Examination of Witnesses(Questions 20-39)|
CB, MR ANDREW
WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002
20. Good afternoon. I always like to ask nice
easy questions. When you come before the Committee you have got
a chance, and it is only one chance you get, of putting before
us what you see to be the accurate position with regard to your
responsibilities today. I, for one, get a little bit concerned
when we have had people in front of the Committee only to find
that a week or so later we read in the press about an issue that
should have been brought up at the Committee stage. If I can ask
you and give you the chance today, because I do not think in global
terms you are doing that badly, can you tell me what are the main
concerns or problems you have got at the moment with this system?
Where do you feel we should be exercising our activity as a department,
as a government, that are causing particular problems? What do
you see as the main problems?
(Mavis McDonald) I suspect we will all have a slightly
different take on that but I actually think in this area the issues
that we were touching on at the last session are really important.
We are all on quite a fast learning curve in thinking about what
e-services might be and what they can do. We started in the Cabinet
Office, and I think it is true to say that local government started,
with a set of targets and a set of objectives which were very
much about getting information up and running. I.e. thinking about
e-service delivery as being about doing what you already do but
doing it through some electronic medium. We are all learning quite
quickly that it is very much more both difficult than that but
there are a lot more opportunities than that as we develop our
understanding. Our thinking is about both e-service delivery and
the capacity for different kinds of transactions and the scope,
therefore, for pulling services together very differently and
interacting differently with the customers, whether it is as local
authority residents or as a taxpayer, which mean you think very
differently about how you are putting the services together. I
think there are some very good government examples of where we
are moving and there are some equally good local government examples
of where individual local authorities have been relatively radical
but we are all working across a spectrum. I think it is keeping
up with what is going on, understanding what the art of the possible
is and how fast we need to move and not having everybody reinvent
the wheel all the time either in local government or in central
government. That is very much a personal view in response to your
21. You have got no problem?
(Mr Pinder) I am not sure that is what Mavis McDonald
was saying, it is certainly not what I would say. She is not saying
that at all. For me I see three big issues looking across government
getting government on-line. First of all there is the issue we
have touched up which is that of authentication. Certain transactions
require us to be absolutely sure that the person at the other
end of the transaction is the right person we have to deal with,
often for reasons of privacy, often for reasons of financial integrity.
Therefore, this whole issue of digital certificates and how we
authenticate people is very important and clearly one that we
have not successfully tackled but one that we need to tackle and
fix over the next year or so. That is issue number one. Issue
number two is the question of take-up, and again we have already
touched on that with the question of Customs and Excise, where
the target of having all government services on-line by 2005 is
necessary in order to galvanise people to do some activity but
it is not sufficient. What is sufficient is that we get the services
on-line that people want in the way that they want them and a
good indicator of whether they are attractive services, both on-line
and in the way that people want them, is that they are used. So
take-up, for me, is a very important indicator of how well we
are doing and one that we really need to be focusing on. The third
is the issue of those people who do not have direct access to
the Internet. Just under half the UK population regularly use
the Internet. In the way that we are getting government services
on-line there is the opportunity to make them available not just
for those people who directly use them but also by the use of
intermediaries, for example people like the Citizen's Advice Bureaux
or commercial organisations, to help those people who do not have
direct access to the Internet or do not choose to access us that
way also benefit from those services, particularly in the area
of benefits, for example, those sorts of services where the number
of people having access to the Internet tends to be lower than
across the generality of services. I think we need to work quite
hard at looking at how we enable various other delivery channels
to make use of the effort we are putting in to getting a service
on-line in order to deliver it to people who are not readily accessing
the Internet. For me those are the top three headline items that
we need to be very conscious of. The Report identifies all of
those and I agree with them.
(Mavis McDonald) Can I just confirm that I was not
saying there were no problems, I was implying this is actually
quite new territory and we are learning as we go along so we keep
hitting new things that arise. I certainly was not saying that
we do not have difficulties to address and we will not necessarily
find new ones as we move on.
(Mr Broadbent) Would you like my problems as well?
