Examination of Witnesses(Questions 100-119)|
CB, MR ANDREW
WEDNESDAY 12 JUNE 2002
100. I do not know if Mavis McDonald knows what
is the average time it takes for government departments to respond
to an e-mail. I do not know whether Mr Broadbent knows in his
(Mavis McDonald) An e-mail coming in externally as
correspondence? The general government standards are that we apply
the same standard to e-mail correspondence as we would any other
101. You can e-mail through a web site. If you
do that do you get a reply?
(Mavis McDonald) You can access individual e-mail
addresses on some web sites that would take you into particular
parts of the departments. Of course we do make individual web
sites and e-mail addresses known to people, but the basic starting
point is that if that correspondence is by e-mail, if there are
targets like for example meeting MPs' correspondence in 15 days,
that essentially applies to correspondence whether it comes in
by e-mail or whether it comes in by hard copy.
102. So it would not be any quicker?
(Mavis McDonald) It could be quicker but that is the
Chairman: Thank you, Mr Davies. Mr Alan
Williams is your last questioner.
103. Mr Pinder, when you applied for your post,
did anyone warn you that you were going to be landed with the
title of e-Envoy?
(Mr Pinder) The title of e-Envoy was available at
the time when I took over the post because, of course, I had a
predecessor, who sadly had to leave because of family illness.
104. But an e-Envoy?
(Mr Pinder) The Americans have on occasion referred
to me as the `e-Guy'. I am not quite sure whether e-Envoy or e-Guy
is better. It is a descriptive title which has its advantages
and its disadvantages.
105. They should have issued you with a cloak
of some sort as well. Anyhow, it is very noble of you to take
that on. I see that your remit is to derive the maximum benefit
for government and the country from the knowledge economy. You
co-ordinate government strategy and you galvanise UK businessesit
really does sound like e-Envoy, does it notand you drive
the e-agenda through government. Drive it though? The trouble
is you seem to drive it through without any regard to the cost,
do you not?
(Mr Pinder) I think that is absolutely not correct.
First of all, my Treasury colleagues would make sure that I have
regard to the cost as do government departments. My job is to
try to champion the e-agenda and I have tried to do that very
hard indeed with a lot of focus. That is my job.
106. We are told by the National Audit Office
that the e-Envoy has made limited progress on the Committee's
recommendation that it should develop a methodologyjust
a methodologyfor justifying expenditure on web provision.
According to the NAO, your achievements in developing a methodology
have been modest. So if you have not got the methodology, how
can any of us believe that you actually know what the cost/benefit
of what you are doing is and whether the expenditure is justified?
(Mr Pinder) Since the time the NAO did its work we
have been making some progress in that area with our Treasury
colleagues. The Treasury are issuing some guidelines on this methodology.
It is a matter that is properly for the Treasury as the guardians
of the public purse in this respect.
107. But the NAO is not given to extravagant
criticism and, to put this as mildly as I can, is the briefing
that you have had from them that you have made limited progress?
It says the same for collecting and publishing information on
usage and on the take-up of the web sites. How on earth can you
sit before this Committee and make any pretence that there is
any relationship between the money you spending and the value
that we the taxpayer are getting from that money?
(Mr Pinder) As I tried to say in answer to an earlier
question, before a department which is responsible for spending
the bulk of this money spends any money they make a business case
to the Treasury to justify why they should spend that money, and
the normal rules of guardianship of the spend and the benefits
to be got from the spend apply in their area.
108. But in that case, as the man who is the
supremo who is guiding strategy, why is it if you are providing
this information to the Treasury you do not have a methodology
for ensuring that the business plan is good value for money for
the Government and for the country when it is being delivered?
(Mr Pinder) We do have a methodology which is the
normal business case that people make to the Treasury. I cannot
read the NAO's mind.
109. We are talking about in practice, not when
you are making a case to get an ounce of money out of the Treasury.
We are talking about when you have spent the taxpayers' money
what have we got to show for it and how do you justify it, how
do you relate to it?
