Examination of Witnesses(Questions 40-59)|
CB, MR ANDREW
WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002
40. You have just told me it is useful to provide
information about the Budget, not where the word Budget comes
(Mr Pinder) I think it is useful to have that sort
of information because a lot of people who use this site are school
children. We know, for example, that the UK Online site is extremely
popular with schools because for politics lessons and so on it
provides a great deal of information about government with a very
easy-to-use search engine, and it is extremely popular, particularly
with school children from 14 years old onwards. We have done a
lot of research into that area. That is one of the reasons why
we do try to make our site accessible, not just to professionals
like people in this room but also to people who are not professionals
but ought to be taking an interest in the whole process of government,
and that is an example of us trying to do just that.
41. I do not disagree it is nice to have historical
information and, as I said, the Downing Street website is quite
good on that kind of thing. I suppose the question I am getting
to is, is it worth all the money? Great for school kids to have
websites about the history of our country and so on, but, as I
understand it, you are spending £1 billion in the next three
years on this technology. What is the total amount of money that
the Government has spent on websites and so on to date?
(Mr Pinder) It is very difficult to disentangle the
money just on a website from the largest sum of money, the £1
billion you referred to, which is the money from the last spending
review which has been spent on e-enabling government including
some substantial changes to their existing systems. That £1
billion of course includes the £350 million which went to
local authorities to help them get on-line. So for central government
you are talking about £650 million on a variety of IT projects
which have a substantial aspect of "e" in them but also
do other things. It is not possible to tell you how much has been
spent on government websites because they have been built up over
a number of years and we have not collected that information.
It might be possible, if it would help this Committee, for us
to go and collect the information for what websites have cost
for the top half dozen departments, just as a sample, to give
you an indication.
42. I think it would be quite useful to know
how much money has been spent on developing all these websites.
It does say in this report, in paragraph 4.28, your office has,
". . . somewhat out of date and incomplete information about
the condition of central government web sites, the take-up of
electronic services at present across central departments and
agencies, and the extent to which the claims made in the e-business
strategy documents correlate with the actual progress of on-line
services." Here are hundreds of millions of pounds being
spent and actually central government has no idea whether that
money is being well spent or not.
(Mr Pinder) There are a number of departments which
spend their time making sure government gets value for money,
of which principally the Treasury play a part. My office is there
to make sure people are making progress towards the 2005 target
in this particular area and that is what the e-business strategies
were designed to do, to demonstrate what people's plans are and
from one strategy to another how they have made progress. We keep
regular up-dates of how many of these services have to be on-line.
We produce and publish that information so it is regularly available
to them. We have readily accessible availability of information
about government services going on-line, and we now have 51% of
all government services being on-line, for example. What we do
not do is regularly go out to departments and ask them what are
the number of people using their sites, though increasingly the
emphasis of my office is turning not just simply to hitting the
2005 target but increasing the use of this technology. I mentioned
that when I was talking to Mr Jenkins. I think it is important
that government departments pay attention to the number of customers
using their sites, they should pay attention to getting that number
up and we will want to encourage them to do that.
43. But you do not have any idea whether you
are getting value for money for all this money being spent.
(Mr Pinder) I think the Treasury, in looking at its
spending within individual departments, takes a great deal of
care to make sure it is getting value for money. On a project
by project basis, attention is paid to that, and we make sure
either an improved service or better delivery of services is provided
or in actual resource savings we are making some savings. But
that is best done on a project by project basis. Often the `e'
part of a project is only one part of an individual project.
44. How much did it cost to get your main website
up and running?
(Mr Pinder) To get the UK Online site up and running
originally cost about £15 million.
45. The American Government did it for 4 million
(Mr Pinder) That is very interesting. I was recently
talking to Mark Forman, who is effectively the chief information
officer for the American Government in the Bush administration,
and he was saying they have spent a great deal more money than
that, something in the region of 50 million dollars, trying to
get central and federal government websites on line.
(Mr Pinder) Having heard what you have just said,
I will tackle Mr Forman because I will be seeing him in about
three weeks' time.
47. I have not spoken to your friend but it
says in this Report, "In the USA, the official web portal
to US government information, FirstGov, was created in September
2000 under contract to the US General Services Administration,
at a modest initial cost of 4 million dollars."
(Mr Pinder) I think we have all of us found that first
implementation of these sites, getting them up and running, for
example our site, open.gov, cost a very small amount of money
48. How much?
(Mr Pinder) But then we, in the UK, and the Americans
as well, have spent a substantial amount of money since the very
first appearances of these sites enhancing them.
