Select Committee on Work and Pensions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280-297)



Rob Marris

  280. I wanted to focus on the IT stuff you talked about. If the IT were better would staff have more time to do things? Do you think it would deliver, because often IT does not?
  (Mr Kelleher) Let me give you an example. The information system we use in call centres variants, if you want to adjust a field of a database record you have to begin the entire record again. Another example of the same system, personal advisers, a client coming in the door, ringing up the call centre and saying, "could you enter in this particular record because I am just about to see the client in five minutes' time". There were huge difficulties caused by the IT system. The situation with IT is about being in a hole and stop digging, it is not about great promises of what IT can do for you, it is about stop doing things which are clearly unproductive and inefficient. It does not seem to us that the IT challenge in the process is enormous. It does seem to us that anything more than a well designed Oracle database would be sufficient to support this IT process. I know there are huge challenges in integrating the main IT system between the merged agencies and there are plans afoot to do that, but my own personal opinion would be that there is a case for looking at the IT provision and asking the question as to whether starting again and designing fresh IT systems round a fresh organisation and Jobcentre Plus would not, at the end of the day, be quicker and cheaper than trying to incrementally adjust existing IT systems which were simply never designed for these purposes.

  281. You talked about local initiatives and you gave a graphic way of looking at it, of managers in various projects sitting round waiting for central direction and not getting it, and the more energetic of them started innovating and sorting them out, and it is laudable. Has there been enough of those local initiatives on the IT front to start putting together a central model to which you refer?
  (Mr Kelleher) The IT is not susceptible to local initiatives. Some work was done on piloting on electronic integrated claim forms. The difficulty is that the labour market system in the Employment Service, which controls the flow of the records, is a national system and the solution has to be a national solution because it is actually about how you establish a unique record for each client in the system and how you track them through each meeting, each event, each network, et cetera. I very much acknowledge your point that IT promises a lot and delivers very little, but you are talking about whole systems, about document management systems, communication systems, database systems. It is fairly all or nothing. What I would say to you is that we do not know of any insurance companies, for example, that do not have such dedicated systems. It is simply very difficult to envisage how such a large processing system can work if the IT is not adequate.

  282. You have anticipated what I was going to ask you, it is a logical development of what we were talking about, do you think that Jobcentre Plus as currently envisaged can work until, as you put it, building up from the ground IT is brought in, or is that going to be a major Achilles heel to Jobcentre Plus if the IT is not right?
  (Mr Kelleher) I would say that it can certainly work because the system under ONE, the system under jobseekers allowance, etc, has worked, but it seems to me that there are huge productivity gains to be made by introducing new IT systems.

  283. I realise you may not be a computer person, how long do you think that would take, you referred to an Oracle system, for example?
  (Mr Kelleher) Can I ask another question?

  284. Please answer the question I should have asked.
  (Mr Kelleher) I think the question is, what would it take? I suspect what it would take would be seriously beefing-up the internal capacity of Jobcentre Plus in the Department to source, design and run IT systems. The difficulty is, in a process-based business like this, IT is an absolutely core function and there are very serious difficulties with contracting out core functions. The level of expertise that is needed internally to make this work is the critical thing. If we are to see further problems with overruns and time, budgets, etc, the critical factor is probably the internal capacity.

  285. Are you suggesting that the in-house capacity for the Department at the moment is not sufficient?
  (Mr Kelleher) I think if you spoke to the Department they would suggest to you that it is not enormous.

  Rob Marris: Thank you.


  286. I am struck by that last bit, because I sat beside somebody in a call centre a week ago and their IT was streets ahead of anything I have never seen before in any government benefits agency office.
  (Mr Kelleher) It is all relative.

  287. That is something we will want to look at.
  (Mr Kelleher) If I can give a more serious answer, I think unless they introduce a entirely new system—if you thought that was impressive, if you look at the document handling system that the local authorities use, that is so far advanced.

  288. I have never had local authorities used as a model for anything either.
  (Mr Kelleher) It was a surprise to me too.

  289. That is important. You have given us a lot to think about.

  Rob Marris: Can you say which local authorities have these great document handling systems?


  290. Name names?
  (Mr Kelleher) Many local authorities are using paperless document handling systems so that every piece of paper, every item of information, every form, electronic and everything, is associated with a single client record, so that when anything has to be done you can call up on the screen anything that has ever been done with that client. By comparison, in the ONE offices 12 personal advisers would have access to a single PC, they have no standard templates or forms for letters, they have to go somewhere else to write every letter, to make every communication, often they did not have electronic mail and they could not send an e-mail to somebody in the local authority saying, "what is happening with the Joe Bloggs claim?" The local authorities found this very difficult to live with.

Rob Marris

  291. I was not being ironic or sarcastic, can you name the local authorities in case we might want to look at them?
  (Mr Kelleher) I understand you are going to Bucks next, is that right?


  292. That was last week. We have in the past visited Lewisham and the Lewisham set up was quite impressive.
  (Mr Kelleher) I would certainly suggest that you talk to the people in Buckinghamshire, I have had lengthy discussions with their IT people there and my impression was they had their act together.

  Ms Buck: Westminster has achieved a largely paperless office by losing all of the correspondence, I do not think that is the idea.


  293. We will not go into that. I am not going to ask any of the predictable questions at the end, so you can relax about that. I notice on page four of your evidence you did make reference to deferral rates. When we were in High Wycombe last week there was something like 27 per cent deferral rate—what deferral rate do you need before it ceases to become mandatory—there may be very good reasons for that. If you have a mandatory system you are going into sanctions, waivers as the Americans call them, and they can be quite positive things if they are deployed sensitively. Is this something that we should worry about, deferral rates of 27 per cent?
  (Ms Youll) That sounds high. I do not think they were formal targets. The expected level was about 15 per cent, so 27 per cent sounds high.
  (Mr Kelleher) At the time we wrote the interim report we were concerned there were not a sufficient number of deferrals taking place. We felt people were being pushed through to personal adviser meetings, only for the PA to say they clearly should not be there, please go away. It may be we have been too influential and things have now swung to the other extreme.

  294. It is obviously a very important detail.
  (Mr Kelleher) We certainly did not observe any levels of deferrals at anything like that level in our field work.
  (Ms Youll) I do not know whether behind that might be an issue about an increased level of case loading, so you might say, "We will defer for now, let's make an appointment for a fortnight's time."

  295. So it could be a consequence of overloading?
  (Ms Youll) And wanting to follow up things, saying, "We will leave it for now because you are clearly in a state, but we will come back."
  (Mr Stern) One of the things we were very concerned with was when we took our time slices and were checking for consistency across different sources of data, and it is often possible to visit a particular office at a particular point in time and there may be seasonal factors or some recent management push and you may not get an overall profile because it has not been followed through in that time period, so my advice would be not to be too worried about a particular response in a particular office, but I would be worried if the same response was coming from everywhere.

  296. You said at the beginning this was interim work but it will be tidied up and completed. Is it safe for us to rely on the information you have given here during the gestation of the written report, or would it be better for us to try and make arrangements with you to get the completed article before we rely on it?
  (Mr Stern) I think it would be much better for you to wait.

  297. But that will not take long?
  (Ms Youll) It is under my hand here!

  Chairman: That is fine. That was fascinating and very instructive, and we are very grateful to you. Thank you very much for your appearance.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 26 February 2002