(Mr Pinder) What we have to show for it is a large
number of web sites many of which are extremely good which are
very heavily used. In the longer term these sites will justify
the business cases that they made in the original proposal to
the Treasury. A lot of this is capital expenditure which is made
up front and the benefits will derive over a period of time as
usage of these sites increase and as our experience in operating
these sites improves (in the way that Customs & Excise are)
in the longer term they will feel they get substantial benefit
from having their services on-line. In the short term you have
to make the business cases and use your best judgment to deliver
a proposal that gets money from the Treasury to put a service
110. But as figure 1 points out, the last PAC
recommendations numbers 3, 9 and 10 meant that you were expecting
to have reliable information on the existence of quality government
web sites, yet as I understand it, you do not collect any systematic
or regular information on web data traffic, transaction volumes,
quality ratings, frequency of update or market visibility. That
seems rather a gap in relation to the value of what we are getting.
(Mr Pinder) We make sure that we collect that information
for the sites for which we are directly responsible and we issue
guidelines to departments about the information they should collect
about their own sites to make sure that they have that information
available to them.
111. How can you be responsible for a co-ordinated
strategy if you do not have this information? Otherwise you may
issue guidance through an utterly wasteful channel, might you
(Mr Pinder) I am trying to make sure that the strategy
we co-ordinate is one of making sure that all services are on-line
in an attractive and useful way and we get use out of it. It is
the statutory responsibility of the departments themselves to
make sure that they manage their money properly and they deliver
their services appropriately. We can provide advice and guidanceand
sometimes very strong guidancefrom the centre to make sure
that they get access to common practice and that is what my department
112. That does not encourage me either, in fact
it actually worries me because we are told that the DTLR had copied
the Office of the e-Envoy's performance regime exactly for local
government. Since I do not think much of that regime I am not
encouraged to think that it has been disseminated throughout local
government. As is pointed out by the NAO, the key best value performance
indicator 157 is inadequate. The DTLR, following on your example,
collects no systematic data on local authority web sites. It says
that checks that extra funding will provide genuine change seem
inadequate. That is following exactly upon your model. What is
wrong with your model?
(Mr Whetnall) I am not sure we chase the e-Envoy.
The fact is that the money came from the Treasury with instructions
that this was a 2005 target about availability and the best value
performance indicator asked local authorities to measure what
proportion of their services they are getting on-line. We are
certainly consulting on how to extend that to measure take-up,
mainly to measure customer satisfaction and people's experience
of going on-line. But I think across the board we certainly started
with a weak information base because we had not been much involved.
113. With respect, I am not particularly concerned
about what you are doing because you are doing what your exemplar
encourages you are to do. What I am concerned about is what you
are being encouraged to do. Again, we are told by the National
Audit Office that the e-Envoy cannot get it systematically established
that electronic services delivery is generating savings of public
money or quality of service improvements. I do not feel you are
very justified to go splashing taxpayers' money in very large
volumes around the system when you do not even have fundamental
information that we would literally hang another department from
the lamp brackets here if they came and told us they could not
provide this sort of information before they spent this sort of
(Mr Pinder) I think I should make it clear that I
do not go round splashing taxpayers' money about. In fact, I spend
very little money in my own department. A lot of this money is
spent via departments in furthering the 2005 target which they
have been set by government. In order to do that, when they want
money from the Treasury they put business cases in which justify
their expenditure. My own organisation has focused on tracking
government departments' progress towards the 2005 all services
on-line target, which is the target that we have been given, through
the use of these strategies. Latterly we have said that that is
a useful target to galvanise activity but in addition to that
target we need to really focus on the take-up so that we do not
waste public money. The money that is spent, though, is spent
through departments through their accounting officers following
them making cost justifications within the department and to the
114. But if they justify it by saying we are
doing what the e-Envoy has said and by following his example and
if the Treasury is dumb enough to say that is an adequate criterion
by which to allocate moneysimply that someone else is using
the same system, is this not contrary to everything that
this Committee stands for? I am astonished if the Treasury does
respond in that way to such a slap-dash approach. You are driving
the e-agenda through government? According to departments you
have not even set targets so far and one of those departments
is admitting that those targets are, effectively, not attainable.
(Mr Pinder) First of all, I am sure the departments
in approaching the Treasury for money do not make slap-dash cases
and just say they are just doing what we told them to do. I am
sure if they did the Treasury would not stand for it, you are
quite right there. The target that we are progressing through
government is the 2005 all services on-line target. We have been
following that very systematically by asking departments and getting
from departments their progress reports on a very regular basis.