22. We know about your problems.
(Mr Broadbent) How long have you got! If asked your
question what are the issues that will appear in the newspapers
I think I would identify this. If, as I would wish, and as I say
it is still subject to a debate, we push hard beyond simply pushing
a service on-line and actually move into engineering a different
set of underlying processes, so we actually change the nature
of the interaction with the business, which in my view is the
key to getting real value of this process, whether it is input
costs or whatever, if we do that then what you will first see
is probably a series of complaints as our existing services either
degrade slightly or certainly are not improved as they have come
to be expected to be because the first thing we will do is to
take 400 to 500 existing freestanding silo-ised projects which
are all supporting 400 to 500 individual customised services and
begin to do the knitting underneath. The cost of doing that and
of running them to the very high current standards in some cases
will be prohibitive so you will start to see some complaints,
I think, about service degradation which I think will be non-business
critical but I am very sensitive obviously to my customers' wishes.
23. How are you off for staff at the moment
because I think staff is a major concern in this area? Do you
struggle to get the appropriate numbers of staff?
(Mr Pinder) Certainly in my own area we do. We make
fairly extensive use of quite expensive contractors and consultants
in order to try to bridge some of that gap. Often it is sensible
to use consultants because we need the skills for a very short
period of time but undoubtedly there is a general shortage in
the economy and in government in particular there is a shortage
of people with the appropriate skills to deliver these services
effectively. We adopt a variety of means, including these days
increasing flexibility on salaries where it is appropriate, to
try to get the right person in place. There have been a number
of examples of that in central government where it has been very
necessary to get someone with absolutely the right skills and
the only option has been to go out to the market and pay a sensible
amount in terms of outside salaries in order to attract exactly
the right person at the time we want them. It is an issue.
24. You said one of the problems is security
authentication of these individuals. Have you got a way of overcoming
that problem now or is that an ongoing problem that you are seeking
to get to grips with?
(Mr Pinder) The digital certificates, as it were,
technically and theoretically are the right way to try to tackle
this problem. Before someone gets a digital certificate they go
through a process rather like getting a passport and therefore
we know exactly who that individual is and we know this piece
of technology called the digital certificate identifies them properly.
That is the strongest way of doing it. The problem is the current
versions of digital certificates that are available in the market
are really quite clunky to get hold of, it is a cumbersome and
sometimes expensive process to get them. I know that the industry
is working quite hard on making that a much slicker process so
that it is possible to get a digital certificate more easily and
on-line, almost in flight. If you take the situation where you
get a digital certificate in order to do a VAT return, if you
are doing it for the first time you have to register at the site
and you have to go somewhere to obtain a digital certificate,
which takes a few days, and come back. Often people who want to
do something like file a VAT return immediately want to go through
the whole process seamlessly in one go. The industry are working
on ways in which that can happen. There are other ways of authenticating
people, not always to exactly the same depth of knowledge that
a digital certificate gives you but often adequate for government
services, for example through the use of PIN numbers issued to
people's residential addresses which is good enough sometimes
in some circumstances. On other occasions, and we do not use it
in government, other organisations outside government use a sort
of credit agency approach where they perhaps go to a bank's database
to check that the customer is registered at that bank account
and so on and they can authenticate the address on-line. That
has got disadvantages. The optimum method for us is digital certificates
but we might have to go down that route, or routes similar to
that, in order to provide a suitable level of authentication for
people, certainly for the immediate future. We have recently gone
out to the e-champions, that is my counterparts in individual
government departments, to ask for their views in a consultation
exercise on this.
25. Thank you. The second point was take-up.
We have got an Office of the e-Envoy now to ensure that basic
mistakes on take-up and a low level take-up are not repeated.
What advice are you giving across the range of departments to
ensure that best practice is passed over and take-up is enhanced
as each stage is developed?
(Mr Pinder) First of all we try to propagate good
practice in the form of generic web guidelines. As I said in an
earlier answer we publish these regularly, a new version has just
been published today that is available on our website and on paper,
which picks up the best examples from some very good examples
within government of the way that websites are built, NHS Direct,
the FCO site, a lot of other sites. They are good sites and we
try to propagate that through these guidelines and say "this
is the way you should do things". We also organise, or help
organise, in both those things regular conferences of the people
who are involved directly in designing these sites so that they
can discuss and learn from each other and can develop some common
standards. We also try to bring in people with experience from
outside because there are some extremely good websites outside,
the BBC site I hear, the Financial Times' site,
lots of sites like that. We try to bring those in and help our
internal people learn from the best examples in the commercial
26. Is this a systematic approach or do you
just add on as and when you think appropriate?
