Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. Courts can identify from their own records what they have imposed in the past in the situation but this information is not always provided to the magistrates. It seems weird, does it not? The information you have on the fines you yourself impose and their non-payment is not passed on to the magistrates before they decide whether to impose another non-paid fine. How on earth can that be justified?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I am not pretending it can be or should be justified.

  41. What are you doing about it?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) You have to make sure that the magistrates' courts and the staff have the resources to get that information available as quickly as possible. In the past resources have not been available, but we have now made £10 million available out of a total spend on enforcement of £40 million, which is a very, very substantial increase, to try to tackle the sort of problems you are identifying.[4]

  42. In that case your computer programme is well advanced, is it not? I understand from this that there are five different computers used by the magistrates' courts. Is that correct? They are not compatible with each other.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Correct.

  43. So they cannot necessarily communicate with each other—cannot possibly communicate with each other in most cases. So they are of very limited use to the system. Why?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) These are systems which have been built up over a number of years.

  44. No, they were built up a long, long time ago.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes.

  45. They were designed in the late 1970s or early 1980s. They are the old BBC little computer you bought for your kids when they were first starting to learn to play with computers; 1970s early1980s. They are getting a bit decrepit now, are they not?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) They are decrepit.

  46. So where are the new ones?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) The situation is better. We have a new standard national information technology infrastructure.

  47. Libra.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) This has now been rolled out across 75% of magistrates' courts and out of 11,000 staff 8,500 now have the equipment and that gives us a national network, backup and resilience and it gives e-mail interchange, electronic links between courts and so on. I hope that by the end of this year the linkages which you describe as not being there—and they have not been there in the past and I am not trying to defend that—should be changed.

  48. That would be very nice, if only it were right. The latest advice we have in our update briefing from the NAO tells us that you entered into a PFI deal worth £200 million with ICL for this computer. The existing computer systems were due to be replaced by a single system:- Libra, but its introduction, originally planned for 2003 was put back to 2004 or 2005. That is a bit different from what you have just said. Are you saying the NAO have got it wrong?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, I am not saying that at all.

  49. Oh, then you got it wrong.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, I am not saying that at all.

  50. Why did you not get it right?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) There is a series of phases of this programme and I was trying to respond to your first question about basic IT links. They are going out and they are in place. You are quite right to imply that there has been a delay in the delivery of some of the standard software which has delayed the programme. What we are determined to try to achieve is that we hit the end of 2004 target, which is a revised target a year late.

  51. The pity is that what you have done is give them a car but you have no engine in it. You have spoken about the hardware, but, as it says in the report, the second stage—you talked about the first stage—is the introduction of bespoke software for court business. That was due to start in July last year and be completed in July 2003. This is a report you have signed up to. However, software problems have resulted in delays and a completion is not expected now until 2004 or 2005. They have the tie, but it does not work and it will not work for a couple of years. Is that right?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) There is a year's delay. I accept that, that is correct.

  52. But that is a year's delay on something some years ahead.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) It is a year's delay from end 2003 to end 2004.

  53. That is a bit different from what you were trying to tell us a few minutes ago, that they have these computers there now and giving us the impression that they are working. They are not.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) If I have given that impression, I apologise. That was not what I was trying to do. I was trying to say that we are getting the basic interchange in place now and then the software which will provide standard information packages across the system will come in, but that will not be available to everybody until the end of 2004.

  54. We are told that in May this year the Lord Chancellor's Department announced, but perhaps they did not tell you, that it was not proceeding with that part of the contract which would provide the software for court business. It is not now even going to be part of it. Is that true?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, that is not my understanding. My understanding is that we are in negotiation with the company ICL, now called Fujitsu Services, about the timescale of the cost of the software package because of the delay and we intend to bring that to a conclusion just as soon as we can so we know where we are.

  55. The NAO says quite clearly here that in May the Lord Chancellor's Department announced that it was not proceeding with that part of the contract, that is the PFI contract, which would provide the software for court business and that it intends to select an alternative supplier to provide an application to cover the next few years. That is a bit of a mess, is it not?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) That is an option but we have not finished our negotiations with the company.

  56. Would you like to come back next week and tell us, if you do not know what is going on in your own Department?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I do not know whether the NAO want to comment on that.
  (Mr Gray) We understand that certainly discussions are still occurring on some specific issues.

  57. On alternatives. But the PFI contract is not going to cover it, is it?
  (Mr Gray) I am not aware of the detail.

  58. Right, well I shall ask Sir Hayden, not that I expect him to know. You had a PFI contract for £200 million. The company has not delivered because it cannot get the software right. What penalty has now been imposed on the company?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) The position is as described by the Comptroller and Auditor General's colleague. The position is that we are in discussion with the company about what they can do.

  59. No, they have not delivered, they are not going to deliver, you have admitted yourself that it is going to be at least a year and you are not sure whether this part which we have been told is not going to be covered by it is in or out. They have defaulted on their deal. What penalty are they facing?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) First of all, you will appreciate that I am in difficulty. We are in the middle of a contractual negotiation.

4   Note by witness: Total expenditure on enforcement in 2001-02 was £43.8 million. £10 million has been added in 2002-03 Back

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