All those strategies we have taken from departments and we and
the department have published. We have also published regular
progress reports which we have collected from departments showing
how they are doing against that 2005 target. In respect of driving
the target we have been given, which is to get all services on-line,
I think we are doing quite a good job in making sure that there
is very full visibility and that departments are moving towards
that target. Latterly I have been trying to develop the policy
and encourage departments not just to think in those terms but
also to think in terms of take-up, and clearly that is what is
happening in departments like Customs & Excise. They have
paid a great deal of attention to that and quite rightly so.
115. You told the Chairman before I came in
that there are 1.7 million VAT returns and we are told that processing
a return costs on average £1.16, so we are talking about
£1.9 million in processing. Is that right?
(Mr Pinder) I am going to hand that question over
to Mr Broadbent as he is responsible for that.
(Mr Broadbent) A VAT return is more than once a year
and in practice we have about 2,000 staff who work on VAT processing.
116. If, for example, you could get the maximum
savings for which we have the indicative cost of 25p for a bank
carrying out a somewhat parallel process, you would make quite
a considerable saving, would you not?
(Mr Broadbent) If we achieved higher levels of take-up
on VAT the cost of collecting that VAT would be lower.
117. So why have you not given it higher priority?
(Mr Broadbent) We are giving it higher priority and
in fact the process we are going through is quite interesting
in the context of the questions that you and Mr Davies were asking.
In the last spending round, in line with the government's policy,
we put forward a business case to invest £150 million in
e-enabling the organisation which was aimed at putting certain
services on-line. We have spent much less than half that money
and in spending it we have focused very much on the fact that
we are not going to get take-up just getting it on-line so instead
of ploughing on and spending the rest of that money we are now
going back to the Government and saying, "We need to do something
different if we are to achieve take-up", and that is the
debate that is taking place at the moment.
118. Should we be pleased or worried at the
fact that DTLR is providing £350 million to promote electronic
government amongst local authorities but so far only a quarter
have taken it upthat is according to the information we
have from the NAOto enable citizens to pay their council
tax. Since they have been guided by DTLR and the departments are
being guided by you and you seem to be being guided with a complete
absence of relevant information, should we not breath a sigh of
relief that there is only a quarter of local government following
(Mr Pinder) I am going to hand over to my ex-DTLR
colleague and my ex-Office of the Deputy Prime Minister colleague
because they will give a fuller explanation.
(Mr Whetnall) The take-up is a lot better than that.
All but one local authority are taking up the offer of monies
for their plans to implement electronic government. We will be
able to point quite rapidly to a lot of areas in which there will
be very substantial savings arising. I mentioned earlier some
work on the customer relations management systems. We have authorities
piloting new electronic ways of doing procurement where if you
are switching from a system in which you are paying invoices manually
from many different parts of a local authority (costing maybe
tens of pounds per invoice) to an electronic basis, there is a
very substantial saving. We have every confidence that we will
be able to demonstrate that real efficiencies are being returned
on our support for pathfinder projects, national projects and
in the general move of local authorities towards e-government.
Not always, again, exclusively web-based because very often they
will use an electronic platform sorting out their business processes
to offer services on that platform through telephone call centres.
Andrew Pinder also mentioned interactive digital television. The
savings are certainly there and they are often in the form of
moving from cutting out some back office costs to making sure
that the front end is better supported and more effective.
Mr Williams: My time is up but I look
forward, as no doubt you do, to your next visit here. Thank you.
119. Just one question from me. You talked about
e-champions. Can you say a brief word about e-champions. How many
have you got? Are they on the departments' management boards?
Are they gentlemen amateurs, IT experts? How do you assess their
(Mr Pinder) The e-champion is a concept set up by
my predecessor which we have followed. In general they are people
who are on the departments' management board. For example, the
e-champion for Customs & Excise is Mr Fraser. The e-champion
for the Inland Revenue is Mr Tim Flesher who is one of their Deputy
Chairmen. By and large, the e-champions are at that sort of level
within departments. Their role is to co-ordinate activity within
the departments on the e-agenda and to work with us and with their
colleagues in other departments at sharing best practice. Their
performance is obviously part of their overall performance within
the department and their performance review would normally take
place within the department. I often get asked by the permanent
secretary for the department for my feedback on how that particular
individual has risen to that particular aspect of their work.
So we try to make sure in the normal course of management of departments
that the work they do with us in line with the work they do elsewhere
in the department is properly controlled and judged.
Chairman: Thank you. Mr Davies has one