(Mr Pinder) We have a systematic approach of producing
web guidelines and encouraging people to follow those web guidelines.
We have a systematic approach of auditing against those guidelines.
As I said, over the next 12 months we are planning two sets of
audits of 100 sites each to judge how well they are doing. To
that extent it is systematic. My office properly does not have
authority over an individual government department to make them
do things in this particular way but we certainly strongly encourage
them to do so.
27. I want to move swiftly now on to the area
of local authorities where we are putting some money in. When
we send the money, now we have got this expertise in-house on
how to operate sites, what guidance are you sending out along
with the money to local authorities to ensure that they instal
not just the council tax collection but other models on their
system? Have we got a set-up where we can give them what we consider
to be savings, savings that could be made within the operation
of the local authorities by developing these services?
(Mr Pinder) I am going to hand over to my colleagues
(Mavis McDonald) I think our starting position in
relation to the programme with local authorities was to ask them
effectively for their strategic approach in the same way that
when we started within central government we asked for their strategic
approach. We have started an iterative process with individual
local authorities and the resources we give them to develop their
own internal potential on services, including websites, is very
much tied to our view of what they are capable of doing and what
they might be doing drawing on all the guidance that we have built
up within the Office of the e-Envoy. I will ask Andrew if he wants
to add on to that because he has been dealing with one of the
interchanges that we have had in local government.
(Mr Whetnall) If I had got in on your question on
problems earlier it would have been to say that in much local
authority service delivery the issue is that there are some authorities
who are very leading edge, very creative, extraordinarily good
and possibly some of them even well ahead of government departments
in the quality of their websites, in the quality of the way they
are restructuring their business processes to support their front
end, and there are other authorities who are more hesitant, less
confident. Therefore, the challenge is somehow to develop ways
of transferring the experience from the leading edge to the rest
of local government. For example, on your question about savings,
we are funding pathfinder projects and the basic idea is by putting
in a limited amount of support, usually to groups of authorities
who are developing e-procurement systems, smart cards or customer
relations' management systems, at the end of the process we will
have a local authority that is able to offer its experience or
its software. One example on customer relations' management systems
is, we think, for an investment of about a million you will have
an authority which is developing a good, all purpose system transferable
to other authorities possibly at a cost to the other authorities
of the order of £50,000 where they might now be paying two
or three million to consultants to develop a purpose built project.
28. If I can just ask one last question. How
are you going to stop the divide widening between those authorities
in certain areas that are well funded and have got the system
up and running and the rural or poorer local authorities? How
are you going to stop that if it is not done on a national strategy?
(Mavis McDonald) There are national strategies which
complement what local authorities are doing in terms of rural
access and availability. For example, DfEE and the Office of the
e-Envoy have got a large programme of roll-out of access points
which can be freestanding UK Online access points or can be the
CABs or with local authorities through the DCMS Library Service.
We are trying to keep an overview picture of providing and promoting
that access whilst working alongside local government in relation
to their own services and their own points of access too.
Mr Jenkins: Will the strategy raise the
poorer or the weaker local authorities up to the best? That is
29. Mr Pinder, do you think it is the job of
a website to be up-to-date? That is one of the prime requirements
for a website, is it not?
(Mr Pinder) I think it is quite difficult to keep
a website up-to-date all the time. On occasions I know my own
website, for example, is not kept up-to-date as much as it might
be. Within the resources that we have got available we would like
to keep them up-to-date. Part of the problem sometimes in these
websites, certainly older websites on older technology, is it
is quite an expensive process to make each individual change.
That is one of the reasons why we have recently updated the technology
on the UK Online website so that within a reasonable period of
time we can get that more up-to-date. It is good practice, of
course, to keep websites reasonably up-to-date but on occasion
that does not happen.
30. You will therefore share my surprise when
I came across the Department for Transport, Local Government and
the Regions' website today up and running, it says 12 June. It
is all about a department which I thought did not exist.
