its customers perhaps was a reflection of your
style of leadership and the culture which you set in the organisation?
(Mr McNeill) Yes, I think that is fair comment. I
certainly accept that, as I achieved every performance target
set for me as Chief Executive of the Meat Hygiene Service. So
did the agency. It also achieved ISO 9002 from a standing start.
It also achieved a Charter Mark and Investors in Peopleall
by independent assessment, which was not bad going in five years,
from a standing start. We transferred staff in from 176 local
authorities on different terms and conditions and put that into
one body with a clear identitynobody who worked in the
Meat Hygiene Service did not know who they worked for and exactly
what we stood forand I think we had very good communications.
We were told by the Minister to take a robust line in ensuring
that the controls that had been put in place to address BSE problems
were fully enforced, and that included both with the industry
and with our staff, so again, the Minister's instructions to the
agency were very clear, and we acted on them. It was a tough environment
and we had a very hard line to take.
15. Translating that style into CAPPA, one might
expect robust, very narrowly focused adherence to regulation and
control systems, unsympathetic handling of queries by farmers
about their claims, resolute sticking to previous practice and
so on. That might be thought to be what we face. Is that reasonable?
(Mr McNeill) I think that is unfair. I have already
explained that we were given clear performance targets and instructions
under paragraph 4.3 of the framework document, a direct instruction
from ministers, as to how we were to handle these things, and
we had to take a robust approach. That does not carry over into
this job, that I have such an instruction or that I have to take
such an approach.
16. We will no doubt come on to the vision you
will expound of how CAPPA may look and the culture that you will
lead from the front on that. You said quite correctly that for
a period the Intervention Board and the MAFF RSCs will continue
to manage their own activities. That, certainly from my point
of view, from my previous project management experience, is an
alarming statement of potential confusion and lack of accountability
in the setting up of this project at the start. It is, of course,
inevitable in the compromised circumstances of the Civil Service,
but scarcely leads one to feel that this project will get off
with firm project leadership and clear accountability.
(Mr McNeill) From what I have seenand this
is my fifth week in the jobfrom the meetings I have attended
and the various project boards I have attended, I am certainly
of the view that there is some very tight project management.
There is a very intense scrutiny of both developing CAPPA and,
indeed, ongoing scrutiny of what is happening with the Regional
Service Centres and IBEA.
17. But these have to be brought together within
one controlled concept.
(Mr McNeill) Yes.
18. We cannot have a position in which IB and
the RSCs continue to run their own little empires while you, with
relatively limited resources, and, I suspect, possibly inadequate
resources anyway, struggle to put together a project for change.
(Mr McNeill) I agree with you. That is why since my
arrival we have agreed that the CAPPA inheritance will be under
single management with effect from 1 April.
19. That means that the IB will report to you
and so will the RSCs?
(Mr McNeill) That is correct, and, as I have identified
in the advertisements and in my previous comments, we are now
putting in place the CAPPA management structure. The IBEA management
structure, including the Chief Executive and the Regional Service
Centres under Mrs Jane Brown, will move on to other thingsGovernment
Office work, RDS work, back into core MAFF or whereveror
indeed, some will be successful in positions in CAPPA. That process
is under way. Obviously we will not have the Director of IS and
Director of Finance posts filled by 1 April, but we have made
interim arrangements to fill those posts.