49. Keeping them up to date?
(Mr Pinder) Yes, keeping them up to date and keeping
their facilities modern. I am not entirely sure whether, in the
question which was asked on behalf of the NAO, the US Government
were referring to the 4 million dollars as being the very first
implementation of the site, I would be deeply surprised if it
was the cost to date of setting up, running and enhancing that
site. In fact I have strong indications that is not the case.
50. Generally this report suggests other countries'
websites have a much higher take-up relative to their population
than the UK. Do you accept that?
(Mr Pinder) Many other countries have had a higher
take-up of e-government services relative to their use of other
services. If I can try and elaborate on that, I would agree with
you that we, in the UK Government, have lagged behind other parts
of the UK commercial sector in encouraging use of our services
on-line, for example, compared to banking. We have not made as
much progress in getting customers on-line as the banking sector
have. I would agree absolutely there. If one looks at other countries,
particularly European countries, and their use of government services
in absolute terms compared to their population, no, I would not
agree with you. We have made okay progress compared to the larger
European countries. That is not to say we have made good progress
against some of the smaller European countries, places like Finland
and so on, where the use of government services on-line is far
in advance of ours. I would accept a general criticism that we
are not anything like as advanced in our provision of government
services on-line as we should be. We should do much more.
51. Would you accept in any way the argument
you are behind the curve on what the private sector are doing?
The private sector was extremely excited about all this technology
and a lot of companies were set up, hundreds of billions of pounds
were spent on all sorts of e-based things, there was a crash and
that was that. However, because you are in government you have
been insulated from all this and billions of pounds have been
spent, hundreds of people have been employed by the Civil Service,
and you just churn out these websites and no one is keeping track
of how many people are looking at them, and so actually you have
not followed the new trend in the private sector which is to not
assume everything can be done on-line, that other things need
to be done.
(Mr Pinder) I think one of the few advantages of being,
as you put it, behind the curve in getting services on-line is
that we have been able to learn from the private sector and we
have spent a great deal of effort trying to make sure we avoid
the sort of errors they were making. That is something Customs
& Excise are trying to do, for example. I do not accept there
are sites out there which are, as it were, the equivalent of some
of the catastrophes one has seen in the private sector and in
the madness which followed the dot.com boom. I absolutely agree
with you that we need to work harder at making our sites more
attractive and more successful. I do not accept the money so far
has been wasted but we have a lot to learn and a lot to develop.
52. Can I ask a question of Mr Broadbent? We
had an earlier meeting on e-government and we were speculating
about how manyI do not want to use the phrase "jobs
would be lost"posts would disappear if we were fully
on e-government. Do you think for Customs & Excise you see
great potential for removing some of the more routine clerical
jobs and administrative jobs, maybe redeploying those people elsewhere
in the Civil Service, that there is great potential in that direction?
(Mr Broadbent) If I may say so, the key word in that
question was "full potential". The existing strategy,
and it is probably right it should be measured, is designed to
make services available on-line, and it is not to exploit the
full potential of e-enabling organisations such as Customs &
Excise. As I said earlier, having learnt from what we are doing,
we are developing a slightly different approach based on what
we had before which would offer the opportunity of exploiting
the full potential, and we are discussing this at the moment with
ministers. That approach, as I say, goes much more into changing
the nature of the underlying processes, and will offer material
opportunity to do any one or more of several things, to change
the level of services which we are providing, to reduce the cost
of using our services for those who are using them, to improve
the output of our service which effectively is tax compliance
and fraud, an issue we are very familiar with, and to reduce our
input costs because clearly some of the existing processes would
change. The extent to which in that full situation you took advantage
of one or more of the mix of these things would depend on whether
people would be re-skilled, redeployed or moved on. Clearly certain
existing functions would vanish. How you took the benefit from
that is a debate we ought to have.
Mr Rendel: I hope Mr Osborne's website
is up to date otherwise I can see the witnesses taking their revenge
Mr Osborne: It is up to date.
53. Can I start by asking what is rather a basic
question, and I apologise if by any chance this was asked by the
Chairman before I arrived because I was a few minutes late today.
Is the Government's use of the web cost effective?
(Mavis McDonald) The difficulty we have is we are
having a discussion about just the web and we have quite clearly
moved on from just the web in terms of our thinking about the
whole range of potential for using e-communication and delivery
of services through electronic means, since we first started to
work on the programme of meeting the Prime Minister's targets.