(Mr Pinder) That department if it could speak for
itself would have to speak for itself. I suggest that one of the
reasons for that is that the new website for the new Office of
the Deputy Prime Minister has not yet been built and, therefore,
in order to provide at least some sort of service we have to live
with the fact that the service is listed under the old department.
People need some sort of service there, let us not leave a big
blank space. We hope that people will understand that this is
work in progress and things are being changed.
31. I do not think it explains that on the website.
Needless to say I decided to explore this website in detail. I
thought if I gave up being an MP perhaps I could get a job in
this non-existent department. I found that I could apply to be
on the board of the Strategic Rail Authority. I am not sure what
the Department of Transport thinks about that.
(Mavis McDonald) I seem to recall we had some of this
32. Not on this website. The department existed
(Mavis McDonald) If the Department of Transport, Local
Government and the Regions' website is up it will be partly because
we have just created the two new websites for the Office of the
Deputy Prime Minister and the Department of Transport but all
we have managed to do is indicate that we are there and we will
have to work quite quickly at the speed at which we can technically
to separate them. We may need the existing website to cross link
33. There is a Department of Transport website
so they have been quicker off the mark than you.
(Mavis McDonald) To the best of my understanding we
did this at the same time so I am not quite sure why you could
not find it. I will go back and find out.
There is a genuine point because we had this experience in the
Cabinet Office with changes we had at the last election. You quite
often need access to a prior website until you can transfer all
the data over. You do not want to lose a lot of the information
there so you may need to link back to a prior website in order
to keep that information available to the public, so you need
to build cross links in to previous websites to ensure you do
34. To be fair, there was a link to changes
to the Department and it says, "Rt Hon Stephen Byers has
been appointed to head a newly formed Department of Transport,
Local Government and the Regions", that was very prominent
on the web page. What about the Downing Street website, I think
they have a pretty good one. It says "Full list of Her Majesty's
Government Today" on the website, but it does not have the
new Minister at the Home Office, Mr Michael Wills, can you explain
(Mavis McDonald) I am sorry, I do not know why he
is not on there. I am sure they will be up-dating it as soon as
possible and I will go back and tell them.
35. There was a point of order in the Chamber.
(Mr Pinder) I know that immediately the reshuffle
was announced there was a great effort to provide up-to-date information.
I think unfortunately that up-to-date information was provided
on the Wednesday of the reshuffle week and it was not then specifically
up-dated until the Friday of that reshuffle week. I will draw
the issue you have raised to their attention.
36. I know it is a slightly trick question but
you would have thought that the Number 10 website
Chairman: What is a trick question?
Mr Osborne: Surfing the web and finding
them wrong! You would have thought, would you not, that the Number
10 website would have a full list of Government ministers. That
is an absolute, basic requirement of that website, is it not?
(Mr Pinder) It is certainly regrettable they do not
have a full list of Government ministers paid and unpaid on that
37. What about your website, ukonline.gov.uk?
It says, "What's new on ukonline" and you click that
and it says, "New hot topics added, the latest hot topicthe
Budget. You can watch the Chancellor live on ukonline." Is
this next year's Budget you are advertising?
(Mr Pinder) I wish we had that foresight. I take your
point absolutely. It is useful to have some information about
the Budget until the Finance Bill finally goes through Parliament.
38. You would not argue that was the latest
(Mr Pinder) No, I would not argue that is the latest.
As I said at the very beginning, the issue here is to make sure
one gets one's priorities right. Changing these sites requires
quite a bit of effort and therefore I will make sure that point
is raised because it causes me great discomfort here. But in the
greater scheme of things, it is important I put my resources,
which are actually relatively limited, into getting government
on-line properly. I do take the point.
39. You say it is useful to provide information
about the Budget, in fact the things you can find out about areand
I am not leaving anything out"Who made the longest
Budget speech in history? Where does the word Budget come from?
Can I watch the Chancellor live? Click on the link to find the
(Mr Pinder) One of the things we have tried to do
on this site is not just provide Government information for adults
who are professionals
1 Note by witness: June 2002 the former DTLR
Web Team set up two new web sites; www.odpm.gov.uk and www.dft.gov.uk.
Also, the web site www.dtlr.gov.uk was changed to inform users
of the organisational changes and the existence of the two new
sites. These changes were published to the Internet between 2.00pm
and 3.00pm on that day. Back