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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 136)




  120. Is there any training in employment law? This is not the first time you have come before us with evidence of that nature.
  (Mr Clempson) No, there is no training in employment law.

Mr Donohoe

  121. The code you have in terms of disciplinary procedures appears to be broken by virtue of the evidence you have presented. Why does your trade union at a national level not take them to court?
  (Mr Clempson) Unfortunately in the case in point the person concerned was a temporary and geographical promotion, we took the case to a tribunal but it was not allowed to continue unless we paid costs and a deposit. We had a cost warning when we took it to a pre-hearing tribunal and also a deposit to be paid of £150. We are taking this through another channel and hopefully will get the thing sorted out. The fact is that the procedures used at the time were draconian. The fellow was charged with an offence, he was found guilty of an offence and he was downgraded from his temporary position as a temporary and geographical watch manager to a watch officer without ever being able to answer the charge against him. He is now on the sick.

  122. Do you mean this is a civil charge?
  (Mr Clempson) No it is an internal disciplinary charge.

  123. I do not want to get into that. I have done my years of trade union representation. May I take you back to an area of concern a number of months ago and which certainly featured during the last inquiry into the Maritime and Coastguard Agency itself and that was the closure of some of the stations? How has that affected the staff morale and how in practice is it now panning out?
  (Mr Clempson) Since the closure of Oban—and I shall speak specifically of Oban because that is the one which has caused us the most problems—the workloading at Clyde and Stornoway has gone up. The members there have had to threaten actual industrial action before they managed to get the staffing levels right. At Stornoway there are 30 remote aerials listening to channel 16, yet the proposals from the Aberdeen regional team was that no more than one person was needed to monitor that.

  124. How is the introduction of the digital communication technology going? We were told that was going to be the answer to all the problems.
  (Mr Clempson) It is going ahead. It is really only a replacement for the existing radio equipment. It can do a lot more things, but according to reports from people who have operated it, it is more labour intensive and for them to propose closing down quiet stations at night and concentrating all the aerials into the big main headquarters, which was in a report, is fallacious at the moment because it cannot be done. The database used is not compatible and will not be until 2004 when they can start to use it.


  125. I have had a complaint, as you know, which I will hope to put in the Committee evidence, from the Mallaig fishermen, which has been answered but there are several questions still outstanding. I do want to ask you a particular question about the Coastguard Sector Managers and the inspection of fishing vessels under 12 metres in length. You did tell us you were concerned about this. What effect has it had?
  (Mr Clempson) What has happened there is that we do have an agreement that search and rescue will take priority over the fishing vessel inspections. It appears now to be working quite well. As far as I am aware, it is being accepted and welcomed by some of the Sector Managers. Our main problem at that time was that they had a quota under which they had to do so many examinations in a period of a month, say 32 or whatever. It was quickly realised that that was not at all possible. What we are trying to do now is look at bringing in additional inspectors at a lower grade so that they can carry out these fishing vessel inspections.

  126. You are saying that at the moment it is not a problem in the way you envisaged because some other alternative has been reached.
  (Mr Clempson) No. They are looking at other alternatives and the problem has really gone to the back burner now.

  127. Before we go any further I want to ask you about the disciplinary procedures. Are they compliant with the ACAS code of practice?
  (Mr Foster) No. The existing procedures do not comply with the ACAS code of practice. It is recognised, and they have actually acknowledged it in writing, that the present DETR disciplinary procedures breach the ACAS code. However, to put the complete picture, we are in the process now of looking at the whole staff handbook for all DETR, including the new disciplinary code and procedures that will actually comply with the ACAS code. Once that is in—and the deadline is 1 April—then we should have a staff handbook which will be one of the best.

  128. I want to ask you about this odd incident you have told us about in your evidence, the contractor who came from outside and then applied for the job himself and was appointed. Was the contractor appointed to advise the Agency on resource accounting and budgeting? Did he or she introduce such a system?
  (Mr Foster) He was originally brought in by our then head of finance from his previous employer, which was British Aerospace, to give advice on how we might implement resource accounting and to develop a project for taking that forward. He then drew up the specifications for that project and subsequently tendered for it.

  129. The consultant was paid an estimated £13 million. Is that correct?
  (Mr Foster) Yes; I actually have a breakdown of the figures here. In the last three financial years it adds up to about £11.5 million, but he had been employed for the three previous years. We think £13 million is a fair estimate.

  130. Now there is a completely different consultant who is being employed at a further cost of £9 million.
  (Mr Foster) Yes, that is the budget for the project.

  131. Because the first system did not work.
  (Mr Foster) Yes, that is our understanding.

  132. Have you looked at the cost of the time taken to introduce the resource accounting and budgeting at the Agency compared with other agencies?
  (Mr Foster) We had a head of internal audit who did a comparison with 12 other departments and agencies in 1998. He found comparisons and the only one we can remember, because we do not have a copy of this report, was the Land Registry where it took 12 months at a total cost of £375,000.

  133. Which is rather different from a total cost of £22 million.
  (Mr Foster) Indeed, which is why we bring it to this Committee's attention.

  134. How much of that £22 million was wasted?
  (Mr Foster) In our opinion, we cannot see that any of the systems introduced have any value whatsoever, so we would maintain all of it.

  135. Did the member of the PCS who raised concerns about the arrangements for the introduction of resource accounting and budgeting get thanked for his or her pains?
  (Mr Foster) He was immediately suspended from duty and was subsequently reinstated elsewhere in the Department.

  136. As the union representative you have sorted that out.
  (Mr Foster) He did not want to take any formal action, beyond being re-employed by the Department, which they agreed to because there were no grounds to take any disciplinary action against him.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. That has been very helpful and it addressed the matters which particularly interested us.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 14 May 2001