I think that again, as Andrew Pinder said, the use of the web
pre-dated the current drive, a lot of departments have websites
which are about the provision of better information, faster to
more people. One of the things we have not talked about around
the table, which seems to me quite important, is that one of the
purposes of the web is effective communication, and I do not know
we properly have ourselves thought about how to quantify and cost
that in, but I think we are probably missing a trick there. For
example, on things like public consultation, we are able to consult
much faster, more fully with a wider range of people with access
to websites, than when we used to send everything out in hard
copy. We have the ability, as Andrew described, to put out for
public consumption information in different manners and approaches
and styles, which makes it much more accessible to a potential
wider range of readers.
54. You seem to be saying, if I can cut you
off there, that the use of the web by the Government has various
values and various advantages which have a value?
(Mavis McDonald) Yes.
55. What you also seem to be saying to me is
you have no idea at present what that value is as compared to
the cost of using the web?
(Mavis McDonald) I do not think we have a comprehensive
picture of what all the costs and benefits are. There are certain
areas, largely those which come through major significant projects,
where the Treasury does do a full cost benefit analysis of what
you are trying to achieve. There are things about the capacity
to improve putting out information, and that has led to service
delivery improvements on things like NHS Direct where we might
be able to take a line on financing through, but I would not want
to claim that we have the kind of full assessment of the range
of what the benefits are or more information being available through
this particular aspect of e-technology.
56. The basic purpose of this Committee, as
I understand it, is to be Parliament's check that public money
is being spent in a cost effective manner. When I ask you whether
this amount of public money is being spent in a cost effective
manner, you tell me you do not know. Clearly there are values,
I think we all accept there are values, in using the web but it
is difficult for us to come to any proper conclusions if you simply
do not know the value of what you are doing.
(Mavis McDonald) I did not want to imply we are not
trying to understand more about this and understand what we get
out of it. For example, Andrew is advertising UK Online and he
has done a lot of detailed evaluation of what the take-up and
57. When will you know if the Government's use
of the web is cost effective?
(Mavis McDonald) We did say earlier we do not centrally,
collectively, pull together the detailed information about the
usage of individual departments' websites. We give guidance on
what the departments do, we audit in the office
58. I understand you are not doing that now
but what I asked was, when will we know whether the Government's
use of the web is cost effective?
(Mr Pinder) Can I offer an alternative way of putting
this. As I said before, we in this question are looking across
Government as a whole, but if one breaks that down and says, "Is
the use of the web to deliver a particular service a cost effective
way of doing that", then the case for spending the money
in order to deliver that service electronically is made at the
time the money is requested, and that is a case which will be
made to the Treasury. We would say, "We want to spend this
amount of money to deliver the following benefits." So in
exactly the same way as building a new road or a new hospital,
a business case is made to take a particular action which delivers
an individual service or a range of services. So the case is made
up front and the Treasury have to be satisfied it is a good case.
59. For all your new uses of the web, a case
will be made in each case that each one is cost effective? What
about those which did not go through that process and therefore
you do not yet know whether they are cost effective? That presumably
was what Mavis McDonald was saying in effect that if you take
the overall picture, we do not yet know, but we may know for certain
particular uses of the web that they are cost effective, but we
do not know the overall picture because there are other uses of
the web for which we have not done that evaluation process.
(Mr Pinder) Where people have come along and asked
for money to improve a service or deliver a new service, a business
case has to be made and has to be proved.
Mr Rendel: I understand that.
(Mr Pinder) And it is subject to audit whether that
business case is met or not, and that is part of what the Treasury
do and what the NAO do. So business cases are made to spend some
money but I agree with Mavis McDonald that that gives a very narrow
feeling for what the benefits will be. We do make the business
cases and in fact virtually everything we do in spending money
on the UK Online website will have had a business case, albeit
it is one around softer benefits about making people more effectively
linked to other people's websites and so on. Those cases are made.
I think there is a wider benefit, and I think this is what Mavis
McDonald is referring to, in making information much more readily
available to people which is not costed because we are delivering
something which people could not otherwise have at all and therefore
we are not saving costs elsewhere, we are just delivering more
information. A good example of that might be the NHS Direct site
which gets a very large number of visits every day, it is a service
which just was not available before, and there are clearly hard
benefits in relieving the load on doctors' surgeries and so on,
but there are also in my view softer benefits in relieving people's
minds who wake in the middle of the night with an ache and pain,
they can access the site, have a look at it and it can help to
ease their worries or at least realise they should go and see
a doctor. So there are both hard benefits, particularly when we
are delivering a transaction on-line where a business case is
made and where the benefits can be delivered, and we can do the
inquest as to why they were not afterwards, but there are also
a whole range of softer benefits where we do not know enough about
things because we are still learning, as indeed are people in
the private sector.
2 Note by witness: The cost was actually £4.7
million up to the initial UK launch in February 2001. Back