Examination of Witnesses (Questions 140-159)|
GERSHON CBE AND
WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER 2001
140. A database, accessible to all departments,
(Mr Gershon) Yes, but we have to collect relevant
141. Yes. You set the framework up, you fill
the forms in, you put it on the network.
(Mr Gershon) And that is what we are looking at.
142. And you seem to have difficulty with it.
I suggest an outcome for you; why not bring in a contractor to
do it for you?
(Mr Gershon) Because it is not just a matter about
the technicality of building a database, we have to agree what
the detailed requirement is with the departments. The NAO Report
clearly recommends the direction we should go in but we have got
a lot of detailed work to do to get a proper detailed requirement.
We have not got a basis for going to internal organisation or
external organisation to do that for us. The requirement has not
yet been properly specified. I am sure you are not encouraging
me to break the rules we are trying to impose about getting clarity
of requirement and business need before moving to the next stage.
143. You are not even at that stage yet. That
is the one thing you are struggling with at the moment, trying
to clarify what you are requiring from providers of services?
(Mr Gershon) We have concentrated on the sorts of
things that I have explained to you like trying to get competition
and enhancement of existing framework arrangements in place looking
at data analysis. We have to prioritise. Much as we would like
to move to the ideal situation overnight, we cannot do that. We
have made some priority decisions about what we should do first
and what we should do next. All I am saying is that you may disagree
with the decision we have made but the decision we have made is
that the database is not the highest priority thing we should
144. There is no point in setting up the database
if you cannot feed the information into it. You have got to make
sure you have got it set up in a manner where you can cross-relate
and cross-reference. I understand your point but I do not see
how you can run it without a database.
(Mr Gershon) We will not be able to run it without
a database. We have to look at other things. Firstly, we have
to ensurethe point I made about getting professional procurement
staff and a much higher number of professionalsthat we
create a framework in which we do get things like formal post-implementation
views that will create the data that will go into this very powerful
database in due course.
145. I look forward to the day we start web
tendering for contracts in this country but of course you are
going to be back to the problem of the basic skills of your staff.
(Mr Gershon) Can I be clear, that has started. We
have been running for a number of months an electronic tendering
pilot which allows us not only to issue the invitations to tender
electronically, which is easy, but also for suppliers to submit
their tenders back to us electronically.
Mr Jenkins: Thank you.
Chairman: Mr George Osborne is our last questioner.
146. I think there may be a vote so I had better
hurry up. You said to Mr Steinberg that you had a big job and
most of us listening to you agreed. Perhaps we can help you. We
know that the 1994 study was well implemented by some departments
and poorly implemented by others. You have been talking to the
various departments, and for example, the DSS and Ministry of
Defence were fairly good at implementing that report. Which departments
are not very good in your experience?
(Mr Gershon) Clearly the NAO Report identifies some
departments where they did not exactly get the light blue spot
in all the columns.
147. Could you remind me which ones they are?
(Mr Gershon) There is a deep blue spot against one
aspect of LCD and there is a deep blue spot against one aspect
of the DTI. Deep blue means no evidence of progress. That is a
matter of record; I am not shopping my departmental colleagues
148. Heaven forbid! I am glad you mentioned
the DTI because the NAO Report is saying that the Department of
Trade and Industry, which of course is a shop window for dealing
with trade and industry, could not say precisely what £115
of its total annual expenditure on professional services of £125
million was spent on?
(Mr Gershon) That comes back to this weakness in the
management information. The DTI has recognised this and is seeing
what it can do both in the short and the longer term to address
this identified weakness.
149. Are there any departments looking to the
future that are being less helpful than others? Perhaps we can
help chivvy them along.
(Mr Gershon) Less helpful?
150. You have come up with a series of proposals
for the handling of procurement; are there any particular departments
which are being less helpful in responding to your requests?
(Mr Gershon) No.
151. They are all pursuing it with equal vigour?
(Mr Gershon) There is tremendous scope for government
to do better. We are not experiencing resistance to trying to
do better. What we are trying is to do this in a helpful way.
In my experience, if you want to bring about real change you have
to work in a collaborative and helpful way with departments to
bring about the desired change. We will not bring it about without
the tools in placemeasurement tools, better framework agreements
and working with departments to get better involvement of professional
procurement staff. We will not achieve the desired objective by
sitting in the centre and lobbing directives over the fence to
departments because this is partly about cultural and behavioural
152. You said in response to one of my colleagues
that some departments are going to increase the seniority of procuring
(Mr Gershon) Yes.
153. Which departments are not?
(Mr Gershon) Some departments have determined that
the seniority is appropriate to their current procurement needs.
154. Could you tell the Committee which departments
have not increased the seniority, for whatever reason, of procuring
(Mr Gershon) As an example, the Department for International
155. Any other examples?
(Mr Gershon) There are none that I can recollect.
156. So it is just the Department for International
(Mr Gershon) There may be others. I have used that
as an example where I can answer your question with confidence.
You should not read into that that the current level is inappropriate
for the procurement needs of that department.
157. The point I am getting at is that in 1994
when your predecessor in the Cabinet Office did this huge study,
a couple of departments did respond positively. No doubt at the
time there was a great flourish about how they were going to improve
everything and £65 million was going to be saved and so on.
Here we are seven years later and it turns out that only one or
two departments, according to this Report, have done anything
and I am concerned that the same thing is going to happen, as
other colleagues around this Committee have been concerned, and
that there are some departments that are much less willing to
improve things than other departments.
(Mr Gershon) The matrix in the NAO Report identifies
a whole number of attributes in the six organisations it looked
at where it said there was either evidence that something was
done well or there was evidence that the department was already
taking steps to improve this area.
158. But there are some departments that have
(Mr Gershon) Let us be very careful. In the Lord Chancellor's
Department and the DTI those dark blue spots were against one
specific attribute in the matrix that the NAO published. It was
not a comment about all the attributes that the NAO was looking
at. The DTI comment was specifically about good management information
not being available and the LCD comment was specifically about
whether it has effective external collaboration with the providers
of professional services. In the other areas those two departments
were rated by the NAO as having taken steps to improve.
159. Time is running out. If I could turn your
attention to something else you said. You saidand I paraphrase
youthat never in your living memory or possibly in recorded
history had there been a meeting across departmental civil servants
to discuss procurement
(Mr Gershon) No, I said permanent secretaries.