Examination of Witness (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 2 MAY 2001
100. Given the argument that you heard about
the need for integration between policy and delivery, you are
therefore unintegrated and therefore you are incapacitated because
of that. How would you respond to that?
(Ms Cleveland) I think the argument about integration
is not whether you are an agency or not, it is actually about
the culture of the department and the way actually individuals
work within the department. Social Security has a whole range
of separate executive agencies, but actually now works in a very
integrated way, but I think did not probably two or three years
ago. I have to say I had an intense sense of frustration for the
job I had prior to the one I have now, still in the Agency, where
we did think there was a very big gulf between the delivery and
the development of the policy and how it was going to be implemented.
I think there was a view that actually delivery of policy was
delivery of a legislative framework of actually getting a Bill
through the House and then producing some guidance, but not actually
then how was it delivered when it actually came to interface with
the customers. I think now there is a view of you have to design
policy and design legislation to be delivered if you actually
want to deliver the outcomes that the policy intends in the first
101. Do you not think the Agency is disconnected
from some of that process by the very nature of being an Agency?
(Ms Cleveland) I think it was, but I think the way
in which the Department is now runningI have corporate
responsibilities within the Department as well as my specific
Agency responsibilities. The various heads of the client groups
that we now have have an end-to-end responsibility so they are
brought to account for delivery as well, which is delivery of
the outcome not how do you actually manage the offices or anything,
but actually ensuring that the policy intent is achieved.
102. Michael has asked about the service issue.
Looking at that, it was the disconnection between policy and delivery
that seemed to be a big part of the problem?
(Ms Cleveland) It was because policy was then seen
to be sorting out the legislative process, dealing with Ministers,
and delivery was thrown over a wall to people who then had the
responsibility for the particular guidance and suchlike. Now we
have actually amalgamated that end-to-end responsibility for a
lot of the products with our policy group. I focus on the operational
103. This is like saying that you are endeavouring
to overcome the problems of an agency system?
(Ms Cleveland) I think we were endeavouring to overcome
the way in which the agencies had been implemented. I do not think
it was a fundamental flaw of agencies and policy groups, I think
it is actually the way they are implemented and run in departments.
104. I think we are going to have to get you
back to talk about this.
(Ms Cleveland) Yes.
105. Can I ask one more question while we are
talking so generally and you are being very helpful. It often
amazes me how a public service can get into a muddle over computerisation.
There are examples in all departments, and I will not mention
any particular one. What is the lesson you have learnt from that?
The IND seem to be essentially saying that they do not particularly
mind if they have it or not. If a company did this the board would
be sacked and the company would go bust. Why does public administration
find it so difficult to modernise their systems? I know it is
trying and no doubt trying extremely hard. What is the problem?
(Ms Cleveland) I think sometimes being too ambitious,
and I think in many of them there has been a serious lack of contingency
planning. Computer projects always take longer than you think.
106. Is that a financial concern or across the
(Ms Cleveland) I think it is the same in the private
sector, it is just that they are not nearly as visible. They might
be a bit visible to shareholders. Computerisation projects inevitably
end up taking longer than people first thought. There is inevitably
things like staff training that are under-estimated. I think people
tend to under-estimate the effect it might have on productivity
while it is being implemented. Often, in order to get a business
case accepted, you are saying this will deliver a 30 per cent
efficiency, when actually you are going to have a dip. It is actually
going to be less efficient whilst it is actually being implemented.
I think a lot of it is failure to actually develop proper contingency
107. In some of these cases it would appear
to me that the concept was wrong in the first place and there
is a fatal flaw right from the word go. Do you have a favoured
scheme which would make your computerised system all singing and
dancing? Is there a way in which it could be done in your Agency?
(Ms Cleveland) There is an incremental programme to
do it. It could not possibly be done "big bang". Because
of the size of our system you have also got to think about how
do you migrate cases. One day you are doing a case on a particular
computer system and you cannot overnight just change it to another
computer system. You have to work out how do you migrate those
cases while having the continuity of the supply to the customer.
We are paying benefits out to the most needy people in the population,
so we have got to have good plans for actually ensuring that that
happens. If you take one of the bigger changes that did come in,
if you look at job seekers allowance, which is a piece of work
we did jointly with the Employment Service, they only started
off by entering the new claims on to the system and we kept the
old system going for the existing cases. Turnover in the system
migrates some of them anyway, and then after nine months we did
a programme to move the old cases across. When you are talking
about in the future, it is not our immediate plan but when you
replace something like the pensions system you have got to think
very carefully about how you move your ten or 11 million customers
from one system to another without interrupting their benefit
108. Is that on the radar?
(Ms Cleveland) There is a plan to actually replace
all of the DSS legacy systems. It is going to be a huge challenge
for us because at the heart of the concept is moving away from
dealing with people perhaps on a benefit by benefit basis into
actually managing individuals. That gives us a challenge. The
first one, for example, is the creation of a personal details
database so that we do not have to ask a customer for their personal
details for income support and incapacity benefit and DLA, for
example. We can catch that information once and we might use it
for verification purposes, but we do not have to do it. Then,
when you have done that, we have got all this information on all
these files, on all these separate systems. So you have got to
do a lot of data cleansing to ensure that the data you hold about
Alexis Cleveland on one system is the same that you hold about
her on another system. While they have all been run independently
they could be very different. So there is a huge data migration
issue that we have to take on board. The other challenge that
I think will face the DSS is that, as we tighten up financial
controls on the systems, because clearly we want to have financial
services standards on our financial controls, because at the moment
we cannot do double entry book-keeping on encashment order books,
for examplewe can do it at a global level but not at an
individual levelto cut over to that in one go could mean
that we ended up with millions of rejected cases every day. So
those things have got to be very, very carefully planned.
109. Just finally, there is some smart money
on the DSS being abolished. On your argument about its cultures
this really would cause you not to bat an eyelid?
(Ms Cleveland) The DSS might be abolished,
but there will have to be some sort of framework for the ongoing
delivery of benefits, child support, the new pension service and
job centre plus. In terms of do we think we could make it work
within a different framework then yes we could. The real challenge
for the creation of a job centre plus and the pension service
is going to be the demerger of the Benefits Agency and the demerger
of other services. If you take a benefit like income support,
it is paid, and there is a legislative framework, to people of
pension age, and we call it "minimum income guarantee",
and it is paid to people of working age. If you have got a single
system running through, to actually get separate accountability
structures to go into two departments, for example, would be very,
very difficult and I think would take at least two years to really
work through. April 2003 I think would be the earliest you could
actually separate those out.
110. It sounds as though we have been putting
these cases in the right quarters. Thank you very much for coming
along and we look forward to seeing you in the future.
(Ms Cleveland) Thank you very much.