Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-139)



  120. Thank you very much. On the targeting, I note with some concern in 2.42 on page 24 that the NAO survey of ships' officers asked whether the Agency was generally targeting the right UK ships for inspection and nearly 30 per cent, 29 per cent, did not think they were. What is your view on that?
  (Mr Storey) It is an opinion with the individual and opinion with ourselves. I think we do a pretty good check on UK vessels.

  121. But the fact is that 29 per cent of customers most closely involved do not believe that. If you think that there is not a problem to be addressed that implies that 29 per cent of people are wrong and there is nothing, therefore, to address, but that is what the report says.
  (Mr Storey) I am not saying that I am not concerned about it. What I said earlier was we are looking at creating a database to try to target more efficiently if they feel that we are not targeting the right vessels.

  122. Your own surveyors were not exactly giving glowing accounts of the quality of service offered by headquarters in paragraph 3.9 on page 28: "Ten of the 17 s urveyors we interviewed", that is the majority, "were dissatisfied with the availability and quality of advice offered from headquarters..." I know you have had problems apparently because of turnover at headquarters, but are there not simplified manuals to provide that advice?
  (Mr Storey) The instructions to surveyors give the details of what should be affected when carrying out inspections on ships. If there is a particular issue that pops up that needs a reference then headquarters are the traditional place to come back to. We are living in a system that is quite some years old and recently we have been looking at overhauling the whole of the Agency, part of this overhaul would be headquarters to see if we can improve on the way that we deal with the information that is required.

  123. In your staff surveys of the surveyors what do they identify as most problematic, most lacking in the information they have to have in their training that they then need to refer to head office for?
  (Mr Storey) It depends on the particular ship and the instances on that ship, for example if they find something, for example, on the fire protection of a particular ship they have not dealt with before. The United Kingdom traditionally had 185 additional rules and regulations compared to the international fora, we are now on the international fora now through the International Maritime Organization and if there is a ship that is unusual then they need to sometimes seek guidance in that particular area where it is unusual.

  124. The two paragraphs before, 3.7 really does not reassure us because what it says is, "39 per cent of the surveyors are concerned about the availability of written guidance on regulations".
  (Mr Storey) The instructions to surveyors, as I indicated, is available. We are going to put it on the electronic system which will make it much more accessible to people, but it is available if they choose to look in their specific offices at where it is.

  125. Is it in a manual form?
  (Mr Storey) It is a written guidance at the present time. We will electronically install them.

  126. You have 16 offices, is that right?
  (Mr Storey) Yes.

  127. How often are they sent out these updates?
  (Mr Storey) As and when there is a modification done they should have a master set of those documents in the office. As update is done they should get a copy of that update.

  128. Is guidance generally updated on certain items? Would they expect to get an update every month that might include two per cent of change?
  (Mr Storey) They would only get an update if and when something arose that necessitated the updating of those instructions.

  129. When was the last time?
  (Mr Storey) I could not tell you the last time there was a specific modification, we will look at that and come back to you on that one[8]

  130. Off the top of you head, is it annual, six monthly, could it be once a month?
  (Mr Storey) If there was a spate of things you could get it on a very regular basis. With new regulations that we are putting out today we are trying to put the instructions to the surveyors—for example in the under 12 feet fishing vessel—when a new regulation is put in place.

  131. Do you think the surveyors get these updates but do not read them?
  (Mr Storey) There is a possibility that could be the case.

  132. Can you address how they might be encouraged to read them?
  (Mr Storey) With the new IT system they all have portable laptops now they can take with them when they go on the ships. We will be putting that information on to the electronic system, so they should have it available with them, by their side all of the time. Then when they go into the central database and they dock in they should be able to update them, so they should always be up to date once the system is installed.

  133. I notice here that one of the marines' offices visited did not have access to the internet website, has that been remedied?
  (Mr Storey) That was correct. We have just finished rolling out our complete new IT system and every site and every marine office now has access to the internet. The last one was installed this week.

  134. Have you ever had management consultants come in and advise on communications and staff?
  (Mr Storey) No, we have not, not in my time.

Mr Davidson

  135. I am looking at paragraph 2.24 on page 20, where it says, "A survey of ships' officers showed that 78 per cent who had served on a foreign vessel considered that the Agency did not carry out enough inspections of foreign vessels". 78 per cent is a bigger majority than even I get in elections, it is a fairly substantial figure, presumably this is one of the groups whose confidence you hope to have, why is it that you think that this group are so critical?
  (Mr Storey) The group is not critical but the standard of the number of foreign vessels inspected is laid down by the Paris MOU group of countries, that is the European countries that are involved, and they have stated that we should inspect 25 per cent of foreign vessels coming into the United Kingdom, we always made it about 27.5 per cent. If you take all of the countries in the Paris MOU and you add them together they should cover about 95 per cent to 100 per cent of foreign ships coming into the European area. What we are looking to do is to get rid of substandard shipping. If we are all working together the input together should achieve that.

  136. The officers do not understand that.
  (Mr Storey) I think the officers are probably not aware of the intricacies of the Paris MOU system and its databases.

  137. It is pretty worrying that if the officers do not understand the environment within which you are operating and the rules under which you are operating and the extent to which you are focusing on some types of ships rather than others, then it seems to me there is something seriously wrong when an organisation like yourselves that ought to be looked to by officers as their protectors in many ways, feel you are not doing enough. What steps have you taken to make sure people understand what your remit is?
  (Mr Storey) Officers themselves should be aware of the survey regime that is in place with any national country. Of course they may not be aware that in the Paris MOU every country does about 25 per cent. Although there is a Paris MOU annual report issued, so the information is promulgated to those that wish to have it—I will leave a copy of that document with you today—the information is there, but it is whether they choose to read it or not.

  138. You do not have any responsibility for drawing it to their attention?
  (Mr Storey) We do not have any responsibility to draw to its attention the workings of the Paris MOU. We do issue on a regular basis the monthly detention risk of the ships we have detained in the United Kingdom.

  139. 78 per cent think you are not doing enough. Could I turn to page 41 paragraph 4.21, where you are only publicising 10 per cent of the detentions of United Kingdom vessels, why are you not publishing the other 70 per cent?
  (Mr Storey) We have said we will look at publishing all of the detentions of all United Kingdom vessels. What you have to look at is whether the item that is been covered is during the annual survey or when the ship is trading. If somebody withdraws the ship to do its annual survey then you cannot detain it because they have withdrawn it voluntarily.


8   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 19 (PAC 137). Back

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